Sunday, October 31, 2010


Three miles from my house, there sits a church atop a hill. I've driven by it several times on my way to a much newer church about 20 minutes away, always admiring the way the bell stood stately among the trees surrounding it.

Apropos of something, I decided I wanted to go there this morning. And it was, in a word, perfect.

I saw a sign directing me down a street I've not taken and sighed when I ended up in a tiny gravel lot outside an elegant and old church building. I pulled open the door, smiling when it took some coaxing to release it from the jamb, and climbed up creaky stairs to the sanctuary.

It was small but tall room - blue and gold windows graced both sides of the structure and there was a wide column of pews in the center, flanked by two narrower columns on either side. Used to traveling in planes, I'd call it a 3-5-3 seating arrangement, but with sturdy dark wood gleaming with polish and charming scrolls on the edges.

I settled into the corner of a pew in the center, one row from the back, but stood when the pastor approached. He had been talking with the dozen or so people already seated and smoothed his white robe before reaching to shake my hand.

"I saw your sign and thought I would visit," I told him after he welcomed me and asked my name. "It's a gorgeous building."

"Built in the early 1800s," he told me and pointed out some relevant features while I cooed over architecture and was charmed by every sound from the planked floorboards.

The piano player did not arrive so we sang hymns a cappella, the few voices echoing reverently off the wooden floors and high ceilings and bringing a few tears to my eyes. I listened intently to the sermon and focused my mind and heart on prayer. I smiled at the baby who was baptized as he quietly surveyed his surroundings.

"Babies never cry in this church," the pastor mused as he finished his circuit and handed the little one back to his parents.

"Millie spoke of this place near the end," he said when I approached a man near the back and expressed my sorrow for the loss of his sister when we'd prayed for his family over the recent funeral. "She worshiped at many places, but this seemed the most memorable."

"It's a special place," I replied, looking around before returning my eyes to his and smiled. "I'll be back." And feeling as though my soul had been cleansed and I found a church that feels exactly right, I returned to my car and drove home.


I had a friend over this afternoon and was surprised and delighted at how much I enjoyed it. Given that I always do work while watching football, it was lovely to have conversation and laughter and, I don't know, just share space with someone whose company I enjoyed.


It was chilly, resulting in a smaller crowd of trick or treaters, but they were uniformly adorable. In contrast to my busy Southern neighborhood, we have a more modest crowd of children rather than teenagers sans costumes in search of free candy. I saw a banana and several monsters, many fairies and several football players, then there were lions, tigers and bears. (Oh, and a car! When I said I liked his costume, he told me he was a car. And I giggled and wished it were OK to cuddle him for a second. Instead, I gave him an extra handful of candy.) All were little and I spent much of the evening bent over, holding Chienne's collar with one hand and depositing candy in buckets with the other.

"You're welcome," I repeated as everyone politely thanked me. "Have fun," I'd offer the little ones with their parents. "Be careful," I'd gently caution those who were out with friends. (I can't help it - I worry.)

I extinguished my porch light after peering out and seeing empty sidewalks. I patted Chienne, smiling as she blinked at me sleepily and settled in to write a blog post.

As I look in my sidebar at archives, October was a busy month - rather full of text and photos and, for the most part, happy happenings. Good ending to a good month, I think.

Happy List

  1. I'm feeling better.
  2. I reserved a flight to go see Friend in December. I miss Friend and have been pretty horrible at keeping in touch. So I'm completely excited about going back and looking around and reconnecting with one of my most favorite people.
  3. Chienne and I have been taking long walks on different paths for the past 3 days. It's surprisingly refreshing to see new houses and climb new hills when my brain is busy.
  4. I picked up my mail and 2 new rings from Overstock arrived. I've been picking up pretty yet inexpensive pieces to wear on my left hand for over a year and I like the variety and sparkle.
  5. Work is going to be intense next week as we prepare for a Big Event. But after a restful Saturday, I think I'm mentally prepared to perform brilliantly.
  6. Brother has a job offer he has accepted.
  7. My parents and the Ones will visit in a little over a week.
  8. It's deliciously cold - perfect for lazy weekends and flames in the fireplace and lengthy bubble baths.
  9. I'm going to church this morning - I generally feel more settled after worship.
  10. I've been writing more than average of late - if that's not happy, you can anticipate a decrease in posting as work gets increasingly demanding. (See? I try to be inclusive!)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Good Game

I like to think I'm a good spectator. I pay attention and cheer when appropriate. I understand rules and get emotionally involved so that I'm gleeful when scoring and heartbroken when scored upon. But I always hate the aftermath - the point where the vanquished must face the victor and shake hands or tap gloves or even nod with some semblance of manners after the skirmish is complete. I mean, one accepts the potential of defeat when entering a game, but to have that possibility realized - to face that you tried and failed - and then to have to look at the happiness that comes from trying and succeeding? It makes my stomach hurt, even when watching it on television.

Perhaps it's that a younger Katie was never athletic (well, I'm still not but I no longer care) and often heard 'Good try!' after being miserably embarrassed over not running fast enough or hitting far enough or ducking one too many times to avoid being hit by the ball. It was not a good try, I would think, annoyed. I'm terrible at this and any sort of lame encouragement is only adding to my sense of ickiness. Because while I understood - even in high school - that kick ball was not going to make or break my chances at future success in life, it still hurt when that ball smacked me in the leg as I was running to the stupid mat that served as a base. And it was not a good game! It was a rather sucky game, actually, and if I could have devised a way to avoid it completely, I would have.

Such, I think, has been my approach to dating and subsequent sex. My skills are meager at best and my confidence - at least in this area as I'm nearly egotistical in others - doesn't really need the additional hits. Still, I'm trying. And doing so happily for the most part so forgive me a temporary lapse here.

I took a long walk with Chienne today, moving around the longest of the paths through the forest and taking deep breaths and attempting to think through what to do next. And I'm preparing, silly as that sounds, with buying lingerie and taking extra care shaving my legs and smoothing on lotions and brushing on powder so I can feel pretty and confident and secure.

"I like processes," I told someone. "The first step leads to the next and then the one after that. And if I don't know what to expect, I feel uncomfortable and afraid and just want to opt out because I can tell I'm not good at this."

But in opting out, I don't get to play. And the feel of a man's lips on my neck, the slight scrape of stubble on my shoulder or his hands slowly moving through my hair are delicious. Biting my lip while slipping the button from the hole in his jeans seems sexy. Reaching to hold his hand while he touches my breasts or finding the pressure with which to touch or taste him... all worthwhile activities, right?

