Hump Day

I was supposed to write a blog post on protecting your mental space today, but . . . I spent all night dreaming about rattlesnakes. I'm afraid of rattlesnakes, so it was not pleasant nor restful dreaming. And, yes, I got bit.

So, in lieu of a long blog post, here is a cute picture instead from out my front door.


I'm skipping my trail run and sticking to pavement, just in case dreams do have predictive power.

Have a wonderful day.

Guard Your Mental Space, Part 1

Welcome to Hump Day! Aaaand, some of you just harrumphed.

Wednesday used to be celebrated for the half-way mark to the weekend. While that doesn't hold for writers who can work every day of the week, it was a pleasant milestone in a workweek during the manufacturing age.

Back to the harrumphers. Don't deny you did and I agree, you have a point. What weekend, you ask? My phone, email, etc. never stops. Calls come in from clients or bosses at all hours, including the middle of the night. Emails chime on the laptop or the smartphone with urgent requests or imperious orders.

Yep, that is a problem.

Today, there is no Hump Day. The information age drove a stake into the heart of it. In the 24/7 wired world, we work on weekends, on evenings, and drive ourselves batty with online outrage from social media. Throw in the never-ending news cycle, a drip-drip-drip of negativity in our lives, and it's no wonder people are getting increasingly desperate to regain some control over their lives. Well, not everyone, but that will be a separate blog post.

The information age is maturing. The early gee-whiz phase of computers has evolved from strictly task oriented projects where technology served to accelerate progress to a system of gaining attention. Your attention. For all the money that technology saves in increased productivity, the big bucks are on stealing your attention, your data, and your thoughts.

If you don't think so, look at the tech field. The dominant players are not the hardware manufacturers. They are the companies that produce software that can monetize off the user. For example, Windows 10 from Microsoft is a data-mining scheme built onto a crappy operating system. Google has been busted spying on emails. Think your iPhone is secure? Think again.

In this regard, the social media platforms are more honest. They tell you up front in their Terms of Service that they intend to sell you out.

These are the voluntary areas that we elect to engage in. The involuntary, like work, is equally pernicious in violating our private time. For those who want to blandly state that "well, if you don't like it, quit", I will politely suggest they shove it. Families need to eat and for all the fanfare about employment, finding a new job that doesn't impose on personal time is an exercise fraught with stress and eventual disillusionment.

None of this is healthy. For me as a writer, it is especially damaging. The ideas for writing need to come from a creative mindset that disappears under high stress. My writing becomes unfocused and burdensome when it should be joyful. Under stress, I also indulge in bad health habits like imbibing more adult beverages than I should, or killing an entire bag of potato chips in one fell swoop, or skipping exercise.

The plain fact is that much of this stress, and my reaction to it, is self-inflicted.

This blog series is about guarding your mental space. The problem is, that topic is so vast, I can't do it in one post or at least, not one that can be read in a day. So I'm breaking it down in bite size pieces, one post a week on Hump Day. I'm going to keep them short, so you can read them fast.

The goal here is to change one person's interactions with modern life.


Twelve steps programs are big on an initial affirmation of admittance and powerlessness. I reject the second part of that.

I, Paul Duffau, have an information addiction and, through my choices, let others steal my attention. But I am not powerless. I can -and will - change my choices and guard my mental space from all intruders.

The truth is, none of us are totally powerless. Taking control, though, takes effort and willpower. We all have those - and when we need to, we can lean on each other for a little support.

See you on Hump Day next week. The subject?



Are You a Believer? Or, How Does An Avowed Agnostic Handle Prayers for Him?

I’ve had a spot of trouble to deal with lately. Specifically, a spot on my forehead that popped up three months ago. As it happens, it is squamous cell carcinoma. Yesterday, Dr. Burry of Valley Facial Plastics and ENT excised it, leaving a quarter sized hole over my right eyebrow. Dr. Burry, by the way, is fantastic. Once we have confirmation that we got it all, he'll be stitching me up. The size would probably have been greatly reduced had the cancer been correctly identified sooner. This is partly my fault. I went to the urgent care because I was working six days a week, dawn to dusk. I had a Saturday pop open and used it to go to the clinic.

