On Spokane, Productively

Greetings from Spokane! I’m here until Wednesday on a business trip.

Total confession: I got in late Sunday night, and the first thing I did after arriving at the hotel was put on one of the fluffy bathrobes and jump on the giant bed. It was everything Ferris Bueller would have wanted for my first night in a Four Diamond hotel. 

(This is a self-portrait.)

The rental car I got is a Toyota Prius, and I’m in love. It’s cute, the turning radius is beautiful, and it’s fun to drive, but holy cow, touchy brakes. I’m sure the people who have to drive behind me hate me. I love the constant display of battery usage vs. fuel consumption.

Last night, I took it on a drive. I didn’t go very far, but I wanted to see part of the city. I think I’ll do the same tonight, but I’ll go in a different direction. Perhaps I’ll try to see something scenic.

I got back to the hotel last night with a bag of Burger King (yeah, I know, lame. I think I’ll go for steak or something tonight) and I vegged out. I don’t veg out, ever. It was weird. I clicked aimlessly through the channels on the tv, realizing that I no longer have any idea about television programming. Doing nothing felt weird, but it felt sort of good. I think I’ll have to do it more.  (That’s my goal for 2013 – “do less.” I looked at my calendar for the rest of May, and I realized that I work or have plans nearly every single day. Doing less is difficult.)

You can buy the beds at this hotel, and I’d like to expense one – it’s like sleeping on clouds. The sheets are so soft, the pillows are even softer, and the bed is that perfect blend of support but comfort.

The cool thing about this conference is that vendors (me!) are on the balcony of the ballroom where the majority of the conference is being held. The session today is about learning how to reduce stress and avoid burnout. (I’m having one of those moments where I’m thinking about how fortuitous my presence here is….)

(My view from my vendor table)

The material in this session matches the material that I’m currently reading for my Leadership through Emotional Intelligence class. Don’t you love it when that happens? I love it when things fall neatly into place like that. I was going to get a bunch of work done today like I did yesterday, but I’m actually really interested in what they’re talking about in this session, so I’m listening to that, trying to absorb all of the information.

This whole mindfulness thing is fascinating. It’s so simple, but so easy to overlook. They’re sitting here talking about “thinking brain,” which I’m assuming is their simplification of mindfulness. They’re talking about “survival mode” – which is what I’ve been in for the past few months. It’s amazing to think about the physiology behind it and its effects on your life.

We’re looking at setting boundaries, saying no, and recognizing stress signals. I love things like this. This trip is such a nice little break – not a break, necessarily – but it’s a nice chance to remove myself from my routines and my regular stressors. I’ve been enjoying it immensely. One of my strengths is interaction and assistance – which is weird because I consider myself to be so shy – but I love being able to meet our clients and listen to them and try to offer solutions, assistance, and support.

I think I’d like to be a fixer. Can that just be a job description? (Sort of like in Breaking Bad where they’ve got that guy who does the hiding of the bodies and the other stuff…he’s the fixer. I want to be the person with the power to solve problems and the knowledge of available solutions.)

I was nervous to come out here by myself, but I read a horoscope last week (I know, I know, but I read an article about positive encouragement as a way to increase productivity and technically that counts as positive encouragement) that said that even though I’m walking on a tightrope with no safety net, I shouldn’t look down because I’m going to make it. With that in my mind, I haven’t looked down. I’ve been staring straight ahead and I’ve been taking baby steps forward.

Of course, there are still five hours left of interpersonal interaction and there’s still time to fall off. But I don’t think it will happen like that. I am comfortable, content, and capable. I’ve got this.

On Pictures, Belatedly

I look very serious. If I were Virginia Woolf, this is how I would pose for pictures. Jacob and I grabbed dinner with a friend of his one night last week.

Cold feet by the fire.

Jacob and Moses. That squished cat face is the cutest thing, but the striped socks are a close second.

Katie and I went out on Friday. We tried to take a picture on a rooftop with the moon and the city in the background, but that turned out to be far too challenging. I think this picture is adorable. We explored her new neighborhood and had a blast.

We ended up grabbing our last drinks at Linger, a bar/restaurant that used to be a mortuary. We got fancy cocktails, which was a mistake, because I was treated to a seriously pretentious overview of the various “herbacious” liquors the made up the drink.

I’m down for a learning experience, and do in fact welcome them, but there’s nothing worse than feeling patronized while suffering through a cocktail that tastes spicy and sour and like root vegetables simultaneously. (The bartender’s mistake was that he insulted girly drinks. I may be a gin and tonic girl, but Katie is a lover of all things girly drink. She’s unabashed about her love of them, and I respect her for it.)

I’d rather drink a “flirtini” than have to go through the rigmarole of having to hear the ingredient list to a fancy hipster cocktail, which is surprisingly parallel to the ingredient list of the flirtini. Not really, but if you add “vintage” or “rare” or “small-batch” to the ingredients in a flirtini, you might get pretty damn close.