Still, there's this awful potential of failure. Of the moment where I realize it doesn't feel right. That I may not connect. That it may be more interesting that arousing. That I cannot, in fact, stop overthinking things. That I may very well play and lose and end up curled on my loveseat in the darkness being embarrassed and alone and sick with the sense that other people find this easy and fun.

But I remind myself that even a lonely Friday evening spent in pajamas is better than a brightly lit locker room where I struggle out of an ugly red uniform and into my clothes while still sweaty at ages 14-18. And as I finish the last of my glass of Riesling and glance around at my pretty house and wonderful life, I realize that sometimes an honest effort is all I can offer. And even when it stings my pride and hurts my feelings, all that's left to say, perhaps with an apologetic shrug and a nod toward getting better with practice, is, "Good game."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


"How's the mood?" my doctor asked as I sat perched on the exam table in her office. She pressed on my face and looked up my nose and listened to my lungs and I had answered that, actually, my eyes were itchy.

"Good, actually," I reported with a smile. "I feel stable and happy and hopeful." She looked at me what I decided was fondness and a small measure of relief. We decided it was allergies though there might be the start of an infection. But despite feeling physically crappy, I was emotionally steady. And, for me, that's been non-trivial.

I have been watching the It will get better videos and find them impossibly wonderful. It's just an outpouring of goodness in response to something so terrible and also strikes me as profound in that people can look at their lives - and their respective progression through difficult times - and say 'I'm glad I'm here.' Because life can be both gift and curse and, depending on which it is for me, I tend to make it such for others.

"Who is this person?" I asked gently in a meeting. "Is she very sad? Can we help her?" My colleagues blinked at me across the table and I shrugged. "I know she's awful," I explained. "And I agree that she's making a huge ordeal out of a tiny problem, but I think people react that way when they're struggling with some situation." Then I shrugged again and frowned while the team decided on how to fight back rather than give her kisses and cuddles. Which maybe is appropriate but I felt badly nonetheless.

I have been thinking of late of what I'm trying to do here. We are approaching my five year blogiversary and the rate of the word count has certainly slowed since I joined Industry, but I'm still drawn to this space when I am happy or sad, confused or certain. It is no longer my lifeline - a desperate attempt to find a safe way to know people when I felt so alone and miserable. It remains, however, a spot where I can say 'look how well I'm doing!' and return in a week to say 'oh, hell, this is so hard and awful!'

Because there are cycles - both long and short - and sometimes a local maximum overlaps with a global minimum and, for me, writing it out helps with perspective. But I find - whether due to growing up or this particular drug or perhaps the therapy makes sense years after I stopped going - that I'm more capable of handling the difficult times. Criticism and rejection, arguments and hurt feelings. I can balance that with confidence and pride in what I've accomplished, awe that I've seen some of the world and have friends and colleagues who believe me to be gifted and kind.

I worry over Little One - her sensitive soul and quickness to weep bitterly over even the slightest trigger. Her great-grandmother and Aunt Katie both struggled greatly with depression, though I am around to watch over her and try to explain and intervene. And I think, sometimes, of what I'll say if my prayers that she be spared the mood disorder aren't answered in the way I want.

I'll explain that life is not a Disney movie - that a belief in God is not a free pass away from pain and struggle. Sometimes people hurt you for reasons you don't understand. Other times, people won't love you back or are careless or selfish or cruel. Sometimes you'll be the one who is careless, selfish or cruel and the guilt over those times can be vicious. Bad things can happen but eventually it's clear that there's a balance and contrast with greatness. Giggling with friends over guacamole or gazing up at the skyscrapers in Tokyo with a sense of awe.

I'll confess that sometimes it's about picking your battles and priorities. That while I want her to have everything, sometimes there are choices that may lead to the wrong people or places, but as long as you're learning something, there's opportunity for course correction. And there are moments when you realize you're in the right place. And are happy there. And are able to treat people with kindness and care and react with a sense of happiness and hope.

So whether watching the sunlight filter through the leaves or pushing my hair back as the wind gusts down the side streets, the mood is good. If I can control the allergy and/or infection, I'll be all set.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Being Seen Naked

"We're getting artifacts," he said apologetically. "Could you take off your pants?"

"Sure," I chirped, happy to help and took the blanket he offered and hopped up to wriggle out of my gray bottoms, tossing them on the corner of a bench before arranging myself under the blanket and calling out that I was ready.

I find I'm less modest - likely a combination of maturity and working in a clinical field where bodies are examined for defects much of the time. I don't run around naked - in fact, unless I'm bathing, it's safe to assume I have on a full outfit of sleepy (or wakey) clothing - but I'm not the desperately shy Katie I once was.

I remember almost falling in the shower when I opened the curtain in high school to find a friend standing outside without clothes on. I jumped back in, arms over my breasts and legs awkwardly crossed, and blinked at her in horror.

"Oh, come on, Katie," she chided, tossing me a towel and rolling her eyes as I got out and she got in.

"You should take a naked photo," another friend advised when I was a post-doc. "It's empowering - to document your body and appreciate all it contains and love how it looks."

I remember thinking that I appreciated my body carrying my brain around for me, but everything was too rounded and soft. I'd have to do a thorough job of hair removal and figure out where to pose and set a timer on a camera to forever capture an image I didn't even glance at in the mirror. It did not seem empowering to me, but rather a cringe-worthy experience of embarrassment and ickiness, even if nobody but me saw the result.

Recently, sparked by a hope that - at some point - I'll date someone and there will be an intimate component to our relationship (read: sex), I realized I don't want to hide under covers or demand all lights be extinguished. I want to be practical - I am not gorgeous - but somehow confident - I like my eyes, my breasts aren't bad and perhaps the curve of my hip is almost pretty. If you squint a little bit. (Well, maybe more than a little bit. Never mind.)

So, after a bit of a nudge, I found myself buying lingerie at Target - the kind I always think is lovely and envy the women who have reason to wear something so sheer and decorative when I'm looking mostly for comfort and support. Steeling myself, I moved toward the white bits of frippery hanging on the aisle and ran my fingertips over the black pattern on a camisole.

I wanted it. So, firmly instructing myself not to look guilty, I tossed it in my cart (and added several more pieces I thought were pretty but impractical) and continued shopping, tossing other items atop the flimsy underwear until I'd basically forgotten they were there.

