Saturday, October 8, 2011

Our next big adventure

Last week Neil and I were chatting as I made bread. He turned to me and said, "So, what's our next big adventure going to be? We haven't had one in awhile."

I tried to hold back the biggest grin that was spreading across my face. I love that he's thinking about future adventures. I had assumed that our next adventure may not be for a couple of years since (1) we're both done with school and no longer have months of vacation, (2) Neil has a "real" job with limited vacation and a lot of responsibility, and (3) we're actively trying to have children and from what I understand, adventuring with an infant may be more adventure than we're seeking.

Some of our past adventures have included:
  • Road trip to Georgia, South Carolina, and New Orleans after I graduated college

  • South Island of New Zealand later that same summer (adventure for Neil, vacation for me)

  • Road trip across the country on our way to grad school including stops in North Carolina, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho (with all of our earthly possessions stuffed in my '92 Honda Accord, Rocketstar)

  • Senegal and The Gambia (adventure for me, vacation for Neil)

  • Bike trip from Portland to the first farm near Hood River (perhaps the best 10 days of my life up to this point)

  • WWOOFing in Hood River (quickly surpasses the bike trip and becomes the best two weeks of my life)

  • WWOOFing in Ashland, OR

  • Train trip back to Arkansas with all of our earthly possessions in ten boxes and four carry-ons
I am constantly thinking of new adventures for us. It's just how my mind works. In high school I was already dreaming about joining the Peace Corps. In college I must have considered every study abroad program in every country known to man. In grad school I could not resist seizing the opportunity to work in The Gambia, even though it meant leaving  less than three months after my wedding day. I do not limit myself to international travel either. At different points I have become obsessed interested in the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, biking across the country (or Europe, or South America, or Asia), and completing a farm internship in Hawaii, Oregon, New England, Alaska, and most of the other fifty states. Often I have felt that I am the driving force behind our adventuring, so having Neil suggest we discuss future adventures as we approach a time in our life where we may be less able to trek around the world? It brings me more joy than I can describe.

We concluded that while we are planning to take a big vacation in February/March, vacations do not count as adventures. The plan? After Neil gets some good work experience at his current job (2-5 years) we will depart for Alaska. We'll take the train to the Northwest, stopping to hike/camp/explore as needed. Once in Washington (or maybe Vancouver?) we'll take the ferry to The Last Frontier and spend the summer exploring all it has to offer. It will be a different kind of adventuring than we've done in the past because we will likely have a couple children in tow, but that's just adds more adventure to the adventure, right?

Obviously the Alaska plan will be expensive, time consuming to plan, and a challenge with children. But it'll happen. I believe in visualizing what we want out of life, and I want a life of crazy adventures with my family. I am sending our desires out into the universe and then we will work hard to make it our reality. You have to make it happen for yourself. We are not wealthy (by American standards), but we have a modest income and live a frugal lifestyle so we can spend our money where it matters to us--making memories exploring the world as a family.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's the little things

This past weekend was a mixed bag.  Parts of it were wonderful: we went out to a mouth-watering pizza place with another couple; we went to the ballet for the first time (which I loved and Henry was indifferent towards); we enjoyed the cooler weather (and yes, 90 degrees counts as "cooler" when you live in Texas); we walked through eclectic thrift stores; we attended a class about joining a local Unitarian Universalist church... the list goes on.

But parts of it were less than wonderful, mostly due to my emotional instability.  What can I say?  Sometimes my emotions feel beyond my control.  I find myself becoming upset and on the brink of tears for no apparent reason.  I know I am getting frustrated over silly things, but somehow knowing that logically I shouldn't feel the way I do does not stem the tide of my emotions.  Unfortunately, the person who suffers the most from my inexplicable mood swings is usually my husband.

This morning I woke up to find that Henry had done two things: put away the dry dishes in the sink and the clothes strewn on top of his dresser.  Were there still clothes (both mine and his) on the bedroom (and living room) floor?  Yes.  Was the kitchen still a complete disaster from our cookie baking adventure the evening before?  Yes.  Even so, those two small acts meant a lot to me.  I don't need him to be a perfect housekeeper--it's no secret that I'm not--but when he does those small things without me asking?  Melts my heart.

It really is all about the little things, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fall seeding

On Sunday Henry and prepared the garden bed for the fall, which mostly involved weeding bermuda grass (the bane of every central Texas gardener), adding mulch, and creating short rows to help capture water.

I had high hopes when we started the morning that I would be able to get all of the bermuda out by the roots and would never see it again.  What was I thinking?!  Having a raised bed makes this process exceptionally difficult.  The bermuda sets up camp just under the frame so its roots are protected--making it nearly impossible to get the whole plant out (one of the many reasons I never want to garden in a raised bed again).  In fact, in trying to get the bermuda out, you end up breaking the rhizomes, which makes more bermuda (just like a hydra).  I admire the grass for its ingenuity; it truly is a success story of evolution and has perfectly adapted to its environment.  I like to think of it as a "worthy adversary".  Bermuda, you may have one this round, but the battle isn't over.

Another challenge of my plot is the slope of the land.  For some reason, my bed was created on an incline and the construction of the bed was not altered accordingly.  All spring and summer as I watered the garden, the beautiful compost and top soil would wash away toward the left side of the bed, leaving the right side a dry desert of sand.  This season I am trying a new configuration in order to prevent the good soil from washing away so quickly.  Instead of having one large planting space, I created four rows with three swales between them.  I am hoping that these ditches will help to collect water and soil and keep the nutrients evenly distributed.  I know I am losing a small amount of planting space for the ditches, but it will be worth it if it creates a better environment for the plants.

Today I seeded for the fall.  Here's what I planted:

Row 1: Sage (chives and parsley from the summer are also in this row)

Row 2: Early Wonder Beets and Red Acre Cabbage

Row 3: Purple Top White Globe Turnips

Row 4: Fordhook Chard and Big Seeded Mache

I will add cilantro to Row 1 and Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard to Row 3.  I also want to add Lacitano Kale and will probably squeeze that in wherever there is space once I see which seeds actually sprouted.  I love watching the sprouts come up (assuming they will) and can't wait to dig into the beautiful cool weather crops.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Greenhorns

Last night I attended a backyard screening of The Greenhorns.  It was just what I needed.  I left feeling inspired, which is something I haven't felt in awhile.

