Saturday, December 31, 2011

Adios, 2011

First of all, I think 2011 was the fastest year ever. Seems like it was only yesterday when I was writing my retrospectives of last year in The Last Word on 2010. And now here I am writing about yet another year that's passed.

So here's what I can tell you about 2011. The first of the year found me involved in a major project at work. The month of January is a blur now, because I was working so hard -- even working sixteen-hour weekends. One of the reasons I was pushing my limits was because we had a trip planned in February and I knew that couldn't be changed. We went to El Salvador with a group from Habitat Charlotte, staying in Santa Ana and commuting everyday to the worksite in Candelaria de la Frontera, near the Guatemalan border. It was a most amazing experience. If you haven't already, you can read my blog entries by clicking 2011 and February over on the right side of this page and locating the El Salvador links there. (Or you can click here and begin with the first El Salvador entry.)

Although I didn't realize it at the time, this would be our only trip outside the USA in 2011. Part of the reason for this is that my company only provides 10 days of vacation per year (you get more the longer you stay, of course). So going to El Salvador took up more than half of my vacation for the year. But it was worth it.

Not long after I returned to work from vacation, we had a slight reorganization in our department. I was assigned to a new team, with a new boss, new co-workers, and a new client. Although I missed working with my old team, my new team pulled me right in, and in no time we were rockin' it. As the year went by, I began to get more comfortable in my new role and I have to say that I really like the type of work I'm doing now . . . developing leadership training and talent management programs.

The other big thing happening during the first part of the year was that we were spending a LOT of time at the farm. In late February we planted our spring garden, from which we were harvesting by April. We planted a summer garden in the spring, and continued to harvest all the way until July or August. I learned that farming is HARD WORK, and you really need to be there more often than just every other weekend if you want to keep the garden free of weeds, bugs, and other pests. Let's just say the weeds in North Carolina grow almost as fast as Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors.

We've done quite a bit of work on the farmhouse. The first project was to build a deck in the back. It looks great! We installed some fencing for the dogs, so they have a place to hang out and watch us when we're working outdoors. Most recently, we started renovating the hallway. We removed paneling and put up drywall. This is a work in progress - when it's finished, I'll post some before & after pictures.

In May, we learned that our rent in the nice city apartment was going up by something like $300 a month. Although I liked the apartment a lot (and loved the location), I wasn't willing to pay an extra $300 per month. So the search for a new home in the suburbs (closer to the office) was on. In June, we moved just across the county line to Union County. Here, we're just four miles from work and a half-hour's drive closer to the farm. We're renting, so we don't know yet if we'll get to stay here beyond next June, but we do like the house and the area.

Two major things happened in July. First of all, S started working at my company, which was great because we could carpool. At about the same time as she started working, we moved her Mom up here to an assisted living facility. There was a lot of drama around that, and it was a very stressful time. About a month or so after we'd moved her, a series of events necessitated another move - this time to a memory care facility. I've been learning a lot about things like dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and memory care this year.

Sometime in August, I decided to make some major changes in my life. I changed my diet and started exercising regularly. I began entering some local walking/running events, and completed five 5Ks and a 7.5 mile walk over a three-month period. In October, I decided to start running, and have been slowly but surely working my way to being able to run a 5K. Unfortunately, this has resulted in zero weight loss. However, I feel better. And my massage therapist says I've gained a lot of muscle, which is probably the reason the needle on the scales isn't moving. I just need to keep it up. Maybe 2012 will (finally) be the year I shrink.

The holiday season has been amazing. Last weekend, we celebrated Christmas on the farm. It was probably the best Christmas ever.

2011 has been a pretty good year for us. We've enjoyed our time on the farm, hanging with my parents, growing veggies, and working on home improvement projects. We managed to get a couple more passport stamps. We're taking better care of ourselves.  There's a lot to be said for simple living!

Welcome, 2012. Hopefully, you'll be kind to all of us. And if you're reading this, I hope that 2012 will bring you lots of joy and happiness. Happy New Year!!!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of 2011

Here it is . . . my list of favorite things of 2011.

Books that I read

General fiction . . . Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Historical fiction . . . (tie) The Traitor's Emblem by Juan Gómez-Jurado and Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Crime thriller . . .  (tie) The Day is Dark by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis

Cozy mystery . . .  Espresso Shot by Cleo Coyle

Paranormal . . . Hounded by Kevin Hearne

New author . . . Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

Nonfiction . . . Happier Than a Billionaire by Nadine Hays Pisani

Music that I listened to

Band . . . Florence + The Machine

Artist . . . Lady Gaga

Album . . . Born This Way by Lady Gaga

Song . . .  Rolling in the Deep by Adele

Artist Discovery . . . Nero

Note: I don't think that 2011 was a "great" year for music.

Things I watched

TV Show . . . Homeland

TV Movie . . . The Kennedys (miniseries)

Theater Movie . . . J. Edgar

Note: We didn't see a lot of movies this year. There are some things that came out at the end of the year that we're interested in, but haven't gotten around to seeing yet. 

