Morning talk

Good morning! It’s about 6am. I’ve been up for a little over an hour. My mornings have been very productive lately. I just finished Day 7 of Yoga Camp with Adriene. She is one of my favorite online yoga instructors. In December I did 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene. I really enjoy her teaching style. The classes are all different and manageable for different levels of yoga.

This morning I read an article about Aspen Dental, a large chain of dental offices that target low income and elderly patients with cleverly marketed advertisements offering free dental exams and discounts on other services. Having worked for the Better Business Bureau, I am well schooled on the mantras “nothing in life is free,” and “if it seems to good to be true, well then it probably is.” However, I have the luxury of amazing dental insurance and the ability to understand clearly what my dentist is telling me so I am able to make an informed decision. This company prays on people who have little money, often don’t speak English, or are so desperate to have their dental problems resolved they are lured in by Aspen’s savvy marketing. The insurance company I work for no longer covers this provider thankfully. I can’t stress to my patients enough don’t agree to anything you don’t understand and always seek a second opinion especially when you’re unclear about the terms of service.

Today is a rather exciting day. I am beginning eCornell’s Plant Based Nutrition Certificate course. There was a generous discount offered around the holidays and I have been eyeing this course for some time. I meet with so many patients that are struggling with illnesses that could be improved if not resolved by changing their diets. I am becoming more confident about sharing information related to the benefits of a plant based diet. I don’t think everyone should become vegan, but shifting the focus from the Standard American Diet to one that offers more fruits and vegetables can only stand to benefit people. I am hoping that the certificate will be the beginning of educational opportunities that will lend credibility to my advice and suggestions for patients who just want to feel better, and are tired of taking so much medication.

Other things:

  • Serial is back! This time it’s about the U.S. soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, who walked off his base in Afghanistan only to be held captive by the Taliban for almost 5 years.
  • If you listened to the first season of Serial then you know the subject of that season, Adnan Syed will be allowed a post-conviction hearing that may lead to a re-trial.
  • And if you loved the first season of Serial have you listened to Undisclosed?
  • I cannot get into the presidential campaign. I just cannot!
  • The Alternative Daily was offering a free package of Lucy’s Bru coffee recently so I grabbed it. Remember nothing is free though. I had to pay shipping of course, but I love to try good organic coffee and the shipping was less than what I would pay for any bag of coffee. It’s delicious, but unless there is a sale I probably won’t be buying any more at $18.95 a bag.
  • Little by little I am switching my toiletries to products with healthy ingredients. I discovered Annmarie Gianni’s line of products about a year ago and I love everything I’ve tried. My new favorite is the Earth Minerals foundation. It’s light, goes on smooth, and lasts all day. I don’t feel like I’m wearing makeup at all.

I hear Carlos getting up upstairs. Let the morning begin!! Have a great day.

As Machambas

The Machambas of Chokwe 

Machamba means farm in Portuguese. I can’t remember how I came to explore them first, on foot or by bicycle, but it changed my entire Peace Corps experience in Mozambique. Chokwe escaped the danger of land mines because it is a center of agriculture in fertile southern Mozambique. This meant the land was safe to explore.

During Mozambique’s war for independence from Portugal and subsequent 15 year civil war approximately 171,000 land mines were planted throughout the country leaving Mozambique one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. The war ended in 1992 and Halo Trust entered the country in 1993 to began the dangerous, tedious, and courageous work to clear the country of land mines.  On 9/15/15,  Mozambique was declared officially landline free years ahead of schedule.

I remember crossing the bridge over the canal for the first time. Before me the lush green fields spread out as far as the eye could see. The dusty trails visible by their contrasting caramel brown color weave through the fields with no end in sight. I spent hours exploring the land. It was my sanctuary particularly on the days when nothing seemed to make much sense linguistically, professionally, and personally.

After time I grew to know the fields and where the trails led to, but still I was convinced I would find new paths to follow which kept me coming back. My presence there was confusing for a long time to those who worked in the fields until eventually I became a familiar face. A smile and good morning in the local language Shangana usually made people brighten, some would even stop to talk usually to find out where I was going.

