What to do in Connecticut: Brunch, art, and apple picking!

Hi friends!

Happy last day of October! I can’t believe how quickly this month has passed. I feel like November really snuck up on me this year haha. Let’s talk about a few favorite things to do in Connecticut!

First up, The Pantry

The Pantry is a rather unassuming little gem. I honestly wouldn’t have known that it is such a popular brunch spot based on the relatively plain exterior. When we started seeing long lines in front, we decided to give it a try. We were NOT disappointed!

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Source: Google Maps

Ever since then, The Pantry has been our favorite spot for breakfast or brunch. The menu is straightforward, the service is fantastic, and the food is incredible. My favorite order (pictured here) is 2 eggs over easy with wheat toast, home fries, and bacon.

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I’ve also tried their french toast and it is stellar –> it’s made from french baguette instead of regular bread, which makes it all the more delectable.

It has that classic “hole in wall” vibe that in my book, adds to its homey appeal. I like the fact that it’s a no frills experience that is all about good food. They do all kinds of breakfast foods, like pancakes, fruit, and lots and lots of great coffee. The prices aren’t too expensive either. Due to their location in the heart of East Rock in New Haven, the Pantry caters mostly to the Yale crowd –> so in general, the prices can fit a student’s wallet.

Inside the restaurant, the tables are small and fairly close together. I can see this as being either cozy or claustrophobic, depending on personal space preferences. I don’t mind the tighter fit at all, but I remember being surprised by it the first time I went.

If you don’t like standing in line, try to get there as early as possible. We arrived at 10:30am and stood in line for about 45 minutes. But there were 4 of us in our group, and so we had to wait for a larger table to open up. A single man who came around the same time only waited about 15 minutes, as a seat opened up quickly at the bar (they have a bar for extra seating, but to my knowledge no alcohol is served). So anyway, if you plan to go for brunch, expect to wait in line. It is just part of the experience! :)

Next up: the Yale Art Gallery

We have been to the gallery several times over the years, and we always enjoy our experience there. The exhibitions are breathtaking! My favorite collection is the ancient art collection from the ancient Mediterranean world.

This photo does not capture the beauty and size of this sculpture… I guess you’ll just have to check it out in person!

They do not allow backpacks or bottles of liquid in the gallery as they increase risk of bumping into or spilling on the art. There are lockers available to people who want to store their stuff somewhere.

I don’t really know what this is but I thought it looked interesting…

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There are multiple floors comprising the gallery. With so much to see, it would be easy to spend hours wandering around and still not see everything. I guess that is an excuse to go back again soon!

The location of the gallery is great, as it is right down the block from multiple restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. It’s the perfect place to go for a walk and see more of the Yale campus. The area is very scenic, with lots of gorgeous architecture to ooh and ahh at.

Parking can sometimes be slightly tricky. There are plenty of garages in New Haven, but they can be slightly expensive if you’re just wanting to go to the gallery for a few hours. A lot of the street parking in the immediate gallery street is 1 hour parking, so we went a couple blocks down to where there are 2 hour street parking spots.

And next up… the Bishops Apple Orchard

Who doesn’t love apple picking in the fall? We haven’t had much in the way of cooler fall temperatures yet, but that won’t stop us from getting out there and doing all the fall activities hah. I even drank a hot pumpkin soy latte on the way to the orchards — nothing says fall like a PSL, right? Except maybe a hot apple cider, which I also drank while at the orchards!

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During our most recent apple picking foray, I discovered a new-to-me apple: the Stayman! Wikipedia describes this as “medium-sized” but all the ones I picked were enormous. The orchard gave us papers describing each of the apples on the grounds. Staymans were described as firm, juicy, crisp, and tart –> the perfect apple, in my opinion! I loaded up my bag with them and have been happily munching on delicious apple ever since.

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My favorite apple is Honeycrisp, and the Stayman is a close second! I love that crunchy bite, it is so satisfying. I love that the Honeycrisp has a bit of sweetness to it too. The Stayman isn’t as sweet, but has plenty of that awesome crispness that will keep me coming back for more. I see Honeycrisp apples in my grocery store all the time, but have never seen Staymans. Anyone know why some apples make it to the local store but others don’t?

Apparently Bishops also has raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and pairs, but we spent all our time on the apples. Bishops also does wine tastings –> our friends did this and said they loved it. We didn’t get a chance this time around.

The freshly picked apples made for some delicious homemade apple cider and apple sauce. Maybe we’ll do an apple pie with the remaining apples.

Oh, and randomly (or maybe not so random?), there was a fenced off area where some llamas, alpacas, chickens, and goats were hanging out.

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And there ya go, those are some recent favorites that I couldn’t wait to share! The next time you are in Connecticut, check out some of these spots!

Have you seen my prior favorites posts? Here’s one on my favorite place to get my sweat on, and here’s one on my favorite music app! And in case you haven’t seen it, here is my very first favorites post, where I talk about a collection of things I love!

What is your favorite thing to eat for brunch? Do you like museums? What’s your favorite type of apple?

3 easy DIY Halloween costumes for frugal procrastinators

Hi friends!

Before we jump into things, can I just ask – where is the time going? 50 points to anyone who can give me September and October back. I had some pretty big plans to get on the fall decorating bandwagon this year. Huge plans. As soon as I saw the very first pumpkin in my instagram feed this year, I knew I wanted some white gourds for the mantle. But alas, time has managed to wiggle away from me. Now here we are in the middle of October and I have set out exactly zero amounts of fall decor.

But nevermind about that… I will *clenches fists* WILL decorate for the holidays.

Anyway, we’re right around the corner from Halloween! It turns out that this is the perfect time to share a couple of spoOOoooOOoky memories. :)

Ok, so maybe not spooky exactly. Let’s talk costumes!

Joel and I have always specialized in inexpensive DIY costumes. I don’t know about you guys, but we’re usually pulling our costumes together the day before the party. We also like to stick to the easy end of the spectrum — a costume that requires less than 30 minutes to put together? Yes please!