The clinic is not staffed by a doctor. Instead, as is becoming increasingly common, it was staffed by a physician’s assistant who did not recognize what they were looking at. My mistake was taking that person at their word. Four weeks later, when the prescribed treatment program failed, I went to my doctor, got a referral to a specialist, and another to Dr. Burry. Fortunately, it hadn’t started to metastasize. If it had, I’d be in pretty deep trouble.

I’m not much for keeping those kinds of secrets, so when people asked what was going on with my head, I told them the truth. Many of these people, including most of my family, are followers of Christ. I am not, though I’m also not antagonistic toward faith. I wish I had it.

It is impossible for a person with any degree of true empathy to attend a worship service of religious believers and not see the beauty that exists in their submission to a God that asks that they live to their highest selves and to love their neighbor. It does not matter that they will fail in that task. We know that human beings are not perfect. They will sin. We all will and, yes, I include non-believers in that statement. Unless a person is so egotistical to consider themselves above any guiding principles (and those people do exist, sadly), they will have some moral foundation that they will subscribe to. The only question is whether their transgression is against a divine or self-imposed law. In either case, people will transgress.

As I mentioned, my family is blessed with faith and I was in their prayers. You expect that of family, accept it. Or ought to, though some resist.

But what of friends and acquaintances?

“Are you a Believer?” I was asked, and I answered honestly, “No.” Then, I explained why, not in detail, but enough.

“Well, I’m going to pray for you anyhow.”

There is a segment of society that would be offended at such a statement. They are militantly atheistic. Some will claim agnosticism while denying the fundamentals of that position. To be linked to religion even tangentially is an anathema. That’s a shame. They deny themselves on a great gift. Just as there is a beauty to a communion service, there is a beauty to the offer of prayers.

When a Believer offers to pray for you, he or she is not just offering a religious experience. They are freely giving you the strength of their hope and belief. In that moment, they come the closest to living the ideal of loving thy neighbor as they ever will.

There is great power in knowing that people care.

So how’s an agnostic to respond to that?

By accepting the gift with gratitude and thanks, not just for the gift of their faith, but of the blessing that they bestow by caring.

To all those that offered prayers and best wishes, family and friends alike, thank you.

Thank you so very much.

Teenage Boys and Guardian Angels

I got to thinking about the guardian angels tasked with keeping teenage boys alive and, mostly at least, out of major trouble. This ties into my thoughts that boys need to get into a certain amount of trouble in the first place to finish growing into men. How we deny them that will need to be the subject of a longer post later. Back to guardian angels. When you conjure that image, the timeless art of the cherub, encased in a golden glow and sporting white wings, springs to mind. A little three-year-old missing in the woods? She'll have an angel to look after her, tall and strong and kind. An elderly person passing from this plane? A guide, compassionate and welcoming. Heart-warming concepts, indeed.

Exactly the opposite of what teenage boys need. By nature, teenage boys are prone to do stupid things, usually in an effort to either move up in the dominance hierarchy or to impress a girl. Which is redundant. Work with me.

When a teen looks at a small chasm with a swiftly flowing creek, he sees an opportunity to measure himself and impress his peers where mature adults see an idiot playing Evel Knievel. This is the narrowest point in the creek. It seems more impressive when up-creek and down-creek spread out like that to either side, but it's also the point with the deepest plunge if he misses.

"Bet I can jump it!"

"Bet you can't."

He and his big mouth firmly puts his body on the line. His brag got called. No backing out now without loosing face. His friends will deride him not for the attempt, but to discourage him because they're eyeing the same yawning gap and thinking, "Crap, if he makes it, I gotta try." The girls, if present, will tell him, "Don't do it, you could get hurt. Do you think you can make it?"

"Sure!" What other answer is possible? Thus committed, the teen backs up, checks the distance from one shore to the next. Backs up two more steps. Three. It looks like erosion made that damn jump a heck of a lot longer than it was a moment ago. His friends, sensing a chicken, heckle.

So far, his guardian angel, the one on duty - they work shifts twelve-and-twelve to keep up with the level of testosterone induced lunacy - sighs and puts down her cigar. Her squadron never has a quiet shift.