The machambas are now the view from the front of my new home in Chokwe. I have asked Orlando inquire about buying the unsettled piece of land across from our house to ensure that I will always have a view of the machambas. Our house is a short walk from the bridge that takes me over the canal and into the maze of dirt paths through the agricultural fields. It was a perfect choice for our home in Chokwe where Orlando’s family still lives.

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A view of our house (the one on the right) from the fields

My first solo walk in the fields since arriving in Mozambique made me feel that safe familiar feeling I felt many years ago. I breathed deeply the fragrant aromas a blend of fruit trees, passing animals, mostly cows and goats, vegetation, a smattering of floral scents, and fresh air. I smiled as I set our along the canal remembering my almost daily walks or bike rides on this same trail.

On an overcast day the clouds hang low in the sky adding a smoky mystique to the land below, but the contrast of the women’s brightly colored capulanas worn on their heads, around their waists or to hold a baby snug to their backs is like a splash of watercolors on a grey canvas. On a clear day the sun hangs high overhead like a ball of fire suspended in a sea of turquoise. The heat is oppressive and there is no shade cover when you are in the machambas making the already backbreaking work seem heroic.

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I wonder what the Mozambicans think of me leisurely walking or biking through the fields. I try not to think about that too much as I enjoy the fresh air, wide open space, and peacefulness around me. It’s where I do my best thinking. I often slip into a meditative state waking to find I have gone further or longer than planned. I like the quiet and I use the opportunity to listen to my breath, my thoughts, and the universe’s messages for me. My time in the machambas brings clarity to deep pondering questions.

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It is the Machambas that endeared me, mind, body, and soul to this dusty often harsh crossroads town in southern Mozambique. The sunsets and sunrises over them are amongst the most brilliant scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Each day brings new beauty from the sky. The machambas served as a trusty friend, reliable counselor, and a calming respite whenever I needed them. I feel as though I have returned home every time I reunite with my beloved machambas.

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The House in Chokwe

Orlando and I are the proud landowners of two plots of land here in Mozambique. We are  financially unable to purchase land in the US, but given the relatively low land prices here in Mozambique it was a wise decision to invest in land here.

Our first purchase was a simple square of land high on a hill overlooking the lagoon of Bilene. We opted for the spanning view of the crystal blue water over a waterfront plot on the backside of the lagoon. We are both drawn to expansive views. The waterfront land was isolated and offered a lovely sight of the water, but it abutted land already owned by a resort. That signaled potential future issues namely a busy flow of people bringing with them noise and litter. After touring the waterfront land we were driven to the land on the hill. I think we both knew instantly that it was our land. I would have accepted any decision Orlando made because this is where he is from and I wanted him to feel most connected with the choice, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt when I saw the land on the hill that it was his preference too.

These are older photos from when the wall was going up around the land. The photos obviously don’t do the view justice.

Orlando worked hard to secure the purchase of the land in Bilene after our 2009 visit to Mozambique. I admire his tenacity. Like most processes here in Mozambique buying property is no easy task, complete with a great deal of bureaucracy, red tape, bribes, and paperwork. My brother-in-law assisted with the transaction, but the sale was not concluded until we next visited in 2011.

The land has a mandatory wall surrounding it, a specially made sign designating it as ours and some fruit trees. There is a family nearby that is paid to care for the land and the fruit trees. One day we will build a home there.

After renting homes in Chokwe during our visits in 2009 and 2011 we had talked about the possibility of building a small “dependencia” on my in-law’s land. A dependencia is a small house which is typically devoid of a kitchen and bathroom as those activities are usually done outdoors. Cooking is done over a coal stove and many bathrooms are still outdoor latrines. My only stipulation was that our dependencia have a functional bathroom indoors. At some point Orlando was confronted with the opportunity to buy land in his hometown of Chokwe, where I also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The plot was in a newly developed area which was once vacant land housing an old ruined stadium and a newer soccer stadium. We had seen the development on our visit in 2011 and I didn’t need much convincing that it was the right place for us to build a home. Orlando worked through his brother to secure the land purchase. I think it went a little more smoothly than the first time he bought land.