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Snorkelers who can’t swim

One year we went as snorkelers. We wore all our own swim gear tat we already owned. Like wetsuits, flippers on our feet, and snorkeling masks. The only items we bought were from the dollar store — we got some pool floaties for our arms, and donut floaties for around our waists. Why did we get floaties, you ask? Because we decided we wanted to go specifically as snorkelers WHO COULDN’T SWIM. Don’t ask me why, we just thought it was funny. :)

The costumes scored high points in terms of cost and DIY-factor, but maaan, anyone who has tried to walk while wearing flippers knows it is next to impossible to walk lol! There are two ways to walk while wearing flippers… you can either shuffle without lifting your feet off the ground, or you can pick your feet up comically high off the ground with every step. The flippers definitely didn’t last long on our feet — they came off within 5 minutes of arriving at the party lol!

Also, I still remember sweating like the dickens into my wetsuit all night long… wetsuits are meant to keep you warm, something you don’t exactly need on a muggy Houston night! But overall the costumes were pretty awesome and I would definitely wear them again.

What you’ll need: wetsuit or swimsuit (if you’re brave), flippers, snorkel masks

For that extra touch, you’ll need: floaties

A pair of dice

Another year, we went as a pair of dice. We had cardboard boxes sitting in our attic from when we moved, and decided to put them to good use.

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upcycle old boxes into halloween costumes!

I’m telling you, dice are the easiest costumes to make! And super inexpensive! All we did was glue white paper all over the boxes. Then we glued big black dots strategically to achieve that “dice” look. After that, we cut holes in the top and sides so we could get our heads/arms through, and that was it!

Dice costumes are awesome because you get a huge amount of bang for buck. Since we were upcycling the boxes and already owned regular white paper, the only item we bought was black construction paper (for the “dots”).

Another thing, dice are easily recognizable! They are probably the most obvious costume ever — everyone knew immediately what we were. :)

The only downside to wearing huge a huge box is it was impossible to sit down lol… but they looked awesome in photos and were a perfect couple costume. We ended up leaving the dice costumes at our friend’s house so that her kids could play with them. She said that they were a mega-hit, and the kids played with them for daaays.

What you’ll need: large cardboard box, white and black paper, glue, scissors

Ping pong players

Another year we went as ping pong players. We wore matching knee-high socks from when we played in a co-ed soccer league. Joel decided to borrow a pair of my shorts, so he was showing a lot of leg! :) We also bought some inexpensive ping pong paddles (they came with ping pong balls in the package). We owned sweat bands from when we played tennis, so we threw those on too.

Joel decided to glue a ping pong ball onto his paddle. At first I wasn’t sure about this idea… but it turned out to be absolutely brilliant! In all our photos, it looked like he was right in the middle of an intense game of ping pong! It was hilarious. Check out one of his “action shots” below… makes me crack up every time! When my dad saw this photo on my instagram, he was all impressed that Joel had “contact” haha! :)

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Probably the only downside that I remember with this costume was that we were FREEZING when we were walking back to our car. It was definitely a cold night in Connecticut, and Halloween in New England feels very different compared to Halloween in Texas hah! Maybe I should have worn the ping pong costume in Texas and the snorkeling costume in Connecticut. :) That wetsuit would have kept me toasty warm, that’s for sure!

What you’ll need: ping pong paddles and ball, athletic clothing (shirt/shorts)

For that extra touch, you’ll need: sweat-bands

There you have it! Three ideas for easy and cheap DIY costumes for Halloween! So simple :) Out of the above ideas, I think my favorite costume was the ping pong one. Since we were wearing regular clothing and shoes, we were super comfortable (until we were out in the cold hah!).

Have an amazing Halloween everyone!

Check out other memories! Like the time I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the time we went to the Saltaire Restaurant and Oyster Bar, and the time I moved to New York City!

What is your Halloween costume this year? What is your all-time favorite Halloween costume that you’ve ever worn?

To wish or not to wish… and what in the world to wish for?

Hi friends!

Welcome back to another What if Wednesday!

Let’s talk about wishes!

We’ve all heard the childhood tales about getting to make a wish (or three). Remember King Midas and his wish for everything he touched to turn to gold? And of course who could forget Aladdin, where he wishes that the genie make him a prince?

Have you ever thought about what you would wish for?

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Here’s the setup:

  1. You have been granted one wish.
  2. You don’t have to use your wish if you don’t want to…but bear in mind that there are consequences either way.
  3. If you use your wish:
    • It must be used within the next five minutes.
    • You will instantly age by 20 years. In other words, if you use your wish, you will immediately be 20 years older than your current age.
  4. If you do NOT use your wish within five minutes:
    • You will stay your current age…however, the loved one closest to you will instantly age by 20 years.
  5. Rules:
    • You may not wish for more wishes.
    • You may not wish for more time to decide. Five minutes is all you get.
    • You may not change or remove any of these caveats or consequences.

It seems that this scenario implicitly supposes that every alternative comes at a price. Having a wish – even with these parameters – is quite an immense opportunity. But the cost of using the wish is essentially the loss of 20 years of life. Either years lost from my own life or lost from the life of my closest loved one (Joel).

In thinking it through, I think it would make most sense for me to use the wish. At least then the wish could be used for something good. Sure, I could refuse to use it, but then not only would Joel lose 20 years of time, we also wouldn’t have anything to “show” for paying that price. Meaning he would suffer the cost for nothing.

So it’s decided then. I would use the wish.

Yes, this means I would instantly be in my 50’s.

You know what, it would make me incredibly sad to miss out on the opportunity to experience the rest of my 30’s or any of my 40’s. There is much I want to do in those years…like have babies, watch them grow into amazing adults, and hit some key career milestones.

It’s true, instantly being 20 years older means a loss of those 20 years… but you know something? It doesn’t mean I couldn’t still strive for my goals, right? For example, assuming menopause was an issue, we could build a family through surrogacy or adoption. And I’d still have plenty of years with which to work towards career goals.