The original plan was that wherever Henry found an engineering job I would look for a year-long internship.  Since moving to Texas, becoming a full-time farmer has become a deferred dream.  My husband and I have decided to make starting a family our first priority, which means a year-long internship is unlikely.  Somehow the thought of pulling weeds for hours on end while in the throes of morning sickness sounds less than ideal.  I'm still working to cultivate my skills as a wannabe farmer through various volunteer opportunities, but I have discovered that I am a homesteader at heart.  When I imagine my future, I do not picture myself with a farming business that generates a livable income; I picture myself with a beautiful backyard garden that feeds my family, friends, and neighbors.

Part of the reason I do not envision a full-time, money-making career farmer is because of Henry.  It is not that he is unsupportive--he goes above and beyond to encourage me and all my half-baked ideas--it's that he does not share the same vision.  He loves his current job and career path and has no desire to trade that in for full-time farming.  Just as he respects my need to not to be in an office staring at a computer all day, I respect his desire to continue the work that he loves.  But a career as a farmer?  You need your partner to be all in.  We're talking hands in the dirt, pulling out weeds, crying over broken irrigation systems, and praying for rain kind of "in".  I don't want to farm on my own.  Running a homestead with the help and support of my husband?  Sounds great.  Spending my days in the field and his in the office while trying to make it work financially and emotionally?  Not so much.

Watching the Greenhorns with a group of young people trying to make it as farmers was exactly the lift I needed.  While I have different goals for my future than many of my fellow attendees, I nevertheless felt invigorated by their energy to keep doing what I'm doing and taking steps toward the future I want for myself and my family.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Feeding my family

The responsibility of cooking dinner is mostly mine these days.  Henry cooks on Sundays, but every other day I'm the one wearing the apron.  There are two main reasons for this seemingly uneven divide of kitchen duty: (1) I have more free time in the afternoons since he doesn't get off work until 5:30-6 and (2) I like to cook.  In return, he cleans up (most) every night.

This agreement came about after several discussions of what is equitable given our current situation (him working full-time, me volunteering with side jobs here and there).  Since I am the one at home most afternoons, it makes sense that the bulk of the household responsibilities falls to me.  In the same breath, it's hard for me to swallow such a "traditional" division of labor where I do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, etc, while he "brings home the bacon".  I know it is the logical outcome of our circumstances, but that does not make it easy for me to accept.  I have spent my life working to become an independent, well-educated woman who is in an equal partnership with her spouse.  And I am.  But when what's equitable looks like a throw-back to the 1950s from the outside?  It's a challenge.

All of that aside, getting to cook six nights of the week is something I (generally) enjoy.  Of course there are the nights where putting together a meal feels like a task equivalent to scaling Mount Everest, but luckily those nights are (relatively) infrequent.  I believe that cooking nutritious meals form whole, organic ingredients is potentially the most important thing I do for my family.  What we put into our bodies has such a huge impact on our health (both mental and physical), our happiness, and our outlook on life.  My values and ideas surrounding food are continually evolving, but I do know that eating quality meals at home together ensures our well-being in the broadest sense of the word.  So even though I occasionally feel like Donna Reed (minus the jello molds and pearls), I just keep cookin'.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Unlikely friends

Today we saw one of my husband's oldest friends.  They have known each other since kindergarten and became good friends in middle school.  I love meeting and spending time with people who knew Henry before I did; each interaction sheds light on a new facet of who he is.

When his friend left to head back to Houston, I mentioned to Henry that it seems as though they would not have become good friends if they had met today.  He agreed, but also pointed out how valuable their differences were when he was a teenager.  Henry is naturally reserved and an introvert through-and-through.  In middle school and high school, this friend helped Henry become more social and interact with more people than he otherwise would have.  They are still good friends and often have camping/hiking trips in the works.  Even though they are on divergent paths, they have found a way to walk them together.

I love that about friends.  I love how life sometimes seems to choose your friends for you instead of letting you have control, because sometimes life knows what you need more than you do.  From an outsider's perspective two people may not be a lot in common, but something clicks and there's no turning back.  I found that to be my experience in grad school.  The people who on first glance I had the most in common with are not the people I still call on the phone.  In fact, my closest friend from my time in Oregon is my opposite in many respects.  When I first met her I never would have guessed that we would become fast friends.  But we did, and she brings out a side in me that no one else does.  And for that?  I am grateful.  Because who needs a gaggle of friends just like us?  It's much more interesting to be surrounded by people who challenge us and force us to grow into something more, and hopefully better, than we were before we met them.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Weekend getaway

We need to go on a vacation.  Badly.  I need a change of scenery and Henry needs a break from work.  He's been working long hours and hasn't taken a day off since he started six months ago.  Originally we were going to wait until Christmas, but due to recent events (me losing my sanity and the stress of long hours catching up to Henry) we're hoping to take a short weekend trip sooner.  And by sooner I mean as soon as humanly possible.

We've recently decided that we are going to avoid flying whenever possible.  We've done our fair share of flying up until this point (trips to Europe, New Zealand, and Africa included).  While flying is convenient, we feel that it is not compatible with our values or lifestyles.  How did we come to this conclusion?  Well, it started by me suggesting we go back to New Zealand or plan a trip to Hawaii.  (What can I say?  I love to travel.)  We want to travel and see new places (especially ones that aren't in the middle of the wasteland that is Texas*), but are now making a commitment to go by land.

I am one hundred percent behind the no-flying decision, but it does narrow the list of destinations when time is a factor.  Traveling for several hours in any directions leaves us right where we started--Texas.  For our weekend getaway we will most likely either head to the gulf coast or into Arkansas.  Honestly, I'll be happy to be anywhere but here for a couple of days.

*To all the Texas lovers out there, my apologies.  I have been a good sport all summer about the heat and drought, but my patience and positive attitude have dried up.  Maybe they will return with the rain that is supposed to arrive on Sunday.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Visualizing my future

Lately I have been focusing on what I don't like about living in Austin. It comes down to three basic things:

(1) It doesn't rain. Ever.