Food I enjoyed

Restaurant . . . Passion8, Fort Mill, SC

Food Rediscovery . . . collard greens :-)

New-to-Me Food Discovery . . . raw kale salads

Dessert . . . The Sacred Chocolate Cake

Coffee . . . Caribou's Guatemala beans

Coffee Shop . . . Caribou Galleria

Farmers' Market . . . (tie) Matthews Farmers' Market and OUR OWN GARDEN!!!

Miscellaneous things I liked or enjoyed

Facebook Game . . . Baking Life

Social Network . . . (tie) Twitter and Pinterest

Web site . . . Goodreads (

Vacation . . . El Salvador (Habitat for Humanity trip)

Weekend Getaway . . . St. Augustine, Florida

What were your favorite things of 2011? Did you discover anything new that you really liked? Or re-discover something you hadn't had in a while?

A new world record

One of my things is reading books, then writing about them. I've been doing this at Mariandy's Book Blog since the summer of 2008, when I was living in Vienna. I read all kinds of books -- mostly mysteries (both hardcore crime & cozy) and thrillers, but I also enjoy general fiction, historical fiction, books by new writers, and the occasional random work of non-fiction. Instead of a formal review or plot summary, the blog entries reflect my personal thoughts on the book or characters or settings.

This year I read and reviewed 54 books, which is a record for me. Earlier in December, I wasn't sure if I'd beat last year's record of 51 books. At 52, I could have stopped for the year, but I enjoy reading so much that I simply can't imagine taking time off!

Anyway, just wanted to share this new world record of mine. I guess I've raised the bar for myself. Now I'll have to "strive for 55" in 2012. :-)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hello again, world!

Back in September, I shared some interesting data about where people were visiting this blog from (see Hello, world!) A whole quarter has passed since then, so I thought it would be interesting to re-examine the topic.

Top 10 Countries

1. USA (no change)
2. El Salvador (no change)
3. United Kingdom (previously #5)
4. Canada (previously #3)
5. Austria (previously #4)
6. India (no change)
7. Belgium (no change)
8. Germany (previously #9)
9. Philippines (not previously listed)
10. Australia (not previously listed)

Welcome to the Philippines & Australia. I'm pretty sure the Philippines made the list because my friend Q goes there on business quite a bit . . . she's probably the one checking in. (But then again, who knows? Perhaps a total stranger found me by accident or something.) As to Australia, I'm thrilled to see you here, because, well, everyone who knows me knows that I LOVE YOU and have loved you since I was maybe 8 years old.

Now, let's check out the US states:

Top 10 US States

1. North Carolina (no change)
2. Indiana (no change)
3. California (no change)
4. Georgia (no change)
5. New York (previously #7)
6. Virginia (previously #4)
7. Texas (not previously listed)
8. Illinois (previously #6)
9. South Carolina (not previously listed)
10. Alabama/Pennsylvania/Colorado (tie; Alabama no change, Pennsylvania & Colorado not previously listed)

Well. What can I tell from this? First of all, Florida fell off. So that means my friend Karen hasn't been visiting much lately.  (Hmm.) As for Texas, South Carolina, and Colorado . . . presumably the latter two are family / friends. But even if you're not, it's good to see you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A day at the speedway

Here are some photos from the 5K event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway last Saturday. The facility is HUGE!!! -- with the NASCAR track, a couple of dragstrips, a dirt track, and facilities for various events happening throughout the year. Up above is the entrance to the "ZMax" dragstrip area and below, a view of what's on the inside.

Our 5K started here, so we got to walk/run on one of the actual dragstrips, then we walked around the back of the building, went through a tunnel, over a pedestrian bridge, and another larger tunnel to the inside of Super Speedway. Here's what it looks like:

We all successfully finished the 5K even though it was very cold that day. Fortunately, as part of our 5K entry fee, we got to see the Christmas lights show for free that evening. I'm glad we went, but since I'm not into auto racing it's probably not a place I'll visit often. Unless it's for the Richard Petty Driving Experience -- heheh. After all, you never know with me. :-)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Florida getaway

We headed down to the St. Augustine area last weekend, just in time for the Grande Illumination re-enactment of the 1763 British takeover of Florida from Spain.

Old Town was all lit up for the holidays, and everyone was feeling festive. Our friend Karen came up from South Florida, and we had a great time riding around in her convertible car. :)

The weather was perfect and the food was delicious. We ate a lot of really great food! I particularly enjoyed the Columbia Restaurant (excellent "white" sangria made with cava, and the paella is amazing). "The Columbia" has been in operation since 1905, so it's probably the oldest restaurant I've ever been to . . . in this country, at least.

Of course, we checked out some of the historical stuff, like the Castillo San Marcos.

Saint Augustine is the "oldest continuously occupied European-established city in the USA" with that establishment occurring in 1565.

The first Europeans were from Spain, and it was the Spanish who established a city here and built the Castillo San Marcos.

Ponce de Leon discovered the Fountain of Youth here.

OK, so that last statement was stretching it a bit.

The Spanish controlled this area for some two hundred years. Then the British took over. (Hence, the aforementioned Grande Illumination.) But about forty years later, the Spanish took over again. St. Augustine (and Florida) was part of Spain again -- until it became a territory of the United States.

Anyway, historically speaking it's all a little bit confusing, especially since the Union Jack was flying over the fort when we were there.