Always efficient, I joined the shortest line and blinked - not unlike the high school shower incident - when I realized the red-shirted man scanning my bag of spinach and container of strawberries would soon make his way to undeniably sexy undergarments. Unable to think of a way to avoid it, I braced myself and flushed as he started to remove hangers and place the soft fabrics into the plastic bags.

"Those go together," I noted when he looked for a price tag for a set of pajamas.

"Beautiful," he replied and my mouth fell open for a second before my face decided to be as tomato-like as possible. I wondered if he would believe it if I told him they were for a friend, decided I was not a child and could own beautiful things if I wanted, and remained quiet until it was blessedly time to pay and leave the store.

"No quitting now," I told myself firmly and came upstairs and into the guest room to try them on. I slipped into the first piece I found, the white camisole with the black pattern, and admired the straps as they sat on my shoulders. I adjusted the fit and smoothed the sheer fabric over my tummy. Then I forced myself to take my camera in hand and faced the mirror on the back of the door.

I immediately began to catalog flaws - there's a blemish and that's too round and goodness, how huge are my thighs?! - but closed my eyes, took a breath and snapped a photo.

Upon looking at it, I blinked in surprise when I realized I looked pretty. Not model-perfect or drool-worthy, but like a woman who is growing up and learning to be comfortable in her skin. So, yes, I carefully cropped it and am putting a picture of my breast in lingerie on my blog.

Because I have said photo. And I do feel a little empowered.

(The fact that I hurried into pajamas immediately afterward and sagged with relief that it was over is not that important.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Peacocks, Pride & Paths to Follow

I barely stopped myself from gloating, preening like a pretty, pretty peacock for I had emerged from an argument victorious once again.

It always happens, for I believe she hates to lose as much as I do, and so we do have skirmishes. She is not, however, as skilled at winning. Though she's smart, I'm smarter. I'm also vicious and manipulative as hell, willing to pull rank and call in favors and use all the tools at my disposal to nudge people in a given direction until the scales tip toward me and I can scoop up the glory of getting my way.

The short story is - and has been for the last 2 years - that she wants me to do something and I don't want to. So I either refuse or put it off until past the deadline and then flirt or cajole or work behind the scenes until everyone agrees with me that it was a silly task to begin with. Then she looks sad and I feel a tiny bit guilty (but mostly pleased that I won).


The air is deliciously brisk in the morning, the ground dusted with a layer of frost and littered with drying leaves, and I embrace the change from the last of summer's warmth eagerly because, I think, I'm operating from a position of stability. I'm happy because everything is under control, despite the fact that my toes grow numb in my flip flops as we walk along the sidewalks and paths that have grown so familiar. It's good to make changes, I decided, thoughts drifting from personal to professional and back again as I followed Chienne around after dawn, and I went to work feeling a bit sleepy but almost fluttery with happiness.

"I'll go," I offered when I overheard a colleague begging for help to meet a deadline. "I've not done that since grad school," I told her of the task in the lab, "but I was trained for it so I can get it done in the next couple of hours."

"Hello!" I beamed when PrettyHair stood in my doorway, even as I moved from my chair to hug her. "You're back! How are you? We should get lunch!" She's been out lately and I've missed her.

"No worries," I assured a member of another team. "I can handle it and I'll send the final material when I'm finished so you stay in the loop."


Acknowledging that I was agreeable and helpful because I was happy, I came home this evening and was thinking about some of the potential changes ahead. It's edging closer to the time when I should apply for new jobs at work - I'm on a good trajectory but it will demand a promotion sometime within the next year or so. I'm starting to date - and enjoying it - but it could mean that I have to make room for someone and even as I want that, I'm afraid of it.

I know how to be alone just as I've learned how to do my job. I daresay I'm good at it much of the time. So I feel a bit unsteady at the moment, perched upon some hill that I painstakingly climbed and in the moment after the exhilaration fades and my confidence falters, I'm left looking back and forth, deciding between a graceless retreat or another tentative step forward. Torn between comfort and craving, my stomach starts to turn and my neurons exhaust themselves with playing out various scenarios, attempting to find that elusive balance between the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain.

But instead of moving impulsively, for that is my habit, I'm going to pause here a moment and consider the options. Understand, as CS Lewis would say, what I want and what I ought. And when I know that, I'll move again.

But for tonight, I am unsure and afraid. I never have been all that fond of heights and, after all, I understand peacocks only fly when necessary and even then can't do it for all that long.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Colon Capital-D

I walked with Chienne this morning, shivering against the cold and raising my face, eyes closed, to the sunshine, blinking them open to gaze at the bright blue sky. Most of the leaves have fallen from the trees, save those that are located in areas protected from the wind.

I grinned when I remembered a line from The Big Bang Theory (I love that show more than I can articulate) about how Sheldon was colon capital D (:D).

I feel rather colon capital D today.

Life is going well. I am sleeping on schedule again. I feel better - not so headachy and fatigued. I like the cold - shivering happily and pulling out my favorite sweaters and starting fires that crackle, both cheerful and soothing, in my living room. (I did close the flue when I meant to open it and ended up getting a headache from the gas buildup. That was less than perfect.)

Projects at work are coming together and I feel this absurd sense of accomplishment when someone appreciates that effort and planning that went into one (or more) of my current tasks. There are more projects to come, of course, but one of them is going to be far less work than I'd originally anticipated. I suppose I'm feeling capable - I've been in the position long enough to trust my decisions and know that I can struggle through a couple of days efficiently and see daylight again.

Personally, things are happening. If I'm being honest, I'll likely write something at some point, but I'm hesitant to analyze it to death right now. I remind myself that I love my life - my job, my family (Brother may have found a job! So proud of him!), my house and pets and friends and colleagues. The romantic element is important - and I am hopeful that I can overcome some of my chronic neuroses that prevented me from having someone special in my life.

It's just that I hesitate to assign that much importance to it, lest I fail once again and lessen my overall happiness with my situation. But now I'm starting to analyze it to death so I'm stopping. My plan is to relax. Enjoy the moment and let myself react to how I feel, not based on how I might feel if I grow infatuated and he grows distant or, I don't know, if he secretly believes he's a warewolf. Or hates dogs. Loves his pet snake or spider or giant bird. Or lizard - I don't like lizards either.

But I'm dating. And working and sleeping and enjoying my life.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010


"There was a building with multi-colored cubes," I told Adam as we walked down the street in Seoul, "and another building with a curved roof - it looked like it was rusting.

"I was looking out the window," I explained after a pause. "My head hurt so badly and I couldn't get cooled down so I bent over the vent by the window and tried to find a focal point to focus past the pain.