It did get me drunk. So you win, Linger bartender. You did good. But the next time I hear a bartender say “herbacious,” I’m bolting. (I do sort of think it’s cool that the monks haven’t changed the recipe. I just wasn’t in the mood.)

Saturday morning, I went with my brother and his friend to buy my birthday present. It’s a hammock! All I’ve been talking about for months is a hammock, and so Mike surprised me by telling me what my birthday present was. Mike brought it home and set it up, hanging the hammock from the tree in our backyard. I am so ridiculously excited for this. This might be the best birthday present ever. It’s soft and comfortable and deep – you can fall into it and it will hold you.

I’m so happy.

After we got the hammock, Katie came and met us at REI. The lure of sunshine was too much, so we went to play frisbee in the park. I’m terrible a it, and everyone made fun of me because my frisbee-throwing dance is very much like a ballerina. There’s a lot of leg extension.

Then we walked around, exploring Katie’s new neighborhood, which is slowly succumbing to gentrification. It’s a beautiful old neighborhood with stunning houses, but it’s quickly being overshadowed by the new builds. I don’t know what it is, but I much prefer an older house. One of the reasons that I love the house we live in now is because of the older features, like rounded archways and built-in shelving (in the walls). That’s the kind of stuff that you don’t find in new builds. They’re sleek, but that lack that comfortable, lived-in feeling.

She has a pool! I’m a sucker for bodies of water. They draw me in.

On Earth Day 2013, Sandily

Happy Earth Day 2013!

When we were little, Earth Day was a big deal. We did projects, and papers, and dioramas about Earth Day. Maybe I’m making that up, but I remember loving Earth Day. I looked forward to it. I think I imagined that my future self (which would equate to present me) would be this great planter of trees every year on Earth Day. To date, I have planted zero trees.

I did, however, rake my entire garden last weekend and plan on planting some things this year, so I feel like that’s a baby step in the right direction. Some day, we may be eating vegetables that I grew. I’m thinking tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, basil, mint, and so on. In reality, it will most likely be a sad plot that starts out magnificent but ends up overgrown with weeds. But everyone does that at least once, right?

I may have no idea what I’m doing, but I have friends who know how to do this, so I imagine I can call on them to help assist me with planning, planting, and harvesting.

In the meantime, let’s focus on current ecological issues (of which there about ten billion). I was reading this article about building structures out of plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are great (not really – they’re terrible for the environment, but they’re ubiquitous), and they’ve been used in a ton of very ingenious ways such as providing light to homes and being used to help grow gardens inside.

However, reading about building structures out of plastic, all I could think about were the drawbacks. What about weather? What about security? How is the building going to hold up and be a strong structure going forward?

When I was in South Africa, one of the biggest problems in the townships (informal settlements) was the fact that the houses were built out of essentially reclaimed materials. The houses (some more shack than house) were built out of wood, sheet metal, plastic, anything and everything. The floors were often dirt, or dirt covered in carpeting. It’s hard to keep a place like that clean, but more than that, it’s hard to protect that sort of structure from the elements.

When a fire breaks out in a township, it’s often inside one of the homes. However, it’s nearly impossible to contain the fire based on a number of factors, including the lack of accessibility to running water, proximity to the other homes, and the materials from which the houses are constructed. When one house burns, it’s likely that the others around it are going to burn too, causing unnecessary damage and threatening human life.

The building project I visited was creating a house out of sandbags. These sandbags are laid down in a concrete foundation and eventually plastered or covered in concrete, creating a structure that is nearly impermeable, providing a safer structure that can withstand the elements.

This sandbag house is such a wonderful idea because it makes use of the ubiquitous sand that’s found in and around the Cape Flats where many of these townships are located. It’s cheap to buy the concrete mix and the bags for the sand, and with some community involvement and a little planning, a building can be built relatively quickly and very cheaply. Even better? It’s not flammable like the other houses, offering protection in case of a rapidly spreading fire.

Below is the article that I wrote while I was there, that was published in the Cape Chameleon, the publication of the Projects Abroad journalism project. I think it’s important to highlight sustainable building because it can help draw attention to solutions for problems that badly need solving.

Houses of Sand

THE FUTURE OF ECO-BUILDING

Issue No.52010

Words: Katherine Barry

A pile of charred wood is all that’s left of the shacks. The sand where they sat is littered with burned belongings: a blackened Bible, an office chair, clothes no longer usable. The metal sheets that had once been walls have been salvaged, taken for use in new shacks, the obviously burnt edges blending in amongst the rust.

The first fire broke out three weeks before in the same shack that would be the ignition point of the second fire, which would tear through the informal settlement of Village Heights in Cape Town, depriving 15 families of their homes.