Boats in Matanzas Bay.

It takes about seven hours to drive to St. Augustine from Charlotte (less time if Sandy's driving - haha!) If you've never been, I highly recommend it -- especially if you stay in Old Town. There are lots of restaurants and shops, plenty of stuff to do, and there's lots of interesting people-watching.

I'm thinking we need to do more weekend getaways. Maybe next time, we'll head in a different direction. To the mountains, perhaps?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fire in the sky

We had an amazing sunset at the farm last Saturday night. It looked just like the sky was on fire. This "fiery sunset" lasted somewhere between seven and ten minutes.

It really looks like there's a fire in the woods! Thankfully, it was just the way the sun was filtering through the clouds as a front approached from the west. Here's what it looked like the next morning:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My right foot, part 2

Three years ago, I wrote about how I faithfully read Runners' World magazine every month and how I wanted to be a runner. You can read that (if you want to) here. A thousand days later (more or less), I can now say I'm running. I may be a beginner, and I may be pathetically slow, but at least I'm doing it.

Thanks to a nifty Couch to 5K iPhone app and the Active Trainer, I'm now in week 3 of my running training program. I can run three whole minutes without stopping now - whee!!! I'm sure those of you who've been running awhile are probably guffawing, but if you know me, you understand that this is a big deal.

You see, I'm a person who's been plagued for years with issues with my right foot. I've sprained it, broken it, and even had surgery on it. I've had plantar fasciitis and tarsal tunnel syndrome. It's been a rough journey. But I can't blame everything on my right foot. Even when I was young and fit, I could never run more than a mile. Maybe because I didn't care to back then.

A few months ago, I visited with an orthopedist to discuss my right foot. After reviewing my very long case history, he took some new x-rays and gave me some good news: my right foot is perfectly healthy. He said there was no orthopedic reason that I shouldn't be able to run a little, if I followed a reasonable program. He fitted me in special brace that I could wear to keep my foot from wobbling, but so far (touch wood as my friend Eli says) I haven't needed it.

I'm paying close attention to my form now. I'm aware of how my entire body feels from the first nanosecond that my foot strikes the ground (at mid-foot, I've noticed) until it lifts off again and goes into the air. I've never paid attention like this before. Hopefully, if I can keep this focus, I can avoid future injuries. Maybe someday, I'll even run an entire 5K (supposedly, I'll be able to in six more weeks if I keep up with the program). Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Austrian wine

The Austrian seal of approval. :-)

It's usually challenging to find Austrian wine here, so we felt like we hit the jackpot at a Matthews wine shop last week.

Typically, if you're lucky you might find one shelf of Austrian wine, but here we found a whole section!

Most of the wines were from Niederösterreich (Lower Austria, the state that surrounds Vienna), including several from Krems.

Of course, seeing all this wine makes me want to go back to Austria . . .  now!!!

Unfortunately, I won't be making any trips across the pond anytime soon. Guess I'll have to console myself with an occasional glass of Grüner Veltliner or maybe try something new (to me) like the Blauer Zweigelt. At least I know where I can find it now. :-)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Peak weekend

It's peak fall color weekend in the Charlotte area. This was one of my views Friday morning. Our first "hard freeze" of the season was last night. It dipped down to 30F/-1C in Charlotte, and 24F/-4C at the farm. So it can be cold at night, but the temps are still quite warm (68-70F/20-21C) during the day. I know it won't last too much longer, but I sure do love fall. It's my favorite season!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Southern flavas

What will they think of next?!!! I haven't tried either of these, but I have to admit a certain curiosity. :-)

The burning bush

While traveling on Highway 51 in Matthews this past weekend, I spotted a colorful tree that stood apart from all the others. Thankfully, I was a passenger in the car and not the driver, so I put the window down and took these photos. Not bad considering I was in a moving vehicle! :-)

I have a special affinity for the trees whose leaves turn red. They're just so dramatic . . . especially when you live in the land of pine trees. Too bad the fall color doesn't last longer. I could get used to this view!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fall farm update

Dad's turnips are almost as big as your head.
The growing season may be over in some places, but not on our farm. We've got turnips, collard greens, lettuce and the most awesome cabbage ever!!! Some of the turnips are the size of small melons. I'll admit that I'm not the biggest fan of turnips . . . but maybe I just haven't found the right recipe yet.

Last weekend, we took the wood paneling down in the hallway of the farmhouse, and found some beautiful wood underneath! OK, so somebody painted it mint green a long time ago. And we found some termite damage in a few places, so some of the wood will have to be replaced.

I remember when the wood paneling was put up. It was 1971 or so . . . forty years ago! My Dad put it up, and this was our TV room for a few years until we moved into our new house. I remember watching TV shows like Laugh-In, Julia, UFO, and Little House on the Prairie on an old Sylvania black & white TV in this room!

Now that the weather's turning cooler, we'll be doing more indoor stuff. We've got a bunch of projects we want to do. It's hard to know where to start! We need to finish this room, and that will involve ripping up the floor and the ceiling, too. My head is spinning just thinking about it . . .

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A good yarn

This is the best news story of last week. Sharing it with all my knitter friends. If you're outside the USA, you might not be able to see this clip. In that case, just Google "New Zealand penguin sweater oil spill" and you'll surely find the story somewhere.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Let us pray

On the way back from the mailbox tonight, I caught a glimpse of an unusual movement on top of the potted mums. As I walked over to admire this mantis (and take pictures), it stopped "praying" and turned its head my way in an amusing pose. I'm pretty sure I could hear the faint strains of Madonna's "Vogue" playing somewhere in the background.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Warrior walk

Returned to McAlpine Creek Park today to do the Walk for Warriors with my coworker Angie. We did the 7.5 mile walk. I took these photos around 8:00AM as the fog was lifting off the lake. As you can see, the leaves are turning. (See this entry for what the park looked like just a few weeks ago!) It was a perfect-weather kind of day out there today!

Here's another photo that turned out to be interesting. As I clicked the button, the heron decided to fly away from his perch on the shelter. Usually, my iPhone doesn't do so well with "action shots" so I was surprised to see this when I uploaded to my laptop.

Until next time . . . ciao for now.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Playing 'possum

This is the CUTE face.
When we were at the farm a few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and heard scratching sounds coming from the back part of the house. At first I wondered if someone was trying to break in, but then I realized that something was crawling inside of the wall by the back door. (Wildlife in The House With The Crooked Floor is nothing new. For example, see Mysterious Noises in the Nighttime from January 2011.) This time, I knew it wasn't a bird, and it sounded too big to be a mouse. I figured it was either a cat, a raccoon, or an opossum -- or possum, as it's called in The South. :)

There was nothing I could do, so I went back to sleep. The next morning, I told my Dad. He set out two traps, but didn't catch anything . . . until Saturday morning. When I got up to take the dogs out, there was a regular old domestic housecat in one of the traps. I'm not sure whose cat it was, but it was very calm and sweet, and didn't even hiss when the dogs came over to check it out. We let it go (of course) and didn't think anything more about it.

Until this morning. 

"There's a POSSUM in the trap!" were the first words I heard when I woke up today. I ran outside, and sure enough, a cute little opossum was sitting there. I say 'cute' because it really was cute . . . that is, until it started snarling at me. Then it looked like a demon from Hell. But then I'd probably snarl like a demon, too, if I was trapped in a cage and had creatures twenty times my size looking at me up close and personal.

This is the SNARL face.
Dad asked me what I wanted to do with it. Bubba wanted to pop a cap, but I'm not into the death penalty. We decided to take it to a swamp several miles away and release it into the wild. So that's what we did. "Have a nice life!" I yelled as he/she/it ran off into the swamp.  He/She/It didn't look back.

I've always heard that when cornered, opossums will pretend to be asleep or dead. I didn't witness this today. If anything, I saw that given the opportunity, the little bugger would probably tear me all to pieces. It may have been 'cute' when it wasn't snarling, but make no mistake. A wild animal is a wild animal. I just hope this wild animal wasn't a mother, and that we don't have little ones still in the house somewhere. Maybe I should call Billy the Exterminator just in case?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sunset kayaking

Not long ago, we returned to the US National Whitewater Center for one of their special events, a sunset kayak cruise. This was our view of the beautiful Catawba River from our tandem kayak. Kayaking tandem can be challenging. If you're not careful you can whip your kayak partner with your paddle. But it was also relaxing. We got up close and personal with a Great Blue Heron, and we were paddling in the same spots where the USA National Kayak and Canoe teams have been known to practice and compete. Way cool!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The real Mama Grizzly

This afternoon, I had to make a stop on my way home from work to pick up the dogs. They spent the day at the "spa" (getting all cleaned up for Auntie Karen's visit this weekend) and were looking/smelling nice and clean when I picked them up. Knowing that the first thing they want to do when we go outside is to go potty, I grabbed their leashes and steered them to the closest grassy spot, which happens to be behind the back door of the dog spa establishment. Just as they were getting comfortable, there was a great ruckus.

I looked up just in time to see two large dogs (off leash) running towards us. Their human yelled for them to come back. Fortunately, one of them obeyed. But the remaining dog -- a very large Boxer, seemed determined to get to my little doggies.

Things happened so fast, it's hard to process now, but the Boxer appeared to be about to bite the neck of one of my dogs. Suddenly, a rush of adrenaline surged through me. It was a feeling I've never had before. Although it sounds incredibly stupid now, I grabbed the scruff of this unfamiliar Boxer with my non-dominant hand (which was suddenly very strong -- hey, maybe the gym is paying off) and tossed him aside like a used paper towel. Not for a second did I think that this dog could -- if he wanted to -- bite off a finger or my hand or my whole arm, for that matter. (That fear came later as I was driving home.) My action jolted the Boxer to attention, and immediately, he high-tailed it back to his Mom.

My dogs are both fine -- thankfully. In fact, two hours later they're just as normal as can be. I, on the other hand, am beginning to show signs of post traumatic stress disorder. It's kind of freaking me out now that I reacted so . . . fearlessly.

In most places in this country, it's illegal for dogs to be off leash. There are reasons for this, people. Dogs are dogs, and therefore will follow their own instincts, meaning they won't always be 100% obedient. Most likely, the Boxer only wanted to play. But how was I to know for sure? I reacted the only way I knew how. I, Alpha Bitch, protected my pack.

Don't mess with my little grizzlies.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011



WARNING: Don't watch this video if you're arachnophobic. This spider took up residence in the Accidental Watermelon Patch at the farm. When I tried to take her photo, she started doing this bungee thing on her web. I'd walk away, she'd stop. I'd get close, she'd start bouncing. SHE'S moving the web, not me. Gee, I never realized I had that kind of an affect on spiders!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cooking school

Now this is a REAL kitchen.

I went to my second cooking class at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte yesterday. Our topic was "Taste of Provence" - Provence being an area of southern France, of course! (I learned that there are at least five distinct types of French cuisine; Provence style or Provençal being one of them. It's very Mediterranean in style, with lots of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and usually some sort of citrus like orange or lemon.)

Under the direction of Chef and with the assistance of four JWU students, we put together an ambitious menu of the following:
  • Consommé Madrilène
  • Carré d'Agneau Persillade (rack of lamb encrusted with a parsley mixture)
  • Ratatouille
  • Haricot Verts a la Ail (green beans in garlic)
  • Poutrine de Volaille Farcie en croûte (chicken breast in crust)
  • Eggplant gratin
  • Thun Provençal (tuna Provence style)
  • Creamy Semolina with Bay Leaf & Parmesan
  • Bouillabaisse
  • Roasted Pepper Puree
I've been trying hard to eat a vegetarian (if not fully vegan) diet lately, so I was unable to sample much of what we cooked. Also, I found that working with the meat kind of bothered me.  So I focused on the veggie dishes, such as the eggplant gratin, and I chopped vegetables for the other dishes. Here are some photos:

Tuna Provençal


Chicken breast in crust

Rack of lamb

My veggie plate.
I'm gonna try to "veganize" some of these dishes, in particular the Creamy Semolina (which was a lot like polenta) and the Chicken Breast in Crust (maybe with Quorn???) I'll definitely be making the Ratatouille recipe. In the meantime, I signed up for a baking class in January. Looking forward to that one!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Scenes from McAlpine Creek Park

A few weekends ago, I got up extra early for a Saturday and headed over to McAlpine Creek Park to participate in a 5K. I arrived ahead of the crowd, so I had the chance to take a look around before the event started. This is an awesome park, and it connects to the Charlotte Greenway System.  (Note to my Indy friends: the Greenway is kinda like the rail trail system there, e.g., The Monon.)

The trail is clearly marked for a 5K, so even if you're not in an organized event, you can easily measure your distance. About two-thirds of the 5K is in the woods, so there's plenty of shade for these hot North Carolina summers. Most of the trail is flat, but there's at least one hill that got my heart rate up when I climbed it. You have to sort of double-back a bit and walk around the lake to get the full 5K in, but it's such a pretty walk, es no problema.

I can't wait to come back here, especially in another month or so when the leaves start turning. Stay tuned as I'm sure I'll be writing about this place again soon!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Squash blossoms

Pretty yellow squash blossoms
Squash grows really well on the farm. Mom & Dad typically grow summer squash, most notably yellow and pattypan, and zucchini. Because of the long growing season here, they can plant it in spring to harvest in summer, and they can also plant in August for a fall harvest.

Baby butternut squash.

During my 14 years in Indiana, I developed an appreciation for winter squash. A few years ago, I gave Mom & Dad some seeds for sunburst, butternut, and spaghetti squash. They grew like crazy!

This yellow squash is *almost* ready.
This might surprise you, but there are male and female squash blossoms. Squash result only when bees or whatever come along and cross-pollinate. This may explain why single squash plants (or those spaced widely apart) don't always produce veggies, while those close together often proliferate. My Mom told me that - isn't it interesting?!!

Got any good squash recipes? Send 'em my way. There's been a whole lotta pollinating going on and we're soon gonna have a boatload of squash!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Morning glory

Morning dew on a Morning Glory . . . I was surprised with how well this photo turned out. I think it's one of the best I've taken with my iPhone.

A snack for chickens


After we finished half of one of the accidental watermelons last Saturday, I took the rinds out to the chickens. Here's what happened. All of our chickens are beautiful, but notice the cute little "odd" chicken with the feathery feet . . . she's my favorite hen. And the rooster? He's drop-dead gorgeous. I love chickens!

Last of the red hot chili peppers

Thought we'd seen the last of the chili peppers two months ago, but we found a few late bloomers this weekend. Enough to make a nice spicy tofu dish . . . or two. :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The accidental watermelons

I'll be posting several farm updates this week; here's the first. Several weeks ago, we noticed that a watermelon patch had sprung up next to the deck at the farmhouse. No idea how this happened, unless it was the result of a random and now forgotten watermelon seed spitting contest back around the Fourth of July or something. Before we knew it, little baby watermelons started appearing, so we just let 'em grow. Yesterday we picked one of them . . . it was the largest I've ever seen, and the sweetest I've ever tasted. We picked two more today, and there's one "baby" still growing in the patch. So we'll be eating watermelons into October!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hello, world!

I've been running analytics for a while now on where people who view this blog are logging in from, and it's very interesting. I mean, you would think that only my friends and family would ever land here, but the data shows otherwise. Here's a quick look at who's stopping by -- OK, maybe not who exactly, but where you're coming from.

Top 10 countries

1. USA
2. El Salvador
3. Canada
4. Austria
5. United Kingdom
6. India
7. Belgium
8. Spain
9. Germany
10. Pakistan/Malaysia/South Africa (tie)

Top 10 US states

1. North Carolina
2. Indiana
3. California
4. Georgia
5. Florida
6. Illinois
7. New York
8. Pennsylvania
9. Virginia
10. Alabama

I get excited when I see that someone's visited from a country that I've been to before (or lived in, in the case of Austria).

Regardless of where you're coming from, thanks for stopping by. Come back again soon! :)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Our flag was still there

It's hard to believe that ten years have passed since that fateful day in world history. I say "world" and not just U.S. because the incidents of September 11, 2001 impacted us all. I wasn't in New York City or Washington, D.C. or Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I wasn't on a plane or traveling. I didn't know anyone who perished. But everyone who can remember that day has a story. Here's mine.

I was in my second year of working for a company in Indianapolis, and as a member of a business unit training team, was responsible for parts of a new employee orientation program. We had about a dozen new employees in for training that week, from all over the country. The first day, Monday the 10th, had been their broader company orientation, which my group wasn't responsible for. So on the morning of Tuesday the 11th, we were all meeting each other for the very first time, and orientation started at 8AM. I typically didn't get to work until 8:00-8:30, but of course, I had to be there earlier that morning.

It must have been around 7:30-7:40 when I arrived in the parking lot. I remember thinking as I walked into the building: What a beautiful day this is! The skies were perfectly blue, and the air had the first feel of autumn crispness.

I went on inside, got my coffee, and headed to the orientation room. My coworker, David, was the facilitator for the day, and he led the introductions. People went around the room and introduced themselves, giving their names and roles. Most were from places outside of Indy. I specifically remember three new colleagues from southern California, Atlanta, and northern New Jersey. They would all be working home-based jobs in their respective towns. After the introductions, David asked everyone to turn off their cell phones, which was the common practice during training (and why we didn't know what was going on sooner than we did). Then he handed the facilitation over to me, and I began teaching my class. It was a class about the importance of training and how to find out what training you needed to take and the importance of always taking your training by the due dates. I remember feeling a bit nervous about teaching the class because it was only my second or third time.

My session was supposed to end by 9:15AM, followed by another session taught by someone else starting at 9:30AM. I finished just a few minutes early and was about to excuse everyone for a bio break when David came back from running an errand. As people were standing, headed out the door, stretching, whatever, David said: "Um, I don't know if you've heard but there was just something on the news about a plane hitting the World Trade Center." The lady from New Jersey said she was really surprised a plane hadn't hit any of the skyscrapers before, since there was so much air traffic over Manhattan. However, at the time, we were all thinking (assuming) that the plane was a small plane and not a passenger jet.

During the break, a couple of people walked out into the hallways and saw that crowds of people were gathering near the many televisions throughout the building, including the one by the front entrance. As I headed back to my desk, I ran into another coworker. She was looking up at the TV and it was about that time the second jet hit and we all saw it live on TV. At that point there was a collective gasp in the crowd, and my coworker said: "Somebody's gonna get their ass kicked." Even though everyone was still confused about what was going on, I think we all knew at that point that we weren't talking "accident" here.

The live news story mentioned an American Airlines flight and a United Airlines flight, and that sent me in to panic mode because I know someone who is a pilot for one of those airlines. Instead of going back to my desk, I walked over to another part of the company to check in with Sandy. We found out that our pilot friend wasn't working that day, which was a relief. But our level of concern was still very high, and a collective panic had set in because we didn't know what else was going to happen.

Returning to my desk, I expected my supervisor to say something about what was going on. Instead, she clapped her hands together and said: "Business as usual! Business as usual!" But it wasn't business as usual. How could it be? I remember feeling disappointed in what I considered to be her lack of leadership during what was clearly a time of crisis. (To her credit, she wasn't getting much direction from her leaders at the time. But still.)

Most of us "office workers" ended up leaving early for the day. I don't know what time it was when I got home, but I remember walking out into the driveway and looking up into the sky. It was eerily quiet, because all the planes had been grounded. It was . . . surreal.

I went inside and collapsed on the couch in front of the TV, and stayed there, watching CNN as the talking heads analyzed everything, until I couldn't take it anymore. It was like that every night for at least a week. I can't even estimate the number of times I watched the second plane crashing into the tower, or the towers falling down.

In the days following September 11th, there was a change in how people at work behaved. People who were normally competitive became more collaborative. People who normally got angry and upset over the slightest thing were quiet and subdued. People were . . . nicer. And not just at work. The Indy Irish Festival was supposed to take place the following weekend, and I'd signed up to be a volunteer. My orientation was supposed to be on Thursday the 13th. I really thought it would be called off, but it wasn't. So after work on Thursday, I drove over to the building on Massachusetts Avenue where I was supposed to pick up my packet. The traffic on "Mass Ave" during rush hour is typically bloody awful, and turning left is next to impossible. Even drivers were nice, and when someone waved me to turn left, there weren't even any beeping horns or anything.

