Friday, December 30, 2011
First, I must say that Jenny and Jeremy helped make Christmas really great. I spent the holiday their family and children, eating too much food and enjoying interesting conversation. Playing with her baby stirred something in me that I haven't felt before ... but for now I'll stick to eagerly awaiting the babies of others and knitting cute baby items for said children.
Natalie and I set off on Monday to take Bailey and the rest of my things back to Decorah. Luckily, the weather was fantastic the entire way, and because Natalie could drive a few hours here and there we made really great time. We stopped at the Amana colonies in the middle of Iowa for a little bit to explore German culture by way of tourism and made it into Decorah yesterday. Along the way, we learned that the Midwest really likes Pink and George Michael (much to Natalie's happiness) on the radio, that humming makes you happier and a whole list of 'real dealbreakers' (thanks to some crazy radio station that gave these life types between songs in Nebraska), the BEST Denny's is in North Platte in Nebraksa (Pete our server was awesome because he gave us coffee to 'doll up' for our remaining ride), that the Armenians are starving for toast crusts (we listened to a really randomly weird but award winning book on tape), and that hotel rooms for smokers make you have really weird dreams (having a dog means a smoking room in Cedar Rapids, apparently).
Yesterday we went to the largest Target I have ever seen (it's in Rochester, Minnesota) to get household items, and luckily we both survived. It gets stressful with all the choices to be made and not knowing where anything is, then needing to purchase a substantial number of items. But I have a toaster oven, vacuum, shelves, a toothbrush and plenty of other things so I'm well on my way to making my house a home. No microwave though. I can handle a microwave-less house.
After our Target and Minnesota adventures (which included going to a liquor store called 'Bootleg' and purchasing whiskey and cranberry-moonshine), Natalie and I went to the local sports bar and tried fried cheese cruds. They're delicious - with deep fried cheese, how can you go wrong? We further adventured around Decorah by meeting some locals playing pool at a bar, who introduced us to more Decorah natives and in total, had a fun night out. The bars aren't that bad, pleasingly enough. Natalie loves Decorah - which she should - because I've come to find this part of Iowa pretty damn awesome. This means that all of you should come see for yourself.
Anyway - I'm currently at the public library because my neighbors all password protected their networks and I haven't set up internet yet. I don't know when that will happen, so I'm sorry to say that I still can't show you pictures of my house. But this isn't so bad - by the time I get the internet figured out, my house will look nicer because it will have my things in it.
And lastly, I bought a snow shovel today. I haven't needed to use it yet, but I'm ready. I'm ready for the snow, ready for Iowa, and ready for a spectacular 2012. This last year had many really great ups and many really low downs, but through it all I've ended up here. Here, where I'm living in a new place full of new adventures, starting an awesome new job and making new friends, and living a life I never imagined. Through everything I've become such a different person, but so much better in many ways. Now here, I'm ready for 2012.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, FRIENDS! Let's make 2012 awesome. It could be our last.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
In keeping with what seems like a Midwestern tradition, I need to first talk about the weather. Luckily enough, it hasn't been that cold. There was another light dusting of snow last night, and a few days before that, but it's gotten just enough over freezing that it somewhat melts during the day. While this means that there really won't be a white Christmas here, it does mean that I won't encounter weird weather delays on Saturday. I clearly remember seeing news coverage of families stranded in airports on Christmas Eve due to snow, and never thought (before now) that I could be one of those people ... which luckily I won't be this time.
Saturday I will fly out of the Twin Cities to Sacramento, where I will be spending Christmas with a past co-worker/friend and her family. It was ridiculously nice of her to insist I come over, and I'm looking forward to the food and watching her young kids open gifts. After Christmas, I'll pick up my rental car and prepare to drive (again) to Iowa. This time, not only will I have Bailey, but Natalie is going to come with me! We're going to make it an adventure, although the only thing we have planned so far is to check out the Amana Colonies in Iowa. As far as I can tell, they're German villages that have good places to eat and drink (and really, what more could you ask for?)
Natalie flies out day before New Years, and I will then be settled in my new place. I'm really excited about my new house - I've kept myself up late thinking about how I'll fill it with my things (and new things), what living in it will be like, and what Bailey will do with all the windows at perfect dog-height. The house is a two story place, and I'll be renting the bottom floor. There are two bedrooms - a master bedroom in the old parlor/sitting room area and a smaller, wood paneled room off of the dining room. The master bedroom has a massive closet and door length mirrors. The living room is nicely sized with a fireplace, and opens directly into the dining room. Both rooms have built in cabinetry and big wall-length windows. The kitchen has a washer and dryer and even a gas range. Then there are all these features I'm not used to needing - like a tiny room that connects the front door to the living room which keeps the cold air out, and a three-season porch off the kitchen that functions as an un-heated room for storage and, well, three-seasons of usage. I have a nice little patio area, and then a garage to keep my car snow-free. The yard has two big trees which will be nice for shade in the summer, and plenty of space in the front to walk around with Bailey. There are no fences, so she'll be leashed most all of the time now. Besides how awesome my house is on the inside, its location is perfect. My house is down the street from the grocery store (by three houses or so), two blocks up from the main downtown drag, and really close to a handful of my co-workers. I can walk to any bar, restaurant, or even the co-op within ten minutes, I'm certain.