Fires in informal settlements – like Village Heights – represent one of the biggest dangers of living in such a community. Even with attempts to build with space on all sides, fires such as the one that destroyed those 15 shacks can spread quickly since the materials used to construct the homes are highly flammable and unregulated.

‘It was better under apartheid,’ says Bernadine, the community leader who has created and maintained the Village Heights library, and who is the recipient of the first Projects Abroad sandbag house in South Africa. ‘At least then we all had our own homes and jobs. Now we have nothing.’

Government response

According to residents, after the first fire the government offered four wooden posts, five pieces of metal and some grounding plastic as a replacement. However, the metal went to the construction of a roof and the residents were left to use plastic to create walls. During the second fire, a woman was badly burned when the plastic melted onto her skin.

Proper housing is something that many people living in South Africa lack, for a multitude of reasons, including long waiting times after application for government housing. ‘I’ve been on a waiting list for twenty-one years,’ says one woman who lost her home in the fire. ‘My daughter is 20 now.’ She went on to detail her experience, saying that she makes regular visits to go check on the status of her application, only to be told that she is indeed still on the list, but that no further information can be released about the status of the application.

While debates rage about governmental involvement and personal contribution for houses, the issue remains that people lack proper living quarters. Residents of the informal settlements around Cape Town and throughout South Africa are forced to create homes using materials that they can find, salvage, or buy, resulting in homes that often lack even basic features such as a floor. Security measures are an afterthought as well, allowing for criminal activity to flourish in the crowded neighbourhoods. Where to go from here?

Sand is nearly ubiquitous in Cape Town and the surrounding areas. It also might present a feasible solution to the problem of the shack homes in the ever-expanding informal settlements. Filling bags with sand and then stacking them within a frame can create a solid structure that is built both efficiently and quickly.

Beginning with materials, construction with sandbags can be a cheap alternative to traditional building methods. Since all that is needed to build a sandbag structure are bags, sand, cement and wooden and metal framing, the cost drops significantly due to the lack of construction equipment needed. No cranes, no stacks of bricks and no heavy vehicles entering or leaving the construction site.

20% of the materials need to be allocated for the construction of the frame of the sandbag building, but there is a certain amount of flexibility as to what those might be – including the use of wood or tin. Bricks can be used as well, but in order to maintain the eco-friendly atmosphere, they should only be implemented if they are within reach to avoid the entrance of trucks and other machinery in to the site.

Benefits of sand building

This cost-effective creation is incredibly ecofriendly. Since most of the building can be done with materials found on-site, the need for waste is nearly eliminated. This waste elimination plays a large factor in the ecofriendly nature of the sandbag buildings.

Builders who choose to use sandbag building as an alternative to conventional construction methods also stand to gain carbon credits for their choices. Carbon credit programmes offer financial incentives for companies to build in keeping with the ‘green’ trends and for waste elimination and recycling of materials.

This waste elimination and recycling process, presents an opportunity for those who are economically disadvantaged. By being able to build effectively and also save money, they can increase community bonds and safety.

Structural soundness

Besides being fireproof, the sand structures also present an element of soundproofing not found in the corrugated iron structures, which currently make up most of the homes in the townships and informal settlements in the Cape Town area.

They are also not easy to deconstruct or demolish, in essence creating a lasting home that won’t be victim to natural disasters such as flooding or tornadoes. The solidity of the sand as it is packed and stacked neatly to create walls allows for an element of indoor climate control that supersedes that provided by the corrugated structures as well. The sand essentially insulates the home, keeping it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Spreading the word

The surmountable caveat to sand building is that it is not well known as a possible method for creating homes. The newly homeless fire victims had never heard of sandbag building when asked about it, yet were curious as to how it might work. They eagerly agreed that the community would want to be involved in such a building plan, given the right materials.

Based on the readily available materials and the community mentality that many of the neighbourhoods have, it seems that if sandbag structures could catch on, they might make a wonderful improvement for communities who are underfunded and under protected.

Projects Abroad began constructing their first sandbag house at the site of the Village Heights Library in August of 2010. While normally the construction of such a building (one room) would take less than a month, due to staggered volunteer arrivals, the project has continued for more than three months. Nevertheless, the house is beginning to take shape.

Bernadine hopes to show off the building project as a model of sustainable building. As of the beginning of December, the structure was complete and the roof had been added and finalisation of the exterior decoration was beginning. The hope is that the building will remain a long-standing testament to the possibility of creation from local materials and community involvement.

The project supervisor – Deen Singh – remains optimistic that the sandbag building will be used for the betterment of the community. He explained that everything must be done to help the children. The building has been designated for use in a crèche, or a childcare centre, one that will hopefully create a safe haven for children from all over Village Heights. Currently there are five volunteers working on the building. Rick, a German volunteer, feels that the building he is helping to construct will last, showing immediate change in the place that he came to volunteer. ‘It’s nice to leave something behind,’ he said.