She's a veteran at the game, not some rube cherub just getting its wings. Imagine a cigar-chomping, raspy voiced, frazzled woman, tougher than a Drill Instructor and half as sentimental. That's the prototypical angel for boys 12-and up. Her mission, to keep the moron boy alive for one more day.

While he's making his run up to launch mode, she makes decisions. Will the fall kill him? No. Good, a teachable moment, then. Can he get hurt. Probably, but not relevant. Will he make it? Snort. She could trip him before take-off but the chucklehead will just back up more, three times as determined.

She let's him jump.

And he's going to make it, by about a shoe-length, as in his heels hang on the edge of the abyss. But, since boys need lessons in mortality, she loosens the embankment. A dirty trick, to be sure, but if he makes it cleanly this time, he'll try again, something bigger and more dangerous.

As the grassy verge breaks loose, the boy experiences an instant of panic and hurls himself forward, skinning his shins in the process. Inside, he's pure elation. He won! At least, this time, because one of his buds is going to one-up him soon. But not today, no-sirree. He stands, wipes the blades of grass off his chest, and turns to face the rest of them.

The boys are looking at their feet. Hah! The girls are looking at him, which normally makes him uncomfortable as hell. One, the cutey blonde has hasn't got the guts to ask out, looks at him concerned. She cares! It can't get any better. Her next words crush that like a car compactor taking on a Yugo.

"How are you going to get back?"

His guardian angel snickers, picks up her cigar, and puffs it back to life. My, but she does love a two-for-one lesson.

Must Focus

I've joked for years that given enough time, I can think my way through a brick wall. I've also known that to do so, you must focus in single-minded obsession on those things that are important. The world, however, is now geared to perpetual distraction. The social media platforms are all dedicated to stealing your attention, either by triggering your fears, your rage, always your emotions. Nor is it just the platforms. The on-demand world permits easy avoidance of the hard work that is needed to accomplish, well, nearly anything. "I'll just watch one show on Netflix." ends with a binge session of eating, watching, and zero productivity.

Throw in the most divisive and poisonous political environment in my lifetime, and the obstacles to good work can overwhelm most everybody. It's not just me. Chuck Wendig hosted Kameron Hurley at his blog, Terrible Minds, to discuss working through the upheaval. There's some great advice in that article. Go read it and see for yourself. (Disclaimer: I know who Chuck is; he has no clue I even exist. If he did, he'd think I was wrong about damn near everything. Go read the article anyway.)

I've let myself get distracted. And angry, which is why I haven't blogged in months. Like I did with so many other things, I will fix the problem. In my case, that means going cold turkey. I've already purged a goodly chunk of my Twitter feed to get rid of the politics. I'm down to runners, writers, and travelers. Things that add value to my life.

It's time to perform triage on the distractors and, if I can't do it with a scalpel I'll bring a bloody great axe to the job. One way or the other, it will happen.

Must FOCUS - Fixed On Course Until Successful.

One of the best acronyms I've employed. Time to put it on steroids.


Lazy Writer Day

Max Siegel might USATF's CEO but he certainly does not cut it as a leader. We need lifetime bans, Max, and leadership. You don't need anybody's permission to set the example. From the WSJ:

"Max Siegel, chief executive of USA Track & Field, condemned doping but said he sees his job as that of an enforcer of anti-doping rules, which currently permit athletes to return from doping bans. “I know exactly what (King) is calling for, and it doesn’t change the way the rules currently exist. My job is to apply the rules fairly across the board.”

Tomorrow I take off for Calgary, my first visit there in a quarter century. Reason? When Words Collide, a writer and fan convention. Conventions are a great chance to meet folks and refuel the writing batteries. I'll be in information overload by Sunday, but . . .

You know what else Calgary has? Axe throwing! How cool is that? Great way to relieve the stress of writing. Or unreasonable bosses. Do not mix with alcohol.

After having struggled for most of this year to get words on paper, I turned a corner a month ago. In the last three weeks, I've put out about 10,000 words on the second novel of the Splintered Magic series (the first is done, needs editing. Later, as the series will be released in one gigantic push.) The key? Mostly having the guts to turn down paying work to make time and then letting the story take over instead of following the outline I set up.

