Monday, May 31, 2010

Rumor has it

I'd like to dispel a couple of rumors. First, the rumor that I'm planning to go back to school. Specifically, culinary school. I should note that I find this rumor particularly amusing. It means that someone out there has been paying attention: I love food, and I love to cook. And it's true that I did visit the Art Institute of Indianapolis a few months ago to inquire about their culinary program.

But this rumor cannot be true for a couple of reasons: 1) Cooking for me is a very creative process. I don't want someone else telling me how to do it. 2) I'm way too slow to work in a fast-paced kitchen environment. 3) I don't have $25,000 to spend on a 10 month program, or $50,000 to spend on an Associate's degree . . . especially when I have no plans to become the next Top Chef.

What's more likely for me is that I'd invest in some high quality kitchen tools and some classic cookbooks and try to figure it all out myself. After all, I'm a Constructivist learner.

Or, I might like to take a cooking-themed trip. You know, like spending a week New Mexico to take a few classes at the Santa Fe Cooking School. Or New York to check out the Natural Gourmet Institute. Or any number of places around San Francisco.

Heck, I might even head over to France or Italy. Now that would be a dream vacation.

Anyway, strike the culinary school rumor. I do like it, though.

The second rumor that's floating around is that we're planning to move to North Carolina to become organic farmers. OK, I'll admit, I've talked and written quite a bit lately about this, but seriously, this is just a rumor. Would I like to move back to North Carolina? Most days, yes. There are many things I miss about North Carolina - and I actually blogged about this in 10 Things I Miss About Living in North Carolina last August.

I mean, Duh. It's the best, most awesome, most beautiful, most perfect of the 50 states. Who wouldn't want to live there?

But there are no definite plans. At this point.

There is one rumor going around that is true, and I will be writing about that sometime this week. So come back again in a few days to find out what's really going on!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How I decided

Since I made my Big Announcement two weeks ago, I've been inundated with emails, phone calls, and Facebook messages from people all over the world. Friends and former coworkers from several US states, Canada, Mexico, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Taiwan, and Australia have showered me with messages of support. It has been truly amazing and humbling, and I appreciate every single one of these messages. Thanks! :-)

Before I left "the Company" I was talking with one of my colleagues about my decision to leave, and she told me about a book she'd been reading called How We Decide. I haven't read this book, and this blog entry is not a review of this book. But something my colleague said got me to wondering exactly how I came to my decision to exit early. What she said was: "When it comes down to it, you have to go with your gut."

That's exactly what I did. It went something like this. A year and a half ago, I returned from a six-month assignment in Vienna, Austria. Vienna was just one of many places I visited from October 2007 to July 2009. This global experience changed my perspective on many things. But the most noticeable thing was, I totally got a new perspective on myself.

The "reverse culture shock" of returning to the US was very difficult for me. WAY more difficult than the culture shock of moving from the US to Europe. When I think back, honestly I'm not sure how I survived the year 2009. It was a year in which I felt as if I could do nothing right - not just at work but in "real" life. I became highly critical of everything I saw as wrong with American culture: our dependence on oil; our disinterest in what's in our food and how it's produced; our reckless disregard for the environment; our lack of good public health care and a decent national public transportation system. Even little things like the use of those awful plastic shopping bags at stores set me off. I still take my own bags. I don't think I will ever stop doing that. I hate those plastic bags!

At some point, it occurred to me that the "reverse culture shock" I was feeling was something more. I was still growing as a person, still evolving, and what was happening was that I was entering a new phase of life. I became interested in so many new things: organic gardening; learning how to preserve food; learning how to live off the land. I can't explain it, but it's like suddenly my rural roots were calling to me: "Come back!" (This is particularly ironic for someone who doesn't like sweat and dirt.) And I wanted time to do some of the things I've enjoyed most of my life, things like reading and writing and cooking.

In short, I decided that I wanted to live a more simple life. And I was willing to make some sacrifices in order to do this. Because in the end, I want my life to mean something. I don't want to just take up space and use resources!