Orlando got the land cleared and started the ball rolling for construction to begin during his solo visit to Mozambique in February of 2015. He returned from his trip motivated and energized by the prospect of having our own home in Chokwe. The first order of business was to build a dependencia for my brother-in-law to live in so he could also guide the construction of the main house. I’m happy to see that his dependencia has a small kitchen inside and an adjoining bathroom which is much fancier than a latrine. I know Orlando feels a sense of security knowing that his brother is watching over things.

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Our house was initially meant to be a small two bedroom home to provide us with a comfortable place to stay when we visit. I stay a safe distance from decisions affecting the land here. I am included in discussions and dilemmas surrounding the building process, but I tend to be less opinionated about it than I am about other issues. Orlando made a sacrifice leaving his family to relocate to the US and although he has carved out a successful life there, I know he misses home. I want this home to feel as though it is about him. After some thought and conversations with his brother and friend here he decided to make the home much bigger than originally planned. We now have a three bedroom, two bath home complete with a large open living room/kitchen space, and a garage. I’m not demanding and I actually prefer to live in simple surroundings, but my one request again was that I have a nice functional bathroom for my visit in December.

I was assured “my bathroom” and the bedrooms would be ready for our visit this December. Unfortunately I know Mozambique all too well and like most things here construction is also slow. We have walls, a roof, windows with screens, doors, bare bedrooms, and some semblance of a bathroom. It turns out the bathrooms were built too small and they furnished one bathroom with the basic equipment to function for our visit, but once we leave it will all be ripped out. The two small bathrooms will be joined to form one large bathroom and there will be a second bathroom installed on the other side of the house.

We spent the first night in Chokwe in a hotel so Orlando and his brothers could prepare the home for our stay. The bedrooms had beds, a reed mat and mosquito nets that we brought with us. After a couple of days I requested a strong rope be strung up in the closet and hangars so I could move our clothing out of the suitcase. I also bought a plastic shelving unit to house toiletries, under garments, socks, and some books I brought. Surprisingly that was enough to make me feel settled.

We lost water most days from morning until late in the afternoon so I took a few bucket baths. That I can handle. When I did shower in my half done cement bathroom it was no shower curtain, but given the heat the water felt refreshing anyway. Carlos actually opted for bucket baths in my brother-in-law’s bathroom. He has no interest in the “weird” cement shower. Considering some of the bathrooms I have had here in Mozambique this one, although not my dream bathroom, is not the worst I’ve had to use.

Orlando has spent a great deal of time discussing future plans of the house with the construction crew. He is not thrilled about how some of the process has gone, and he would like to rectify that as the project moves ahead. His immediate goal is to finish the house and rent it until we return for our next visit. There is an abundance of need for rentals in Chokwe because of all the aid organizations working in town.

I’m proud of what my husband has done. It is nice to have a place to come home to that we can call our own. It grounds us and connects us always to this place where we first met, fell in love and got married.

Holiday in Mozambique – Layover in Istanbul

Our flight from JFK to Istanbul was uneventful. I relaxed and enjoyed three movies and did some reading. We landed on time around 12:20pm and had a smooth transition through immigration and customs. After checking into our hotel we set off like participants on the Amazing Race to see as much of Istanbul’s Old Town as we could in the time we had.

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View from our hotel room

We made our way to the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia originated as a church and has been built three times on the same site. The third construction was completed around 537, but it wasn’t until 1453 when Istanbul was conquered by Sultan Mehmet II that the Sophia was converted into a mosque. It was stunning inside. It’s so difficult to imagine such an immense project being completed at the time it was done. The connection between eastern and western civilizations was strongly present in the murals, design and history of the Sophia as was the interwoven stories of Christianity and Islam.

My photos do not do any part of our trip justice. They are all iPhone photos and I am clearly not a budding photographer.

 

We walked through the courtyard to the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque was built in the early 1600s. Women are not allowed to enter without a head scarf. If you don’t have one you can borrow one. Also you must take your shoes off to enter and carry them in a plastic bag. Inside you are treated to a spectacular show of breathtaking architecture and artwork.