Perhaps this sandbag building can be a model of change for a community that is desperate for change, but lacking the resources with which to create it.

On Resetting

He used a metaphor of outstretched palms trying to hold an ever-increasing load of books. Every single book is a source of stress in your life. At some point, you can no longer hold onto the books, and the lot of them will come tumbling down to land at your feet. That’s what this last weekend was for me. Desperately trying to maintain some semblance of normal in the face of being overwhelmed, I overdid it, and the result was disastrous.

It’s now Thursday; I am sicker than I’ve been in a while, and thoroughly worn out. But on the plus side, the worst of it all seems to have passed and my mood seems to have brightened as my energy has returned.

I was worried about how silly I looked this weekend (exhaustion, emotional panic, and whiskey are a potent combination), but my mom was quick to reassure me that this is all uncharacteristic and that the people who know and love me know that. “How are you supposed to explain everything to someone who has no idea?” she asked. “You can’t. And you can’t be expected to.” I felt better.

You can never make certain things go away, but you can change them. You can turn them into something positive, if you try hard enough. You can work to move past them so instead of them ruling you, you rule them.

Now that the worst of it has passed, I am still not sure how I’m going to stop working 60 hours a week. I am still not sure what I’m going to do next. But I do know that these past few days have been the reprieve that I needed to reset myself and find my balance.

I always tease my friend Britt about Marines being such babies, because whenever he gets sick, he needs me to take care of him. I once asked him why he never takes care of me when I’m sick, and he responded that I never get sick. He’s right. I have the immune system of a horse (not sure that’s an applicable metaphor or not, but going with it), but when I get sick, I’m laid out. He came over with soup and a cupcake, both of which were delicious, and then held me while we caught up on Game of Thrones episodes that we’d missed.

Carlos is going to be very grumpy when I have to go back to work tomorrow; he’s been spoiled with eighteen hours of snuggling per day and I know that my absence will annoy him.

I love his beast face.

And above all, I am so grateful for Tobias.

“I’m serious,” he said. “I’ve met tens of thousands of people in my life. You are one of the most positive people I know. Your energy is infectious.”

“You’re one of those rare lights in the universe,” he told me. “I only wish you could see how bright your light is.”

I smiled.

“I’ll keep repeating it until you believe it,” he said. I finally laughed.

On Easter Weekend, Catholic Guiltily

Those of you who know me know that I’m not big on holidays. I enjoy them, certainly, but they bring such a source of stress for me that I usually pretend they’re not happening until I’m obligated to attend some holiday-related event.

Easter is not terribly stressful. You might go to church, you might go on a Easter egg hunt, you’ll most likely eat ham. (Last night, as she was helping me cook dinner, my friend Emily declared, “I’m pretty sure no one actually likes ham. You just eat it out of habit.” I think she’s onto something.) For the lapsed Catholics like myself, Easter is a good holiday to hang out with family and a great reminder that it’s time to start welcoming spring.

Easter throwback – 2007. Chicago, Illinois. Too bad I didn’t have this outfit this weekend; it would have been perfect!

We hosted another party this past weekend. After all of the fallout from the last party, we decided to call it “Ashes to Ashes: The Resurrection.” So naturally, it was Easter-themed. I panicked, because last time, I knew exactly what I wanted to wear.

This time, I found myself lacking not only direction, but conviction as well. Apparently, Catholic guilt is a seriously real thing: I didn’t want to go too far down the road to hell with my heresy, but I also wanted to have fun.

I found myself at Goodwill with two of my friends the afternoon of the party. At that point, I was still considering some sort of Eve-inspired outfit, or something Easter-egg-esque. Then we came to the undergarment rack. It’s actually great – I got a white slip for $2! Ben suggested that I buy a blue nightgown and I found a white robe to go over it. I also purchased some pink pajama pants and a pink silk shirt, thinking that I could wear those with my Easter bunny ears and be some sort of Easter bunny. (In the end, the pink was horrible. As we were checking out, I asked Jacob if you could return things to Goodwill. “You always re-donate them,” he said. That is exactly what I will be doing.)

The best thing about having a house is having a washer and dryer for when you buy undergarments at Goodwill and need to wash them before you wear them out in public but you only have two hours to get ready.

As I was getting ready, tossing nearly every article of clothing I own around my room, I imagined myself much like Lucille Bluth home alone. In the end, I donned the blue nightgown and the white robe and was quite content with my “Virgin Realness” ensemble. It was soft, which is my number one requirement for clothing, it fit, and it was sort of pretty. (Katie would later tell me that I looked like something out of The Great Gatsby, which I took as a high compliment.)