On a related note, for the first time in years, I'm not coaching junior high xc. I'm going to miss the kids, but I was missing the excitement I normally feel this time of year. More, I was dreading surrendering my writing time.

Now, to check my schedule to see if I can return to blogging about the local races.

It's a bit early, but have a great weekend. I'll put up some pics from Calgary over the weekend.

Fourth of July

Of all the statements of man in relationship to each other and to the government, none rings with more clarity than the Declaration of Independence.

Calvin Coolidge, in his address celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Declaration, stated:

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

We ought not forget what was wrought - nor sacrifice it without a struggle.

h/t Ed Driscoll via Instapundit

Ten Tips for Recharging Your Batteries

As you might gather from the title of the post, this was a hellacious week. Beset by smoke from the fires, I've barely run in two weeks. The junior high cross country team had to run indoors. A client made a mistake regarding scheduling, led to an anxiety attack Friday and a fourteen hour day yesterday. I worked more than I should, play less than I needed, and I'm tottering around out of balance because of it.

So today, I'm being lazy. I need a chance to bleed off the stress and recharge. Here's my top ten ways of doing so.

1. Go for a run. You knew this would be at the top of the list. If there is a single human activity that can match a leisurely jaunt to help me relax, I haven't found it. John Ratey, in his book Spark, described how the effect of running is as effective as medications for depressed people.  If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend it. I liked it enough to buy five copies - and gave them to district superintendent, the principals, and the put one in the library. They like me anyhow, but it cemented my reputation for being a touch odd.

2. Read a book. Not a surprise, either. Depending on the type of recharging I need, I might invest some time in reading a four or five novels of the mindless entertainment variety, or perhaps a deeper classic. The classics get broken out when I need to challenge the brain but the body is weary. The thrillers and sci-fi come out when I need mental vacations. If I'm recharging, I generally avoid non-fiction.

3. Food and a glass of wine. Not recommended for the under-21 crowd, at least the wine part, but comfort food helps by being a touchstone to times that had a little less going on. The wine I enjoy and it's relatively safe from a gout perspective, provided I don't over-indulge.

4. A long drive with the right soundtrack. I love to drive, have ever since I had a moped when I was young and in college. I outgrew the moped pretty quickly, but I put 10,000 miles on it first and explored all sorts of alleys in San Diego. I usually relax/drive at night and let the mind wander while keeping an eye out for the deer.

5. Garden. Not yardwork, mowing or weeding. I like to plant things and watch them grow. Working with the soil grounds me (sorry, couldn't help myself) and I find I slow down and absorb more through my senses. I grow vegetables and have some fruit trees that I pick based on how well they respond to benign neglect. This year, the garden has not produced much for us but kept the deer well nourished.

6. Long, slow walks. Best done with company, in nature. Meander, stop to watch a bird or the flow of a river. Breathe.

7. Volunteer. Cross country season is back and I get to hang out with a great bunch of junior high runners. They're at that fun age where they've temporarily lost their brains but the enthusiasm levels are through the roof. I volunteer with them because I'm selfish and it makes me feel great. Another awesome group to hang out with are seniors as they value every single second. Find someone to help, share some love.

8. A good movie or show. Sometimes, life as a couch potato is exactly what the mental health doctor recommends. You get to define what's good, by the way. If you're in the mood for explosions and outer space, fire up the Star Wars franchise. Need to cry (ahem, just saying, not that I, manly as I am, would resort to a tear-jerker movie), put in Terms of Endearment.

9. Do a favorite activity. I don't write this blog for pay (I would, but nobody has offered.) I write for pleasure. The novels, once written, are widgets that I sell, but in the act of creation, the writing is a source of joy. You might find that doing jigsaw puzzles or pulling weeds (love it when my Mom visits!) or cleaning. Recharging doesn't necessarily mean flopping over and doing nothing. It's includes activity that refreshes. So today's post isn't work, it's play.

10. Solitude. For an introvert, which I definitely am, a solid week of helping people exhausts the emotional energy stores. Selecting "None of the above" and just enjoying some alone time can make all the difference. Yoga, mediation, prayer all play into this.

