Winning!!!!! Defeat was not an Option!

Just couldn't resist posting this

In my mind bells are chiming, whistles are blowing, foam fingers reading “KeJen is #1” are waving and people are cheering for me because I WON.  Today is the first day of Spring and that means I officially made it through my first Boston winter!!!  If that doesn’t equal “Winning!!!!”, I don’t know what does.  The first day of Spring here was beautiful – the mercury rose right up to 70 and the sun was so bright, I think I may have gotten a bit burned.  Hmmph.  I wish.  Subtract 38 degrees, throw in light to moderate snowfall followed by cold misty rain and that is what Day 1: Spring 2011 brought to the good folks of Arlington, Mass.

We did have two back-to-back days of 65+ degrees and sun last week.  Plus, I know that in a few weeks I can put away the coat and gloves and embrace t-shirt weather.

Ken won’t have to wait as long.  It has already begun to warm up nicely at Camp Stone.  I think he said it was about 70 degrees one day last week.  I would have been jealous, but even the simplest comfort and joy in his life provides me with comfort as well.  But just about two weeks ago, it was snowing there (I think Boston and Western Afghanistan have the same weather patterns).

March snowfall at Camp Stone

Enough about the weather, the real news since I last posted, aside from the arrival of Spring of course, is that Ken will be home is about 80 days, I lost my job, my grandpa had a stroke and I decided to try to freelance my way out of unemployment.

First things first…time has kind of flown by and Ken will be home in just 80 days.  That’s just a little over two months.  About 11 weeks.  Again, WINNING!

Next…Revolution Fitness, the gym where I was the Director of Marketing and Community Outreach, a job that I loved, closed on February 28th. The gym closed due to an inability to reach a workable lease agreement.  It all happened pretty suddenly and was hard on everyone.  The members (some of whom had been going to the same gym for 28 years, the trainers, the staff and especially Derek, the owner).  Derek and his wife, Sarah, have gone out of their way to make sure that we all find jobs that we enjoy (more on my new gig later).

The sad news now…my paternal grandfather, Pops George, a man for whom I have much respect and love, suffered a stroke on Friday, February 25th.  This stroke left him with global aphasia. He has been in the hospital going through inpatient rehab and was released today to begin outpatient rehab. His recovery is something that will be ongoing. Not being with my family during this time has been hard and am really looking forward to being there.  My grandmother, Memaw Mary, who since my mom’s death in 2009 has become more of a maternal figure to me, has reassured me that the family is fine with me here in Boston.  I am hoping that I can spend some time with them and help Memaw with Pops later this Spring and Summer.  I looked for a picture of them both, but couldn’t find any.  My Uncle Phil emailed me a picture of Pops that he took with his camera phone last week.

Pops George with his dog, Buck on the patio at he and my Memaw's home in West Point, MS

Speaking of my grandparents…my Memaw said she was very proud when I told her I had decided to try to go into business for myself.   I know that the freelancing world is tough – especially in the social media world, but I’m going for it and am really excited.   My focus is social media management (if you don’t know what this is, it’s a-okay – a lot of folks don’t.  This site’ll kind of tell ya.) and right now I just have two clients, but that will change.  Ginger Media (The biz name with which I am going.  If you are interested why I chose Ginger Media aside from the obvious answer of my hair color, ask) will be in full swing in no time – hopefully.  When I get a website up, you all will be the first to know.

Ken has been super supportive during all of this.  I couldn’t ask for a better friend or boyfriend during the last month.  And on top of him being super rad, his family and friends have been quite rad, too.   Thank you all for your cards, candy, candles and especially the head massager.

While I’ve been starting my freelancing business, Ken has been doing some really cool things.  He and a colleague are planning an on base 5k to support needy women and children in Herat.  I am so excited to be able to help with this and hear about it as it develops.  Also, Ken has been going on quite a few site visits – visiting his clients.

Below are a few pictures Ken sent me.  I am a big fan (read: I think he looks quite handsome) of the one of him in the Blackhawk.  If you think it’s pretty rad that Ken was riding in a Blackhawk you may want to visit this site to see how Blackhawks work.

At Camp Stone you just throw out your thumb and a Blackhawk lands

Riding in a Blackhawk looks like fun!

Besides getting to his site visit, Ken was able to see this

Write more soon…should be easier to type after I thaw out and drink some tiger blood.

I’ll Put My Money On The Groundhog

It has been nearly one month and 55 more inches of snow (nearly 80 cumulative inches in Arlington, MA) since my last blog post and I am more resolute than ever that Father Winter is not going to keep me down, even though he is truly giving it the ol’ college try. It’s not the snow in and of itself that’s the real downer, it’s the hassles it brings along with it.  One thing I have learned about Boston is that the snow doesn’t shut things down, it just makes things take longer (i.e – getting dressed, packing for the day – extra shoes so you don’t find yourself in unattractive snow boots all day), move more slowly (i.e. – train/bus delays, traffic backups), and heavier (see packing for day).  For all my complaining of the weather (Ken hears most of it – sorry Ken), I am trying to make the best of it here because Boston really is awesome.  The architecture is amazing, the people relatively friendly, the restaurants spectacular, but I am ready to enjoy this city in warmer temps!