Jacob and I:

These photos were taken by the very talented Paul – I am eternally grateful that he cut the shoes I was wearing out of each shot. You have no idea how hard it is to find shoes that match undergarment outfits. I considered some shoes that I bought when I was 17 and still haven’t worn in public – they’re lovely, over-the-top sparkling heels with camel colored bows on the toes, but my feet slip out of them. I did a test run around the kitchen, realized they wasn’t going to fly, and ended up selecting some very gorgeous but not-quite-right heels. By the end of the night, I was back in flats.

Jacob and I had to run across the street to buy some batteries for a light-up headdress, and the cashier asked us if we were in a play. We mumbled something incomprehensible and slipped out, trying to contain our laughter.

It was so good to see everyone. I loved the energy of the crowd, the positive vibes and genuine happiness radiating out of everyone led to a very successful evening. It was over all too soon, and I was dragging myself home for sleep before the family packed Easter Sunday.

We went to see my dad’s family and had brunch with them. I’d worked from 8:30 in the morning until 11:30 on Friday night and then turned around and opened Dairy Queen on Saturday, so I was exhausted. By the time we’d finished our afternoon Easter dinner at my mom’s house, I was ready for a nap. I crawled up to her bed and slept for an hour.

My little neighbor was so cute – she had gotten a little stuffed bunny for Easter and so I held her and she rested the bunny on my shoulder. Pretty soon, she’ll be too big for me to carry, unless I magically develop more muscles, so I want to make sure I take full advantage of the time I have left.

My little cousins got hair chalk – apparently that’s a thing. We covered our clothes in towels and got down to the hair chalking business. It’s fun! I ended up covered in pink and green, but I had Medusa-like green chalk curls briefly. The little one, who’s six, ended up with bright pink hair. She was so excited about it.

On Sunday night, I tried to introduce my brother to Game of Thrones. We’ve still got free HBO for another month, so I intend to take full advantage of it. He sat with me while we watched the third season premiere. It’s really hard to explain everything. I finally got to the point where I’d just say, “good guy,” “bad guy” to help him differentiate between the characters. Hopefully he’ll start it from the beginning and fall in love with it like I have. (I’ve been terrible and haven’t read the books yet….it’s on my list, I swear!)

I hope your Easter was lovely!

On Mike, Because He’s 23.

“Guess who said it,” he yells. He’s reading from his little book of quotations. He’s previously told me that if he ever dies, the book contains everything I’ll need to know about his life. And my life. And life, in general. “‘No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love…'”

I’m frantically running around the house trying to find clothes and put on makeup – it’s 10:20 pm on a Friday night and I swore to the boys that I’d be ready to leave by then. (Surprise, surprise: I’m not.)

“Mandela!” I yell back. I pause, suddenly unsure, but still pretty sure. “Or Gandhi. Or Mother Theresa!”

“Mandela!” he yells back. His friend laughs. He’s been watching my frantic getting ready with amusement – he has an older sister, too. I love having this time to banter with my brother. Sometimes, I forget how lucky I am to live with him – even though we’re both super busy with jobs and/or school and life, I still get to see him. I imagine that I’ll be really sad when someday, it’s not the same anymore. I take it for granted and I know that.

My first Cubs game! 2010

My brother and I could not be more different human beings: he’s the calm, reserved one. I’m the take-charge, emotional one. He lets things go; I don’t.  I live in a fast-paced world with no time for slowing down; he spends time meditating and reflecting. He cleans the house. I make sure the administrative details (bills, ew!) are handled. In truth, we complement each other very well. We both learn from the other and take care of each other. We’re both surprisingly protective – if someone were to hurt my brother, I would hope they understood the hell that I would unleash on them.

South Africa, 2010

We’re 22 months apart. I don’t remember how I felt about getting a brother, but I do remember how much fun we used to have playing together as kids. (And fighting, of course. I’m a little bit tougher than I look because I grew up fighting Mike.) We used to dig holes in the garden, trying to make a swimming pool (frustrating process, let me tell you). We would play baseball against the wall of the house. I used to dress him up and make him play dolls with me.

My most regrettable failure as a big sister was the day he sat on a nail. We were eating lunch outside on the back patio (pb&j and Cheetos), and I didn’t want him to sit at the picnic table with me (because I am a terrible person), so I told him to go sit on a pile of boards. Well, as it turns out, some of those boards had nails sticking out of them. And he sat on one. (I’m currently alternating between typing and covering my face in shame. Even now, I feel awful.)

Mike’s my partner in crime. We used to sneak out of our rooms during nap time and slide down the stairs on my mom’s exercise mat. We used to sneak into the neighborhood pool for night swimming. We used to play this game where we’d flip each other off at the dinner table when our parents weren’t looking. The first one to get caught lost. (I don’t lose.)