I'll Figure It Out on the Way Down

Putting a gun to your head is the most stark example of a decision with either/or consequences I can think of. No, I'm not suicidal, just exercising the authorial right to hyperbole to frame a discussion. Ready?

Everyone reaches a point, or points, in their lives where stark decisions mean turning everything upside down. Not the where-shall-go-to-college-type of decisions or what's-for-dinner. Those come with built-in recoveries, easily implemented. Sad you didn't get into Yale, but there's a plethora of choices that exist below that. It's not potentially irrecoverable. Also, it wasn't your decision to make; that call goes to Yale after you apply.

Earlier this week, I mentioned that I am worried about taking two months off from my business and disappearing into the Great Rift Valley. For background, I run a one-person business, doing inspections for homebuyers and sellers. My income, while I'm in Kenya, is going to drop to zero. That doesn't worry me; savings accounts exist for a reason.

What does worry me is the thought that the people that I serve will evaporate while I'm gone. Certainly, they will need to find other providers during that period. I expect that, and I deliberately structured the trip to take place during the slowest part of the season, both to minimize the income destruction, as well as to limit the inconvenience to my friends that I work with.

Having my income drop to zero, period, forever, would be a mite troubling, and the possibility, though slight (in my not so humble opinion), exists. I could get another job, or create one, but the truth is that I genuinely enjoy helping people in the homebuying process. It also provides me with a reasonable income, flexibility to write and run, and intellectual stimulation.

I should also mention that I dislike uncertainty. Not the kind that comes with a small business on a ten-day cycle because I know that if I show up every day, do a good job, protect my clients, and treat everybody fairly and with respect, I will have new work as I need it.

What happens, then, when I don't show up?

The standard I set above was recoverable. Is this a decision, if made incorrectly, I can recover from? When you reframe the question from "Will bad things happen?" to a different proposition, can I adapt if it goes wrong, it changes the complexion of the problem. In my experience, the most resilient individuals are those that have the knack of redefining an issue to make it more manageable, rather than bemoaning the issue/disaster/end-of-the-world and freezing in place.

The other skill that resilient people bring is an acceptance of both the risk and the work necessary to achieve recovery. Nobody likes change. In fact, our brains are hard-wired against it. We are genetically pre-programmed with a default position for survival which is why so many people put up with abusive spouses, or horrid employment conditions, or ill-health (of the non-disease/genetic variety.) While not pleasant, in the context of survival, the conditions are tolerable.

Image courtesy of Public Domain

Image courtesy of Public Domain

So, I don't have an answer for what will happen when I return from Kenya. Sometimes you just have to take a chance and launch. I did it when, at 17, I asked my wife to marry me. (She did when she said yes.) I did it again when I started my business, again when I wrote the first book and let someone else read it.

A trip to Kenya isn't a case of someone putting a gun to my head. It's recoverable. Like the first guy to test a parachute, I plan on everything working like a dream. Having a backup plan helps and I've already plotted a couple of those. In the event things head south, I have some confidence that I can figure something out on the way down.

Or not. Or I might get eaten by lions. That's a possibility, too. I'll find out in February.

I'm a Terrible Parent for Teaching My Kids How to Fail

Frankly, I don't get the need to hold graduation parties for kindergarteners. I know, we're supposed to teach our kids to succeed and nurture their self-esteem, but I didn't want to raise special little princesses. My kids got high-fives for striving and trying hard things, even if they crashed and burned. When they moped about the crash, they got a kick in the seat.

Too many people get wrapped up in the notion that failure is bad. It is not. The reaction to failure determines the value. Champions don't take failure personally. They understand that failure is feedback that the course you're on will not get you to the goals that you seek. The feedback itself is emotionally neutral and impartial. Understand the feedback, and make the corrections.

This is called learning. 

I do not know any successful person who did not fail first, sometime spectacularly. No runner breaks the four-minute mile without missing the mark a thousand times first. No inventor perfects a device on the first idea. Business get built by professional failures. Authors who are overnight successes have a decade of failed efforts behind them.

No one lives a life on unending successes, and children who are never allowed to experience the opposite of success never develop the resiliency and perseverance to handle adversities.

I encouraged the girls to "fail faster." That is, try things, evaluate, learn, move on to the next challenge. Grow.