"I did not work," I continued my monologue. "But it was slightly distracting to watch the cars park and people walk."

Being a very 'all or nothing' sort of girl, I tend to notice and remember everything - the way the wind blew suit jackets open and ties askew as people moved briskly through the alley behind my hotel in Korea; the woman who smoked and avoided eye contact with all passersby - or little to nothing.

But I've lately wanted to notice nothing and am paid to track down everything. There are several projects that - while admittedly not difficult - are positively dripping with details. And I'm trying to catch them with my lists and emails and follow up calls. And it's not going badly! If there were 2 projects, it'd be easy. 3 would be reasonable. But 5 is starting to feel overwhelming. I wake up (not often - God bless melatonin) wondering if I ordered enough workbooks or reviewed that last manuscript or practiced the newest presentation or signed that contract or returned that voice mail.

So I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed - contentedly so, but still buried under a mountain of post-its, each containing some small but critical piece of the overall puzzle.

Monday, October 18, 2010


It was several months after I'd received this job - after the new house and car, after putting in the fence and beginning to travel - that I realized my link was missing from the sidebar of a favored blog. I frowned, wondering what I'd said to offend, and realized that it was the incessant - and perhaps insensitive - discussion of how happy I was to be making money.

The confession I was less eager to make was that I've been in some form of credit card debt since I was 16. Though I started working as soon as I was legally allowed, I immediately started spending beyond what I earned. And continued to do so well into adulthood.

I've paid thousands of dollars - perhaps tens of thousands, actually - in exorbitantly high interest. I've dutifully paid my bills every month though, save the instance in grad school where I was stressed and tired and put mail in the refrigerator with the groceries in my studio apartment. So my credit rating remains quite good - though my debt to income ratio was, at times, pretty depressing.

And it's not as though I have particularly expensive tastes. I don't gamble or have a drug habit. I drink modestly at best and most weeks not at all. I have rather middle-class tastes in food and cars. I have books - frequenting a library would have changed my financial situation dramatically. I also have 3 closets worth of clothes and shoes, though little of it is designer and I could eagerly show you the pants I found for $4 at Kohl's or the little flats I picked up at Target.

But I've always known I either needed to spend much less or earn much more. So when my salary doubled from grad school to post-doc and then doubled again from post-doc to Industry, I decided my time worrying about money was limited. I had more than enough to fund my current lifestyle and pay for past purchases I couldn't quite recall but which I'm sure were important at the time.

I signed documents to refinance my house last week, dragging myself across town in a jet-lagged haze and initialing and signing the papers put in front of me. I blinked at the woman across the table when she asked if I had questions, yawned while I shook my head. I nodded when she reminded me not to make my November payment and smiled when she said she'd send me a check for $400 - the amount I'd deposited to fund said refinancing was being repaid.

"It'll be like finding money," she said cheerfully before advising me to drive very carefully, "since I don't think you'll even remember meeting me!"

"I'm not that tired," I replied slowly and waved as I pulled into traffic behind her, coming home and falling into bed for a late afternoon/early evening nap.

Wide awake at midnight, I decided to cancel my automatic mortgage payment while I was thinking of it. I glanced at my last credit card with a balance - a Bank of America account - and checked to see what I owed. I smiled when I realized it's $1000 less than I pay for mortgage each month and tapped $1400 into the box and asked my bank to send a check. And, as of today, I no longer have outstanding credit card balances. For the first time in half my life.

"I have been," I told Mom when she said I could start saving for retirement. I have Industry take it from my check before money appears in my account.

"Oh, I do already," I replied when she said I could give to charity. That also comes from each paycheck for some organizations and auto-pays for others.

"One year," I answered when she asked how much longer I have to pay on the Jeep. "But that's a 0% interest loan," I reminded her, "so there's no benefit to paying it off early."

"I'll start saving," I decided, for I do not do that. If I were to lose my job, my life would tumble like a house of cards for there is no cushion. I think I have less than $100 in my meager savings account, and I watch my balance around payday since the various bills - mortgage and car, credit accounts, power (I pay extra to enroll in the renewable energy program and my house is 3 floors so it's a bit pricey) and entertainment (TV, internet and, as ever, books. Oh, and eating out - I do like socializing over food).

I remember being in high school and staying up at night, worrying over when I'd ever find the money to erase the debt. I did that in undergrad and grad school and throughout my post-doc as well. "Eventually," I'd tell myself, "I'll make enough to have some leftover - and I'll use it to end this cycle." And, unlike the prediction that I would find someone to love me, I was right about the money thing.

And you'll have to forgive me or unsubscribe if you're irritated with me for discussing it. It's a big moment and I hope it gives you confidence that if you're struggling now, circumstances may very well shift soon. And it's lovely to drift off thinking of charitable donations or savings accounts for the Ones or looking for sectionals for my living room or upgrading to business class on my next international flight. But I am applying a belated, yet strict, 'no buying what you cannot afford' policy. For throwing more money at interest charges - apart from my mortgage, of course - does not appeal.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


1 - Muscle Pain and Tennis Balls
I have seen many massage therapists and received multiple bits of advice to keep from knotting the muscles in my spine. There was one I found particularly interesting as it involved lying on the floor with a tennis ball beneath me, putting constant and rather intense pressure on the stubbornly painful point.

I disclosed this to someone I was dating at the time, thinking it rather silly and deciding that a younger Chienne would certainly cover me with kisses and coax me into playing were I to try it. He offered that he would battle the dog for kisses playtime if I were to lie on the floor, tennis ball or no. I remember blushing with pleasure, attention immediately diverted to how dreamy he was and how much I liked him and away from a lingering tightness in my neck.

I have managed to injure a muscle near my left shoulder blade and, not knowing musculoskeletal anatomy well at all, I can only tell you that it is not the muscle closest to the skin. It's deeper and after asking Mom - my parents came to visit this weekend as I've not been feeling well of late and they wanted to check on me (aw...) - to press harder on it, I finally sighed and stood up. I happened to see a tennis ball belonging to my dog and decided to try reclining on it.

Ah, sweet relief. I have taken Advil, hot baths, had a massage and am currently on a heating pad. And nothing helps like that tennis ball.

2 - Stress, Sleep and Vitamins
I am not one for natural well-being. I like chemicals to treat discomfort or illness, clean stuff, kill insects or weeds, etc. I'm all about high-tech, complicated solutions for simple problems.