When we were in high school, my friends and I thought we were so cool because we had a freshman. Mike was our freshman. (We weren’t cool; we know that.) We used to call Mike “fruitypants” – ugh, long story, but it’s something a guy I once dated used to yell out of the windows of a moving car just because – and it stuck. To this day, whenever he runs into our old Creative Writing/English teacher, the teacher always calls him “Fruitypants.” Mike looooves that. But somehow, it stuck. Sometimes, we still call each other “Fruit” out of habit.

Mike is one of my best friends. I’m so grateful that he’s my little brother. He’s one of the wisest people I know. He’s got such a big heart, and he’s so smart. He’s thoughtful and kind and funny. Everyone who meets him loves him. He was always looking out for me in South Africa.

In our family, we always tease each other about being “the worst guy.” Mike started it; my mom and I picked it up. It’s usually used in a teasing way, out of exasperation. “Oh, you’re the worst guy!” my mom will say, and there will be a lilt of laughter in her voice. It’s the kind of warm expression that radiates love and family.

I love them. They’re the best worst guys ever.

Happy birthday, Mike! It’s your Michael Jordan year and it’s going to be so good!

On Spring, Expectantly

What is it about the first hints of spring that incite a need for motion? I feel as though the minute the scent of the forthcoming growth stings the nostrils I have the urge for adventure, for chasing the dawn, for stars and night frisbee. (Night frisbee is my weakness. It gets me every time.)

This weekend brought warmth and the promise of summer heat – that first day that makes you shed your shoes and run outside, only to find that the ground is still cold and damp. Those are the days when you don’t care, you let the mud seep up between your toes and you relish it, knowing that soon enough, you won’t be cold.

Last night, as I left the restaurant where I was having second dinner with a couple of friends, I smelled summer. In my mind, I was no longer walking down a dark street in early March. I was suddenly walking down a dark street in June. It’s that smell that transports you, that reminds you of soft streetlights and sangria shared with friends. It’s the smell that calls you to the park, to sit on blankets, to listen to jazz. Oh, it’s the best.

When I was little, there was always that first really warm day before spring. I’d open all of my bedroom windows and run out to the backyard, where I’d begin to dig around in the still-frozen garden. My toes would be freezing because I was (still am) always barefoot and too stubborn to put on real shoes.

I had a dream last night about that garden, and about the wild green onions that used to grow there, and how I’d pull them, and chop them, and put them into pretend stews that I’d create using mud and sticks. My hands would reek of onion for days, but it was always so worth it. In my dream, they were there, growing sooner than ever, their green tops sticking out of the earth. They were wonderful. I smelled the spring and I woke content.

***

Speaking of things from the earth (what? totally legitimate seque, I swear), Katie and I juiced yesterday. She’s into making juices and I am into drinking juices, so this was bound to happen eventually. We ended up at the grocery store, loading up on fruits and veggies, before heading back to her house and breaking out the juicer. It’s quite the ordeal, with all the cutting and washing and juicer setup taken into account.

I had so much fun and I only cut myself once – great success. We made two different kinds – one green, one beet/orange. (I have such a thing for beet juice, but have never tried to do it myself since I’m intimidated by fresh beets. – That’s not weird at all, either.)  I think it’s something I may have to look into getting into. It could be fun. Or alternately, a piece of kitchen equipment that hangs out in my cabinets, collecting dust.

On Joy, Happily

The shameless hipster that lives in me felt the need to post this quote today. The impulsive emoter (psssh, it’s a word now) that shares the space agrees. Deal with it.

“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”

– Jack Kerouac

After spending the better part of the last month fighting a strange bout of utterly consuming melancholy, I seem to have emerged radiating joy. I can feel good energy flowing around me, and I’ve noticed that the world seems to be noticing that as well. I’ve been having the best conversations with friends and strangers; I’ve been smiling and laughing; I’ve been hooked by the promise of what is still to come.

I heard someone talking about what they’ve learned about grief and pain – they said that someone once told them that instead of fighting it, you should just let the waves of emotion wash over you. I did exactly that. Instead of struggling, I let the seemingly infinite sadness surround me.

Apparently, my life force was too much for the sadness, and I’ve been returned to my usual state of good humor. Oh, how I had missed it. This weekend was my first full-on return to joyous revelry.

I ended up in Boulder on Friday night at a show that my friends were excited about. They told me that some guy named Dave Au Jus would be playing…and all I could imagine was a man holding a French dip sandwich. As it turns out, there were no sandwiches nor a man who spells his last name Au Jus (très disappointing on both counts). The man, Dave Aju, was more amazing than a sandwich. I had a blast. I forget how much I like to dance. As much as I gently ridicule my friends for their love of “techno parties,” I’ve never had a bad time at one and I always end up having some sort of excellent adventure.

