Thursday, April 24, 2014

This was the thing that was not supposed to happen. And all of a sudden it happened so fast.

Tragedy, and there really isn't any other word for it, has occurred in our family. My beautiful cousin, 33 years old, passed away this easter after a two-year battle with cancer.

Like I said, tragedy. No other word will do.

I've been debating with myself whether or not to write about it. My gut feeling hasn't been clear, still isn't. And yet, I feel this is a loss too immense and colossal to bypass here, even though I know any attempt at putting this, all of it, into words, will be futile.

A few weeks before she passed away, she wrote me that she was starting to feel that she wasn't going to win this battle. I understood exactly what she meant, sadly. Yet, I feel - I think we all feel - that she won that battle a thousand times over. Through every single step of it, she fought so hard, insisted that no one waste time feeling sad, and consistently chose life over and over again.

To me, my cousin was always the outdoorsy type. A do'er. When I channel her now, I see her stepping into the kitchen of her childhood home, tall, proud and unapologetic, dressed head to toe in her riding gear after a full day out. And that's what everyone living close to her recounts. Throughout her illness, she's been riding horses, going cycling, skiing, vacationing with her kids, husband, family and friends, staying busy being, what I'll always remember her for being, a homemaker - meant not in the traditional sense of the word, because my cousin was anything but a stay-at-home wife, but rather in the most awe-inspiring sense. I think home, with all the people, places and love that constitute it, was her life's project. And she was home to so many.

The last time I hugged her was at my sister's wedding in March, which she traveled to from Sweden despite her great pain - another testament to her unconquerable zest for life. I regret not hugging her more, or very specifically, I regret not holding her hand at one point when I sat next to her during breakfast. That's the moment I play over and over in my mind, wondering in hindsight why I deemed it best to oppress those little signs of love and affection lest I remind her of what we were all fearing. That she suddenly not be there.

In the aftermath of her passing, I can't help but think that the loss and pain that is felt when a young person is bereft of life is somehow the accumulated hurt of all the bereaved. My cousin was somebody's mother, somebody's wife. A daughter, a sister, a sister-in-law. A granddaughter. A best friend. She was family. She was so much, to so many, and that just makes this feel unbearable.

She has requested we all wear something light green and rosy for her service. No black. I think that's such a generous gesture, so symptomatic of her mindset. I love that my cousin - a determined lady - is leading the way for how we should remember her, and for how to let her live on among us even though she's not physically here.

There are really few things as beautiful in life as being someone's home. She laid out the groundwork, nurtured it, and maintained it. Now we have to honor her by cherishing it.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Two years ago, right about now

All the sakura photos that float around the interwebs these days are making me reminisce about our trip to Tokyo back in 2012, and if the travel-lords are listening, then let it be known that I'd very much like to go back.

Like so many people, I fell in love with the city within a nanosecond (who says nanosecond? Only annoying people, that's who;O), and as a person visiting it solely for recreational leisure, I couldn't find one, single fault with it.

As far as tourist traps go, I'm sure we visited plenty, but as Scandinavians, even the dingiest of places were such a novelty.

I remember once, as a kid, I was picnicking on our front lawn with two girlfriends when a japanese fella passed by and asked - or gestured, rather - if he could take a photo of us. We obliged and said cheese, but still I thought it was the oddest thing that this guy was out wandering the burbs and wasting film on such mundane things.

But of course, now I realize, that should I ever get the privilege of visiting Tokyo again, I'd happily take a train to the city's outskirts and look for picnicking, Japanese girls - in a totally, non-creepy way, of course.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

If giraffes and homegrown fennel are your jam, you definitely belong here

These photos have been sitting on my memory card for a full month, because just like last time we went to Olerai House by Lake Naivasha, I somehow wound up snapping close to a gazillion photos. And rather than sit down and edit them, I did what any sane person would do: I watched videos like this instead and refreshed my e-mail browser a thousand times over. So there.

Anyway, Johan and I went to Olerai with his mom, and sweet lord, the place was just as amazing the second time around. You're gonna suspect this is a sponsored post, that's how lovey-dovey I'm gonna get about it. But then, look at these faces - I mean, that's real happiness right there.
And there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for that, because friends, this is how you take your after-lunch coffee at Olerai. With grazing zebras dispersed around you, while a young gentleman entertains you with what appears to be a very vivid story.

Hello baby zebra :)

If you feel inclined to look into the trees above, you're likely to find yourself looking up at Colobus monkeys, who, in turn, are likely to pee down on you. But I say what the heck, because these guys probably don't get into the city much, and if peeing on tourists makes their day, so be it.

If you're at home now thinking, "I too want to go to Olerai", then you might go online and find the prices a bit steep - but really, it's worth every penny, because a) It's full board and we're talking 3 meals, coffees, teas, cakes and snacks, and b) This is an extremely boutique-y (yet totally unpretentious) hotel with only five rooms - in fact, if you come mid-week, you're likely to have the entire place to yourself so you can scoot around and try every single seating arrangement available in their garden.
For example, if one wishes, one can retreat to a place like this and get some work done. (I feel like kind of an ass for sitting with my laptop in those beautiful surroundings, but in my defense, I had real work to do.)
And while you're there, you might as well enjoy tea for three.

By the way, their chef and I are totally on the same page: Two muffins is just the right amount per person :)
And while you're enjoying your tea, BAM! A giraffe steps up right next to you...

...and starts snacking on the bougainvilleas :)
This is how giraffes drink water, by the way:

Before dinner, you might ask a friendly samburu warrior to take you for a walk on the grounds. (I'm telling you, these guys are so savvy when it comes to nature and wildlife, patiently answering all your silly questions about what to do, say, if a buffalo charges after you.)
And on said pre-dinner walk, you can also have your boyfriend take a picture of you where it looks like you've grown a tiny penis. (But at least I look happy, tiny penis or not).

And then...this photos happened. I don't want to sound too full of myself or anything, but do you also find that I  look kind of...pretty? Yes?! Because that NEVER happens to me! My profile picture on Facebook is a plant for gods' sakes. Whenever I put my photo on my resume, employers never get back to me. You get the gist - this photo is kind of a BIG deal, so let's just sit around and enjoy this for a while:
(You know, mostly I look like this. And who in their right mind will hire that?)
Another thing I really like about Olerai is that they offer the kind of leveled luxury that you don't feel like an ass for consuming. For example, they grow all their own fruit and vegetables and raise their own poultry, which you then get to enjoy at every meal.

Here we are inspecting their fennel patch. (Remember, you should always bring a warrior with you if you venture into a fennel patch.)
And look, artichokes! Did you know they grow like this?
When night falls, dinner is served here:
If you're lucky, you get these two as your dinner companions:

After dinner, you may enjoy your tea by the fire place. And if your company takes to discussing politics in an animated manner, you can just sit back, relax and think about puppies instead.

Then you go to bed and sleep like a baby in a canopy bed, before you get up in the morning and do it all over again - because at Olerai they don't ask you to check out at 10 am. They're more like, stay, hang out, play some crocket - or walk around and chat with our staff while they make these insane flower decorations.