On our way to the Grand Bazaar we were told to check out the Basilica Cistern and it was worth the detour. It was constructed in 532 to serve as water storage for the Great Palace of Byzantine. There was something so mysterious and old about the water filled cavern below ground. The water shimmered under the dark yellow lanterns hanging above. A closer look into the water uncovered large fish swirling around. We walked along the rustic walkway until we came to the famous Medusa columns. Two columns were adorned with carvings of Medusa heads. This drew attention to the interesting blend of mythology in a country rich with religious history.

We emerged to find the air had cooled quite a bit outside and dusk was setting in so we kept moving towards the Grand Bazaar. Istanbul in this area surrounding the bazaar is a blur of movement, cars zipping along narrow cobblestone streets, and a mass of locals and tourists scurrying in every direction. The Grand Bazaar was as I expected, a large center of goods, particularly a beautiful array of colorful scarves and displays of tasty Turkish delights. If we were not traveling to Mozambique with limited space in our luggage I would have been very tempted to shop. Instead I settled on window shopping with plans to return someday.

I was a bit disappointed that in our race around Istanbul I did not succeed in sitting down for a Turkish meal. Another reason to return one day. As we strolled back towards the taxi stand we stopped to take a few photos with the softly lit Blue Mosque behind and some with the Hagia Sophia.

Our taxi ride back to the hotel proved to be the most eventful part of the day. Despite showing the driver the hotel’s address on a business card he decided to take us on a very long adventure through the city to “avoid” traffic although we seemed to get stuck in it at every turn. It was a bit frustrating to watch the time tick by not knowing where we were or how to communicate with our driver. Finally after what seemed to be hours though was probably only about an hour we arrived safely at the hotel. We settled in for the evening, FaceTimed my sister, indulged in WiFi, napped, showered and packed our things again. We left for the airport around 11pm and our flight was scheduled to depart at 1:25am.

This is where things took a turn for the unexpected. We passed through security in two areas with no problem. We already had our boarding passes so we went directly to our gate. It was full, but we managed to find a few seats. I noticed on our boarding passes that our seats were not together. Orlando took the boarding passes to see if that could be changed before boarding. He came back and asked for Carlos’ birth certificate. I dug through my well organized multi-pocket folder, but it wasn’t there. How was that possible? I began to panic. After all the research we had done prior to our trip due to changes in South African immigration laws which were difficult to decipher, I at least knew I needed to bring a copy of Carlos’ birth certificate. It wasn’t there no matter how many times we checked. Orlando went back to tell the ticket agent. We were summoned to the desk and told to wait patiently.

Carlos was sobbing, fearful that we would somehow have to stay in Turkey forever. I held him tight and assured him everything would be ok. However, inside I wasn’t sure how this could be resolved in time to get on our flight. My stomach sank into a pit. Orlando was frustrated and although it wasn’t necessarily my fault I felt as though the blame was all mine. I encouraged Orlando to get on the flight and I would figure things out even if it meant returning to the US with Carlos. He shouldn’t miss the opportunity to spend the holidays with his family, but of course he refused.

The airline agent insisted that in order to enter South Africa we needed to get ahold of at least a copy of the birth certificate. Turkish Airlines offered to put us up in a hotel for the night, provide transportation to and from the airport, pay for three meals, and allow us to take the same flight to Johannesburg the following night. We accepted. Upon arrival to the hotel I connected to WiFi and FaceTimed my amazing friend Kate. She lives nearby and drove immediately to our house. She found the original birth certificate in my filing cabinet and texted me a photo of it. I will never forget what she did for us. Without her help we would not have made it to Mozambique.

The hotel front desk allowed me to email the photo to the hotel and they printed it for me. We went to bed around 3 in the morning and did our best to sleep despite feeling very unnerved by the situation. I called the US consulate at 8am only to find it wasn’t open yet. Orlando got information from the South African embassy in Ankara that we needed to get the copy of the birth certificate notarized at the US Consulate. We still couldn’t reach anyone at the US Consulate so I emailed the consulate using their online form requesting an immediate appointment if possible. Rather than wait for a response we took a taxi to the consulate office.