An excellent adventure it was. I ended up on a porch at an after-party trying to find Orion in the sky – I was extremely disappointed to find that the night had progressed so far that he had slipped away, but the people around me were kind enough to provide me with their sky maps so that I could search. (Note to self: find more constellations to love. I can find Jupiter, sometimes, or Cassiopeia, but other than that, I’ve got nothing. Not even the Big Dipper.) I slipped back into my house at 6 am, an hour I’ve not seen from the side of night in ages, desperate to find sleep before the sun started to creep into the sky.

***

Saturday brought a lingering breakfast of coffee and bagels, then babysitting. I didn’t see the girls last week, and it’s funny how much I missed them. From there, it was off to get ready for the drag ball and Emily’s birthday celebration.

This is the lovely birthday girl!

My costume and a direwolf – he made that himself and the hood was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. I would very much like to own one.

More of us, but with my wig:

Since it was a drag ball, there were categories that people would walk in to win trophies and glory. I ended up judging at the last minute because one of the judges didn’t show. It was part terrifying, part really fun.

Jacob and Gina are beautiful people – Jacob won the (S)Executive Realness category for his stunning outfit and walking ability. (You should have seen the suit jacket he wore.)

Sunday brought brunch – if you ever need to lure me out of bed, just say “brunch” and I’m there. You might also want to say “bacon,” “gravy,” or “mimosas.”  Then I’ll hurry.

After the drag ball, there was quite a flurry of internet activity, mostly comments about the party the night before. The original “Denver is Burning” drag ball was held last year in a DIY space. The party was a smashing success. It wasn’t repeated due to space issues – it’s really hard to find a good place to hold a sweet party sometimes.

[Odd side note – that silver cuff that I wear was gifted to me by an artist who was painting in the same building that night. I wandered in and apologized for bothering him, but I was fascinated by his work. He gave me the cuff and a necklace. It’s become one of my most treasured possessions, and I think of that man fondly every time I wear it.]

The chief dissenting comments discussed voguing, ball culture in general, and racial issues related to all of it. It is frustrating to see such good intentions be torn apart by misunderstanding. It also reminds me that Denver’s racial demographics aren’t conducive to creating the underground ball scene that Harlem saw in times past. Denver just isn’t that diverse.

Granted, some of the categories were a bit weird. Game of Thrones? Totally shouldn’t have been a category (even though I loved it). But it was awesome. I wish you could have been there – there was music and dancing, and I ran into friends that I haven’t seen in ages. Everyone looked amazing, and free, and happy. Isn’t that what life is all about? (Minus the looking amazing part. Just the free and happy part.)

Some people were frustrated about what they perceived to be the over-involvement of white people. As a white person who spends a ton of time in the gay/queer scene, I find it frustrating that people are so quick to jump on race like that. I was born white and straight. I can’t help that. But it doesn’t mean that I should be excluded from activities because of my biological sex, my gender, my race, my sexual orientation, etc. (Isn’t all that inclusion what we’re all working for?! We’re working backwards if we can’t start to love people of all colors, genders, body types, hair colors, whatever. Also include my obligatory “understanding of white privilege” statement, but I’m not going any further into it because it doesn’t apply here.)

Plenty of appropriate thought was put into it – plenty of links about the origination of ball culture and voguing were shared in the lead up to the party. Plenty of respect is held by everyone for the original ball culture, the original intent of ball culture, and the struggles that people have faced while trying to achieve the equality, respect, and recognition that they deserve.

Ball culture will never be what it once was – it’s impossible, not because of people’s refusal to embrace tradition, but because of the fact that situations have changed drastically. The world is a different place now in some ways, and exactly the same in others. The people who threw this party wanted to be respectful of the past, but also embrace something new. It’s how things will work, communities will grow, and people can become more educated.

I think that it did open up a very important dialogue, but it was hard to watch the pain that my friends felt – they worked so hard, and with such pure intentions, to create something magical. I hope that this doesn’t stop more like this from happening in the future – Denver could use more of it, and needs people to remain involved and motivated to create beautiful things.

***

I returned home from brunch to be lazy and do nothing. It was lovely. I killed some bugs on the side of the house. (That’s a lie – I made my brother do it.) Then I did some googling about said bugs. They’re harmless but annoying, and I imagine that the Barrys vs bugs battle that will undoubtedly take place this coming spring and summer will be nothing short of frustrating. (I can be a very determined woman – those bugs haven’t seen anything yet.)

***

When I was 18, I dated a guy who always used to tell me he was going to make me a bunch of rocks that said “Katie” on them. So they’d be Katie rocks. (Get it? I rock!) This weekend, my phone dinged and told me I had a message – there, out of the blue, was a picture of a rock with my name on it. A Katie rock. The caption? “I know it’s been years, but you still rock.” My heart cracked into a million pieces and a huge smile spread across my face. It absolutely made my day.

***

And so now it’s back to work, back to reality, back to responsibility, but with a renewed energy. I’m back to being my radiant weird self and I’m beyond thrilled about it.