Yet sleep has eluded me for the past 10 days, leaving me wide awake at bedtime and desperately sleepy during the day - misery my constant companion. I'm wildy irritable, feel crappy and my memory is fleeting at best. I wandered around the parking lot for a good 10 minutes (and it's not a particularly large lot), looking for my pretty Jeep and promptly forgetting what I was doing as I sleepily shuffled around in the sunshine. After sitting through meetings blankly and being mostly unable to answer any questions, a colleague suggested Vitamin B and melatonin.

She is not the first - by far - to advise me to start taking Vitamin B as I'm a pretty stressed (and stressful) person in general and that melatonin was a far better option than Tylenol PM or Nyquil to force myself asleep. I scoffed at the very idea, but admitted defeat this weekend, entering the Vitamin World this weekend with my parents and acquiring B, C and D (the first I wanted, the second tasted like orange and I got confused and bought some and the third were for Dad) as well as buy-one-get-one-free melatonin.

I took the latter at 8PM last night and was falling asleep (despite a nap from 2-4PM) at 9. 9PM! A normal, albeit early, bedtime! And I slept all night! God bless you, well-meaning colleagues and vitamin stores, and all that you stand for. But I'll have to think about the tree bark supplement and Manganese.

3 - Parents and Pampering
Smallest One called and said, "I want to come up there to see you right now, Aunt Katie!" Unphased by promises of 'later,' she sighed her displeasure that she was there and her grandparents here until I distracted her with Christmas lists (Dancing Mickey and a rocking horse). I do miss the girls and I'm making plans to see them soon, but I'll admit there's enough of a spoiled child left in me that I remain somewhat enamored of having my parents to myself.

We talk and snack and shop and giggle. Mom joins Chienne and me on our morning walks and Dad putters around the house, fixing random items I hadn't noticed were broken. We took a trip to Target to pick up some miscellaneous items. Watched The Big Bang Theory on DVD. Had coffee in the morning and sat on my deck in the afternoon sunshine, playing ball with my dog.

It was lovely - having come closer than I like to remember to losing each of them, I try to cherish the time we share. And though we argue at times and they stayed longer than I expected, I enjoyed them tremendously and blinked back tears as they waved good-bye and drove away.

Still, I have a tennis ball and melatonin and a relaxing evening ahead. So it's not all bad.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I returned home from our morning walk to find birds in the rafters of the garage. I frowned at the tiny creatures, their feathers brown in color, and ducked as one of them came alarmingly close to my head when I entered through the open garage door.

It is my habit to leave the large door open from the time that Chienne and I depart to explore the neighborhood until I reverse the Jeep from its spot and press the remote that clings to my visor. Depending on the day, the duration can be 30 minutes to many hours. When it's the latter, I don't mind it as the window in the door that enters the kitchen lets additional light in and any odor from the garbage I store in said garage dissipates a bit.

I climbed the first of two steps that lead to my kitchen door and stared up toward the roof of my garage.

"Little brown birds," I addressed them cordially. "Please fly away." Chienne looked up at me, sighed and nudged her nose against the door for it was time for eye drops and treats. "I'm speaking to the birds," I told her and she stared up at me for a moment before sighing again.

"I know it's getting cold," I told the small flock above my head, "but you can't build a nest in here. The door might startle you or you could fly in when I open the door to dispose of trash. Then I would freak out and the cat would stalk you and it'd just be really bad. Awful. You can't imagine the horror, honestly."

Unmoved, they continued to sit upon the rafters, mostly ignoring me. Scowling at their resistance to logic, I pressed the button to close the garage, nodding when they all fluttered their winds to leave their perches. I pressed it again, leaving the door partially open to aid their escape.

"For crying out loud," I muttered when they looked at the open door but resettled themselves. I pressed the button again and the four of them flew out the door as it rumbled closed. I squinted upward once more to make sure noone remained. I then opened the door for Chienne to trot through, pausing so I could remove her leash and put drops in her eyes.

"I had to evict them," I told her, feeling a little guilty. "I don't like birds in general, but even if I did, they don't belong in the garage." She blinked a few times and waited for her munchy strip in reward for allowing me to use the drops. And this morning, we left the garage door closed and departed from the front door.

I can't remember if I've mentioned it, but Brother has had a rough time of it of late. He left the employer he'd had since age 15 about a year ago, I think, though the circumstances of said parting of ways are a bit of a mystery. He indicated they were evil and insane, but my parents and I feel it likely had something to do with the nearby bar and the frequency of his presence there. He consulted for a new employer, similar in focus to what he'd done before, but had to quit when the informal arrangement no longer included normal payments. Afterward, he started a job located south of my parents and appeared to have his professional life in some sort of order. (I did tell you - we went to visit, remember?)

He was asked to leave said job shortly after his girlfriend moved in with him and packed his things to return to my parents' house. He and said woman have taken up residence in the basement as the three upstairs bedrooms are already assigned to 1) Parents, 2) Little One and 3) Smallest One. Neither is working and both seem to expect that my parents will provide room and board indefinitely.

"He asked about Christmas decorations the other day," Mom told me when she called, announcing she and Dad would be visiting this weekend. "I asked if he still planned to be here then and he said we'd have to die sometime. Then he'd get to move upstairs."

"Mom," I said, unsurprised but remaining sympathetic, "it seems you have two options. You can either accept that he's back and not worry about it or you can tell him to leave."

"But where would he go?" she asked and I shrugged. Like the little brown birds, they would probably find something less wonderful than my garage to protect themselves from winter winds, but they're conditioned to figure something out.

The last I spoke to them, they're tentatively planning a trip to Florida to buy a forclosed-upon condo. (In general - nothing specific in mind that I can tell.)

"That would be nice," I replied, thinking I'd always wanted them to head south as Mom has always been happiest near an ocean. Dad would miss his cars but he could always make trips home to visit them. They'd both be despondent from missing the girls - I don't know how to reconcile that with reality.

Still, I suppose the bird to Brother analogy is less than perfect. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I suppose it started last night. Unable to sleep, despite drugs encouraging otherwise, I continued to go up the stairs to toss and turn and down the stairs when I failed so I could watch television, read a book, play a game. I managed to exhaust myself and slept somewhere between 3-4AM.

Chienne, trained to be a creature of habit, stretched in her spot at the foot of the bed and wandered toward my head when it grew light outside, probably just after 6AM. I mrrrffed at her and she offered a kiss to my nose and then crawled back under the covers. She tried again each hour and was thrilled with her success when it neared 9AM.