Once there, our taxi driver discovered the road was closed due to what we could only gather had been a bomb threat earlier in the day. We were allowed to walk to the gate of the embassy and present our issue. A kind security guard went inside to presumably plead our case and we were told to return at 1:30. Since I had no access to wifi I was unaware that the consulate had replied to my online plea and offered to see us at 1:30. We sat patiently and nervously at a cafe directly across the street for an hour and a half until we were summoned back by another guard who knew we were waiting.

Inside the consulate we were treated kindly and respectfully. Unable to notarize the copy without the original birth certificate present they offered to notarize an affidavit indicating we were the parents of Carlos. Fifty dollars and 30 minutes later we were in a taxi back to the hotel. Feeling more relieved at this point the ride seemed shorter and we were all in better spirits. We returned to the hotel with plenty of time to relax before our flight. Carlos and I passed the time working out in the gym. Well I worked out while he tested the equipment and played with the balance balls. After showers we went to the lobby to play a game. We ate dinner and rested a bit before catching the 9pm shuttle back to the airport.

We obtained our boarding passes and made it through security without a problem. We knew the last hurdle would be at the gate which wasn’t assigned yet so Orlando hung out at Starbucks and Carlos and I did laps around the terminal. We were feeling much better about our prospects of boarding the plane as planned. Finally they announced our gate, but it still took a while before confirming that we would be allowed on the plane. As soon as we were cleared to go we all took a collective sigh of relief before boarding the bus that drove us to the plane.

This time our seats were all together and we settled down for the nearly 10 hour flight ahead. I have never been more happy to be on a plane.

Despite the drama I wouldn’t change anything that happened. Carlos was incredible through it all. He was quiet and patient. We were so proud of him. He didn’t complain or whine. He watched, listened, and hopefully learned a little bit about problem solving and teamwork.

Next stop – South Africa.

Holiday in Mozambique – Preparations 

Round trip airfare for three to Mozambique is not inexpensive especially at Christmas time. My sister and I spent hours on the phone one fall day piecing together various one way tickets until we finally came up with the perfect combination that was in our price range. However, instead of flying the time efficient nonstop flight from JFK to Johannesburg we were going to fly from JFK to Istanbul and then Istanbul to Johannesburg after a 13.5 hour layover. Returning we would go from Johannesburg to Dubai and finally back to JFK after a 14 hour layover. I loved the idea of taking a whirlwind tour of two new to me places. Orlando was game too. 

Preparing for a three week trip to Mozambique for three people while cramming in an entire month’s work into roughly 2.5 weeks while working per diem at the hospital and maintaining Carlos’ active schedule was a To Do list maker’s dream. I had at least two lists going at all times. Despite feeling fairly organized, even though I was wrapping up work related tasks about 20 minutes before we left the house, I am human and I do forget things every now and then. More on that later.

I’ve been asked how the heck do you pack for such a trip. Lists are imperative in my opinion. I have a packing list which is divided between items I really can’t live without and things I need to buy. That list gets written and rewritten numerous times throughout the packing process. 

For a long trip we have to check in bags. For shorter trips we try to do a carry on only. My husband insisted we could only check two bags because his brother’s car might not be able to accommodate all of the luggage. My brother-in-law would be picking us up in Johannesburg and driving us to Mozambique. Turkish airlines allows two check in bags per person no more than 50 pounds each. Well after Orlando jammed his clothing, 4 deflated soccer balls, work boots and clothing for his brother, 3 towels, a big bottle of permethrin repellent, a jar of coconut oil, a package for a friend, and Carlos’ clothes it was well over the 50 pounds. 

I reorganized and re-packed everything into the large suitcase and a smaller carry on size suitcase. Problem solved. My check in bag was under the weight limit. In the end we checked in a large suitcase, medium size suitcase, and a carry on size suitcase. 