So the next question becomes: what on earth would I wish for?

One way around the “20 years lossed” caveat is to wish for immortality. I would essentially be trading 20 years for an infinite number of years. But is this really what I would want? Do I want to live forever? Truthfully, I don’t think so. I imagine that forever would be quite lonely as you’d continuously outlive everyone and everything else in the world.

So… if not immortality, what would I wish for?

When I was a kid, I used to think that if I had a wish, I would wish for a million dollars. To a child, this seems like an unfathomably huge amount of money. But anyone with student loans, medical bills, a mortgage, a car note, credit card, monthly bills, and/or any combination thereof can tell you that one million dollars wouldn’t go quite as far as my childhood self naively thought.

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What about a billion dollars? A trillion?

I think ultimately I’d have to wonder what would be the true cost of those 20 years I had to give up in order to have the wish. I don’t think I’d be able to put a number on that. Plus, even if I were to wish for a gazillion dollars, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that money does NOT in fact guarantee happiness, and may actually lead to boredom and dissatisfaction.

There are other meaningful ways to use something as precious as a wish. So as nice as it would be to pocket that million (or billion), I can honestly tell you that I probably would not use my wish to acquire personal wealth.

What could be more impactful than a billion dollars? Hmm.

Perhaps I could change some past event to improve how history played out. There are no caveats around changing historical events. Perhaps there is a pivotal event that, if prevented, would alter the course of history. The book “11/22/63” by Stephen King is based on the premise that the John F. Kennedy assassination is one such pivotal event. Perhaps I could use my wish to prevent Martin Luther King Jr from being assassinated, or to prevent Hitler from being born.

Or maybe I could use my wish to correct some systemic wrong in the world. For example, I could wish to remove all traces of prejudice. There are no caveats related to this kind of global wish, so I assume this would be fair game. What would it be like to live in a world with no racism, sexism, classism, ageism, or any other type of discrimination? Friends, with my wish, we could find out. I wonder what it would be like if we lived in a world where the only trace of discrimination was in the history books.

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Another option would be to use my wish to bestow everyone in the world with a strong sense of compassionate generosity. Perhaps this would be the best way to use my wish. I would gladly give up those 20 years if it meant that every single person on the earth (and everyone yet to be born) would live with a healthy combination of sincere compassion and true generosity.

If we were all truly generous, maybe there would be more charitable giving, more helping each other, less poverty, less hunger, less human suffering…. If we all were more compassionate, maybe we would be slower to judge each other, slower to jump to conclusions, more willing to give benefit of doubt, more accepting of each others’ differences and flaws. Maybe. Just maybe.

Check out my other “what if” posts!

Would you make your wish? If so, what would you wish for? 

Memories of the dark

Hi friends!

Do you remember being a little kid, scared of the dark? I was thinking about times as a child when I would be suddenly afraid of the dark.

As we’re right around the corner from Halloween, I thought it fitting to begin this post with “It was a dark and stormy night” ooOOoOOooo how classically spooky of me, right? So here are some of the memories that have been dancing around in this head of mine.

It was a dark and stormy night… I was around six years old. I sat cross-legged on the floor with my younger brother. The storm outside raged, rain pelting against the windows relentlessly.

A particularly beastly clap of thunder rattled our entire house. Its effects ripped through the air, destroying the neighborhood power lines. The friendly lights in our home instantly died.

Is there anything more terrifying to a child? One second I was playing contentedly with my brother, and the next second I was in fear. Although deep down I knew that I was safe at home, I recall feeling a sudden rush of panic, and being almost certain that a something scary was about to clamp its hand on my shoulder.

Darkness can be frightening because it makes us feel disengaged, disoriented, and perhaps worst of all, calls attention to our unawareness of what may be right in front of us. It’s like the scene in the movies when an isolated – and eerily backlit – character is stumbling around in darkness only to discover (usually with the help of strategic flashes of lightening) that whatever they are afraid of is inches from their face.

But you know what? As I got a little older, I was pleased to discover that darkness had a non-scary and actually USEFUL side. Not as exciting as the spooky stuff, but I still found it super interesting!

One of the more fascinating roles that darkness plays is in our health and general well-being. Regular intervals of darkness (ie: natural night and day) fosters a healthy balance of hormones like melatonin which improve sleep quality… and it is mostly during sleep that the body repairs and restores itself. Exposure to too much darkness during the day or too little of it at night can disrupt the body’s normal melatonin levels and sleep cycle, which in turn disrupts our health and sense of well-being.

However, darkness can be frustrating, especially when it comes unexpectedly. In Kenya, where I grew up, we often had electricity blackouts. This can be irritating and is certainly not ideal. But as it happened quite often, we grew accustomed to it. My siblings and I even managed to have fun during these blackouts.

Although our family owned a generator for such times as these, generator fuel is expensive and we tried to conserve it for emergencies. Thus, to pass the time in darkness, my brothers and sisters would sometimes play games by candlelight.

The blackouts became opportunities for childhood creativity.

My sister and I created whole fashion shows, starring us (of course) as the runway models. Our runway was the corridor in our home. We sometimes had an audience (our other siblings haha).

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Once, during a power outage, a couple of us choreographed an entire dance to the Spice Girls’s song  “Wannabe” complete with lip-syncing, costumes, and props. It was pretty awesome.

Another time, during a different power outage, my brother, inspired by Gambit, recruited the rest of us to play a new game which involved the art of throwing playing cards with great accuracy at opponents. It got pretty intense.

Yet of all these times in the dark, there was only ONE time that I was immersed in a special kind of darkness… it was so inky that I could not see past my own eyelids.

Have you ever experienced a darkness so dark that you feel like it is a physical mass enveloping you?

I remember that it took a while for my eyes to grow accustomed to it. And even then, I could barely make out objects.