"I'm still tired," I told her grumpily. "I hope you're happy." She was - tail wagging and eye bright - and impatiently waited while I had coffee.

As is my habit, I opened my laptop to check email while I sipped at my morning beverage, blinking with concern when I realized my recent software upgrade had messed up Outlook such that it believed it was too full to receive new messages. I live and die by Outlook - it tells me where to go and when to go there. Let's me ask and answer questions. I could complete nothing on my list without email functionality and so I promptly began freaking out.

Breathless with fear, I began shift-deleting as fast as I could, one eye always on that warning message that Outlook cannot send or receive. As I was moving and archiving and trying to help little Outlook, a message appeared that my hard drive was full. No more room. Too many files.

"No," I begged the screen to no avail, beginning to move files to a new external hard drive I was given in Korea. It's name appeared in characters that looked like locks and keys and it began to blink in blues and reds while it accepted the files I was frantically dragging to it. "Save," I begged some more. "Hurry! I'm not getting email!"

Deciding it would take some time, I consented to the imploring look Chienne was giving me and clipped on her leash, following her outside. I decided to walk around the Court, knowing it's the least favorite of routes due to its length and proximity to our house, but eager to return to my technological nightmare in my living room. Clearly annoyed, Chienne refused to rush, pausing to play with other dogs and comprehensively sniff all that existed. When I finally tugged her home, we had a mutual disgust going and I ignored her to return to my laptop.

"Control-A, Shift-Delete," I repeated like a crazy person, muttering between the keystrokes to cement my descent into madness. When there was adequate space, I tried archiving again and long minutes later, new email appeared. And I relaxed as I read it.

I forced my hair into some semblence of curly order, having gone to sleep (well, bed - I didn't sleep) with it wet so that it stuck out at odd angles. I dressed and put on make-up, scowling at the late hour, and drove to a separate campus to lecture.

I am not a natural teacher so I dread the rare instances where I'm asked to instruct. I'm fine with seminars. Great with intimate discussions. But put me in a classroom setting and ask me to start from the beginning and explain major concepts? Aren't there people who are trained to do this better than I am? Still, I pushed through it, pausing for questions and moving away from the lecturn so I could move my hands and earnestly try to explain in greater detail.

I'm not at all bothered by being corrected or taking requests to try again. So I talked until my throat hurt, finally explaining that my 90 minutes were up though I'd be happy to take emailed questions at any time. (Now that I'd fixed my blasted Inbox.) As I was packing up, I heard someone say I was fantastic.

"Yes, she's a sweetheart, too," another replied and I aimed a happy grin in their direction. If I were grading, they would get A++s. Which is another reason I'd be a crappy teacher.

I made it through two additional meetings once back in the office and drove home around 6PM, feeling positively exhausted. I called my parents in an attempt to stay conscious but failed miserably, heading up to bed at 7. I napped - bliss - but am now wide awake once again.

And so we repeat the grumpy cycle again tomorrow.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Change is.

"I enjoy you," I confessed, slightly tipsy on sake, to a man several levels superior of my position. "You're smart and very funny - we should be in more meetings together."

He grinned at me, ducked his head in a regal bow and replied that such a thing could be arranged. I did not say much, focusing instead on making my way back to the Tokyo hotel without stumbling as I stared at the sparkling skyline and wondered if my head might float up there with the clouds. It was later, resting on my comfortable bed on the 33rd floor, when I wondered if he'd like to hire me. Wondered if, somewhere in the hugeness that is Industry, if I should switch businesses or just teams. How much longer I could stay in my current role before damaging my upwardly mobile reputation and feeling a not-so-small twinge of pain at the thought of moving on. I love my job. I'm finally reasonably good at it. I adore my colleagues and have my desk cluttered in exactly the way I want it and I'm happy there.

I did some thinking on my journey home, my thoughts drifting as my body was in a continuous state of changing positions around the world. I returned home to autumnal scenery - the trees dripping with color as the leaves begin to tumble groundward even as my snowblower vies for position in my garage next to the lawnmower. (My parents wanted to make sure I was ready for any outdoor work before leaving me with a clean house, folded laundry and kitchen stocked with groceries. God bless Mom and Dad.)

More than two years ago, Sibling and I joined a team previously consisting of Best and PrettyHair. There have been several Huge Projects and many places to travel and hordes of people to meet. And, since our arrival, the team - the work, the dynamics and outward appearance - is different. Not always better or consistently worse - just changed.

We now face another large transition phase and I'm unsure if I'm wary or excited or largely unmoved. Two additional members will cause us to need larger meeting rooms when we gather on Monday mornings. Conflicts and celebrations will play out in new ways. Presentation responsibilities - well, all tasks, actually - will be divided differently. And as Best has changed roles and PrettyHair faces an upcoming relocation, I find myself wondering how they feel about the chain of events that began when I stepped into an empty office and wondered how to make my mark. When Sibling first began drawing pictures or I started making lists.

I like to think I'm mostly unmoved even as the Nov. 1, 2010, start date inches closer as my July 8, 2008, beginning once did. Work will be different - in some ways better, others worse - and predicting how that will look is an inexact science. Still, I find myself hoping that all of us will find happiness and success in what soon begins.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

1 2 3 4

We're near the end. There's little more.

I write this approximately 15 minutes from the halfway point on my flight from Osaka to San Francisco. The journey home, while quite welcome, contains six parts - three flights and three hour-plus rides in buses or cars. So I've time to think and work and rest as I hurtle back around the globe to where I make my home.

"Where are you from?" a man asked. I looked away from the road, where I'd been watching for the shuttle, and turned to smile at him. He repeated the city when I answered and I nodded encouragingly. "I learned to speak English - a little bit," he told me, "so I can talk to people." I complimented him and he ducked his head in charming acknowledgment, turning to speak to his wife in Japanese when she returned.

"Did you sightsee?" he asked and I nodded while mentioning a couple of items. After we climbed on the shuttle, I began a mental review of my trip, preparing for the executive summary I should now be writing.

One...Night on the plane.
I completed a good deal of work on my arriving journey. I suffered through the lengthy and numerous flights, but I'm improving my tolerance for such experiences and didn't think it too terrible. I read both my books, wincing when I realized I'd meant to save one for the trip home, and flipped through magazines, reviewed manuscripts and replied to email that has been waiting for me.