Everyone takes their own carry on and is responsible for it. I also make “survival kits for everyone.” Carlos and Orlando get large ziplock bags with a toothbrush, toothpaste, gum, a pen, ibuprofen for Orlando, lip balm, and hand wipes. This eliminates them asking me for things throughout the flight. Mine is a pretty threefold toiletry kit with travel size luxury items like jojoba oil, rose water spray, facial wipes, moisturizer, hand lotion, band aids, tea bags, and an assortment of probiotic/greens/vitamin packets to mix with water. Pampering in the sky!!

Packing in progress

Carlos got a great new carry on for his birthday from my sister. His carry on is packed with a variety of electronics, pens, markers, a notebook, a change of clothes, a book, and bunny. This is bunny’s third trip to Mozambique. Bunny is a very well traveled stuffed animal. 

Orlando took a small back pack for his iPad, headphones, phone, and charger. He would also take the carry on of food. Yes I do pack an entire carry on of healthy snacks. It’s chock full of treats from Trader Joe’s and more. I learned this trick after our first trip to Mozambique when Carlos was 2 and subsisted on basically lollipops and cookies from Amsterdam to Johannesburg. 10 hours jacked up on sugar! KLM had no food on board other than lollipops, cookies, juice and peanuts. It was horrible. The snack bag comes in handy both in flight and during layovers. There is trail mix, granola bars, applesauce, oatmeal packets, nuts, health bread (for me), and more. 

My carry on is a large black vinyl bag from Banana Republic. It washes easily and is very durable. It has a small front zip pocket which is ideal for my phone. The inside is one large compartment with a zip pocket for tissues, hand wipes, etc. and two smaller open pockets perfect for easy to grab pens and a pair of sunglasses. For long trips like this my carry contains a multi sleeve envelope for passports and documents, a notebook, pens, a scarf, hair ties, my iPad, phone, and my airplane toiletries bag. The large part of the bag zips which halts pickpockets and also helps the contents from spilling out onto the X-ray belt. 

Other helpful tips:

  • Keep your chargers all together in a small bag or pouch
  • Keep a list of important login IDs and passwords just in case you don’t have access to the Internet or your phone. I keep the logins in one suitcase and the passwords in my carry on so the information can’t be easily stolen.
  • Don’t buy black luggage. I have it and I am working on getting rid of it once it wears out a little more. My next luggage will be bold and bright and very easy to spot on the luggage belt. 
  • Be sure to order any special meals ahead of time preferably when you book your ticket, and if you know you ordered them don’t be passive on the plane. Every flight lately I am told they have to check on it. Then they return with my vegan meal with a sticker that has my name on it so it was prepared ahead of time. 
  • Bring an empty water bottle that you can refill for free at the airport. Buying water is so expensive.
  • Pack a smoothie cup for easy mixing of smoothies, greens packets, vitamin mixes, etc.
  • If you like tea bring your own tea bags. You can heat water in most hotel rooms and getting a cup of hot water is usually free or very cheap at restaurants.
  • For long flights I try not to wear makeup. It makes it easier to apply moisturizer and toner multiple times on the flight which keeps my skin feeling healthy.

Despite my great organizational skills I’m prone to forgetting things too. I made a rookie error when we left the house and didn’t review my list of “absolutely don’t leave home without it” items. OK I didn’t really have such a list, but I will now. Details to come in h e next post. 

Share your packing tips. I’m always open to new ideas and love to hear how others stay organized. 

Thanksgiving 2015

I was so excited for my solo turkey trot this morning. It’s my favorite tradition. It’s not about being able to eat more later. It actually has the opposite effect because getting out for a long run particularly when I’m not training for an event is more about mental clarity. When it comes time to eat I’m feeling so great about all the miles I ran earlier and I don’t want to sabotage that feeling. It is my Thanksgiving gift to myself.

Even though I went to bed late I was up at 5 and out the door at 5:45. I drove to the reservoir in the dark. The full moon was still shining bright. Fortunately it wasn’t too cold. Off I went and I just kept going for 14 miles. I never have a plan only to run 10 or more miles. I have so much to be thankful for and being out in the fresh air as the sun comes up over the water is such a beautiful way to reflect and begin the day.