So really, regardless of how I feel right now about Christmas I do have my house to look forward to, and soon enough I'll be returned to Bailey. There's even a New Years Eve party via some co-workers. Win! And the new year brings so much more in the way of adventures - the Iowa caucus (of which I'll be attending - the Democratic one, at least) is January 3rd, then it'll snow more and I'll get to try cross-country skiing, ice skating on real lakes, and shoveling my walkway!
So dear friends, have a very merry Christmas and a fantastic new year celebration. See you in 2012!
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Now in Iowa, I find myself lost between what I used to know and what's reality, and I can't help but see a lot of good in this. In a way, I'm being forced to grow up - to see Christmas as it is, and to understand the realities of it without needing to cover them up. I've moved away from the 'getting-stuff' mentality and stopped the sugar-coated lies to make sure everyone stays warm and happy. I've started to be able to process the emotions I feel surrounding the holidays, and to reconcile the realities with my expectations of Christmas. And best of all, I'm able to completely rebuild what the holidays mean to me, to re-discover what I find as important during the holidays, and to create new traditions.
Friday night was the work holiday party - and with Christmas music, drinks and food - it was lovely to be able to meet and mingle with my co-workers. It started to snow after the party, and I spent too much time gazing up at it, letting it fall on my face and melt there. As soon as I got back to my house, I put on my real winter boots and wandered around the farm, marveling at the snow and realizing that my new Christmas will be white. And yesterday, Matt and Katie came down from Rochester to wander around the Seed Savers farm with me. We had pizza and beer in town, and afterward went to Burning Bright - an amazing locally derived holiday concert. With choral pieces and instrumentals performed in front of a packed audience in a small church off main street, the holidays couldn't feel more cheerful. I went to sleep supremely happy, thankful to have found some holiday cheer and friendship that I was so desperately needing.
This year the holidays are definitely a lot different, but so are a lot of things for me now. I'm confident that many good things will come of the change - new adventures, new traditions, and new friendships. I look forward to the only Christmas gift I want this year - getting my dog and bringing her back to Iowa with me. I'm so lucky as to have found a place for us to live, and I can't wait to show her, to see what she thinks of the snow, and to have all my new friends met her. More on the new house later - I'll officially move in after Christmas, and will be able to share pictures then.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
But there are great differences, and they've come at me in unexpected ways. I'll give you a sample:
-I drove to Calmar today to look at a house. It was a very nice house in a very small community only ten miles from Decorah, about a 25 minute drive. But after living here only a week and a half, that seems like so far away.
- You don't recycle glass here. There's not much that can be done with it, there's no market for it, so you just reuse it or toss it out.
- Places close early. Walmart is open 24 hours, and Walmart has everything - which I guess is a bonus for someone who is used to late hours and not having to cram shopping in between the end of work and the start of dinner.
- Phone coverage sucks. Because I'm off of AT&T's network, I can only use 24MB of my unlimited data before they get mad - so in actuality, using data on my phone is no longer an option.
- I don't know if this is rural living or a Midwestern thing, but they do not believe in toilet seat covers here.
I've found that people call each other more often than email, and smart phones are hard to come by anyway. So not only does it seem like rural life disconnects me from my previous long hours of internet life, but from digital connections that seemed so meaningful before. Maybe this is why Decorah seems to have so much more of a community about itself - you talk to people, connect on the phone, walk to the store to get what you need instead of looking up the information online. And maybe this will be good for me - a kind of forceful rejection of my previous, computer loving ways in favor of more people-connected activities that create communities. Or more reading, which is a solitary venture sure - but I can always read in a coffee shop or library where other people are around, and I can always read other people's books to talk about with later.
One last note before I go to bed (bed time seems to be getting earlier and earlier, oddly enough): everyone talks about the weather. And in that spirit, it's been warm enough that it's raining - not snowing - and all the snow that was here before melted. I'm going to try to not slip on all the puddles when they ice over tomorrow.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit company that was founded with the idea of preserving seed that has a national heritage in an effort to protect genetic diversity of historically important vegetables, herbs and flowers. This is done through connecting people from around the country with like minded goals through membership in Seed Savers. Members can list what seeds they are willing to offer, and each year a Yearbook is printed and shared with each member of Seed Savers so that they can directly request seed from each other, including seed that Seed Savers Exchange preserves.
