Ah, The Start of the Holiday Season.

fullsizerender322Sunday, I was able to prepare our first home cooked meal since we returned from Taiwan.  In an ode to Thanksgiving, turkey breast and my Grandmother’s cranberry dish were on the menu; steamed asparagus in lemon better replaced my holiday green bean casserole and buttermilk biscuits replaced my labor intensive sour dough stuffing.  Given the truncated menu, I opted to bake a pumpkin pie for dessert.

Prior to Sunday, I had baked two pies in my lifetime:  one apple and one pumpkin.  When I bake, I tend to find the most complicated recipe available and go with it.  That is how it came to be that I spent the better part of Sunday afternoon preparing pumpkin pie that requires ice-cold vodka for its crust and ground ginger, maple syrup, candied yams, and double whisked custard for its filling.

As I was cursing the uncooperative pie dough, my thoughts turned to the holiday season.  In an instant, my mind was overrun with questions.  Should we have people over in December?  If so, who?  When?  What do I cook?  When will I be able to bake?  What should we have for Christmas dinner?  Should we buy a used tricycle for [S]?  Should I hand sew a stocking for [S] this year?  Does wrapping pajamas [S]’s already picked out count as a gift?  What about party mix?  When can I make cards for family?  How will I be able to prepare an entire meal in this kitchen?  How will I be able to prepare for the holidays with two young children next year?  I began to panic.  How will it all get done, I needed to know.

This was the first year I recall being overwhelmed by what might be.  Our oven is slow.  That is, unless it is fast.  Every burner on our stove top is lopsided, requiring exacting attention to the contents of each pot and pan.  But my anxiety wasn’t about what to cook or who to invite over.  Rather, I was wondering whether I am up to the task to make this Christmas a special joyous occasion for family and friends.  After I disclosed my near panic attack to Russell, I asked, “What is wrong with me?”  After listening me with a half smile on his face, he responded, “Don’t forget, you never have to do it alone.  We’re a team.  We’ll get everything done–together.”

Later that night, as I cut into the pumpkin pie, immediately noting it could have used a bit more baking time.  I bemoaned the fact, grumbling that I knew better, that I should have been guided by my instinct, rather than the timer.  Russell commented that it tasted great and I should let it firm up in the refrigerator.  The next day, the pie tasted even better and appeared to have firmed up just enough.  And I have not received one complaint about dessert.

It was then I realized that imperfections are part of the holiday season.  The baking, cooking and entertaining all will get done, be it for better or worse.  But my most significant accomplishment will be enjoying time with family and friends, whether over store-bought or homemade cookies.

Here’s to kicking off the holiday season with an eye towards embracing the flaws and imperfections of life.

Giving Thanks, Always.

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Yesterday, the day before Thanksgiving, we returned to home to Okinawa after exploring Taiwan for almost a week.  The trip was educational, inspiring and enlightening–truly fabulous.  Today, we rested and gave thanks.  We did so without turkey, cranberry sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, or pumpkin pie.  Rather, we ate a late lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant, located across the street.  Needless to say, I am grateful for not having to prepare a Thanksgiving meal.  We also are grateful for the opportunity to live in Okinawa and the means to explore the world.  We are grateful for Russell’s employment.  We are grateful that our adoption exit process paperwork has been submitted to Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare.  We are grateful for our health.  But, most of all, we are grateful for our family and friends, without whom we would live in a monochrome world.

From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

The Goal: 42.195 km

Before meeting my husband, my knowledge of endurance racing was minimal.  I cheered on marathon runners from Second Avenue annually while living in New York and that was the extent of my participation.  Since we’ve been married, I have watched Russell compete in one full IRONMAN triathlon (distance:  140.6 miles), two half IRONMAN triathlons (distance:  70.3 miles), and several shorter distance races (sprint and Olympic triathlons).  All of those races, save one, were registered for prior to our marriage.

Since that time, endurance events have taken a back seat to our relationship, our daughter, and his work.  It has been difficult to keep an endurance athlete from registering for races and with good reason.  They are personally challenging and physically addictive (think of that massive endorphin release).  Races also provide a training goal for athletes.  Need motivation for getting to the gym?  Register for a date-certain race.

So, he did.  On Sunday, February 19, 2017, Russell is registered to run the 25th Annual Okinawa Marathon.  In turn, he has been putting miles on his trainers, hitting the road (and treadmill) to prepare for one hilly race.

Course Map and Traffic Control

Curiously, Russell’s dedicated training schedule has had an unexpected knock-on effect.  His waking at 4:30 a.m. to get to the gym before work has motivated me to get to the gym as often as possible–a pre-[S] long lost habit and one that cannot be accomplished without him.  Yesterday, instead of going to the gym, I decided to make the most out of the cooler temperatures and ran up a long steep hill near the Officer’s Club 12 times, earning the respect of three men.  One man who also was running hills breathlessly commented what a good workout it was; another was walking his dog and commented I was “working the hill over”; and, the last was my husband who noted that it was a better workout than hopping on the elliptical machine.  The workout paid off.  Today, it hurts to walk, sit or stand.

I am proud of my husband for taking on another challenge given his tight schedule and current commitments.  I am also in awe of the fact that he continues to push me to achieve–and do–more.  I can only hope I do the same for him.

#RunOki

The Aftermath of a Birthday Ball?

During my high school years field parties were celebrated.  Such a thing is exactly as it sounds–a party in a field.  Typically, the field was at or around a high school in the county and the party included alcoholic beverages, mostly cheap beer and wine coolers.  The participants?  High school students who had been informed of the impromptu mass party.

Given that I attended high school before the advent of mobile phones (at least affordable pocket-sized mobile phones), I recognize it was a feat to organize such a meetup.  Given that the invitations were via word of mouth, oftentimes there was speculation that the police were aware of the planned event.  The fix?  The time and location of the party changed.  Yes.  Just like that.

It was, of course, inevitable that the police (or security officers) would learn of the field party location.  Indeed, the question was never whether the party would be busted, only when.  When the police came the protocol was simple, ditch and dash.  The result?  Bottles and cans–empty, full, or somewhere in between–dotted the landscape of the field after the revelers fled.  It wasn’t pretty.  But what do 16 and 17 year old kids know?

The armed services Birthday Ball season began a few weeks ago in Okinawa.  Each service hosts one or more formal ball to celebrate the establishment of the service.  Given the limited on-base venues available to host such a formal celebration, the Officers’ Club around the corner from our home is the site for many balls throughout October and November.

This morning, as I was walking to the gym, I noticed a few cars remaining in the Officers’ Club parking lot, which is neither an uncommon site nor a bad thing.  Indeed, I’d much prefer someone take a taxi home than get behind the wheel tipsy.  But what was an unusual sight were the bottles and cans of alcohol left in the parking lot.  It were as if a lot party had been broken up by base police.

This is not a post about moral outrage.  To the contrary, I understand that some will want to let loose and celebrate this annual event with pre- and/or post-ball partying.  What I don’t understand is why those who do so can’t take their empties with them to dispose of properly post-ball.  I questioned the responsibility, character, and accountability of those leaving garbage in the parking lot for others to clean.  And, then, I wondered whether anyone but me cares.

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Love.

I felt it Thursday evening.  “Russell, I don’t feel good.  I think I’m getting the flu.”  Unfortunately, those words have not been uncommon in the recent past.  Indeed, they have been far too common for my Husband to doubt the veracity of my statement.  That night, I went to bed, only to awaken to my own moaning in the early hours of the morning.

When [S] woke Friday morning, I brought her into our room to await Russell’s return from an early morning run.  Once he returned, I went back to sleep, staying up long enough to do as he instructed–I texted [S]’s day care provider to ask if we could drop her off that morning.  “Yes, of course,” came the reply.  I woke a bit after noon, slowly realizing I had slept the morning away.  My head felt as if someone had hit me over the head with frying pan and my throat was raw and sore.  We collected [S] together that afternoon.  I took her home and was alone with her for a few hours.  Once Russell walked in the door, he put her to sleep.  And I fell asleep as well.

This morning, he awoke with [S].  He fed her, dressed her, and took her to run errands, returning after 2 p.m.  During that time, I slept, drank tea, and marveled at the quiet.  By the time they arrived home, I felt better.  And by this evening, I felt significantly better–the massive headache gone, the sore throat soothed.