Friends, I encountered this impermeable darkness on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. The landscape, though vast, was cloaked in a thick coat of darkness (see more on my summit here). I remember that after peering about for some time, I started to truly realize the absolute magnitude of the night sky. This is something I would never have been aware of, had I myself not been dipped in darkness.

Up on the mountain, the combination of altitude, lack of artificial light, the impossibility of clouds far below us, and all the upturned eyes brought about the realization of the ridiculous smallness of my world.

I was suddenly aware that here I was… just a tiny, insignificant person… standing on this slightly less tiny (but still quite insignificant) mountain… daring to look into the unbelievable enormity of the UNIVERSE.

I have never experienced the beauty of the stars so profoundly as on that night.

It caused me to realize that despite the unsettled feeling that darkness sometimes leaves us, there is no doubt in my mind that darkness can have a true purpose and meaning.

After all, darkness has clear roles in the promotion of health, as well as in the provision of opportunities for creativity.

Thus I have now what I did not have as a child, sitting cross-legged on the floor, terrified by thunder on that dark and stormy night.

I have an appreciation for the dark.

And with that, I bid you all a very Happy Halloween! I hope you have an incredibly fun and safe time!

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Check out my other posts!

Have you ever been afraid of the dark? What are your plans for Halloween? Dressing up as anything?

A sestina dedicated to my dad

 

Welcome back, friends!

Today I am sharing a poem I wrote when I was about 16 years old. I wrote it as part of a homework assignment for one of my classes in high school (read more about my boarding school here).

This particular class was taught by Miss Brookes, a teacher who taught several literature and English courses in the school.

One of the things I appreciated about Miss Brookes is that she introduced us to various styles of writing that were totally new to us. In her class, we got lots of practice writing all types of poems. One of these is the sestina. Not sure what a sestina is? Not to worry! Wikipedia’s got us covered :)

sestina (Old Occitancledisat [klediˈzat]; also known as sestinesextinesextain) is a fixed verse form consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, normally followed by a three-line envoi. The words that end each line of the first stanza are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas, rotated in a set pattern.

Sestinas have a very strict pattern which follows this structure:

1 2 3 4 5 6
6 1 5 2 4 3
3 6 4 1 2 5
5 3 2 6 1 4
4 5 1 3 6 2
2 4 6 5 3 1
(6 2) (1 4) (5 3)

As I wrote this 17 years ago, I don’t remember a whole lot about my writing process. However, I do remember first looking at the poem’s structure and thinking that it would be an exciting challenge. I can only imagine that it must have been pretty difficult figuring out how to write anything whilst adhering to this super rigid structure.

 

 

In any case, the poem I wrote is about my dad. He is someone who taught all of his kids the value of hard work. He embodies real grit, bigtime smarts, and some serious “stick-with-it’ness.” For as long as I can remember, he was up before the sun, and worked grueling hours 6 (sometimes 7) days a week. And at the end of a long day, he had the energy to play chess or checkers with his kids before falling asleep on the couch.

And all these years later, he’s still at it, EXACTLY the same as always! Going strong in his 70’s!

Dad, this one’s for you! :)

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__________________________________________________________

 

Entrepreneur, Provider, Disciplinarian; DAD.

He’s known for deep thoughts and great work –

Why does he have the motivation to work so hard?

How does he juggle work and those he loves?

The seconds at the factory do not readily turn to hours,

Nor do the hours flow quickly into a complete day.

 

Every morning before tackling the long day,

I hear the unique sound of my dad.

The morning has begun with quiet red hours,

But before my father rushes off to work,

He pats us on our backs and reminds us of his love.

I know that washing us grow up must be hard.

 

He eats a big breakfast to keep him going hard

Dad needs an extra boost to start his working day.

He works like this for honor and for love,

If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be a real dad.

The factory amazes and confuses me; how does it work?

It runs under dad and through every day’s hour.

 

My dad is tired, but it is not the resting hour.

He must not sleep, although exhaustion tries sohard

To overwhelm him. He must support his family through his work

And work is not limited to light hours of the day.

He’s tired… but wanting more than sleep – to be a good dad,

A father who supports his family with life and love.

 

He doesn’t show it like how the world thinks of love,

Like expensive presents or a few measly hours.

No, he’s not the typical, everyday dad.

I’m glad he’s not, although accepting this washard.

Maybe I’ll thank him for everything one day

And ask him to teach me his life’s work.

 

At the end of the day, as he arrives home from work,

He pats our back and declares again, his love.

I can tell from his face that it was a long day,

I can tell it’s been long from the time of the hour.

How does he go on after trying so hard?

I am so lucky to have him as my dad.

 

Still, he has the strength for checkers at this hour.

He always wins, but he pretends that it is hard.

What a lucky girl I am to have him as my dad.

 

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Have you checked out my other poems? Here is one on tragic love, and another one on scaling a mountain! Need more stories in your life? Here is one about a little cockroach!

Do you know how to play checkers or chess? What was your favorite class in high school or college? (Mine was 9th grade Biology with Mr. Schuit!)

 

Catching up on life

 

Hi friends!

I haven’t done a “rambling” post in a while, and felt like today was a good day for one!

Let’s catch up on some random things…

Happy 14 years :)

Yesterday, my calendar reminded me that it was our 14th dating anniversary. Every year I can’t believe that another year has passed, and this year is no exception. I simply cannot believe it’s been 14 years. In the years since we first began our relationship, we have gotten married, moved 5 times, bought 3 houses (sold 2), and had plenty of adventures along the way! And through it all, he remains my favorite person. <3 Our 10 year wedding anniversary is coming up in December — goodness me, 10 years! Where has the time gone? I guess it’s true what they say, it really does fly when you’re having fun.