Last night we met our new Mozambican friend, James, who is studying in Boston. We went out to dinner and all chatted as though we have known each other for ages. My husband was all smiles speaking Portuguese and reminiscing about Mozambique. It was fun listening to the two of them continue their conversation at home while I baked some vegan desserts for today.

I made pumpkin cranberry bread and the most incredible blackberry brownies. Carlos, Orlando and I tasted them this morning and we were all quite impressed. They are decadent without being really sweet and the blackberries add the perfect balance to the chocolate. I followed this recipe from the Fat Free Vegan.

The guys just left for the local high school football game. I’m roasting up butternut squash and Brussel sprouts which will then get tossed with fresh cranberries.

This afternoon will be our first ever post dinner soccer match…Mozambique vs. Brazil! I’m team Mozambique!

I’m grateful for the good health of myself and my family. I am very thankful for all of the good fortune in my life, the wonderful experiences I’ve had, and the people who have touched my life along the way.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Running Ahead

Finally a grey Sunday with no plans. It’s exactly one month until we leave for Mozambique and I desperately needed a day like today to get organized, set up a calendar, and make lists of everything that needs to be done before we leave.

Work is a challenge right now because we are transitioning to a new software platform which is set to go live on January 1st. I’m in the first group of employees being trained on the new software. We had two days of computer training this past week and now we are left with the capability of “playing around” with the program. It’s different, and there are definitely some unique features that are not present in our current program, but we will all learn it eventually.

I’ve just plotted out the next 4 weeks of home visits and possible telephonic assessments. Barring any major issues I could very well assess all of my December members (patients) as well as many from early January. I’m not being negative when I say that it is wishful thinking that I will achieve this goal. I am being realistic.

Things that will throw off my goal are members being hospitalized and discharged before I leave, new enrollees assigned to me, and members I am unable to reach by phone. When a member is hospitalized we are supposed to see them within 72 hours of discharge. New enrollees have to be seen before the last day of the month. I have one for December so far. Typically we know the month before, but I have been assigned new enrollees during the current month. The biggest challenge with my members is the ever changing phone number. I have never seen people rotate through phone numbers so rapidly. Because of this I have now amassed a large directory of phone numbers for each member including relative’s phone numbers and anyone else they can identify as an emergency contact. In the event that I cannot reach someone by phone I will make an unannounced visit in hopes of finding them at home. It is likely that all of these things will happen so I’ve tried to build in a little flexibility into my schedule.

Holidays and birthdays…The next few weeks are full of them! All are cause for happiness so definitely worth making room in the schedule for a little fun. We begin with Thanksgiving this week. My sister and I have invited some new faces to Thanksgiving dinner. This time of year has been clouded by the sadness of losing my stepfather on 12/2/1996. Thanksgiving was the last holiday we all spent together and it was his favorite holiday. Needless to say it’s never been the same since and some years it’s been downright miserable. Carlos changed that a lot and obviously we are much happier with him in our lives. Last year I invited a good friend to spend Thanksgiving with us and I just felt that he breathed new life into the day for us. This year Orlando and I have invited a friend we’ve never even met before, but he’s Mozambican and studying in Boston. OK that doesn’t exactly sounds like grounds to invite a perfect stranger to Thanksgiving dinner, but we feel like we’ve known him for a while now. He was introduced to us in a Facebook Peace Corps Mozambique group and he and Orlando have spoken on the phone a number of times over the last year or so. We are really looking forward to finally meeting him in person. He will be staying with us from Tuesday through Friday. My sister’s husband’s cousin, wife and son will also be joining us. They are from Brazil so there will probably be more Portuguese than English spoken.

On Friday we leave bright and early on the train headed for NYC. My sister and I have planned the first annual post Thanksgiving holiday trip. I’m not sure if that’s the official name for it, but we have been determined to start a tradition. Unlike most families we feel as though we lack traditions. Carlos, Orlando, my mom, her husband, my sister, her husband, and I are going to the Christmas show at Radio City Music Theater, out to dinner and then we will sight see the next day before returning home Saturday evening. I’m not sure we will do the exact same thing each year, but we hope to do something all together as a family the day after Thanksgiving each year. We will see how this goes!