On the Weekend Recap, Productively

This weekend passed far too quickly, but it was wonderful.

On Friday night, I met my friends Jacob and Gina for dinner at my favorite Thai place. It used to be two blocks from my apartment, but now that I live across town, I don’t get there nearly often enough. (Order is always the same: an order of crab-cheese wontons with extra house sauce, pineapple curry, medium. Jacob and I usually share a bottle of their house red wine, too.)

Then I went to a friend’s soccer game. Well, sort of. His roommate and I ended up waiting forever for food, so we missed everything but the last two minutes of the game. (Oops.) I spent all of Saturday doing nothing on the couch – it was amazing. I never get days to do nothing, so doing nothing felt so good.

We always joke that I would make a terrible housewife since I’m not well-versed in the art of cooking. Or cleaning. My friends had a joint birthday party on Saturday night, and it was a snack potluck. In the middle of panicking about what to bring, I decided on bacon-wrapped, cream cheese-stuffed jalapenos, because everyone loves those. I went to the store, bought a bunch, made a bunch – it took forever – and then brought them to the snack potluck. They were a huge hit, which pleased me greatly.

Here’s a semi-gross picture of the final product:

Bacon wrapped cream cheese stuffed jalapenos

The party was awesome – there was so much food. Gina made the most delicious carrot cake I’ve ever tasted, then we made cream cheese frosting for it. We ended up with two cakes – one that said “Happy Birthday” and then another that said “Erica and Justin.”

My Dairy Queen cake-writing skills transferred nicely to the house party setting. I wasn’t so terribly thrilled with my handwriting, but it was suitable and made them happy, so I’m not complaining.

On Sunday, I worked. I feel like we’re staffed by a seriously high percentage of over-qualified people, and I’m grateful for it. A lot of us have been there forever, too, so we’ve known each other for years. It makes work interesting and reminds me how important it is to have a cohesive team. My friend Evan has graduated from college and is back at Dairy Queen awaiting word on some jobs that he wants to do – in the meantime, he’s got a bunch of qualifying tests to take, so we spent Sunday afternoon playing with words and quizzing each other.

At one point, my junior high math and social studies teacher came in. She didn’t recognize me (thank G-d). She caused me much grief during those fragile, hormone-addled years, and I hate her for it. (Seriously embarrassing but somehow hilarious story – when I was in 7th grade, I didn’t get into the “fast track” math section that would do Algebra in 8th grade. I got stuck in the “slow track” section that did two years of pre-algebra. When I found out the news, I stood at the window of the classroom, fighting back tears. A few months ago, I found myself sobbing – absolutely breaking down – on my therapist’s couch about that incident. It somehow totally changed my ability to see myself as intelligent, and I had no idea that I’d been carrying it around with me for so long. In the middle of my crying, I turned to my therapist and sobbed, “You can’t make this shit up,” to which he responded by laughing so hard his body shook – while apologizing for laughing. He wasn’t wrong. It’s funny, sad, and true, all at once.) So, of course, rather than stand by my co-worker while he rang up her purchases, I did the mature thing and went to the back – where no customers can see – and busied myself with some unnecessary task until she’d left and it was safe to go back up front.

I went to Jacob’s belated holiday party last night. It was fun. I didn’t know anyone, so I tried to muster up the energy to be social and make small talk. It was good – I was bubbly and talkative for a while, but then was saved when my friend’s roommate texted me and asked me if I would edit a paper for him. (I love to read people’s papers.)

Tonight is my weekly girls’ night with Emily – we watch the show GIRLS on HBO (she DVRs it for us); we cook dinner; we drink wine; we do our nails; we bake something. It’s a surprisingly low-key and very calming way to start the week. I’m excited. Tonight we’re making chili.

On Longing for Home

There are days when I wake up and my heart hurts. The sadness settles down around me, and the longing pangs begin. And they don’t go away – they are a dull ache of wanting that can’t be soothed by anything. I get online, and stare at pictures of the places that I came to love fiercely, and I pray that I never let the memories slip away.

I know they eventually will. The way to Long St. is obfuscated already. The way to Muizenberg Beach, however, will stay fused to the very core of my soul until the day that I die. And even then, I imagine it will refuse to let go.

South Africa is not my current home. It is not my birth place. It is not where I’ve spent a majority of my time. But parts of my heart linger there: on the scent of a fresh morning, on the sounds of crashing waves, in the metal of the chain that holds the gate together, in the sand. There are some things that you can never take away. There are some experiences, that no matter how brief, will leave you changed irrevocably.

The three months we spent in South Africa were comprised of sublime experiences: the disparity, the music, the nightlife, the sadness, the love. Yes, I was ready to leave when we left, but I swear, if I could somehow let you feel what I felt in the most magical moments, you’d understand.

Cape Town, South Africa

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa