Long Time, No Talk: Part One

It's been awhile and we definitely need to catch up.

Hey there, folks.  It has been wayyyyy too long since I posted.  I guess I got distracted by starting my own business, an ever increasing workload (which is great!) , Ken’s return from Afghanistan, our Tour de South, our trip to Kenya, move to Cambridge from Arlington, and enjoying day-to-day life as KeJen.  But, enough with the excuses, I should have written months ago. But, since I didn’t, this post will be all about catching up.

APRIL – I launched Ginger Social – a boutique (fancy way of saying super small and run all by myself) social media management firm, focused on helping small businesses reach their customers and strengthen relationships.   I began with one fantastic client, Solid Body Fitness, and now, have six – including a Hahvad (that’s Harvard for those who don’t read Bostonian) based education journal.  It’s been a slow process but, I have met some excellent folks, learn more and more each day, and really like what I do.

The first day of Spring happens each April, as you probably know.  With Spring, generally come the rain showers that bring May flowers.  Not in Boston.  Nope, the first day of Spring instead brought a couple of inches of snow.  I halfway convinced myself that it must just snow year ’round here.

MAY – Things began warming up a bit.  I scored a great client in the Plough & Stars in May and had a great time counting down the days to Ken’s arrival home by watching lotsa live music there.

JUNE/JULY – Ahhh, June.  With 6 long months of waiting coming to an end, I prepped for Ken’s arrival home. Then, it happened.  It was remarkably good to see him!  I was nervous and excited and happy and I fell in love with him even more.

The night of Ken's arrival we went to Hooters for a televised MMA fight and because Ken loves owls. ; )

In the days after Ken’s arrival home, we packed up a house, putting everything in storage, and found an apartment.  We then flew to Atlanta for our Tour De South.  We visiting my family in Mississippi, our friends in Memphis, and my family in Kentucky before heading back to Atlanta to spend some time with his family and friends.

Our pal Greg welcomed us back to Memphis with this nice note on the chalkboard at Bardog.

Me, Memaw & Pops in West Point, MS (not the best pic, but thankful Ken took it).

Following over two weeks of driving through the South and visiting family and friends, plus camping with friends a couple of nights outside of Atlanta, we headed back to Boston.  I had to knock out a couple of meetings before we went on our big adventure.  KeJen Went To Kenya.  Yep, we spent 10 days in Kenya.  And it was   a  m  a  z  i  n  g!!!!  Many of you have heard the stories of our trip, but if you haven’t call, email or comment here and we will tell you all about it.

We got to spend about 8 hours exploring London on the way to Kenya.  We landed in Nairobi and caught a flight to Mombasa, on Kenya’s East coast where we met up with a couple of Ken’s friends who live there and stayed at a great resort called The Voyager.   We hungout by the pool, went running on the beach, went into Mombasa with our local friends and went snorkeling (me) and scuba diving (Ken) one day, too.  It was beautiful and I didn’t want to leave.  Except, we had another adventure to go on when we left Mombasa – we climbed Mt. Kenya.    I’ll write soon and share more about our trip, tell you where you can find all the pics from London and Kenya,  let you know how we are liking Boston, what we have been up to and lots more info you didn’t know you couldn’t live without.

Kwa heri (that’s goodbye in Swahili).

While in Mombasa, we did a lot of this...

Whirlwind tour of London was literally windy (check out my hair).


LCD Garden Party

James Murphy (no it's not Chris Moyles) from L...

Image via Wikipedia

From the moment I first heard James Murphy telling me how he was losing his edge, I wanted to see him do his thing with LCD Soundsystem and Saturday night – thanks to Ken – it happened.  At a sold-out Madison Square Garden show, I witnessed the show dubbed, “The Long Goodbye”.  It was epic.

Excerpts and Edits from the email I wrote Ken on the Bolt Bus heading home from NYC.

Thanks again for an amazing weekend.  Your thoughtfulness is remarkable.  The hotel was so nice.  Caroline and I had a room on the, 17th floor, overlooking a 12-story building with a beautiful rooftop garden.  The bed was nice – it of course would have been infinitely nicer with you in it, but Caroline and I had fun jumping on it and when we finally made it back to the room this morning at 5:30, it proved to be a fantastic place to pass out…(yes, we stayed out until after 5am. It was that good of a night)

Walking around, I was constantly impressed with the fashion and the architecture.  Being there offered renewed awareness that Boston is a city of people with no fashion sense.  They may be smart and practical, but no one has clued them in that taking a few minutes getting dressed in the morning can lead to that combination actually looking appealing.  The architecture.  One famous building I had never seen before was the Flatiron Building .  The way the clouds were moving as I stood at the crosswalk waiting for the signal to change to “walk”, made it  look as though the building was swaying to and fro in the wind.  I could have stood watching the building for a lot longer.

Flatiron Building

I would love to have a weekend in New York with Ken.  To go on an architecture tour of New York with him. We would grab food from street vendors and sip coffee with Bailey’s as we walked the city for hours watching people, holding hands and taking in the architecture in one of the most amazing cities in the world.

The first time I went to New York, I was maybe 22 and a buyer at Treehouse Boutique.  It was January.  After a flight cancellation due to snow in Cincinnati, my boss and I finally made it.  That was the trip that I got stopped at market and asked if I was Toni Collette.  It happened more than once.  The bars. The food. The people.  Then, I think it was too much for me to take in almost.  I was overwhelmed.  Maybe it was my age and having never traveled to a city that large, but focusing on work in the midst of the complete sensory overload that New York City can bring was definitely overwhelming.  I wanted to go back.

And, I did. Since then, I’ve been back 5 or 6 times.  This trip will be remembered as my favorite.  My favorite because I was seeing LCD Soundsystem with my bff Caroline, and all the while I was thinking of Ken.  Damn, he is great.

Before heading to the Garden for the show, Caroline and I had dinner at the restaurant in the hotel, Blu.  We started with the a simple caprese` appetizer  – the Caprese con Bufala e Olio di Pesto and then got super indulgent with the Bistecca ai Porcini con Cipolline alla Griglia e Asparagi which is grilled porcini- rubbed shell steak served with scallions and grilled asparagus.  We liked it. A lot.  Following our steak we got our dessert to go- an amazing chocolate cake (this dessert is not currently on their online menu so what I can tell you is that it was served with pistachio ice cream and tasted heavenly at 5:30am).  The dessert went into the hotel fridge and we journeyed a few blocks over to see LCD.

We cleaned our plates - as a reward we went to see LCD

We arrived at about 8:15 and Liquid Liquid had already played.  We got to what we thought were our seats – we ended up moving twice, as it is difficult to find section row and seat numbers in the dark with a smoke haze and tens of thousands of people anxiously mulling about ready to see the concert of a lifetime.  LCD began playing a little before 9 and played until nearly 1 am. They played everything I wanted to hear (except Disco Infiltrator).   The end of LCD is bittersweet, LCD definitely stopped while on top and will be forever considered a seminal dance-punk band. I could write about the show and the set – which kept blowing me away – and the people, but there is a Village Voice blog that did a fantastic job saying everything I would have said and more in a much more eloquent manner.  So, if you care, read this:  Live: LCD Soundsystem Say Goodbye, For Once and For All .  Also, if you want a timeline not of the songs but the actual happenings of the show, Time Magazine’s Claire Suddath did a pretty great job explaining the amazing weirdness that went on inside the Garden.  This story also has a few relevant links.

After the nearly 4 hour show.  Caroline and I went to the Tribeca Grand Hotel for an afterparty.  The energy was intense.  Everyone was still excited from the show and there were so many pretty hipsters.  While many people are annoyed by hipster’s self-importance and nearly-guaranteed pretentiousness,  I actually have an affinity for them.  I was in dudes in skinny jeans heaven.  Caroline and I each had one of the most expensive vodka drinks I’ve ever had at $13 each – it was just an Absolut (not my choice of vodkas either – that’s just what they were pouring at the dancefloor bar) and soda   It was refreshing though and dancing and checking out the fashion was a blast.  If it weren’t for the reality that Caroline had a flight to catch the next morning and that my feet were a bit achey, I would have stayed until the sun came up.  I like dance parties even more than I like hipsters (fortunately they often go together).  Note:  NBC’s Parks and Recreation cast member and all around funny guy, Aziz Ansari, was at this party.

We made it to the hotel. Ate our chocolate cake – so glad we got it to go. Passed out. Caroline left at 10 for the airport.  I gathered myself enough to make it to the restaurant, grab a New York times, drink a lot of oj and coffee and eat more carbs than I’d had in months. Following this I attempted to get ready to walk around the city.  Everything is so much harder with 3 1/2 hours of sleep and a hangover (Until now I have failed to mention the pre-partying Caroline and I did.  We don’t get together that often, so when we do, it’s as though we need to drink like we’re in college again.)

I think it took me an hour and a half to shower, get dressed and make it out the door from my next near 2 mile excursion to East Village, where I was to meet up with a friend.  I walked through the Union Square Artist Market.  I think I could have spent an hour just taking in all the creations. When I finally got to my friend Chris’s neighborhood I told him I needed a bloody mary.  He said we should walk to St. Dymphna’s.  I love this bar.  It was quiet and small and the bloody mary was really good.  I learned from Chris that Jeff Buckley recorded a live e.p. there.

After my bloody I walked back to the hotel, grabbed my things and headed to the grab my bus back to Boston.  I proceeded to intermittently sleep and write for the next 4 1/2 hours.  Okay, mostly sleep.

I will be posting a few pics and video from the trip soon and will update blog with that info.

Ken, thank you.

This was a weekend I will surely never forget.  You are, without a doubt, the love of my life.

One year down, 60+ to go…

Dry Erase Boards & Bikes Named James Murphy

Today, around 2 pm I heard a thud and the slam of the front porch door.  I rose from the computer just in time to catch a glimpse of a fella in all brown duds climbing into his delivery vehicle.  A package!!!  I am such a sucker for surprises, but who isn’t, right?

I went out the front door and there on the enclosed front porch was a very large package.  Not only was it large but flat.  I thought it was probably something boring like an air filter and that it had to be for my roommate, Alan.  But there printed in bold, black ink was my name on the address label.  Then, I looked over to other flap of the box and saw a description of what was inside.  The tears started flowing.

Ken's incredibly thoughtful gift for me and my new business venture

While on the phone last week, I told Ken about the large dry erase board at Revolution Fitness that I really liked.  I said that I thought I could use one to map out marketing strategies, etc.

Not only did he listen to me (we have a joke that he’s allowed not to listen to me 10% of the time, but I often think he stretches that to a much higher percentage), he got me one.

Yep, that’s right, I was on my front porch crying, holding a large box that I knew contained a dry erase board.

Now, there are a few reasons that a dry erase board brought me to tears.

1.  I miss Ken tremendously and more and more his sweet gestures and loving words make me cry.

2.  I know that Ken believes in me, but somehow seeing my new dry erase board hanging on the wall is a constant reminder that he is cheering for me to succeed.  And, I don’t know about you, but there are days that knowing I have a fan club pushes me to work harder.

3.  I am a woman and some women cry a lot.  I am a crier.  Recently, I read an article in Women’s Health Magazine explaining why women cry more than men and why they should cry whenever they felt the need.  Apparently, you don’t gain as much weight if you cry. So, ladies, stop fighting back those tears – let ’em roll down your cheeks and melt away a pound or two.

Tickets to LCD Soundsystem! Watch out James Murphy!!!

On a related note … I’m going to NYC in less than 2 weeks to see my favorite band ever play their last show at Madison Square Garden!!  That’s right, me and my BFF, Caroline, are going to see lead man James Murphy and his crew rock out courtesy of none other than Ken Herringdine – it’s my anniversary gift. How is this related, you may ask.  Well, when I received the tickets, you guessed it – I cried.

About the band…I started listening to LCD Soundsystem back in 2005.  I remember the first time I heard the song “Losing My Edge” and listening to it again and again and again, Googling all the bands Murphy was namedropping but I didn’t know.  From then on I was hooked.  I like it all; From the catchy stuff like “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” that hit some charts to the slightly more somber “Movement”, I don’t think they have released anything that I don’t like.  Murphy and his DFA Record label are brilliant.

So you get it.  I like them.  Last year, I had tickets to  Pitchfork Music Festival , the annual festival put on by oh- so-clever-when-it-comes-to-anything-music0related (semi-facetious comment) people at www.pitchfork.com that I bought mostly because I was going to be able to see LCD.

But, I bought those before I knew that I would fall totally in love with Ken and he would move to Boston and that if I went to Chicago for the festival, I wouldn’t get to see him.  I chose Ken over LCD Soundsystem and had an amazing weekend in Minneapolis instead.  Absolutely no regrets there.

From the very beginning of our relationship, I think Ken knew of my adoration of LCD Soundsystem.  He probably found out when I referred to “James Murphy” as my mode of transportation – as in, “No need to pick me up, I’ll ride James Murphy.”  In Memphis, I rode my bike everywhere.  I even went over a month without driving at all.  At one point I mentioned to Ken that maybe I should sell James Murphy (James Murphy is a vintage English commuter bike – a 1969 Raleigh Folder to be exact) and buy a bike that would be a bit more practical for commuting here in Boston.  Ken told me that he viewed James as part of our relationship, so he is still my two-wheeled supa-star and plan to keep ’em with me always.

Me on James Murphy in my apartment in Memphis

Back to work.  I think I’ll map out my tomorrow on my dry erase board.

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