I get to see Trinity Church nearly everyday. Right now, it's snowcapped and even more beautiful.

A born and bred Southern girl, I have always loved the heat of the summer and all that comes along with those long, hot, humid days.  Up here in Boston, in the dead of winter, I find myself more and more frequently longing for sunlight and days spent lounging in it, my freckles forever multiplying.  Even the ideas of hot car seats burning my legs and clothes sticking to me as soon as I walk out the door into air that is stifling and thick are appealing.  Yep, winter here really is that bad.

Everyday on the T I hear the longtime Bostonians talk of winters worse, but they always cap it all off by assuring one another that this is one “haush winta” (Boston speak for “harsh winter”).

Decided to take a plunge into a drift while helping my roomie get his car unstuck

All that said, there are two things that I have found to be positive about the ridiculously excessive snowfall.

The first is that, snow like this is “a great equalizer”.  No matter your age, background, social status, whether you live in Southie or on Beacon Hill, everyone has to climb over inconvenient snow piles, inch from place to place using the nearly unnavigable post-snowstorm sidewalks, and deal with the endless delays on the T due to ice and snow on the tracks and cold weather related malfunctions.  And, maybe I’m just displaying my glass half-full outlook when I list this as a positive, because when I really think about it, the only equalizing going on is probably that everyone is equally pissed at Father Winter.

The second, and only other positive I’ve come up with is that with all this snow on the ground is that the roads are more like trail than you can imagine.  On multiple occasions now, I have laced up my trail shoes and headed right out my door for a run, enjoyed the dirt trail-like cushioning of the snow, got a full body workout from maintaining my balance on rugged terrain thanks to the ice, slush and snow piles, and had to do some quick thinking when approaching suddenly ending sidewalks due to 4 foot high snow drifts. So, even though my foot is not 100%, I am enjoying some short runs, taking the road to the Minuteman Trail which I will not be able to do when all this snow melts.

I know that I have left out the beauty of a new fallen snow, but it’s just not all that beautiful to me anymore.  I’ve been looking at it for over a month now and a lot of the snow is now dingy with salt and dirt and the tracks of weary commuters trudging through.

February 3, 2011 - Minuteman Trail in Arlington during a 3 mile run

Well, enough about me and this crazy Boston winter.  Let’s talk about the “Ke” of KeJen!

Ken has now been at Camp Stone for more than 2 months.  What does that mean?  That means we are more than 1/3 through Ken’s deployment and have only about 120 days remaining!  Ken is doing well.  He is, of course, working hard most hours of the day doing his part to protect the United States and make Afghanistan a better place for its people.  When he’s not doing that, one thing he is doing a lot of is working out.  He and a colleague are working out six days a week. He is doing a lot of running around the base, riding the stationary bike and doing weights each day as well.  He is going to get “swoll up” (his words, not mine).  Interestingly, he noticed that while running he was out of breath more quickly than usual.  He realized why when he found that he is sitting at about 3,100 feet.  This is going to give him a definitive advantage when he gets back to Boston and is running at 141 feet.  Ya know, I don’t care if he beats me, I just get excited thinking about the day that we can go running together again!

Ken is also watching lots of movies (the latest being Due Date which he said I should watch if I have absolutely nothing else to do) with his colleagues, doing some reading with G and Sam, two Afghan liaisons with whom Ken works closely (they are going to get started reading The Kite Runner soon) and truly enjoying each letter and package he receives.

Send Ken a card or picture and this is where it will go. Let's fill this bulletin board up!

Speaking of letters and PICTURES, how many of you have gotten started with Ken’s Photo Challenge?  I haven’t but the competition is on.  Let’s bombard Ken with pictures.   Need a little reminder of the challenge?  Click here.

Then, there are the gifts Ken has received that took him by surprise and brightened his day like the brunswick stew that Terri sent or the thermometer that I sent him so he could no longer reply to my question of “What’s the temperature there?” with “Does it look like I have a thermometer in my pocket?”

Brunswick Stew from Terry, Note the one empty jar. Ken couldn't wait to dig in before taking a picture

The next couple of pictures are from a couple of weeks ago when it snowed on base.  I guess after I asked enough times, Ken thought he’d send me some pictures so he could show me what the weather was like at Camp Stone in hopes I’d stop asking.  Ha.  I’m just kidding.

Anyway, It really hasn’t snowed all that much since Ken’s been there (I think it snowed a bit yesterday though) and he has been pretty fortunate that the temps have been fairly reasonable.  I am glad it’s not too cold since he is sleeping in a sleeping bag in a building like the ones below.

Snow at Camp Stone

The snowy mountains of Herat, AFG

How’s winter treating y’all?  Anyone have any tricks to make these remaining months of winter a little brighter?  Shoot them my way!  You can always email Ken ( ibkenh at yahoo.com ) or myself ( jen.barker at gmail.com ) to say hello. We love hearing from you.