So yes, I taught my girls to fail. Or, more accurately, how to fail.

Touching Loss

I am the dad I am because of the kids they are and the people they grew into.

Lauren Fleshman lost her dad a month ago. She talks about it here.

If you read it and don't feel the pain, and it doesn't bring tears, I'm saddened.

I remember an article Lauren wrote years ago, about the poor VO max tests, lactate thresholds, and like that she had in high school, relative to the other runners. She told her dad about the tests, what the tests said, what her limits were.

"You're a FLESHMAN!" was his response. And, paraphrasing, no "test can ever measure heart". And he was right and she proved it.

I picture him now, but whispering the same words. "You're a Fleshman." Then, more quietly, "This will hurt and it will heal, and you will find your way again. And when you do, LIVE with all you have."

I don't know either one of then, Lauren or her dad, but that would be what I would say to my girls.

And that I loved them, though I think they already suspect.

Serendipity, for the asking

I figure I lead a charmed life. It might lack a little in movie starlets, and gold fixtures a la Donald Trump, but I can live without those. Instead, I get to keep bumping into interesting people and circumstances.

The flight to Seattle this morning introduced me to Josh Adam, an assistant coach up at WSU who works with the rowing program. Did not know that when I asked if the compression socks he wore helped when travelling. (Also had Nikes on, so I figured he was one of my kind.)

Josh is headed out to Sarasota, Florida on a recruiting trip. The Nationals for high school rowing take place on Saturday and approximately 600 athletes get a chance to compete against the other top rowers.

Being runner-centric as I am, I asked Josh about the crossover from running to rowing. Turns out, a lot. We compared points back and forth on the sports. As with the other youth sports, the emphasis at many rowing programs has changed from teaching technique and character to winning.

Toward the end of the flight, when a combination of engine noise and altitude changes made hearing hard, the subject of visualization came up. I touch on it with the junior high kids. As it happened, Josh’s masters is in the juxtaposition of sports psychology and physiology (I think I got that right.) He was a little surprised that I used it but pointed out that the best of the best are all beautifully trained physically. The deciding difference is often what happens between the ears.

We kept chatting while we deplaned and headed our separate directions.

Yes, by the way, he says the compression socks help with longer (2+ hours) flights.

Then it was a drive up to the meeting for the State Building Code Council. The purpose of the code is to keep life as boring as possible. This starts with the meetings. Very, very smart people, but it takes a thousand words for them to say yes. Noes take considerably more and we got out a bit late.

I expected this so I requested a booking on a flight in the evening. Not in a hurry to get to the airport, which was a good thing. Seattle does not have freeways. Instead, everybody gets onto the road at the same time, virtually parks, and throws a massive party, minus the booze, the music, and the joy, with the other 200,000 people around them to share a hangover called ‘traffic’. No thanks, kemosabe. I’ll head back to the big empty where I dodge deer and farm combines.

 So I dipped off the main drag, so to speak, and headed to Lake Washington. My next novel is set over there and I figured I’d scoped out the locations again.

Glad I did. I found a couple of neat little paths through Seward Park I can play with. Last time I was here, I could see Rainier.

Pure luck, and not replicable, at least today. Crowds were different, too, fewer kids even though summer is starting. Did see a gray heron on a piling a hundred yards out on the lake. Very elegant.

I meandered off the lake because I was hungry. I also needed to get some writing done and stuck at an airport has writing time all over it. Plus there was enough time to have a couple of beers and still sober up before I had to drive. I’ve been here a couple of times, so I headed up Orcas Street toward Columbia City and saw a Neapolitan Pizzeria. That’s the way it advertised itself. What wasn’t advertised was how to find some parking, so I started a spiral search for decent parking. I have a parking angel. I usually don’t’ worry about parking, it just appears.

Not today.

Found a Kenyan restaurant, the Safari  while looking for parking and took this as a sign that I was not meant to eat ordinary pizza. Parking was close. Of course.

Ate mbuzi instead. And ugali. If you’re a runner, you have to try ugali, the food of the running gods. It’s denser than I expected, like a stiff flan made with very fine corn meal. Cut pieces off with my fork and added a bit of the sukumi, vegetables. Tasty.