Apple picking

In other news, last weekend we went apple picking at Bishop’s Orchards here in Connecticut. The weather was perfection – sunny with that little bit of crisp in the air. This is only my second time going apple picking EVER! Crazy, right? My first time was last fall. Both times I have gone, I have been amazed at how many different types of apples there are. It’s fun trying out new-to-me varieties that I don’t normally see at the grocery store. I have to say though, my favorite type hands-down is still Honeycrisp! We came home with more than enough to last a while. I haven’t baked an apple pie in a while, and this is the perfect time to do just that!

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Book club

My book club is currently reading Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. I’m only about a third of the way through the book, but I am enjoying it so far. The tone is somewhat conversational, so it’s been an easy read thus far. Our previous book was Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which was of course much heavier by comparison. I haven’t seen the show yet, and am interested in watching it at some point soon. I love my book club – it’s so fun getting together to talk about books and drink wine. Speaking of wiiiine…

 

 

Ginger wine

I discovered Stone’s Ginger Wine recently, and seriously love it. It has quite a strong ginger flavor, so if you aren’t a ginger lover, you will probably want to stay away. It reminds me of Stoney Tangawizi, a delicious non-alcoholic ginger soda that I used to drink all the time in Kenya. I miss it! It’s funny the things you miss when you move away. When I lived in Kenya, I always had access to Stoney, but I never gave it second thought. And now 15 years later I suddenly miss it. Maybe that’s why I have such an affinity for the ginger wine – it conjures up all this nostalgia.

Anxiety

Lately I’ve been dealing with some anxiety. Here are some things that help me:

  1. Talking to Joel and other loved ones. It helps to know that those who close to me are so supportive. Just knowing that they will always be there for me is priceless. Joel is the first person I go to when I am feeling anxious, and he is always incredibly patient and supportive. I’m so grateful.
  2. Journaling. I have kept a journal since the 3rd grade. My very first journal had a light blue cover with painting of a lamb on the front. It also had a lock and a key! All these years later, I still have that journal, but the key is long gone. And you know what, over the years I have filled up many more journals! I find that writing is a really effective way for me to process through my thoughts.
  3. Running. Sometimes when I’m feeling anxious, it’s harder than usual to find the motivation to run. Other times, I can’t wait to get out the door to run. Regardless of how I feel before the run, I always feel at least a little bit better afterwards. Running may not totally remove the anxiety (or the source thereof), but it never fails gives me a needed boost. And ya know, sometimes that sense of accomplishment after a run feels like the only thing that saves the day from being a total bust.
  4. Getting outside. When I get lost in my anxiety bubble, it’s so easy to forget that there is an entire world outside of it. It might take some convincing, but when I finally get outside — as in, literally outdoors AND figuratively outside the anxiety bubble — it can be both a literal and figurative breath of fresh air! Sometimes even just a quick trip to the store, or a walk around the block can be a reminder that it’s not actually the end of the world. And then the day feels 10 times brighter.
  5. Get enough rest. Anxiety makes me toss and turn all night, leaving me exhausted by morning. I try to ease up on the gas when sleepless nights happen, and if at all possible, I try to get to bed early the following night. I’ve learned the hard way that insufficient sleep is a recipe for running-related injury, a compromised immune system, and all round misery.

 

 

I am sure there are plenty of other methods for coping with anxiety. It probably depends on the person, and what he or she may find soothing or calming. For example, one of my longtime friends also struggles with anxiety, and one of the ways she copes is through baking various yummy foods. She loves to bake (and is great at it!). When she bakes, it helps to relieve a lot of her stress. Another friend of mine has a ranch down in Texas, and whenever she is feeling stressed out, she spends time with her horses. I think each of us is pretty unique in how we deal with anxiety or stress. What is helpful to one person may not be to another. I would love to hear how you deal with anxiety!

Catch up on previous posts! Like these thoughts on rain, or this one about the tallest mountain in Africa, or this one on a few of my favorites!

Let’s catch up! What’s new on your end? How do you deal with anxiety?

How we moved house and survived

 

Hi friends!

I’ve been thinking about all the times in my life that I have moved house. I have mentioned before that I have moved a few times over the years. I have lived in Kenya, Singapore, Pennsylvania, New York City, Houston, and Boston. For the past 4 years Joel and I have lived in Connecticut.

I moved from Kenya to Pennsylvania when I was 18 to start college, and then afterwards moved to New York City to start my first job. When I got accepted to graduate school, I moved to Houston to start my graduate program. Joel and I lived there for 8 years, during which time I earned 2 masters and a phd. When I was offered a postdoctoral position in Boston, we moved back to the northeast. And we relocated again when for “real jobs” (haha) in Connecticut.

Relocating definitely has its advantages. For one, being available to relocate for jobs can open up the possibility of amazing career opportunities. And of course, it’s exciting to start a new chapter and get to know new places. We have had so many interesting experiences from all our adventures.

However, anyone who has ever moved knows that it is never easy to pick up and start a new life.

Our most recent move was into our house here in Connecticut. We went to a lot of effort to make the process as smooth as possible.

In the months before our move date, I shopped around local moving companies to find the best deal. We have moved on our own without the help of moving companies in the past… it’s totally do-able, but it’s really tough! We have acquired some heavy furniture, and rather than have to figure out how to manhandle it between the 2 of us, we decided to go with a moving company.

After acquiring quote estimates from a few places, I finally settled on a local company called Up & Down Movers. They offered the best rate for a 3 man crew and a 26 foot truck.

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I started packing 7 days before our move date. We still had all our boxes and moving blankets from our previous move –> this is one of the plus sides to having relocated previously, haha! We didn’t have to buy new ones. We did buy some new packing tape so that we could secure the boxes and ensure that they don’t fall apart.

The first room I packed up was the kitchen. I knew it would be the room that took the longest. Carefully packing up each glass, bowl, pot, and plate took a while! We bought some cushiony thingies (for lack of better term) to put between stacked plates and between glasses so that they didn’t rattle against each other and break.

Throughout the packing process, Joel and I were surprised by how much STUFF we have. We have always tried to avoid accumulating useless things, and like to make regular trips to donation centers. However, despite all of our Goodwill donations, we still could not believe how much stuff we have.