(2) It is far from my family. Being a short walk from my sister, brother, parents, and new nephew? Priceless. I love my family and I miss them terribly.

(3) It's a big city and we are small town folks. All things considered, Austin is a "good" big city for us (much better than say, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, or Atlanta--no offense to the millions who live there), but it's still a big city. I need to be able to bike out of town in fifteen minutes or less. I need to see nature and not unless subdivisions sprawling into infinity. I need to get out.

I know I don't want to stay here forever, but I also know that realistically we will be here for at least two more years. Neil loves his job. In fact, it's his dream job, minus the less than ideal location. I'm trying to find the balance between staying focused on what will bring me the most happiness (to move back to Missouri or Arkansas), but also not letting that focus lead me into a downward spiral of negativity about where we are now.

It's hard. Especially when I look up houses in my hometown and they are so cheap and beautiful and close to my family and in a land where it rains. Someday, someday.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I need to live in a land where it rains

When we moved to Austin in March we told our family and friends we would stay for at least five years. We figured that would give Neil substantial on-the-job experience and would be far enough in the future that the thought of another move did not make us what to run screaming the other direction (have I mentioned that we’ve moved four times in four years?). I was looking forward to having no move in sight; we’d be able to put down real roots and become part of the community. Six months into life in Central Texas, how am I feeling?

GET ME OUT OF HERE.

The weather is sucking away my soul. It may sound melodramatic, but it’s how I feel.  I think it has rained for a total of an hour since we moved here six months ago. It’s not the heat—truly, it’s not.  Yes, it has been over a hundred degrees for 75+ days this year (a new record). Yes, I do work outside on farms most of the week in that heat. Yes, this is a real exchange I had with another volunteer on Friday:

Volunteer: It feels so nice out today.

Me: I know! It’s only supposed to be 101 degrees today!

We’re excited about it only being 101 degrees. What kind of place do I live where 101 degrees feels like a cold front? Even so, it’s not the heat. I can deal with the heat. We haven’t even turned on our air conditioning (except for the weekend when my sister and her husband visited).

If it’s not the heat, then what is it? The lack of rain. When I see or hear about rain (on the television, in conversations, in my dreams…) it literally brings tears to my eyes. The environment here feels so… inhospitable… like we (human beings) shouldn’t be living here.

This weather has reminded me of discussions Neil and I last June when I applied for a job in Tucson. We had long conversations about whether it would be the right move to make if I got the job (I didn’t). What would it mean to be living in a land that was not meant to support that many people? In the end, we didn’t have to decide between the job and our environmental/philosophical values, so I’m not sure what the end of that story would have been. I can say that we both feel that there are certain places that people are not supposed to live in the numbers they currently do, and the southwest of this country is one of those places. Austin is not supposed to be in the southwest climate. It’s supposed to be in beautiful Texas Hill Country.

I call bullshit.

I need to live in a land where it rains. Everything here is brown. What’s not brown is disgustingly green grass that homeowners are wasting precious water watering. I can’t stay for five years. I absolutely cannot. This year is supposedly extreme, but it seems that extreme is the direction weather patterns are moving. The last extreme year? 2009. I’ll wait for the supposedly wet winter months before drawing my line in the sand, but if next summer is the same as this one we’ll need to start seriously looking for work in a city where rain is not the rarity that it is here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Turning off the television (or how I have no self-control)

At start of this year I gave up watching television.  I intended to last the whole year, but I only made it to mid-March (when I got sick and wanted nothing more than to watch a Grey’s Anatomy and drink ginger beer).  I originally made the resolution because I have discovered that I am a happier, more balanced individual when I do not watch television.

I love television just as much as the next person.  In fact, I may love it more.  I have little to no discretion when it comes to quality—bring on trashy reality shows!  It’s like a train wreck; I just can’t look away.  When I’m watching Toddlers in Tiaras or 19 Kids and Counting, I know that it is not a productive use of my time.  I know that when I finish an episode most of the time I will have wished I had done something else—read a book, gone for a walk, wrote a blog post, stared at a wall, etc.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I think there is a time and place for everything.  When I’m feeling crappy the only thing I want to do is curl up on the couch and watch guilty pleasure television, minus the guilt.  I am not above watching television by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, the problem is how not above it I am.  I have extremely little self-control when it comes to television.  Most people can watch one show, turn off the set, and walk away.  Me?  I become obsessed.  I can’t stop myself.  Once I start, I have to keep watching.  Even though I know I am happier doing other things, I keep going back for more.

It may not sound like a big issue (who doesn’t spend a little too much time in front of the tube?), but it negatively affects my life in a serious way.  Henry and I were spending less time at the dinner table and more time on the futon with plates in our laps.  We had fewer interesting conversations because screen time was replacing face-to-face interaction.  I spent less time reading, even though I find much more joy in a book than a show.  When I started dreaming about tv characters, I knew we had a problem.

So I gave it up cold turkey.  The result: more time spent with my husband, more time spent reading, more time spent being active, more time spent with family, all of which added up to a happier me.

After my slip-up in March (which I feel no guilt about, because I was sick and watching tv when I’m sick makes me feel better), I watched in moderation.  That lasted approximately a week before I was back to full-fledged addiction.  Part of my steep slide into television oblivion was a result of my circumstances: we had just moved to Texas and I had A LOT of free time on my hands.  Watching television filled the time beautifully.

The number one thing I despise about television?  At the end of the day, it makes me feel worse about myself, my life, and the way I spend my time.  Watching television goes hand-in-hand with so many other bad habits.  When I have a lot of screen time (either television or internet), I eat terribly (maybe that connection isn't logical, but it’s true).  So for me, television equals being unproductive, eating junk food, feeling bad both physically and mentally, and spending time in front of a screen instead of with human beings.  Not much positive to say about it, is there?

Other people can stop at one show.  Other people can watch in moderation and not let it take over their life.  I envy those people.  I am not one of those people.  We have never had cable and do not actually own a tv (we watch shows on our computer) specifically because I know I would watch horrible tv non-stop.  Now that we don’t have internet (which is a whole different story) in our apartment, it’s easier than ever to give it up.*

Inspired by my friend over at Inviting Joy who recently got rid cable, I am taking a television break.  Henry and I may still watch an occasional episode on DVD together, but I am cutting myself off during the day.  Here’s to making positive, productive changes in my life.

* Except for when I go to the public library and rent an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy and proceed to watch the entire thing in a week.  Then it’s pretty easy to watch an insane amount of television even without cable, internet, or an actual tv set.  What can I say? I'm resourceful.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dumpster diving

It’s been a good dumpster week for us. Dumpster week, you ask?

Neil and I enjoy dumpster diving. Okay, we don’t actually dive (except the one time three weeks ago when Henry went inside the dumpster to fish out the drawers of a beautiful dresser that is now in our bedroom); we just take items lying beside or on top of dumpsters, the side of the road, etc.

Since our apartment is a student complex, there are always good finds by the dumpsters the last weekend of the month. So far we’ve found three dressers, a glass/cast iron coffee table, an end table, a futon frame (which Neil disassembled for its wood), a front bike rack, a bike (with some key pieces missing), a bike seat, two puzzles (still in their bags), spoons, a cooler, a box fan, light bulbs, digital bathroom scale, stainless steel water bottle, tea kettle… and that’s just what I can remember from the last few weeks.

Most of it we keep, but some of the bigger pieces (dressers and coffee tables for example) we sell on Craigslist. Why do people throw away so much perfectly useful stuff? I’m not complaining, since clearly we benefit from their wastefulness, but I am always shocked by how much gets thrown away.

Today I went “shopping” curbside after someone put out the stuff he did not want after cleaning his garage. My haul today? For myself I found two vintage sweaters, a short sleeve top, jean shorts, a duvet cover, and a nightgown. For Neil, I found two undershirts, six pairs of boxers** (his are falling apart, so this was a much needed find), and a sweater.

I did not grow up garage sale-ing on the weekends; it’s a newly acquired pastime. We first got bit by the garage sale/dumpster diving/buying used whenever possible bug when we moved to Oregon for graduate school. Neil and I packed all of our earthly possessions (or at least the ones that weren’t kindly being stored by our parents) into “Rocketstar”, my beloved 1992 Honda Accord.We brought clothes, kitchen items, and … well, that’s about all that would fit. Clearly, furniture didn’t make the cut. The first item on our agenda (after stocking the fridge) was to find furniture to fill our apartment. In short order we found a futon, a bookshelf, a dresser, two desks (beautiful, old, solid wood desks I might add), a table, a lamp, three end tables, a coat rack, a vacuum, an entertainment center (that we used for kitchen storage), and a fan. I could not get over not only how much cheaper it was to buy secondhand, but also how much more fun I had in the process. (We did buy a new mattress because I’m freaked out by used mattresses and couches… we all get to have our things, right?)

Finding free (or cheap if bought at garage sales) items brings me so much more joy than buying new things. When I buy something new I agonize over it for days. I rarely go shopping with other people because they get annoyed by the fact I have to try on an item at least five times (and several times in the size above and below to make sure I’m getting the right one) before making a decision. Even after that lengthy process I still end up walking away empty handed more often than not. I experience none of the agony and only joy when I buy things secondhand. I love that I am giving an item new life, I love that it’s environmentally friendly, and I love that I am getting something new to me. The feeling of finding an item curbside you’ve been wanting for weeks? So much better than if I would have gone to my local box store and bought it immediately.

My addiction has only grown stronger since our first adventure in Oregon. Admittedly, my husband caught on to the beauty of it all before I did and he has been a regular garage saler for years.  It took me awhile to get my act together enough on a Saturday morning to bike around town looking for deals, but now I’m sold. Updating my wardrobe for a quarter an item? Now that’s worth waking up for.

*I know it’s odd to get your (or your husband’s) underwear from the side of the road (or in a dumpster as Neil did last week), but really, why is it any different than any other item of clothing? Once you wash it, it’s clean, but it still seems strange to use someone else’s underwear. It clearly didn’t stop me from picking it up and it won’t stop him from using it, but it did give me pause.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Holistic Healthcare

Why is it so hard to find good quality, holistic healthcare that my insurance will cover?  Let me start at the beginning.

Growing up, we had a family doctor that I loved.  I did not fully appreciate how great he was until I left town and had to find doctors on my own.  My original doctor took the time to actually listen (which I’m now realizing is a rare trait among doctors) and did not turn to pharmaceutical drugs as a first option.  Instead, he took the approach of least intervention.

Since those days, I have experienced many a horrible doctor.  When I say horrible, I mean horrible.

Like the time that the doctor blew off my concerns (after I had been referred to him by my ob/gyn because she wanted a second opinion), patronizingly talked to me while I laid half naked on the table with only a flimsy sheet covering me.  How did I respond?  By sobbing on the table, insisting (in between hiccups) that the doctor just let me finish explaining my symptoms before brushing me aside and moving on to his next patient.  That went over well.  There was s nurse there the entire time and I got a call from the office afterwards saying, “So we hear you didn’t have the best experience today…” (Translation: “The nurse told us you were sobbing hysterically and yelling at the doctor…”)

Then there was the doctor who told me my knee was fine and I should start walking on it.  Good thing I didn’t listen to her and got a second opinion the next day since I had a torn ACL and meniscus.  Maybe she didn’t catch it because she didn’t even bother to compare one knee to the other or test for an ACL injury.

And what about when I had a cyst on my foot?  The doctor I saw didn’t even look at my MRI scans.  He was in the office with me for less than five minutes before telling me the appropriate course of action and starting walking out of the room.  I asked if he saw my scans, and he said, “Oh, no, I haven’t.”  Once he did, he found the cyst.  What kind of quack doesn’t even look at scans when treating an injury?

At first I thought I happened to stumble upon a bad doctor.  Then another.  And another.  After several of these experiences I began to question that theory and wondered instead if I was some sort of magnet for idiot physicians.

Now that we’re in a new city, it’s time to find a new doctor—a process I now dread.  Since we are here for the foreseeable future, I want to do it right.  I want recommendations, I want impeccable credentials, I want excellent bedside manner, and I want holistic healthcare.  I want a doctor who is going to take the time to listen, engage me as a partner in my own healthcare, and be open to alternative therapies.

Oh, and it would be great if my health insurance company would cover this care.  Minor detail, right?

Today I spent some quality time with my friend Google looking up “integrative family medicine” and “holistic family medicine” practices.  I found several that I would like to try.  Only problem?  None of them accept insurance.

On the one hand, I love that they don’t work with insurance companies.  My disdain for corporate healthcare runs deep and deserves an entire post of its own.  Bottom line: a for-profit company’s ultimate goal is to make money, not to look out for your health.  They are not on your side.  You pay a monthly premium.  You pay a deductible.  You pay co-insurance.  When exactly does the insurance company pay?  I know the other side.  I’ve lived the other side.  Having two knee surgeries in one year?  I used my insurance like never before.  Even so, I find it sickening that these companies profit off of other people’s misfortune.

Ultimately, I’d love to get rid of my health insurance.  It isn’t in line with my values and it doesn’t cover the type of care I’d like to have.  (I want to give birth in a birth center or at home; doesn’t cover it.  I want holistic family health care; doesn’t cover it.)  At the same time, I’m a weenie and the thought of being pregnant without health insurance?  Scares me.  So I suck it up and pay my (ridiculous) monthly premium.  For now.

I wish there was a third option.  I wish the choices weren’t a) pay into a company you find reprehensible or b) go without healthcare and then go bankrupt if you get into a serious accident or are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.  Where is my option c?  Where is socialized healthcare in this country?

I digress.

I’ve made an appointment to get a physical with a new doctor on Monday.  Hopefully I’ve found a winner.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lazy?

Some call what I’m doing being lazy.  In all honesty, it’s hard for me not to see it the same way at times.  Here I am, perfectly capable of being employed at a highly skilled job, and yet, I’m not.  I’m not even looking.  It’s not that I’m not busy—I am—but I’m not generating any income for our family.  My lack of financial contribution leaves me searching to define my role outside of society’s values.

I’m also left wondering where I’ll be if anything were to happen to Henry.  I am uncomfortable being dependent on someone else in such a fundamental way.  As a unit, our situation is seamless (or as seamless as any partnership can be), but as individuals, Henry is better prepared to face the world alone.  Isn’t that part of what marriage is about though?  Trusting each other, depending on each other, supporting one another, even in the face of the unknown?

Others may argue that in an equal partnership both individuals contribute to all aspects of the household.  Two years ago a stumbled upon the website Equally Shared Parenting while doing graduate research and became fixated on the concept.  The premise is that each partner should participate equally in each of the four areas: breadwinning, child rearing, household responsibilities, and leisure time.  Henry and I discussed this model in depth at the time.  I was strongly in favor, but he had reservations.  He was concerned that he would have to compromise some of his career goals in order to make it work.  Since I have very few career ambitions, it is not a problem for me.  I agree with him that in order for the situation to work either both parents have to work and the child is in daycare, or both parents have to have incredibly flexible hours at their jobs (one person going in early, the other staying late, or working longer days and having a shorter work week).  I do not want to put my child in daycare*, which leaves us both having part time jobs or never seeing each other (if one parent is watching the child while the other works and both are working forty hours, it leaves little time for the whole family to be together).  All of this is to say that I find the concept fascinating and in a perfect world it would be how our family operated.  But we don't live in a perfect world, and in our situation, Henry loves his job that requires him to work standard hours, and I don’t have a clue what kind of job I want to have.  So for us, it makes sense for me to stay home (which I know I want to do) and for him to continue working the job he loves.  (And make no mistake, I have no doubt that Henry will be an incredibly involved and loving father, he just also cares deeply about the work he does.)

Am I worried that somewhere down the line I’m going to wish I had a traditional career?  Sometimes.  But that’s a risk I’m willing to take.  I’m not exactly the “climbing the career ladder” kind of gal and don’t think I ever will be.  Maybe that makes me lazy.  I like to think it means I contribute to our household in other ways.

*I see the value in daycare and I think it is a wonderful option for a lot of families.  It is simply not an option I want to use if I have the ability to stay home with my children.

Monday, August 15, 2011

On writing

I want to write more.

I have had a negative association with writing because up until this point, most of my writing has been at the direction of a teacher or professor.  And I hate writing papers.  Hate it.  Sitting in front of the computer and having the churn out five (or ten or twenty or even a one) page paper?  I will do everything in my power to avoid it.  The only way I wrote papers throughout my academic career was by putting it off until the last possible moment when I had no choice but to complete the assignment.  It was an amazingly effective strategy.  Even as I sailed through school, this process left me with a strong distaste for writing.

In high school I used to love to write--not papers, I still hated those with every fiber of my being--but writing for me?  I loved it.  I would spend the hours of study hall or class just writing.  Stream of consciousness, describing what I was thinking and feeling on any scrap of paper I could find.  It helped me process.  I would spend hours looking up different quotations because I loved collecting these phrases that distilled so much into so little in such a beautiful way.  I found it inspiring.  I still have folders full of random note pages filled with quotes, thoughts, poems, discussion… it was my own disconnected journal.  I have never successfully journaled in the traditional sense of recording the activities of my life for posterity.  When I travel I try to "journal" because I know a year, or two, or five years down the line it will all be a haze and I’ll wish for a more detailed account than what I can pull from my memory.

All of this is to say that I’ve written myself off as a writer because I can’t journal and I detest academic papers.  Somewhere along the way, I forgot that I actually used to love to write.  For me.

So I’m starting again.  I’m going to try and write something every day.  Even if it’s only a few sentences and makes no sense to anyone but me.  I think writing could be an important creative outlet for my thoughts and energy as well as a tool to with which I can both navigate and remember my life.

For now, my blog with be anonymous.  I’m not going to share the link with my family and friends, I’m not going to post pictures, I’m not going to share identifying details.  I want to be free to explore my life, the world, and this medium without wondering how so-and-so is going to perceive or interpret it.  I want to get my writing legs back before sending it out to the masses with whom I interact on a daily basis.

So for now, it’s just going to be for me.

And any random person who stumbles here through the maze that is World Wide Web.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Job searching. Or not.

My nineteen years of education prepared me for a job I do not want.  It prepared me to sit in front of a computer screen, synthesize complex material, and then write about it.  While I hated writing for school, I always thought that when it was for work, I would enjoy it.

I was wrong.

In the few months as I desperately tried to write my final essay (read: thesis) for my master’s degree, I decided I wanted to farm.  I wanted to be outside, to do something physical.  I wanted work where at the end of the day I could physically see what I had accomplished.  While many of my peers and some of my friends wrote it off as a phase or one of my half-baked ideas that would never come to fruition (I have many of these), I continued to believe.  Unlike my fellow graduates, I did not start looking for work in my field.  Instead, I looked for places to farm through the World Wide Organization of Organic Farms (WWOOF).

Lucky for me, Henry more than willing to take a break from the grind and delay the job search in the name of learning to grow our own food.  After two months on two different farms in Oregon, we went back to reality.

Sort of.

Neil did the job search, I held down two minimum-wage jobs to pay the bills until he found something.  Not the best months of our lives, aside from the fact I was living in my home town and got to see my family, who I adore despite (or perhaps because of) of our quirks.  Let’s just say that working in a popular bookstore and waiting tables in my hometown during the holidays meant I got to see everyone I knew from high school, and their mother.  It’s great fun to see all your classmates years later when you’re working an unskilled labor job.  Let’s just say I ate my fill of humble pie.

Three months later: Henry secured a job, which meant it was my turn to figure out what the heck I was going to do now that school is behind me and the dark cloud of looming bills was not pushing me to work more than forty-hours a week at low-wage jobs.

At first, I tried to find jobs in my field.  Every morning I would browse the job search engines looking for openings in our new town.  Every morning I found find several that I qualified for and I would dutifully open them up into new tabs with the intention of drafting cover letters and tailoring my resume to fit the bill.

And then I’d close my browser.

I didn’t want any of those jobs.  The thought of sitting at a desk analyzing policies was enough to make me want to bang my hand against a wall.  Repeatedly.  I didn’t see the point of applying for a job I didn’t want.  When anyone would ask I would say I was doing the job search, but it was a lie.  My heart wasn’t in it.

While I may not have wanted to jump into the workforce, I also knew I couldn’t stay in our apartment with nothing to do.  Less than a week of that and I was already losing my mind.  Quickly.

So what’s a girl to do?  Volunteer.  I Googled urban agriculture in our city and emailed every place I found.  I wasn’t bringing home the bacon, but I brought home plenty of squash.

I loved it.  I loved being outside, I loved meeting people who had common interests, I loved working with my hands.  The more I volunteered, the less I motivated I was to apply for “real” jobs.  Whenever anyone would ask, I continued to say that I was doing the job search.

It was a lie.

Some point along the way (shortly after reading Radical Homemakers), I decided that I wasn’t going to say I was doing the job search.  I was going to tell people that I was learning how to grow my own food.  If that lead to awkward silence, then it would lead to awkward silence.

So here I am, five months into our lives in the Lone Star State and fourteen months as a Master of Public Policy, pulling up weeds in 100 degree plus weather.  For free.  I won’t say there aren’t times I have questioned where I am and where I’m headed, but I do know that it is the right decision for right now.  Sometimes I wonder whether I’m setting myself up to fail five or ten years down the line when I want a “real” job and have no experience and have emptied my brain of everything I learned in school, but then I push the thought aside and focus on what’s good for me today.  Because who wants to trade happiness now out of fear of the future?

Not me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Awkward Conversations

Why do dental hygienists always try to talk to you while they’re cleaning your teeth? Can’t they see that it is impossible to answer their questions while you’re mouth is wide open and they have metal tools scrapping away at your teeth? Here’s a conversation I had today while at the dentist:

(After discussing that I moved here in March after my husband got a job.)

Her: So have you found a job yet?

Me: No, right now I’m volunteering.

Her: Oh, okay.

(Approximately ten minutes later)

Her: So what kind of work are you looking for?

Me: I’m not. I’m happy volunteering on farms and learning how to grow food.

Her: Oh.

(Awkward silence)

Not actively looking for work has made me aware of how many aspects of our society center our identity on what we do and how much money we make doing it.

One of the first questions you ask someone when you meet them is, “So, what do you do?” I’m guilty of it, too. We all are. I’ve found that many people, like my dental hygienist, simply don’t know how to respond when your answer is not what they expect.

It’s okay for a mother of young children to be staying home and not working, but somehow my volunteering five days a week, growing food for my family in a community garden, cooking healthy meals for us each day, and generally keeping our household in order, all while creating time and space to nurture myself and my relationships with my husband, friends and family, is not okay. I’m not meaning to begrudge stay-at-home moms in that last statement; in fact, I hope to become one of them in short order. But it does seem to me that people are more comfortable with the idea of a woman staying at home when she has children. Without children people assume that I am a unempowered housewife who missed the feminist revolution. I get a lot of confused looks and blank stares while I explain to people how I’m learning to grow my own food in order to better provide for my family.

And that’s when they politely change the subject.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Housekeeping

I've never been much of a housekeeper. I always thought that fussing over the cleanliness of every little thing was obsessive and a waste of time. I want to live in my home, not spend every spare moment cleaning it. What I'm learning? That the more clean/neat/comfortable my home is, the more time I'll want to spend in it.

This weekend I read part of the book Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House while house-sitting (ironic, non?). The takeaway point from the intro is that having a nicely kept home is not about how it looks to other people or for people who have loads of spare time on their hands (which is what I often assumed), but to make it comfortable for you and your family to live in. It may seem obvious, but it was a revelation to me. If I spend a few minutes a day making my house neat/clean I'll want to spend more time there. It will feel more like "home", which can bring about nothing but good. Another angle the book presents: having a regular cleaning routine makes it not so much of a chore (literally). Instead of a cleaning spree every few weeks/months (guilty), after which you enjoy a clean home for a few days before the filth builds up and disorder creeps in, you have an enjoyable place to live daily. Brilliant! Imagine having a regular laundry day instead of waiting until you run out of underwear or socks! I realize all of this may seem obvious to most of the world, but it wasn't to me.

So I've been inspired.  Here's what I've done today:
  • Cleaned and organized my pantry and cabinets
  • Washed the kitchen floor (not going to lie, it may have been only the second time since we've moved in)
  • Cleaned the bathroom
  • Took out the trash
  • Put away laundry
  • Changed sheets
I'm working to get to the point where I'll have a few tasks to do a day/week so it won't be a monumental event to keep up with.

And you know what? I am already enjoying being in my house more.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Does this bring me joy?

That's the question I am trying to ask myself every day. I spend a lot of time doing activities because they are habits (reading blogs, watching television shows online, etc.), not because they bring me any lasting satisfaction. I'm trying to cut those activities out and reevaluate how I am spending my time by repeatedly asking myself: "Does this bring me joy?" I'm still working on actually stopping the activities that don't, but recognizing them for what they are is the first step.

One day at a time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Taking Care of Myself

Why is it so hard to put myself first?

I have been having a bit of a rough week physically. Monday I pulled a muscle in my back. Tuesday I felt feverish and sick to my stomach. Nothing serious, I just wasn't at the top of my game. Normally I volunteer at a local farm on Tuesday and Wednesday morning. The farm is just over nine miles away by bike. On Tuesday I didn't go in because my back was still sore and riding that far and then doing all the work on the farm didn't seem like a good idea.

I wanted to go this morning because I felt bad missing the entire week. I set my alarm for 6:30. At 5:30 I woke up and could not go back to sleep because my mind was racing with all of things I needed to accomplish today (go to the library, get groceries, make dinner, clean the kitchen, go to the market, finish up a cover letter and resume for an internship...). At 6:00 I finally stopped trying to sleep and got out of bed to start working on my cover letter and get ready for the farm. I didn't get enough sleep, still wasn't feeling a hundred percent, and was still determined to go.

Why is it so hard to put myself first? Why do I feel like I'm letting everyone down when I take a day to slow down and take care of my body? I used to run my body into the ground whenever I was getting sick because I refused to say no and admit I needed a break. I'm trying to break that habit, but it's a work in progress. Even though I knew that taking the day off was the best thing for my body, I was plagued by irrational fears that people would judge me or think less of me for not showing up.

I didn't go to the farm today. And that's okay. I'm learning to listen to my body and follow through on what it needs instead of worrying about how other people will perceive my choices. Easier said than done, but I'm getting there.

Monday, April 11, 2011

How I spend my time

When I found out we were moving to Austin, I wanted to be sure to find ways to become involved in the community and to reach out and meet people.  Getting off my couch and out the door is easier said than done, but I am working on it. Right now I am volunteering at a few different spots: two farms, the farmer's market, and the local community bike shop. It may sound like a lot, but it comes out to about 20 hours a week. Still plenty of time to job search (although my motivation is admittedly lacking in that area), grocery shop, cook, and read.

Now that I don't have to wait tables or work retail in order to pay the bills, I am trying to focus on my interests. I do not want to jump into something just to make money and then get sidetracked from my long term goals. Fortunately, we are in a position where I don't need to be working full time in order to make ends meet. Instead, I can focus on activities that bring joy into both my life and the world.

The big news in my life is that I now have a community garden plot! The first place I looked had a year long waiting list. I emailed the other nearby community garden, but held out little hope that there would be a spot available. When I did not hear back in two weeks, I figured it was a lost cause. On Friday night, I got an email saying there was a spot available and asked if I was still interested. Heck yes I was interested! I've worked on a few farms both in Oregon and here in Texas, but I haven't actually had my own plot. It's hard to garden in an apartment without a yard or even a balcony for potted plants. The plot had been abandoned by its previous cultivator and was overgrown with weeds. This morning I started attacking the weeds with my bare hands. I got about two thirds through when I realized that my failure to wear gloves was tearing my hands apart. I'm going to head back out (with gloves) tonight to finish the weeding and to work in some compost and soil. I'm starting a little late in the season, but hopefully I'll get some juicy tomatoes and other treats as summer approaches.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Overcoming Inertia, One Step at a Time

Why is it so hard to start something new? I wrote down a whole list of ways to become involved in the Austin community. But making myself go? SO hard. The top three items on the list are joining a church, volunteering/interning at a farm, and volunteering at the local bike co-op.

Joining a church. Two weeks ago I went to the local Unitarian church; last week my husband came with me. They have an active young adults group and I am hoping to get involved that way. I do much better meeting people in a smaller group as opposed to trying to make small talk with everyone standing around after church. I know I should stay and introduce myself, but I find it terribly awkward.

Volunteering at a farm. I made excuses all of last week as to why I couldn't go (I don't have a cutting tool, I don't have a hat, I want to sleep in, I'm avoiding the awkwardness of starting new endeavors...), some of which were clearly more legitimate than others. Yesterday, I emailed the owner, told her I would be there this morning, and set my alarm for 5:50. Now I had to go; I can't back out of a commitment. Have I mentioned that it's 9.2 miles away from my apartment? And that we don't own a car? Those two facts translate into a lovely hour long bike ride each way. Who knew it was still dark at six in the morning this time of year? Not me. The distance of the ride is not a problem, but I will need to attach the rack and panniers my garage-sale extraordinaire husband found last week; carrying back all of the delicious veggies I receive as compensation in my backpack is not ideal. I have also decided that I can postpone purchasing a gym membership if I am regularly biking twenty miles a day. Right now I am hoping to volunteer four mornings a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday), but I am open to revising that if need be.

Volunteering at the bike co-op. I haven't actually gone yet, but Thursday is the day. We (my husband wants to come, too) said that we would go last week but when he got off work later than expected and after eating dinner and cleaning up it was too late (or at least that's what we told ourselves).

I always enjoy when I get out and do new things, I just hate the part at the beginning when I don't know anyone and have no idea what's going on. But I want to make friends and become a part of the Austin community. As we were waiting to hear where my husband would land a job, I just kept thinking about how this next move would be where we could put down roots. Maybe not forever, but at least for more than a year or two. I haven't lived in the same place for more than two years since high school (even undergraduate was broken up by a year of studying abroad). I keep getting to the point where I have a community of support and network of friends and then we pick up and move. I don't regret a single move I have made, but I am so looking forward to being someplace for the foreseeable future. And as much as I hate the first steps, I am making myself get off the couch and get involved, because making friends after college is harder than it seems.

I'll end with a quote that I read today from Steve Jobs' 2005 commencement speech at Stanford.*
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.  This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.  --Steve Jobs
Right now, I just really need to believe that the dots are connected in my life. I need to trust that it is all part of a bigger picture, even if I can't see it and don't know what form it will take. And sometimes? I think I do know what form it will take but I am afraid. Afraid because jumping into the unknown is terrifying. But so far all the best parts of my life have happened when I ignored conventional wisdom and followed my instincts.

* Not many people know this about me, but I am a complete quote nerd. I love reading quotes. Love it. The cheesy ones especially. I have entire word documents on my computer devoted to storing the many quotes that have moved me at one time or another.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

This is harder than I thought.

Before I started this blog I would think throughout the day, "I could write about that if I had a blog..." or "Wouldn't it be interesting to see what people thought about          ?" Now that I have a blog? Nothing. I've got nothing. I enjoy reading witty, interesting, informative, and amusing blogs. I am not sure mine will fall into any of those categories, but I'm going to write anyhow.

Earlier today I read this NY Times article. It was particularly timely in my life considering I was working two minimum wage paying jobs after receiving my master's degree. I fell into the employed category, but not into the "applying my degree" category (not that the government measures or cares about that). It's not that I believe that utilizing one's degree is key to success--it's not. But there is a problem if a large portion of recent graduates are unable to find jobs that utilize their education and skills. It's demoralizing.

Recently my brother told me that he does not believe that the "path to self-actualization will be through his career." I agree--having tunnel-vision focused on moving up the career ladder does not seem rewarding in the long term, especially if it comes at the expense of building relationships with family and friends. That said, I am filled with a youthful (naive?) optimism that it is possible to find a career that furthers you on the road to happiness. I believe that true happiness stems from relationships, but I would like to think that a career could add to, rather than detract from that happiness. I say all this, but I am not sure what a fulfilling and rewarding career looks like for me. I have to agree with my friend over at Inviting Joy that my true oeuvre will be to raise my children. Everything else? It will fall into place.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cleaning for Company

I'm an excellent cleaner. When we move out of an apartment (which is seems like we've been doing a lot of lately) I clean in such detail that it looks better than when it was new. I won't let my husband come anywhere near the kitchen or bathroom, because I know he won't meet my standards (and he's not a bad cleaner himself). Does that mean our apartment is always spotless? Not a chance. The kitchen is usually in good shape because I hate cooking in a mess. The bathroom? It's generally disgusting to the point that if someone were to stop by unexpectedly I might lie and tell them we were having a plumbing issue to prevent them from setting foot in that room. It's not that I like living in filth; it's that it sneaks up on me. One minute the toilet is perfectly clean and the next time I enter there are new life forms who have made their home in the bowl. I try and ignore the small population of bacteria, but strangely enough, they don't go away on their own. They multiply. Soon the small town becomes a city, the city develops suburbs, and there is no controlling the exponential growth from there.

Which brings me to today. We're having company over for dinner this evening. Since someone might like to use our facilities at some point this evening, I have to raze slime city. We just moved in three weeks ago (how has it gotten so disgusting in three short weeks?!) so we don't have a toilet brush yet. I spent the morning wasting time relaxing and reading other blogs; I didn't make it to the store. Brush or no brush, it needed to be cleaned. What did I do? Grabbed our dishwasher soap (we don't have regular cleaners right now either) and a rag, dumped some in the bowl, and plunged in.  With my hand. Oh my. The result? A sparkling clean toilet. I may or may not have gagged in the process. I've already washed my hands three times, and I'm not sure that's good enough. Oh, what we do for company!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Life as a Texan

I moved to Austin, TX two and a half weeks ago. Even though I have lived in Texas for two summers (one in Dallas, one in San Antonio), I never thought I would make a long term home in the Lone Star State. I know I've only been here for less than a month, but it's looking like we (me and my husband) will be here for at least the next five years. Maybe more. Maybe forever. (But hopefully not forever because I love and miss my family and eventually would like to be closer.) He found a job that is perfect for him, so here we are.

What do I do on a daily basis? Well, I'm still trying to figure that out. I spend a good portion of the day job searching, which involves going from one job site to another sending resumes and cover letters out into the ether. It's fun. Okay, not really. Then I spend some time looking up volunteer opportunities centered around gardening/farming, which I love. The rest of the time I grocery shop, cook, clean, read, go to the gym, which makes me feel a teeny-tiny bit like a housewife from the 1950s, minus the vacuuming in pearls. It's been a challenging adjustment into this new role in my marriage/life. Before the move, I was waiting tables and working at a bookstore (a good use of my graduate degree, right?) to pay the rent while my husband focused on his job search. We made a conscious decision that we would prioritize his job search since a) he knows what he wants to do with his life and I am less clear and b) he has a more specialized field while I have many interests and possible career paths. It made more sense to move across the country for his job, not mine.

I have two degrees--undergrad in religion and a master of public policy--just waiting for me to use them. The trick is to figure out how I'm going to apply those degrees in a way that brings joy to my soul, contributes to a better world, and allows me to have a balanced life. No small task. Are my expectations too high? Possibly. But I am not prepared to settle for less before I have even tried to find what I want. I think one of the many blessings of being in a marriage or partnership is that you are part of a team that supports one another. While my husband was looking for jobs, I worked so he could fully devote himself to that task. Now the tables have turned and it's my chance to focus on my career.

I have a lot more to say on this topic, but I need some time to formulate the rest of my thoughts before I post them for the entire blogosphere (really, for my two readers--love you both) to read.