Next to me sat a family, dad, mom, and 15 month old. The little girl made pretty little sounds and reminded me of my granddaughters. The parents spoke Swahili to each other and English to the toddler. There’s one white face in the whole place.

I also noticed another young man, diagonally across the restaurant, eating the ugali with his fingers dipping it into the mustard. All the tables had a mustard bottle.

Yeh, what the heck, I thought and squeezed some out onto my plate. A little chunky for mustard, and the wrong yellow. This is where prudent people look, and ignore.

I sampled, with the ugali, by fingers. Whoo-hoo, glad I like hot stuff. It wasn’t cook my brains, tears on the face hot, but had a nice zing anyway. The couple notices I’m eating with my fingers, emulating the man in the corner. They smile at each other.

I tell them I watched the others eating and copied them. Basic lesson from Robert Heinlein, Citizen of the Galaxy, on knowing when to put the blue mud in your belly button to fit in. I’m pretty sure the white face told them I wasn’t from their country, but hey, I’m trying.

We strike up a conversation, and I mention that I’m planning on going to Kenya next year. She’s from Kikiyu – I’ve heard of that, he’s from a place I don’t’ recognize. I have to ask where it’s at. North of Nairobi, apparently. They’re a nice couple and wish me well on my travels, and then head out the door and load the little one into a minivan.

I finished the mbuzi—it’s goat, with coastal spices and delicious—and eventually asked for the bill. They need to charge more, so I left a largish tip. The owner asked about my trip, so I told her about the story idea I had, of a girl who wants to go to school and to run and, if she can get out of the country, the culture shock coming from Kenya to the United States.

“The food,” says Jane. “I tell my friends when they come over, but they don’t believe me.”

Jane has lived in Seattle for 25 years. Her husband is the chef of the Safari Njema Restaurant

She tells of first coming to the country and getting hungry so she went to McDonald’s. She didn’t understand a hamburger, why mix the bread and the vegetables, and the disk-shaped thing.

She ate beans for a long time. Beans are safe, they don’t change. She tries to tell others following in her footsteps about the differences. They don’t believe her or don’t understand. I get it – I raised kids. You tell them. Later they remember the telling and nod. Now they get it, when they’re ready.

Jane is from Voi. About three quarters of the way from Nairobi to Mombasa. Her brother is still there and she suggests I visit his restaurant. There are gem mines by the score and I do love pretty shine-ys. I added it to the itinerary.

(I know shine-ys is not a real word. Roll with me, m‘kay.)

Now it’s back to the airport. I’ve got a flight back tonight. Work tomorrow, though I’m considering a career change to bellboy.

It’s been a great day, mostly because of the accidental events. Sitting next to Josh on the flight out. Having time to explore because I didn’t want to stress about the airport. Finding a great scene for the book. Having a parking angel save a spot for me to find a Kenyan restaurant and Jane so I could introduce myself.

All accidental. On purpose. Kinda.  

February is the longest month of the year

I don't like February, at least not in the Northern hemisphere. It's been a while for the Southern, so I'll withhold disapprobation until I get a chance to go Down Under (or equivalent) again.

This month always marks my lowest energy ebb, the month that hardest to get out of bed, or out the door. The sun comes up late (even as the days grow incrementally longer, a few seconds at a crack) and most of the time is sequester behind grayness.

It's a dead zone. Trees are bare. Plants huddle waiting a sign to bloom again. Running is treacherous, and this excluding this year, bitter cold where I live. (This year it's sopping wet, which scares the farmers. The wheat is coming up and a bitter freeze might do serious harm to the crops.)

January at least has the shiny glow of a new year. March might have weather just as crummy - or worse, even - but at least spring a hint of spring floats on the air, waiting.

February sits there like a lump, occupying time on the calendar. Christmas is in the rearview mirror, fading fast. Spring lurks over the horizon, but the date of return is uncertain.

So February drags out, like a night spent listening to the slow drip from a faucet, plonking just often enough to wake you as you drop off.

So no, I don't like February, but if I squint hard enough, I can make out March and the promise of spring. It's not much of a promise from this vantage point, but it's enough. I'll get there restless and ever-so-ready.