It is a pretty weird feeling to look at all your material possessions when they are piled up in boxes. We kept joking about how we had the “Mary Poppins” apartment because things kept piling up from nowhere!

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One of the things that we liked about Up & Down Movers was that the guys helped us dissemble our furniture and wrap it nicely in blankets. This is a really important step because it prevents the furniture from getting chipped or dented during the move. Dissembling furniture, especially the heavy stuff, can be tricky. It helped to have extra helping hands for that. You can tell that the movers are total professionals and do this every day! They expertly handled all of our heavy furniture. Nothing was damaged in the move! And side note, we kept all our moving blankets from our previous move, so it was nice that we could re-use them and not buy new ones.

 

 

The guys also helped us reassemble everything when we got to our house. This was super helpful too. Joel could have done the reassembly on his own, but having extra hands helped the process go much quicker.

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Something that really helped me to stay organized was to put labels on boxes that were very descriptive. I used sticky notes and tape to quickly label boxes so that I would know what was inside them. Instead of simply writing “kitchen” on the label, I tried to be more descriptive, for example “plates, bowls” or “wine glasses”.

This helped to speed up the process of unloading boxes when we arrived at our house. All I had to do was look at the label and know which room the box should go to. When you’ve got 4 guys (counting Joel) unloading a truck, grunting under the weight of heavy boxes, and asking you where to put them, you don’t have time to open up each box to see what’s inside.

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The extra descriptive labels were also extremely helpful when it came to unpacking the boxes. Instead of having to rifle through 15 boxes all labeled “kitchen,” I knew exactly where to find the plates. It was much easier to figure out what to unpack first, like plates and utensils. And I could leave the less urgent things to be dealt with later, like the blender and slow cooker.

 

 

Just like after our previous move, we decided to hang onto all the boxes and blankets. you never know when they might come in handy. We flattened the boxes and folded up the blankets, and tucked them all away in our basement. –> We have already put a couple of the blankets to good use when we bought some antique furniture (read more on that here!).

Have you seen my other posts about life and our home? Here’s one about hosting a party, another about hosting airbnb guests, and another about furnishing and decorating our house!

When was the last time you moved? Do you save things like boxes and moving blankets?

“Muna” – A short story

 

Hi friends! Welcome back to another “Story Friday!”

This story is of a young girl named Muna. I wrote this when I was about 16. I was interested in exploring the character of a child who is surviving in a war-torn country, and caring for her brother.

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MUNA

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Muna clung to her tiny brother, Akmad, seeking, with all the power in her weakened arms to protect the tiny child from the horrors of their once-dear home country. She silently cursed her Albanian ancestry and the Serbs that sought to take everything from her people. Already, Muna had lost so much. Her mother, her father, her home, and worst of all, her pride. The Serbs had stripped her of everything but life itself, leaving her only eyes with which to weep. The baby, Akmad, flinched in her arms as a troop of Serbs flew past, arms raised and screaming their frightful battle cry.

The one short year since his birth had not hardened Akmad toward the terrible truths of the world. The child’s dark eyes harbored none of the haunting fear that his sister’s carried. He was a jovial toddler, a bouncing boy shielded by the blessing of ignorance. Muna wrapped her frail, depleted arms even tighter around the boy and willed the world to be at peace. In all her eleven years, she had yet to experience even one week without clashes and conflicts between the government, Serbs, or Muslims. Her dark, solemn eyes held a sober maturity that never failed to startle even the most lighthearted onlooker.

She rearranged the thin quilt around Akmad and gazed pensively from within the cramped alley. Muna grimly set her jaw and pushed down her loathing of her own country. She cradled the child as a mother would, and sidled cautiously down the filthy street in the heart of Kosovo, bracing herself against the icy wind. Now it was deathly silent; the raiders had moved on with the goods they had stolen from defenseless people and abandoned buildings.

Muna recoiled vaguely when her mysteriously dark eyes fell on a woman sprawled on the street. The woman’s hair was matted with fresh blood. It seemed on the exterior that Muna had merely glanced at the body and looked away, as her slight reaction was perceptible only in her tightened grip around her wriggling brother. Her face gave away none of the emotion she felt inside, but inwardly the sight of the red liquid brought memories catapulting from the past into her mind.

She was only ten years old when it happened.

Her mother had just put Muna and Akmad – who was but a tiny newborn – into their makeshift beds and sang them a song. The lullaby was both haltingly lovely and mournful. Muna’s mother had been an exquisite Albanian woman with dark, serious eyes, and her possessing smile radiated such peace that Muna knew her mother was the most beautiful woman in Yugoslavia.

A sudden knock shook the door. Muna’s mother ushered them out of bed and swiftly into the moldy attic, hastily imploring her two children to remain still and silently hidden until she returned for them. Her mother hurried to the door, knowing that it was not her husband on the other side.

He had been missing for two days, and the family had wordlessly understood that they would never see him again. Suddenly a pair of government officials burst into the room, demanding money and threatening death. When they saw that Muna’s mother had nothing to give, they assaulted her verbally, then physically. She had withstood the attack in firm silence, but Muna could sense her mother’s noiseless, tortured screams. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and prayed to every god whose name she could recall. At last, two gunshots ripped through the bitter air and suddenly the faceless, nameless soldiers were gone.

Long moments had passed, and a stifling hot silence permeated the tiny apartment. Muna waited, terrified. She cradled her whimpering brother and straining to hear sounds of her mother’s footsteps. She silently counted to the highest number she knew, and when that was done, she repeated every verse of the Koran that she had ever been forced to memorize. At last, when the silence was too much to bear, she ventured out with Akmad in her arms.

It was then that she had found her mother. The body was naked and bleeding from two bullet wounds in the torso.

That had been a year ago.

Muna, scarred by the image of her mother’s lifeless face, had been driven to the streets a month later when she had no way to pay rent for the tiny apartment. No amount of begging or pleading could have persuaded the rigid landlord to allow them to stay, not even when she had beseeched him in shame from her knees. No money, no Albanians.