I still have no idea what my future holds, but I do know that when the dust settles, I want to be doing something that gets me closer to the land; something closer to my heart and my personal values. Yes, this is a "scary" time in a lot of ways. In future blog entries, I'll be writing about some of the scary things. But I think it will also be exciting and rewarding . . . one way or another.

So yes, I think it was my gut that was speaking to me this past year and a half or so. At some point, I had to start listening. Is YOUR gut talking? What do YOU want to do? How will YOU decide?

Monday, May 17, 2010

When life hands you lemons

I've always been intrigued by the proverb: "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade." Although I think I understand the point, I've always wondered: why lemons? Why not limes - or pineapples - or lingonberries? But if life still insists on handing you lemons, why limit yourself to making lemonade? How boring.

Apparently, there are others out there who feel the same way I do, because a recent internet search found several other things you can do with those lemons. Here are a few of my favorites:

When life hands you lemons . . . 
  • . . . make grape juice. Then sit back and watch while others try to figure out how you did it.
  • . . . trade them in for some Apples. Macs are better than PCs anyway.
  • . . . it's a trick. Give 'em back, quick!
  • . . . throw them at people you don't like.
  • . . . find someone with fish and chips and share.
  • . . . learn to juggle and run off and join the circus.
  • . . . genetically modify them and use your Super Lemons to take over the world.
  • . . . ask yourself: Who is Life and why is he giving me lemons?
  • . . . rip said lemons in half and jam the wet ends into Life's eyes. That'll teach 'em.
  • . . . save the seeds, plant a lemon orchard, and build your citrus monopoly.
  • . . . find someone who has some tequila (or vodka) and have a party.
  • . . . squirt the juice into the eyes of your enemies.
  • . . . find someone who has some sugar and make a lemon pie.
  • . . . twist some of the peel into a martini. 
  • . . . sell or trade that piece of crap for a VW, baby!
Just to clarify, I don't necessarily believe that life has handed me any lemons lately. I usually take whatever type of fruit I want at the moment. Preferably, something local, organic, and in season. :-)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Viva la tiki lounge

Four years ago I became acquainted with some very special people through an invitation-only wine club (which I blogged about in March 2009's Wine Club). We first met at the "Tiki Lounge" - the basement of the wine club organizer's house. There were 8 of us initially, ranging in ages from 21 to 51. Over the years, we got to know each other well, even as we went through some of life's changes: Two more of us passed the half-century mark. There was a wedding (and we got a ninth member). There were a couple of moves. There were job changes, and unemployment. One of us retired. Another experienced a breakup that involved a lot of drama. (Fortunately, the person who caused the drama was not a member of our wine club.) These are just a few of the things we went through.

Throughout all this, there was the Tiki Lounge. This fun, special place was decorated in the style of a Polynesian/Caribbean themed bar, with neon palm trees, sunset scenes, seashells, and a general Margaritaville feel to it. Kitschy, yes - but it was purposefully designed to be a happy place, where you could just sit back and relax with friends. The only thing serious about it was the way it brought people together.

Sure, we didn't always have wine club in the Tiki Lounge. And the Tiki Lounge was often for other events. I learned how to weave a basket in the Tiki Lounge. I played guitar in the Tiki Lounge: both Guitar Hero (or was it Rock Band?) guitar and real acoustic guitar. I hung with my "Sistahs" in the Tiki Lounge. I sang karaoke in the Tiki Lounge. I listened, debated, reasoned, laughed, and maybe even cried a time or two in the Tiki Lounge. And I ate LOTS of food, including some food I would never eat anywhere else, such as hot dogs and other highly processed products of unknown content and origin. (Just goes to show that I, too, will eat whatever's available when I'm hungry enough.)

It just so happens that our Tiki Lounge friend is the one who is retiring -- and she is planning to sell her house and relocate elsewhere. Alas, the Tiki Lounge is about to be dismantled. Quite possibly, we had our last gathering in the Tiki Lounge last night. I don't know yet. What I do know is that the Tiki Lounge will be missed! Viva La Tiki Lounge!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Out of the closet

For those of you who think my life is super-exciting now that I'm not working, I'd like to make you feel a little better. I spent most of Day 2 of My Unemployed Life . . . cleaning out closets.