Two...Nights in Korea
Contrary to my expectations, I felt more comfortable in Korea than I did Japan. My colleagues there seemed more relaxed and open - we talked and laughed and were very flexible about strategy and execution. They gave me gifts - I do like presents - and credit cards were accepted for everything from coffee to cabs. My hotel was beautiful, especially the bathroom, which was lucky since I spent a good deal of time being sick in there. It's nice to be in a pretty place when you're throwing up and wishing for death, isn't it?

Three...Nights in the Japanese Countryside
I landed in Japan with the realization that my connection was fairly tight and that if immigration was slow, I was screwed.

Immigration was slow.

But when I once would have freaked the hell out, I instead breathed deeply and avoided looking at the clock. 'There is nothing you can do about this,' I told myself as I inched forward in line. 'There is nothing critical tomorrow morning, so if you miss this flight, there will be another. Just relax and wait and breathe. Otherwise, you'll look panicked when you get to the officer and he won't let you in at all.'

It required nudging people out of my way once I was through the fingerprinting and photo-taking process and jogging in my flip flops to the check-in counter, but I did make my plane with time to spare. I also caught the bus without problems and was soon in a new hotel (that smelled musty but was better after opening the windows).

I took meetings and used chopsticks, doing better than I expected at both tasks but still finding it a bit painstaking and difficult. I began to use vending machines to acquire precious Pepsi Nex or Coke Zero and appreciated that the busy schedule always stayed precisely on time.

Four...Nights in Tokyo
Despite being ready to come home, I'll admit to a bittersweet twinge when the limousine bus pulled away from the hotel and into Tokyo traffic. I'd enjoyed my accomodations very much, with the shops and restaurants there in the same building. I spent time with Adam and Bob, walking the city or drinking sake or sipping wine at the top of one tower while sitting in the lounge.

I worked, oddly enough, only one full day, spending Tuesday at the office for about 10 hours having meetings. I took over said meeting, which I suppose is predictable to the point that I didn't mean for it to happen. Yet it somehow did - the force of my personality standing out just as my red shirt popped against the background of dark suits that filled the room.

"Do you understand?" an earnest colleague asked, and I looked at him and squinted at the picture he'd drawn and frowned. I tried to think of a question or some point to clarify but I really had no idea where to start.

"No," I finally said simply, helplessly, and was startled when the room erupted in laughter. I looked around and smiled, always pleased to amuse someone, I smiled back at them and apologized to Earnest-san and he began to perform a small but helpful skit that elicited more laughter and enough understanding for us to clarify the point with reasonable questions.

My arms ache a little from holding on to the straps as the train sped through the country. I am rested, for I found the pillows remarkably comfortable - both flexible and firm. I wish for them now, a bit past the halfway point on part 4 (fly across Pacific Ocean) for the tiny pillow encased in thin blue fabric much like paper is not nearly as lovely.

So I'll leave this post with four comments.
1. I'm glad I went.
2. I'm glad it's over.
3. The return to normalcy is generally sweeter after a pleasant disruption and I'm happy I have a job that affords me those.
4. The world - the more I see of it - has me convinced that the world is both larger and smaller than it seems, housing such diversity that words can't express it yet with surprisingly similar in those moments of shared understanding and laughter.

"I hope you have a wonderful trip," I told the man and his wife as I climbed off the shuttle.

"Good luck," he replied with a smile and I gave my last bow in Japan before entering the Osaka airport and deciding that I'd tote whatever luck I gathered along with the luggage that rolled behind me.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Moderately Important Person

I grew up in a solidly middle class family. I wanted for nothing - we went on vacation almost every year (normally to Florida), ate out once a week, had lavish Christmases and wonderful birthdays. We could get what we wanted when shopping, but we were generally aware that some items were too expensive.

Still, we ate at chain restaurants that were moderately priced. We never flew anywhere - if you couldn't drive to it, we would not see it. We also showered downstairs as the septic tank would need to be emptied if we used the single bathroom upstairs for bathing. I continue to think that my house having 4 toilets, two bathtubs and three showers is about the coolest thing ever. I have, my friends, arrived.

Travel, however, is done only by way of my profession. I could not afford to come to Japan for a week - even with my currently generous salary. I'm comfortable flying economy - even on long journeys - because that's what normal people do. And I am, at least financially, utterly normal. So I shiver at times with the odd sense that I get to see the world. Drink chocolate in London while gazing at St. Paul's. Wander back to my hotel from the Eiffel Tower. Take photos from a ship in Stockholm; Ponder the nearly-hideous beauty of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Adam commented that we had free access to the lounge upon checking in. I examined my pink slip of paper and noted that I was, in fact, invited to the top floor of one tower to enjoy wine, beer, soft drinks and snacks.

Neat, I decided, for I do enjoy soft drinks and snacks, and happily rode the elevator upward before dinner to meet my colleagues last night. I poured myself a glass of wine, filled a small dish with assorted nuts and walked quietly into an adjoining room to sit in one of the many massage chairs. After pushing at several buttons, it began to rub my back while I sipped white wine and looked out over Tokyo. It was, I decided, nearly surreal. So though I did relax and enjoy, I had the sensation that this wasn't something I was meant to do - that I was overly blessed or ridiculously fortunate to be sitting there.

I went back up today after returning from my meeting. The skyline was blurred by clouds on this Monday afternoon, but the chair still massaged as I reclined in my dress with my jacket placed modestly over my knees. I closed my eyes for a moment, wincing at the pressure in my lower back coaxing my muscles to relax, and thought I'd had tea in Japan - drizzled honey from a small spoon into an elegant cup resting atop a pretty saucer. I'd spoken to a large group and did a nice job. I made my way back from Shinjuku Station alone, feeling proud all the way to the toes of my little, red flats.

And I think to myself, it's a wonderful world.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Putting the 'ooh' in Ueno*

*Though I'm not positive it's actually pronounced with an ooh.

My guidebook maintains that there are three components to Tokyo - North, East and West. Those chapters are connected in that they each contain various districts with differing sights and sounds and tastes. Each, most conveniently, are connected by a vast array of trains.

"We'd like to go to Oeno," I told the uniformed woman, looking my most pitiful and lost when we started at Shinjuku Station this morning.

"Do you want to go direct? Or on the subway? Or take a bus?" I looked at my companions for a moment before replying that we'd like to go there directly. She gave us a number and direction and we set off in what we hoped was the right way. We had decided on our location based on recommendations from various colleagues. One enjoyed the arts; the locals said we would embrace the more touristy component of pagodas, gates and temples. I had looked at websites and debated options before deciding that we would make our way to the suggested location.