When I married Russell I knew he was loving, thoughtful, and kind.  Yet he still surprises me by just how loving, thoughtful, and kind he is.

#Love

A Forgotten Lesson.

Cursive writing was supposed to be dead by now. Schools would stop teaching it. Kids would stop learning it. Everyone would stop using it. The Common Core standards adopted by most states in recent years no longer required teaching cursive in public schools, and the widespread reaction was succinct: good riddance.

But like Madonna and newspapers, cursive has displayed a gritty staying power, refusing to have its loop de loops and curlicues swept to the dustbin of handwriting history. Just last month, Louisiana passed a law requiring that all traditional public schools and public charter schools begin teaching cursive by third grade and continue through 12th grade. Arkansas legislators passed a law mandating cursive instruction last year. And 10 other states, including Virginia, California, Florida and Texas, have cursive writing requirements in their state education standards.

* * *

Though it was widely taught in schools in the early 20th century, cursive’s dominance has been in jeopardy ever since. First it was threatened by printed handwriting, and then it fell further from favor as typewriters, personal computers, laptops and tablets gained widespread use. More recently, the smartphone has become cursive’s chief enemy as the graceful, fluid lines of sentences inked on paper by a carefully gripped pen have rapidly given way to tweets and texts battered out with indifferent thumbs on mini keyboards or screens.

Once all but left for dead, is cursive handwriting making a comeback?, Joe Heim, The Washington Post (July 26, 2016).

A few weeks ago, Russell and I were engaged in a family drawing session, where crayons and paper dominate all else.  After drawing a picture of our family, we began writing [S]’s name with crayons, in various colors and styles.  Her name was written in lower case letters.  Her name was in capital letters.  And then Russell wrote her name in cursive.  Well, maybe.  I looked at the S.  “Is that right?  Is that how you write a capital S in cursive?  It looks funny.”  It was enough to make him doubt whether it was properly written.  Google confirmed he had correctly recalled his cursive capital letter, but for me, I had to practice the letter several times before muscle memory kicked in.

Those who know me well, know that I am fond of the handwritten note, be it to thank someone for their kindness or to comfort someone during troubling times.  Truly, one of my favorite reasons to write is just to say hello.  My problem is that my handwriting is atrocious.  This is not an exaggeration.  Indeed, my Husband can hardly make out my penned notes.  Typically, my writing is a mix of print and cursive, with print being dominant.  (Obviously.  I haven’t had occasion to write a cursive S in years.)  I can’t help but wonder whether writing entirely in cursive would improve the legibility of my writing.

After reading of the creative and analytical benefits derived from writing in cursive, I started writing my case notes in cursive.  At first the words looked shaky and uneven.  But as with most things, my writing improved with time and practice.  That is, for those letters I recall how to write in cursive.  Embarrassingly, I still need to look up how to write certain letters in cursive.  This, from someone who was taught cursive by way of drills.

Overall, I find the experience much like eating with chopsticks or, as we have recently attempted, eating with one’s non-dominant hand at mealtime–at once challenging and engaging.  But when it comes to writing in cursive, I have an added incentive to master the craft.  I recall the joy of receiving beautifully penned notes from my Grandmother.  Her right-leaning penmanship appeared so fine and delicate, it was as if each written word was a gift to be treasured.  And her script so distinctive and unique, I can see it in my mind’s eye today.

#PracticeMakesPerfect

A Different Kind of Celebration.

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Shrimp Wagon, Kouri-jima, Okinawa, Japan.

I recall the first time I longed to celebrate the Fourth of July as an adult–it was a month and four days after I had moved to Grand Cayman.  While other countries also have occasion to celebrate the anniversary of gaining independence, I like to think that our Fourth of July celebration is as uniquely American as deep-fried Oreos.  Then, I craved a grilled hamburger, potato salad, and fireworks.  Ultimately, I settled for a hamburger cooked on a stove-top, Caribbean potato salad and PBS coverage of fireworks on television.

This year, I suffered from that same longing experienced years ago–I wanted to celebrate the holiday as Americans do.  At least to a certain extent.  Initially, I frantically searched for flights and accommodations that would allow us to discover a nearby island to explore.  But it is high-season and hotels are booked far in advance by those travelling from mainland Japan and throughout the Pacific region.  Then, I considered hosting a gathering at our home.  It would have been a logistical challenge and taken a significant amount of effort and energy on a day when I wanted nothing more than to relax and spend the day at the beach.

As the holiday weekend approached, it became clear that this year’s Fourth of July would be a different type of celebration–it would be a day of making new memories while saying goodbye to friends leaving the Island.  What did we do?  We headed north to see the stunning waters of Kouri-jima.

Bridge to Kouri-jima.

After three years of Okinawa living, our friends had frequented Kouri-jima, as have we.  But this time, we traveled to eat at the Shrimp Wagon, a food truck located near the beach on the left immediately after crossing the bridge.  Various rumblings, rumors, and reviews of the food truck, made it seem as if it would be a sure thing.  But as anyone who has ever eaten at a food truck knows, there is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to food truck food.  Items become sold out.  The food truck moves location.  They have a bad day.

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[S] learning to sign hang loose.
Aside from a 40 minute wait for our food post-ordering, the meal was everything a food truck meal should be.  The fare, inspired by the famous shrimp truck stationed at the North Shore of Oahu, was simple and tasty.  Shrimp, cooked in the shell, marinated in a delicious garlic marinade, was served with rice and accompanied by fresh basil, a slice of lemon and goya.

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The Shrimp Wagon’s limited menu featured grilled horned turban.

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[S] enjoyed the basil garlic fries.
FullSizeRender(253)We finished our meal with gelato and ice cream from the restaurant next door and then headed to find Heart Rock Beach.

The beach wasn’t what I expected.  It was small and overrun by tourists.  The water was tepid and the surrounding area was less than optimal for swimming, but the heart rock (or whale’s tail) provided a unique photo opportunity.

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Heart Rock Beach.

IMG_5422Despite not finding a frolic-worthy beach, this year’s Fourth of July celebration may just be my new favorite, despite having to say goodbye to friends.  Certainly, it was my most memorable.

#OnlyInOki

Dog Therapy

FullSizeRender(238)“Let’s us know if you need anything while you’re away–we’re happy to help!”  I spoke those words months ago.  Fast forward to today and we are dog sitting our neighbor’s 40 pound lab mix while they are on holiday in the States for a couple of weeks.

I’ve been instructed to let her out in the yard five times a day, feeding her meals and giving her treats–upon waking, mid-morning, mid-afternoon, evening, and before bed.  When our neighbor spoke to us, she did so assuming we were non-dog owners.  There were the tentative looks and the hesitant pauses as she explained her particular routine–the treats, the food, the affection.  And then there was the nervousness.  But then, I was asked, “Have you had a dog before?”

It is emotional to discuss Blue with Russell, let alone a near stranger.  There remains significant heartache that he is not with us.  But there is an immense amount of gratitude and happiness that he wants for nothing–especially love.  In the end, despite not being permitted to bring him, I know it was right that he stayed behind.  The flight was long.  Our non-pet-friendly hotel stay was long.  The days are hotter than any I’ve experienced.

Blue is living the life of Riley.  He swims.  He goes to work.  He plays.  He is given plenty of affection and attention.  Watching videos of him run or swim makes my heart soar.  We want nothing but the very best for him and that is exactly what he has.  In an effort to help Blue transition, I let him go.  What was the alternative?  FaceTiming.  Skyping.  Texting.  Questioning.  Second-guessing.  Unhelpful at best; gut-wrenching and annoying at worst.

Not long ago, my sister-in-law sent me a cartoon showing a doctor, holding a leash to a small dog, speaking to a patient, “Low energy?  Depressed?  You can try B-12, but we’ve had a lot of luck with K-9.”  Indeed.  Despite the rainy days, despite the time commitment, and despite walking through spider webs and stepping on snails at night, caring for our neighbor’s dog is just what I needed.  She is sweet.  She is loving.  She is calm.  She brings joy to my life.

Yes, she makes me think about Blue more than usual.  Truly, it’s not Blue I’ve been thinking of, but his family.  His current family, that is.  His family that stepped up and stepped in when needed.  His family that looks after him and cares for all of his needs.  His family that gives him affection on demand.  To be certain, that is love.  And for them, I am more thankful than words could ever express.

Five Days and Counting

The past five days have been filled with insightful moments.  Take today at 11:48 a.m.  On a whim, I purchased a container of wasabi and mayonnaise flavored Pringles.  I placed [S] in the car seat, my purchases in front passenger seat and hopped into my Premacy.  As if possessed, I opened the Pringles and began eating them in the car.  (This never happens.)  And I continued doing so until I arrived home.  Upon arrival, I placed my now-sleeping daughter in her crib, and continued eating the entire can of Pringles.  No.  Not my finest moment.  Not by far.

But I have an excuse, if not a reason, for my actions.  It has been five days since my Husband left Okinawa.  Yes, of course, he’s coming back.  But nevertheless, it’s been a long five days.  I’m tired.  I’m lonely.  I’m cranky.  In some ways, I feel as if I’ve reverted to being single.  The house is quiet at night.  The bed seems far too large.  And I can’t wait for the light of the morning.

There are funny moments.  The day after Russell left, I was changing [S]’s diaper when she said in a clear and undeniable voice, “I know.  I know.  I know.”  I stopped, stared at her, and started laughing.  Yes, a young child’s vocabulary reflects upon his or her primary caregiver.  And, yes, for the past several days, I have been patting her bum with a wipe and, in response to her cries from the pain, saying, “I know.  I know.  I know.”  I smiled as I mused about Russell’s reaction to hearing her daughter mimic his wife.

There are the early morning moments.  The moment I bring [S] into our bed to sneak in a few extra minutes of sleep.  Each morning, when she first lays down, she looks around the bed and says “Dada, Dada.”  The moment when I make her breakfast and wonder what I’m not doing quite right.  And then there are the evening moments.  That moment when I realize I’m looking at my phone, rather than engaging with my daughter, while eating dinner.  That moment of startling realization that, despite my love of food and cooking, if I didn’t have a family to care for, I don’t know if I would ever cook.  Or clean.  Or go grocery shopping.

And then there is the moment I realized a singular truth:  Russell rescued me from myself.

My Happily Ever After

P1000950Dear Russell,

They say that who you marry may be responsible for 90% of your happiness or 90% of your misery, whatever the case may be.

As you know, recently I’ve become intimately familiar with the casualties of divorce–spouses, children, and pets.  It isn’t pretty.  And it makes me sad.  But it also makes me grateful.

At the time we met, in 2010, I had little hope that my future included anyone other than Blue.  Indeed, then, I envisioned myself living in a small apartment with several dogs, wondering whether I was fated to be “that woman with her dogs.”  And then we met.  To set the record straight, yes, you were late to our first date.  Quite.  No, there was no excuse.  Yes, the servers at the restaurant had pity on me, sitting alone on a Saturday evening, sipping wine, awaiting my very late date who might not show-up.  Truth be told, everyone was relieved when you finally arrived.  It was then we began.

Since then, we’ve had our moments–some sad, some angry, some frustrating, to be certain.  But by and large, the moments we have shared have been breathtaking, glorious, laughter-filled, amazing, and beautiful.  We’ve driven across the United States, stopping at more National Parks than most people ever see in a lifetime.  We sang John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High as we drove through the Rockies.  We’ve visited a brewery and eaten cheese curds in Wisconsin, watched the sun set over Lake Champlain, and dined in Newport, Rhode Island.  We’ve kayaked, hiked, walked or run in more states than many people are ever able to visit.  We’ve parented Blue.  We’ve welcomed a child.  And, together, we have flown more than 20,000 miles in the past two years.

But as wonderful as those moments have been, no marriage is built upon eating out or traveling.  Rather, our marriage has been built upon kindness, communication, understanding and patience.  Not an easy feat for two set-in–their-ways stubborn adults, but it has been well worth the effort.

If, on our wedding day, you had asked me to predict where we would be–and what we would be doing–in five years time, I do not know what I would have said.  Regardless, I am certain I would not have thought to suggest that we would be living in Okinawa, Japan, with our almost-two-year-old daughter, and awaiting the next addition to our family.

I love you. Happy anniversary.

Your Wife.

#FiveYearsandGoingStrong