I started with the Linen closet, which is on the other side of the house - the side where S's Mom stayed for two years, before she moved out last November. I took everything (and I do mean everything) out of the linen closet, and then I took a sort of inventory. The result was quite shocking: we had about 10 sets of towels in six different colors, at least seven sets of sheets, and perhaps a thousand blankets in various conditions from brand new to mostly shredded. And those were just the linens . . . in the Linen closet.

The home improvement TV shows on the topic of "Organizing 101" -- you've seen 'em -- suggest dividing things up into piles: Keep, Toss, and Donate. So this is what I did. I only kept two sets of towels. The jury's still out on the sheets. Most, though, will go into the Donate pile with the towels.

A few other things I found in the linen closet:
  • 1 chew-bone (I'm assuming this belongs to one of the doggies? I hope so, anyway.)
  • 1 dime (for my friends outside the USA, that's a ten-cent coin).
  • 2 unopened packs of energy efficient light bulbs, and assorted sizes of light bulbs loose in a box.
  • About two million bars of Dove soap -- you know, the Sam's Club special.
  • 1 Ladies' Size 8 Naturalizer sandal. I'm assuming this belongs to S's Mom, but no idea where the other one is.
  • An attachment for the Dyson vacuum cleaner that went AWOL about three years ago.
  • Several containers of cleaning products, some opened but most unopened and still sealed.
When I finished the Linen closet, I moved to the Master Suite closet, where I found another chew-bone and three more dimes. A few hours later, I had two gigantic plastic bags full of clothes and shoes to be donated. (Despite what anyone may tell you, yes, it is indeed possible for a woman to have too many pairs of shoes.)

So this is how I spent my day. Admittedly, I would rather be sitting on the sofa catching up on Season 2 of True Blood "On Demand" and playing Farkle, Bejeweled Blitz, and Sorority Life on Facebook -- which is what I did on Day 1 of My Unemployed Life. But there are more closets to clean, and probably more bones and dimes to find. Therefore, I'll be doing more of the same tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Warrior woman, with sword

It's official: I'm unemployed!!!

If you're a regular reader, you may remember I blogged about my inevitable employment status change in Ch-ch-changes (16 January) and I'm still standin' - yeah, yeah yeah (25 February). I've actually known about this since last September (truth be told, I suspected even earlier than that. Things haven't been "secure" for quite some time): it was just a matter of when. Well, the when is now, and the thing that seems to surprise a lot of people is . . . not only am I OK with it, I'm actually quite happy about it!

This blog may take a detour over the coming months as I learn to navigate my new world. You see, for the first time in my life, I have absolutely no clue what comes next. In the past, I've always had a plan, a goal, something I was moving towards. This time, I just want to take a little time off, breathe, and learn to live in the moment . . . which is something that wouldn't have been possible in my "old" world, where multitasking is the norm.

I can feel myself changing already. For the better.

Some of my friends have asked: "Aren't you angry?" which is an interesting question to me because I'm not angry at all. Truth is, I feel fortunate when I think of all the wonderful people I've met over the past 10+ years . . . the amazing experiences and opportunities I've had . . . the places I was able to visit . . . things I was able to do. "The Company" was good to me. Thanks to "The Company" I was able to live a dream. Several dreams, actually. I don't think my dreams are over just yet - they're just changing a little.

Two contrasting images have appeared in my imagination quite a bit lately. One is of a lonesome cowboy riding off into the sunset . . . sort of like at the end of the old Western movies. THIS IS NOT ME. I am the other image . . . a Celtic Warrior Woman. A storm is coming, rain is falling, but instead of running away she brandishes her sword and faces the storm and screams at it. She is not afraid.
I AM NOT AFRAID! And it's with this attitude that I begin this next chapter in my life.

Bring it on!!!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A finished product

Several weeks ago, I wrote an entry called A Work In Progress, which showed the early stages of our new raised bed garden. It was finished last weekend, and yesterday, we filled it in with organic compost dirt and some seedlings. Here's what we planted:

  • 5 types of tomatoes (Red Cherry, Grape, Cherokee Purple, Roma and Early Girl)
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Kentucky wonder pole beans
  • Leeks
  • Arugula
  • Curly Endive
  • Italian Parsley
  • Provence Lavender
  • Cilantro ("Santo")
  • Sweet Basil
  • Italian Oregano
  • Barbeque Rosemary
I also planted some Salad Mix and Spinach seeds in some of the spaces in between, and put Marigolds around the perimeter. Marigolds are supposed to be great in organic gardens, as they keep away certain pests (this seemed to work last year, so this year I bought a whole flat of them.)

As to the original raised bed, I'm a little disappointed so far with the results. According to the seed packet, the Swiss chard is supposed to mature in 35 days, which would be 15 May. But it's 9 May now and the chard is barely two inches tall! The Bok Choy was really growing fast and looking good, but one day last week I noticed some holes in the leaves. The same mysterious holes are showing up in some of the Spinach leaves. (I bought some Hot Pepper Spray at the nursery yesterday, and hopefully that will stop whatever pest is doing this.)

At least the Salad Greens are looking great, and we might be able to start harvesting them in another week or so. The beets are very pretty and healthy-looking (if uneven) - I actually like the beet greens more than the roots, so I don't expect these to hang around long!

Stay tuned for some more entries about the non-food things we're growing. There's a lot of work to be done. It's always something!

Oogie creature repellent

In the three years we've lived here, I've had three personal encounters with "Esses." I have to say "Esses" because I'm not allowed to use the real word in this house. But if you're not sure what I'm talking about, just think about a certain creature that starts with the letter S and rhymes with rake and you'll know what an "Ess" is.

Most of the Esses we have around here are harmless Garden Esses. Not that it matters, because anytime I have an encounter with an Ess, no matter how brief, and no matter that the encounter always ends with the Ess taking off like a bat out of Hades (seriously, I think the scare factor is mutual - they're just as scared of us as we are of them) it still leaves my heart pounding.

So last week, when I happened upon an episode of The Dr. Oz Show about pest control, I found myself paying attention. Dr. Oz's guest was Billy Bretherton of A&E's Billy The Exterminator. Billy recommended a certain product that repels Esses. It's a powder that you sprinkle around places where you don't want Esses. Esses don't like the smell of the stuff, and according to Billy, they won't go near it.

I wonder if it would be possible to order this by the truckload and have our entire house and yard covered in it?

Well, anyway, yesterday we went to our local nursery to get a truck full of dirt for the new raised bed garden, and I happened to see this product. Unfortunately,  the product container actually has a rather scary photo of an Ess on it, and it has the real Ess word written on it at least 20 times, which is - of course - not acceptable in our home. I knew I would have to censor this, so I covered up the photo and the product name, and used a permanent marker to wipe out all mention of the Ess word.

This certainly made it more acceptable to have the product hanging around. I'm glad it's an ecologically safe product. Let's hope it works!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Stinky water

While we were away on vacation, something strange happened to the Indianapolis water supply. Apparently, a naturally-occuring algae bloomed in the White River, and that - combined with an unusual weather pattern we were having at the time - made the water supply become really, really stinky. Officials assured us that the tap water was safe to drink, but for several days last week, the water smelled like something rotten.

Some of our work colleagues were visiting from Austria and Belgium last week, and I went out to dinner with them twice. They were very appalled by the smell of the water (actually, they are typically very appalled with the taste of our tap water, even when there is no "algae" issue), so they asked for bottled water at the restaurants -- but both restaurants (although considered "good" restaurants) only serve tap water. Of course, this is a response to the recent Bottled-Water-Is-No-Longer-Cool movement.

This got me to thinking: why don't we have more water in GLASS bottles here in the States? I mean, really??? When I was in Europe, I saw glass bottles everywhere, with both still and sparkling water. Glass is safe, and easy to recycle or re-use. Here, the only glass bottles of water I ever see (and I don't see a lot of it) are filled with sparkling water only. Yet there's a plethora of choices of bottled water in plastic. With all the talk about plastic being bad for you, you would think that people would wake up, and demand the return of glass.

At any rate, what I learned is, if there was a serious threat to our water supply, those of us living here in Indy would pretty much be a up a creek. A bad water creek. Without a paddle. You could say.