My sister’s husband’s birthday is 12/15 and my sister and Carlos celebrate their birthday on 12/17. Carlos’ best friend, Tyler’s birthday is in December too. Carlos’ “friend” birthday party is on December 5th. It’s a winter pool party at a local school’s aquatic center. My sister is turning 40 this year. Nothing is set in stone yet, but her husband mentioned getting together on December 12th. On my son’s actual birthday we have tickets for an advanced showing of the new Star Wars movie which is set to open nationwide the following day. We are going with his friend Tyler. The boys are so excited. Light sabers are encouraged!!

Carlos has his own iCal color because his schedule is often more involved than mine. I have to work in religion class, karate, skating, and play dates. We have a couple of school events including his birthday celebration in the classroom. They do a really special ceremony with the birthday child sharing photos of each year of their life and a healthy treat for their classmates.

With all of that going on how could I even imagine training for anything? I’m not technically training right now. I have a fun run 5K on 12/6 that I’m doing with Carlos and friends. No pressure, no time goals, just fun and hot chocolate (maybe a soy latte for me!). Aside from that I’m feeling really loose about my fitness goals right now. I’ve been focused on incorporating a daily yoga practice into my life. It’s been going really well. I am up around 4:15 each day including this weekend and I have begun each day with 20-30 minutes of yoga. What I wouldn’t give to have the absolute freedom to become an accomplished yoga student. It is challenging, makes me sweat sometimes, my muscles feel the burn, and yet I always come away with this sense of calmness and serenity. I want so much to be good at yoga, to have the time to really master the postures, and maybe some day the skill to teach others.

I’ve also been throwing in some kettle bell swings after yoga and whenever I can throughout the day. Since my work is very sedentary it’s a good way to get the blood flowing and add a little impromptu strength training for whatever it’s worth.

Now to the real point of this post…running. I’m still running, not every day and with no plan. I just run when I feel like it and either however long I have time to run or however long I want to run. I have been consistently keeping an average pace of under 10 minutes/mile. Some days that pace feels smooth and other days it feels like I’m sprinting.

Overall this lack of structure was exactly what I needed post marathon, but I’m feeling ready to bring some focus back to running and begin setting some goals. I am definitely not planning to run a spring marathon. I didn’t enjoy training through the winter especially given the conditions we had last winter and the one before it. However, I do want to keep my eye on fall marathons and I don’t want to have to build my mileage from the ground up come July. So I’m hoping to use the next few months to begin working on increasing my speed and improving my endurance on hills. Nothing like a hill to warm you up on a cold winter’s day! My tentative race plans look like this:

December through February Snowstorm Classics – alternating 5K and 10K races every Saturday morning at a local park. The “race” are $5 and very low key. I’m hoping to do as many as possible as a means to improve speed and gauge my progress. I think it will also be a great incentive for getting outside to run when it’s cold.

February – Jones 10miler

March – St. Patrick’s 10K

April – Oleksak Lumber Half Marathon

June – Lake Wyola 4.8 miler, Vegan Power 25K trail race

August – Shelburne Falls 10K

September – Half Marathon (not sure which race yet)

October – Full Marathon (Wine Glass possible, but not my first choice)

Peppered in throughout the races I will be including as many 5K races as I can afford. There are local $5 Thursday night races and a Summer Sizzler Series similar to the Snowstorm Classics. I know the 5K races will be beneficial to improving my speed.

However, I don’t want to just run. I recall from my training for Montreal, the year I PR’d every race, it is important to include strength training and regular yoga to help avoid injury. One more thing I am going to add to my calendar this month is a return to the gym for a more structured strength training session.

Ideally my fitness schedule would include strength training twice a week, yoga 15-30 minutes daily, and 3-4 runs a week with one being at least an hour or more. This week I will run my annual solo 10+ mile turkey trot on Thanksgiving Day. There are no turkey trot races close by so for the last 4 years (maybe more) I’ve been running at least 10 miles on Thanksgiving morning.

It’s 2:30pm on Sunday and I’m still in my pajamas! I haven’t done this in ages. I suppose at some point I should consider going to the grocery store and preparing dinner.