The new employee orientation program officially ended at noon on Friday, and people were supposed to return home that afternoon. I found out later that most of them (including the woman from California) had to stay until the following week because they couldn't get flights back home. I heard that the woman from New Jersey had hooked up with some people in town for a sales meeting, and they rented a car and carpooled back East, stopping in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and eventually Connecticut where the last person lived. The woman from Atlanta had family in the Chicago area, and decided to go up there for the weekend. When I heard these stories it occurred to me how selfish I had been. I should have been more sensitive to the needs of the out-of-towners. I should have invited someone into my home, where at least they could have had a "home-y" atmosphere, some good home-cooked food, and most importantly of all, someone to talk to. Even now, I feel bad that I was so into myself that week, I didn't even think of it.

This morning we've been watching the 10 year anniversary coverage on MSNBC, which started with a childrens' choir singing the national anthem. Although I've heard the national anthem thousands of times, there was something about the line "our flag was still there" that spoke to me this morning.  Francis Scott Key was inspired to write that line (and what would become the U.S. national anthem) during the War of 1812 while witnessing an all-night battle at Fort McHenry, Maryland. In the days following the collapse of the twin towers, someone found an American flag at the rubble. It had been burned badly, but it was still there. One of my cousins, a professional framing artist in Philadelphia, had the honor of working with the New York State Museum to preserve this flag, and I'm told it now hangs in a permanent exhibit in Albany. I've never seen it, but someday I hope to.

But let's never forget that this day ten years ago had a global impact. Some say it's "my generation's Pearl Harbor" or "my generation's Kennedy assassination", but I think it's much more than that. September 11, 2001 changed the world. We aren't the same. We'll never be the same again. As to whether that's a good or bad thing, I'll have to leave that up to history to decide.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

If I don't get to Europe soon . . .

. . . I think I'm going to curl up and die. I've been thinking of this for several months now, that I really need to cross the pond. Soon. I need some good European coffee and chocolate. I need some new shoes, and when it comes to fashion, they are at least 1.5 years ahead of us over here in the colonies. I would love to see my friends in Austria, Belgium, Finland, and The Netherlands. I'd love to visit some of the places I haven't been to yet, like Norway and Sweden and Greece. I'd be thrilled to see some of the places I've seen already. Just take me there. Please. Somebody. Soon. Consider this a cry for help. Are you reading this, SGR?!!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Good night and morning, Irene

Sunset last night, as the clouds from Irene were moving in.
I'm guessing that no matter where you are in the world, if you follow the news, you've heard that the East Coast of the USA is experiencing a hurricane. Her name is Irene, and she's HUGE. We first saw her "wings" late yesterday afternoon as we drove east from Charlotte to the farm. The farm is about 80 miles inland, so we're not seeing the full blast of Miss Irene like they are on the coast, but it's certainly been interesting. Last night the winds howled all night long. It was difficult to sleep because I was worried about a tree falling on the house! (Fortunately, that didn't happen.) It's still quite gusty today, and I'm not sure yet but I think we may need to postpone today's plans to plant the fall garden.

Looking southeast last night, just after sunset.
Apologies for the poor quality of these photos. I took them with my phone and it was really too dark out to be taking photos, but I wanted to try to capture what I was seeing anyway.

This morning at 0930. OK, Irene, darling, you're wearing out your welcome.
So maybe the worst is over for us here? Hope so. Also hoping that things don't get any worse for our friends up north. Will be keeping an eye on the news, for sure. Everyone be safe.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shake, rattle, roll

Yesterday was a very interesting day on the East Coast of the USA. First, a personal tidbit: yesterday was my one-year anniversary with my "new" company (I guess it's not so "new" anymore). So I was feeling a little psyched by that as I walked from the parking lot to my office. The cooler weather and the beautiful Carolina blue sky put a little extra spring in my step, and I felt happy.

The morning went by quickly and shortly after lunch I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, doing some project work, when suddenly . . . the floor started shaking. OK, sometimes this happens when people walk by, or when someone is pushing a cart through the hallways. Thing is, no one was walking by, and there was no cart being pushed. Everything in the office got really, really quiet. I looked up at the ceiling and noticed that the lights were swinging a little, and that's when I realized . . . THE EARTH WAS MOVING!!!

The whole thing lasted about 30 seconds, but it seemed to last longer because it was so surreal. Immediately, people started popping out of their cubes and offices, and everyone was asking: "What was THAT?!!!" Being the social networker that I am, my first reaction was to check Twitter. At 1:54PM, I tweeted: "Am I in California or North Carolina? I just felt a seismic shift!!! WTF!!!"

Then the Tweets started rolling in. The first one I saw was from someone I follow in Chapel Hill, who said she felt it there. Then someone from Raleigh posted something. That was just the beginning.

In the meantime, my coworker who sits in the cube behind me was checking the internet. At about the same time as she found it online, I was reading Tweets saying that there was a seismic event near Washington, DC. Within a matter of minutes, we were learning from social media that people felt it in places like Toronto, Louisville, and New York. Internet news agencies reported a 5.8 (or 5.9) and the epicenter was in a town called Mineral, Virginia (which is near Richmond). The reason we felt it so far away, according to news reports, is because the land on the East Coast is different and the event occurred in a more "shallow" location in the earth.