On the streets, Muna was subjected to the harsh conditions. Hunger, cold, abuse. As a result of her traumatic existence, she withdrew into the recesses of her mind, rarely speaking, and even rarer still, smiling.

Weeks and months passed. Muna grew less like her vivacious self, and more like the thousands of hopeless, lifeless beggars on the streets of Kosovo. She could not remember the last time she had eaten, for she always gave Akmad the scraps of food she was able to gather. As a result, her own body and health dwindled.

With a worried glance at the sky, she noted that the sun would die within the hour. A pale expression of fear flitted across gaunt features as she pondered the thought that confronted her daily. Where will we sleep tonight?

Muna hoisted her brother onto a thin hip and began the slow trek. She grimaced at the prospect of yet another night on a cold doorstep or between battered buildings. Muna rummaged aimlessly through a pile of rubbish, and came away with a half-eaten chipolata. One sniff of the cold sausage renewed her sharp pangs of hunger. She wiped it and placed it gingerly in Akmad’s little, grasping fingers.

She rubbed his heavily blanketed back as he wolfed it down noisily. A wave of guilt struck her as the child looked up expectantly, his tiny hand outstretched for more. She shook her head sadly and gave his ruddy cheek an affectionate kiss. Akmad squirmed in frustration, but accepted her maternal embrace. He wrapped his short arms around her neck.

The sun passed dejectedly over the horizon, sinking into the distant land of Bosnia. Muna settled awkwardly against a tree stump with Akmad nestled in her lap. She sat still and unmoving, waiting for the child to drift off to sleep. Her heart, though a mere shadow of what it once was, still longed with the same fervor for a better life. She stared after the sun’s bleeding rays and wished for the land beyond the horizon, where she could live free.

She knew that somewhere beyond the blazing orb lay a land called Montenegro, where Albanians were left at peace. Muna’s numbed mind stirred at the thought of liberation. Her frozen consciousness groped desperately for it. As the relief of sleep flooded her senses, Muna’s last thought was of Montenegro, where she would one day flee – one arm clutching Akmad, the other grasping freedom.

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Check out my other stories & poems:

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Have you wondered what life must be like for children living in war-torn countries? Can you imagine caring for a baby in such an environment? 

You do not exist. Now what?

 

Hi friends!

Welcome back to another What if Wednesday!

I may have mentioned previously that I started a book club. Our most recent book inspired some lively discussion on the overlapping topics of money and vulnerability. Side note: 20 points to anyone who correctly guesses the book (also a show!) that inspired this week’s post! :)

None of us want to think that our money could be vulnerable to attack or theft. We all take great pains to protect what we have. And we take every opportunity to add bulk to the coffers whenever we can.

Additionally, we all place a whole lot of faith in the virtual systems that gird our society. Everything from banking to medical records, social security, and social media is largely online. Sure, there are backups in case the power goes out, or the system goes down temporarily. But even the backups and failsafes are not always 100% immune to attack or damage.

So here is the question: What if you checked your bank account right this minute and found a $0 balance? Unless you really are broke, you’d assume it was a mistake. What if you tried to log into your social media to #tweetaboutit but suddenly none of your apps recognized your username? …What if every online imprint of you was somehow simply gone?

The setup:

  1. You have just discovered that all your money is gone.Everything in the bank… everything you invested in stocks, bonds, CD’s, Roth IRAs, 401Ks, etc,… vanished. Into thin air.
  2. Your keycard does not allow you access to your work building. You call IT and HR, but there is no record of you having ever worked there.
  3. The electricity, internet, and water to your house is shut off because the companies have no record of you.
  4. Your cellphone stops working…the carrier has no record of you.
  5. You ask your tech-savvy friend for help. After doing some intensive digging, he says he can find ZERO trace of you ANYWHERE.
  6. You have been wiped from every database. Your social security, credit score, government records, taxes… even your social media accounts have been deleted.
  7. You do not exist.
  8. Now what?

Every time I read a book or watch a movie with a similar “you’ve been wiped” premise, it always gives me pause. Could something like this really happen?

 

 

First, can we give props to the tech-savvy friend for a sec? I mean this person is in every movie. You know the one character that tends to be surrounded by computer monitors, and somehow always able to do internet-magic with a keystroke. Without fail, character can hack into the most protected database in a split second. We all need a friend like this in our lives for precisely this moment.

Right. Back to the premise…

So, for the sake of this thought experiment, let’s just say that this really did happen. Let’s say that a sinister virus erased all trace of me RIGHT THIS SECOND.

My initial thought is that it would suck to lose everything. Even if I brought my birth certificate, passport, and social security card, the bank probably wouldn’t be handing over any money if they can’t corroborate that I exist. It’s more likely that they’d have me arrested for trying to steal money with forged documents. So in this scenario, I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to get my money back.

It would also certainly be unsettling that there are no tax records of me, not even with the IRS! Sure I have copies of all my tax documents, but would anyone in the government believe a random chick with printouts? We all know how undocumented immigrants get treated in this country. And it’s only getting worse. No one is exactly rolling out the welcome mat. So yeah, rather than try to convince government officials that I’m actually a law-abiding citizen, I’d probably try to figure things out on my own.

Upon further thought, I have realized that there are some pretty great upsides to this… after all, erasing all my assets also means erasing all my debts, right? And hey, I wouldn’t mind saying byebye to that mortgage! Plus, if my social security number vanishes and the IRS doesn’t have record of me, that might also mean byebye taxes. One less thing to do every year.

I’d run into a pretty big kink with income though. Not having record of existence means not being able to continue working at my current job. Even if I tried to convince HR that I’m actually an employee, they would need to have my social security number, etc, which we all know has been wiped. Gah! So I might as well say goodbye to my job.