As planned, we slept in, met for breakfast then set off with cameras in hand to explore. We did start at the temple, walking single file through the crowds as they viewed the goods that lined each side of the path. I felt badly for the monkey who performed on a leash, frowning at his little outfit and sad face even as I turned away to take a picture of a smaller statue while I waited for the guys. We meandered through mazes of shops, mimicking the waving paws of the ceramic cats and admiring the bolts of fabric. We entered a gaming parlor, immediately taken aback by the noise and lights. Deciding we were done being purely touristy, we caught a taxi back to the station with the goal of wandering through the park full of museums.

It was a pretty day, very comfortable in the shade, but a bit sweaty in the sun. My stomach turned at the sight of far too many carp in the ponds and I had to walk away again when Adam said they were attacking one of the turtles.

"He's OK," Adam soothed me when I started to wander along another path. "He has his shell."

A trip into the National Museum left my companions admiring the sculptures and art and left me feeling grumpy and exhausted.

"I always do this," I told Bob as I plodded along after him and Adam. "I'm fine - walking for hours, enjoying the day then I hit a wall and am tired and hungry and irritated."

"I'm done, too," he said and noted that we'd been walking nearly constantly for about 5 hours and we walked some more in search of a suitable restaurant. Rejecting the curry dishes, we had settled in to wait for a table in a Chinese restaurant when I looked across the street and suggested Italian. Delighted when they agreed, I was soon enjoying a salad and Coke while awaiting my precious pizza.

The ride back on the train lulled me and I made sure to nudge Adam awake when it was time for us to depart the JR line. We decided to meet later for drinks and dinner, leaving me back in my comfortable room to view photos and think Tokyo is a rather wonderful - and diverse - place.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Dizzyingly Dramatic

I am uncharacteristically uncertain about my feelings for Tokyo. It is not as I expected - having arrived on Saturday, it is less busy and crowded and overwhelming. Yet whether standing on the ground or 49 stories up, it is an immense city, stretching both upward and outward in all directions in brightly colored lights and quickly moving trains.

I am relieved, that much I know, for this is my last hotel on the Asian trip and I've made it through the days thus far without incident and, especially considering the Asian Migraine of Misery, have performed reasonably well. I have but two more major meetings before I'm allowed to depart this particular island nation for the more comfortable environs of the Midwest.

Though tomorrow is the designated Day o' Sightseeing - prepare for the photos! - today was nice as well. I woke, showered, dressed and packed. Took the train with colleagues and settled in for a few afternoon meetings in the city before checking into our hotel. We then went for dinner, eating Japanese food high above the city.

"Animal, vegetable or mineral?" Adam asked as I nibbled a piece of tempura.

"Animal," I answered slowly, knowing it was some creature but unsure of which one. "It's a little fishy, but fairly mild."

Our host hesitated and I swallowed quickly in case I had to gag after he told me, and considered doing so when he announced it was eel. I glanced out the window at the lights and movement and color and took a breath and finished the crunchy bit of food. We had noodles and beef, chicken and tofu and vegetables and dumplings and soup. I tried hot and cold sake - both were actually very nice - and had to hang on to Adam when I went to look out the window.

"Dizzy," I explained when he glanced at me. "And maybe a little drunk."

And perhaps that's why I'm unsure of Tokyo - I almost feel as though it belongs in a comic book. That it's somehow be real. Perhaps I'll feel more grounded tomorrow, but for tonight, I half-expected to see a superhero swooping dramatically from the sky.

Friday, October 01, 2010


I apologized for sleeping through a meeting yesterday, adding a bow or two for good measure and settled in my chair for the busiest day of my trip. I asked questions, spoke slowly and listened carefully so I could properly record the shared insights.

"I'm going for a walk," I decided as it neared 1:30PM. I had 90 minutes free and had not yet explored this spot in the countryside to any great degree. So I set off, camera in hand, into the sunny afternoon.

I held my breath as I hurried through the crowd of smokers, stopping short when someone called my name and pausing to talk to one of the local team. He began asking detailed questions about a presentation I'd given two weeks before, having listened to the teleconference, and noted how important that project had been to some of his key customers. I listened some more, answered questions, discussed next steps, and realized that what I do and decisions I make cascade around the world in a small but very real way. I thought about it after waving goodbye and moving away from the meeting location and decided it was awesome in both the good and scary sense.

Growing a little disappointed in my foray into the countryside as I had taken but a single mediocre photo, I was ready to retrace my steps about 30 minutes later. Deciding to make some sort of loop, I remembered seeing ridged roofs when I glanced out of our meeting room and selected a quiet alleyway for my return trip. A block or so later, I could see my targeted structures and adjusted my path for a more direct approach, immediately charmed by the clothing hanging to dry on balconies and gardens ripe with vegetables.

Grinning at a pea pod, I continued to take photos in the sunny afternoon, undisturbed in this quiet little spot. I assessed my location and adjusted my direction (I could see my hotel in the distance - I didn't suddenly develop a sense of how not to get lost) and hurried toward spots of color along the sidewalk. Crouching, I cursed myself for shooting into the sunlight and hoped I could correct the pretty floral photos retrospectively. I admired the blooms as they swayed in the gentle breeze and then hurried toward "home" so I could wash my face before my next meeting began.

At said meeting, I expected to sit in a room with 5 men and listen. Instead, there were nearly 50 attendees and I ended up speaking. The walk had cleared my mind, allowing me to work through the difference between expectation and reality and offer a coherent if impromptu explanation of some current issues. Bowing and smiling upon concluding said gathering, I hurried across town for the final meeting of the evening, patting my stomach with absent sympathy when it growled and pausing with surprise when I faced another packed room when I expected a smaller group. I tried to remember names my brain can't seem to get - I think I picture the letters of the name when I meet someone and it triggers something memory-relevant. When I can't match the sounds of someone's name to letters I can visualize, I struggle. In that sense, business cards are extremely helpful.

"A lot of people today," I commented to Adam and Sibling over dinner as we nibbled on pizza and salad. (I know - we tried Japanese and there was no English menu - I couldn't deal with that level of surprise at 9PM when I was hungry.)

"A lot of people in Japan," Adam replied and I nodded while reaching for a tiny napkin tucked in a glass on the table. And he's right - there are - but I've been sheltered from the crowds as we're situated here in the countryside.

"Tokyo tomorrow," I noted before taking another bite, thinking that the meaning of 'a lot of people' was about to get drastically adjusted. Sibling nodded eagerly and Adam winked at me as I grinned back at them.