I've been all around the world, to places where tremors are frequent. I even lived in California one summer. But I've never felt the earth move until yesterday. Ironically, in a place where this kind of thing doesn't happen very often.

My one-year anniversary may not have been noticed by anyone but me, but I'll remember it for a long time!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's personal

Just a silly photo from yesterday's 5K event in the Elizabeth area of Charlotte. My co-workers and I had a blast doing our first event together (walking, obviously! - and at the back of the pack, obviously!) This event was kind of personal for me because it's the first event I've done since I busted my ankle in September 2009. I still have a little trouble with my foot, but the 5K distance (3.1 miles) doesn't seem to be a problem. Who knows, perhaps there will be more soon? You never know with me, huh?!!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Changing names

After nearly three years of Gypsy Roots, I've decided to change the name of this blog. Originally, I chose the name because I'd just come back to the United States after living in Europe. I came back to a new house in a new neighborhood and I felt a lot like a gypsy being forced to put down roots. A lot of stuff has happened since then. I no longer live in that house . . . or that state. My world came crashing down around me, in a lot of ways. I ended up in the very city where my adulthood began. Life came full circle. So I think I'm gonna call this blog Full Circle for a while . . . at least until the next big chapter in my life. Hope you like the name. If not, too bad! :-)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Movin' out

We officially moved out of the city flat today, although we've been living in the suburban house for about seven weeks already. Can I just say that I hate moving? We're getting pretty good at it, though, given two moves in less than one year. Anyway, it feels good to be able to check something off my very long to-do list!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The great flood of 2011

Just a quick note to let everyone out there know that we were not affected by the flooding in the Charlotte area yesterday. There are parts of the city (particularly in the northwest) that got up to 7 inches of rain, but here on the southeast side, we "only" had about 3 inches. We're not near a stream or river, so all is well.

Scandinavian crime fiction

Since reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (by the late Swedish writer Stieg Larsson) and the other books in that series, I've been completely enthralled with the literary genre known as Scandinavian (or Nordic) crime fiction. I found out about Larsson's trilogy in the summer of 2008 when I was living in Europe. It was a huge seller over there, and my Swedish friend Katarina gave me a copy of the first book. I had no idea that one book would blow my mind so much and create such an interest in crime fiction and also this region of the world, but it has. Since then, I've discovered so many wonderful authors whose works (or at least some of their works) have been translated into English, including:
  • Karin Fossum (Norway)
  • Camilla Läckberg (Sweden)
  • Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland)
  • Jo Nesbø (Norway)
  • Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland) 
  • Liza Marklund (Sweden)
  • Håkan Nesser (Sweden)
These are just the tip of the iceberg, hehehe. There are lots more authors from the region whose stuff I haven't read yet, but can't wait to read. Such as:
  • Kjell Eriksson (Sweden)
  • Anne Holt (Norway)
  • Johan Theorin (Sweden)
  • Henning Mankell (Sweden)
  • Jussi Adler-Olsen (Denmark)
  • Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström (Sweden)
Reading books set in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Greenland (the one I'm reading now is set there) makes me want to travel to these places. (I haven't read a Danish author yet, but I will soon and I'm sure that will make me want to go to Denmark!) Hopefully someday, I'll be able to visit one or more of these countries. Reading about this part of the world is also a good way to keep cool when you live in a place that's had 30+ days of 100F (37C) temps this summer. :-) I can't tell you how many times lately I've let my mind go to a special place (e.g., northern Norway in the month of January). 

Check out what I've been reading over at Mariandy's Book Blog. And check out the Scandinavians next time you're in a bookstore, library, or online. 

P.S. Apologies to anyone whose name I spelled wrong by not having the right diacritics on my English language-centric computer. :-o

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Feast for a queen

I went out to dinner tonight with fourteen of my closest co-workers. :-) It's Queen's Feast week (also known as Charlotte Restaurant Week) here in the Queen City . . . actually it's 10 days but hey, let's just call it a week. This evening we went to Santé, a wonderful French-themed restaurant in lovely downtown Matthews. Here's what I had:

Pan Fried Zucchini Cake with roasted red peppers and Bosky Acres feta cheese and a roasted poblano sauce.

Bacon Wrapped Trout stuffed with crawfish and tasso ham polenta and a summer corn sauce.

Blueberry Angel Cake (shown in the photo above).

Shock Top Raspberry Wheat

Drool! Dinner was excellent. My only complaint is that I don't have time to go to more restaurants this time around. Hopefully Queen's Feast will return in January or February, and we can participate again. I'm already looking forward to it!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Our (new to us) local coffeehouse

If I'm not at home or at the office, you might find me here.
In downtown Matthews, a short walk from the farmers' market, there's a nice little local coffee shop (one of several Dilworth Coffees in the Charlotte area). The beans are roasted in small batches, the baristas are friendly, and the coffee is always fresh. My favorites? A hazelnut soy latté and the Costa Rica and Organic Papua New Guinea beans. Long live the caffeine bean! And long live the neighborhood coffee house.