Heirloom seeds often have a history of being passed down through generations in a family, specifical culture, or within a group of people. Seed Savers helps with this mission by preserving many of the seeds through regeneration efforts at Heritage Farm, where I work. For many years, people from all over have sent in seeds with their stories, which Seed Savers then cultivates and saves for years to come. Seed Savers also evaluates different crops each year, taking immense amounts of data on plant growth, plant growth type, fruit and seed - and taking plenty of pretty pictures, too.
I work mostly in preservation, which is why my understanding of the company focuses mostly on that. There are other, more visible parts too - if you request a catalog you can order any number of heirloom vegetable and flower seed to grow yourself, wherever you are. You don't have to be a member for this part. Additionally, Seed Savers runs programs that gives seeds to non-profits looking to start community gardens, encourages garden programs in schools, and runs education programs at the visitor center at Heritage Farm. Several events are put on each year to help educate the public and members about seed saving, such as an Apple Grafting workshop and Seed Saving workshop. [... Seed Savers also maintains an orchard of historic apples as well as a herd of White Park Cattle that almost went extinct and heirloom chickens in the summertime].
My official title is Horticulture Technician for Education and Outreach. As I understand it, I'm going to get involved in a lot of different things - just the way I like it. I'm going to plan and plant the demonstration gardens at the visitor center, help with displays about plant preservation inside the visitor center, help create education out reach materials for members and visitors, and keep abreast of the many projects my department is doing so that the website can be up to date. I'm also going to help out a great deal with evaluation of some of the collection - specifically corn. This involves planting, taking care of, hand pollinating, and measuring everything about the corn and the corn kernels. This last year they did 25 or so different varieties, with at least 200 plants per variety. Whee!
There's a lot to this company, and I barely understand all of it. But I'm beyond excited to be working here - it's pretty much my dream job, where I get to work with plants AND people, making people happier with plants and getting a little dirty myself. How did I come to be so lucky?
Friday, December 9, 2011
I did learn, however, that summers are hot and humid. See, I have no fear of the cold. I think it's exciting. I was pleased that it was 4 degrees when I left the house today, and there was a windchill of 0 when I was coming home. But hot and humid? This is what I fear. I can do dry heat, no problem. But humidity is a beast all of it's own, and I have no idea how to prepare myself for that.
Aside from the weather ...
Last night, I went to a need-felting class at ArtHaus, a creative-art and theater work/etc type of studio downtown. It was really fantastic! A handful of women were there, and we all needle felted Christmas ornaments. It was so fantastic to be socializing with such friendly people and to make crafts! I felt so happy after. I made a little tree for the bear on my desk, and this adorable owl for my mini-tree in my room:
ArtHaus is awesome. They offer all kinds of awesome artsy classes, as well as yoga. I'm already planning on signing up for almost everything - especially a silk scarf printing class! And how about beginning Spanish through reading?
In further 'Christy is leaving the house!' news, the other 'new guy at work' came into town this weekend with his girlfriend and dog, so my house won't be as lonely! And guess what's trippy? They're coming from Davis, too! This makes three Davis related people at Seed Savers Exchange, though one of them is moving back mid-January. Weird though, right? I'm excited to know people who understand where I'm coming from, and I'm really happy to have someone else that's starting out new - it helps with the whole 'making new friends' thing because we're in the same boat.
I'm working on making new friends. Even though two of my co-workers are leaving in the next few weeks, I'm joining them to go to some small town around here for Algerian food tomorrow. I've forced my phone number on a handful of people, and hope that the 'oh hey, yea, I don't know anybody in town and I need some friends since one can only eat alone so many times' thing works.
... no news on housing. I did make a contact with a Realtor, so he's going to let me know if he hears anything. I'm trying!
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Thankfully, these types of events are rare, and if any sort of snow happens in July it's more likely to be a light dusting ... which I also learned is the type of snow I've experienced earlier this week, and that you don't need boots to walk through. Well, I'm wearing my snow boots (my nicer looking ones anyway, the ones I mean to wear when it's not too bad weather-wise outside). And in anticipation for tomorrow's weather, I put my liner back into the rest of the winter coat.
Tomorrow's weather will be (drum roll please) ... with a wind chill of -10 to -15. So not only do I get to experience wind chill for the first time, but a particularly chilly one!
I went for a walk this morning, not too bad. And then I caught a co-worker as she was running out the door, and made sure to look at the weather when I got back so I could report how cold it was when I wasn't wearing a hat or a jacket: feeling like 9, and actually 21 (or something around there).
People talk about the weather a lot here. So, to follow trends, you get this post. And I'll report on how tomorrow goes later, and then write a post about what seed savers is, exactly. Probably this weekend. I have plans to socialize tonight, and possibly tomorrow night! Look at me!