I’d probably need to find an employer that doesn’t require any documentation, and is willing to pay me in cold hard cash (I wouldn’t have a bank account, remember?). I don’t know any reputable employers that would be cool with this situation, but you never know. Or maybe I’d have to do stuff like walk dogs or mow my neighbors’ lawns. I think I could be down with this. I love dogs. And mowing could be fun…? I’d figure it out.

In thinking about this scenario, it’s funny how non-scary it suddenly becomes. Not at all like the movies, amiright? Characters in books/movies that find themselves in similar situations tend to also have something dire going on at the same time… like trying to save the world from a ticking bomb, or desperately searching for the villain who threatens humanity. I don’t have any of these earth shattering issues to resolve, so if I were to “get wiped,” I don’t think I would freak out too badly.

 

 

I mean, I would be mad that my money disappeared. But it’s not like I’ve got billions sitting in a Swiss bank account. And once I took a beat and remembered that my mortgage was gone too, I’d chill out real quick.

What about you?

Check out other posts! Like this one on time travel! Or this one about how our habits follow us! And this one on how I track my running mileage!

How would you react if you suddenly “got wiped”? Any guesses as to what book/show inspired this post? :) 

That time I ran a marathon while injured…

 

Hi friends!

Remember how I’ve run a couple marathons? In today’s “Monday Runday” Let’s talk about my first marathon experience!

The Hartford marathon!

Let’s start with the night before the race. I remember waking up randomly that night due to nerves, going to pee, hydrating/snacking on carbs, then going back to sleep. By the time my alarm went off in the morning, I had gotten about 4 hours of sleep.

But I was ready to rumble! Buzzing with adrenaline, I barely noticed the lack of sleep.

For pre-race fuel, I had 2 honey stinger gels and a few bites of a plain bagel. I was too nervous to get any more of it down (in hindsight, I should have eaten the entire bagel).

My weather app said it was in the 40’s so I wore throwaway arm sleeves ($2 tube socks with a hole cut in the toe). I got too warm quickly due to my very toasty “adrenaline jacket,” and tossed them in the first mile.

I originally had a goal time for the race, but scrapped it due to injury. You see, just a couple weeks before the race I was diagnosed with “mild plantar fasciitis.” Looking back, I can say it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I made mistakes overtraining and did not listen to my body during the training cycle. I was too naive to realize what the ache in my foot was signaling. I ended up getting a cortisone shot in my heel 10 days before the race. I would not do this again (the overtraining OR the cortisone shot!).

Anyway, back to the race.

There was fantastic spectator support at the start. I heard Joel yell my name and turned just in time to catch sight of him before I was swept away by the sea of runners.

The course winds through Hartford then out onto residential streets before looping back downtown again. There were a few musicians and DJ’s at various points, but not many spectators. The course is mostly flat, with just a couple rolling hills as it transitions from highways to paths along the water, and vice versa.

I had to remind myself a few times that I was running a marathon… because it didn’t feel hard or even REAL. I kept reminding myself that my dream was becoming a reality, and I wanted to soak in every second.

The temperature rose to mid-50’s, and eventually peaked in the 60’s. There was no shade, so it felt HOT when the sun came out.

My foot didn’t feel great. I remember stopping to stretch my calves several times. I had read that this can help to loosen the plantar, but it honestly didn’t seem to help me much.

Joel met me at mile 13 – he was easy to spot due to the scarcity of spectators. He held a big green sign that said “Go Dawn!” He gave me a hug and said I looked good. I remember feeling great and was so happy. He took my photo, said “see you at mile 21!” and sent me on my way.

My foot started to bother me at mile 15. I switched up my foot strike, which helped a lot. Note: I wouldn’t exactly advise changing your footstrike in the middle of a marathon… my calves were crazy sore afterwards!

I still remember when the lead man flew past me, moving effortlessly in the opposite direction towards the finish line. I kept a lookout for the lead woman. The look on her face was one of complete focus. Her form was smooth. I gave her cheers of encouragement and felt totally inspired.

My foot started to REALLY hurt at mile 16. As well as other parts of my body…my I.T. band…my shin…my ass.

Desperate for a distraction from my crumbling body, I got the earbuds out of my running belt and started listening to some music.

Getting to the turnaround point at mile 17 was a huge mental boost. My legs rallied. The pain evaporated.

I reached mile 20 feeling oddly good, but unable to pick up the pace. I knew that Joel was waiting at mile 21, and that motivated me to keep going.

It was so GOOD to see Joel. He snapped a few more photos and offered to run the final miles together. I told him I felt fine to finish on my own. He sent me off with an encouraging “see you at the finish line!”

Mile 22… the road pummeled my feet. Surely I would emerge from the race with stumps instead of legs.

At mile 25, I managed to pick up the pace. Many were walking by this point, so I passed a lot of people.

When I rounded the corner to the finish line, I was exhilarated!

FINISHED!!!

A woman put a medal around my neck and a man wrapped a foil blanket around my shoulders. I couldn’t resist a couple selfies with my shiny new bling. :)

In the days following, my legs and feet were toast. I mostly penguin-hobbled around my 2nd floor apartment until I felt confident enough to attempt the stairs.

I took a lot of time off running afterwards to let my plantar fasciitis heal. This is when I started cross-training in the pool (pool-running!).

A few lessons I learned from this experience…

Lesson #1

It’s better to be undertrained than overtrained. Don’t be a hero. Listen to your body. Take rest days. Run EASY. You don’t want to toe the line injured (or worse, not at all).

Lesson #2

Don’t start your watch until you are physically crossing the start line. I made the rookie mistake of starting my watch when the gun went off — I was so far back in the crowd that I had already traveled .22 miles and lost 2 minutes by the time I reached the actual start line. My splits were off for the ENTIRE race.

Lesson #3

Eat a WHOLE bagel (or the equivalent) before the race. I only ate a few bites due to nerves. As a result I felt a bit bonk-y towards the end of the race.

That’s it for now! Catch up on other running posts here!

What’s your longest run ever? Aside from running, what is your favorite workout?