Stay in touch!  Ken and I are looking forward to seeing you all in a few months!

PS – Never have I had faith in Punxsutawney Phil to predict the weather with accuracy, but this year is different.  I’m desperate for Spring so my bets are on the groundhog.

The Year of the KeJen

Happy New Year, folks!  It’s been a bit since I posted, but now I can officially say that I made it through my first month in Boston, my first month at my new job and the first month of Ken’s deployment.  I made it through the holidays, which, according to Ken’s AF friends, is the hardest time during a deployment.   Ken has officially been on base for one month, he has finally received mail (more on this later), and is settling into working super long hours.

Partially Eaten Afghani Meatballs

Since I haven’t posted anything in awhile, I will go over Christmas.  For being so far away from friends and family, I think Ken and I had a pretty good Christmas.  We were able to Skype a lot – that was really nice.  He ate an Afghani meal provided by his interpreters wife and mother.  I think he enjoyed the meal but it definitely wasn’t Christmas dinner like your grandma makes, you know?

Meatballs and Rice at Ariana Restaurant in Boston

Speaking of Afghani meatballs, my first night living in Boston, me and my friend Caroline , who was kind enough to log over 1,000 of the 1,500 miles of my Memphis to Boston road trip in the Penske truck with me, went to eat at a new Afghan restaurant called Ariana located in the Allston/Brighton neighborhood of Boston.  The decision to eat there was definitely made in part due to Ken’s, at that time, impending deployment.  As usual, I was “out ordered”, meaning I looked at Caroline’s plate longingly, wondering how she was enjoying her lamb (You will be pleased to know that she did offer me a bite or two and it was quite delicious) while I looked at a big pile of meatballs and rice that, I ordered just so I could show Ken, because if you didn’t know, the guy really likes meatballs.  And, the meatballs were really good and it ends up I probably wasn’t out ordered.  Great restaurant, too.  Looking forward to going back and trying some new things.

So, I cooked some yummy stuff on Christmas to bring over to my boss’s house.  He and his wife invited me over and it was a really nice meal.  Here’s what I made while Ken supervised:

KeJen's Mac n' Cheese (same as what Ken & I made for Thanksgiving)

Ken and I love this Mac N’ Cheese.  I could eat a vat of it, I think.  All of my favorite things mixed together into a little dish of perfection…mmmm.  If you like mac n cheese, there is a restaurant in NYC, I have been to once, years ago called Elbow that will satisfy any and every macaroni craving you may have.

 

Smoked Salmon Canapes with Cucumber and Dilled Cream Cheese

On the healthier side of things, I made these little canapes that were quite good.  Smoked salmon, fresh dill, light cream cheese atop sliced seedless cucumbers.  Yum.

 

 

Back to Christmas, thanks to everyone who sent me and Ken cards.  You all are really thoughtful.  Ken’s family and friends have kind of taken me in and for them to have been thinking of me during a holiday season that was undoubtedly tough, means tons.

Since we are on the subject of Christmas cards, Ken got a very special package in the mail today, and here is what was inside:

Christmas Cards from Natalie's Class

This made Ken’s day.  He is working so much (in fact, he is still in the office as I type this and it is nearly 1 AM his time) that little breaks in the day to look at something as simple and beautiful as a handmade Christmas card, brings a smile to his face.  And mine, too.  When Shannon told me awhile back that Natalie had a hand in arranging for her class to do this, and that I couldn’t tell Ken so it would be a surprise, it made me really happy – like almost cry a little happy.

The New Year

So, it’s officially 2011, and so far so good.  I spent New Year’s Eve with Ken (via Skype).   I mounted his flat screen television while he watched, and occassionally cringed anytime I dropped a tool for fear that it had landed on his tv.  No tools fell on the tv and I was able to get it up on the wall in time to watch the last quarter of the Liberty Bowl with Ken, so we were watching together during Georgia’s unfortunate loss.  Ken was asleep 6,500 miles away when I rang in 2011 with a screwdriver in one hand and a glass of champagn in the other – I was hanging curtains.

Now, I am totally focused on my job and my goal to be healthy and organized in all facets of my life – not an easy goal, but setting small goals within the larger one makes it more attainable.  An example is my buying a commuter bike.  This allows me more control over my schedule as I will not be dependent on the bus.  So, I can stay later at work, which happens to be a gym, and get in some group classes and longer workouts all while burning more calories by bike commuting to the train station.

About the title of this blog post…back in Memphis, where Ken and I met, the folks at Bardog began calling us “KeJen” and it stuck, and we like it.  2011 will be our first full year together and we have labeled it, “The Year of the KeJen”.    So, cheers to you, the new year, and to the hope that Ken and I have the opportunity to spend a little of 2011 with each of you.

I want to leave you guys with a quote that more than sums up my hopes for you in the coming year.

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness.  I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” – Neil Gaiman