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
At ten I went for a walk with some office folk, and found it to be a little windy. But my jacket kept me warm, and only my cheeks were a little cold. It was somewhere in the lower 20s. I've looked up the forecast for the week, and because most of the cloud cover is gone, it's going to get colder ... down to the teens on Friday. The interesting thing about this is that when the fancy phone application explaining weather gets to this date, there is no 'partly cloudy' icon - but instead, a little blue bubble that says 'cold'. I'm excited to see what it feels like. I'm half tempted to go outside at night when it gets to the single digits to see what that feels like, but I may have to experience that during the day so ... I'll wait.
The one thing I wish that stupid phone application did was tell me what it feels like ... because with wind chill and humidity, it often feels colder than it is, and that's the shit that matters.
At work, I feel somewhat important. I have projects of my own, I'm included on projects with others, and what I say and think matters. I know this is probably what I was hired for, but it's so different than before that it's still surprising to me. I like it. And I love this company, and I love what we're doing, and I feel so lucky to be here. And taken aback, in part too, because hundreds of people are going to read what I write and see what I contribute. Eeeks! I just wish that intrinsic knowledge that comes from doing this job came from a book, because then I wouldn't have to know so little going into this year. Like, when does one harvest various vegetables? BUT - I also realized that this job is what I need to make what I've learned mean something, it's the hands on knowledge that gives power to what I know. So either way, I'm going to learn a lot and enjoy this job.
I'm including a picture of my desk and view. The picture was dark because I was using my phone and it was during the afternoon, but you can still get the idea. It's ah-mazing. And apparently in the spring, they keep the cows having baby cows up by the office, so I can see them everyday too. YES.
I miss my friends in California. I crave friendship. The adventure I'm on is solitary - I work, then go to the house and attempt to try new things. I'm doing what I can in winter - I went knitting on Monday night, I'm going to a 'Make Your Own' ornament workshop tomorrow, and plan on trying out the library and the post office soon, too. I am thinking of taking myself out to eat this weekend, and maybe coaxing co-workers into something of that nature too. Apparently they went dancing last night, and may go bowling tonight - next week I'm invited for the dancing and I'm excited.
I have been researching Decorah and shit to do here as if it were a term paper. I have so many magazines, websites, names and numbers of everything ... if this place could use a wiki (which it could), I could make it with what I'm attempting to figure out. Eventually that proves useful, right? And really, I need to remind myself that I haven't even been here a week. Friendships take a while to build, and housing may take time to discover. But no matter what, I'm not being left out int he cold, I like my job, and I have some access to internet where I can connect with my old life. Though, the limited internet access isn't all that bad ... I'm getting lots of reading time!
It feels weird for it to be Christmas, since it's so not a part of my life right now. I did buy a mini tree for my room, and I put an ornament on my desk and am starting to write Christmas cards. But without internet, I can't listen to the music. So to make myself happy last night, I watched the old version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer - which was on sale in a set from Walmart. Oh yes, dear friends - I am to become a Walmart shopper. It has everyone one needs in a small town. With time, I'll figure out more shopping options - but at least for now, I know where the Walmart is, and I know what I can get there if I need things.
But here's what's really important, friends - I'm going to be giving a webinar in July on how to hand-pollinate corn, and I expect all of you to attend. Because of course, all of you care. I'm excited, in any case, heh.
Monday, December 5, 2011
I made a delicious lunch to take with me (one must be prepared for anything) - sandwich with DELICIOUS local bread, co-op hummus (omgz, this chipotle humus is THE SHIT) and turkey with other lunch items, then wandered up the hill to work. Oh, did I not tell you? I get to meander up a wooded path every day for work, one covered in little woodland creature tracks and deer prints. Um, yea. Awesome.
I realized today that I've never had a job of this caliber, starting out in this way. I got my very own company email address, my very own desk and computer - and everyone came to introduce themselves to me and seemed interested in myself. And let me tell you, my desk is kick ass. It's in the front portion of the 'office building that's more like a house', perpendicular to this massive window that looks over a large portion of the farm. Because it's in the front part of the house, not only do I get an amazing view but I also get to be friendly with everyone that comes and goes from work! I'm ridiculously excited.
At lunch, everyone gathers in the kitchen to heat up things and sit around big tables, conversing. At the afternoon and morning breaks, groups of people go for a quick walk around the farm or orchard. Everyone is so friendly and helpful - I learned that there are really awesome thrift stores, that I've been trying the wrong grocery stores and that you can pay your yearly co-op share but it doesn't matter if you make the full amount in the end. People are starting to ask around about possible housing for me and my dog, and I've already asked about dog play dates. Um, awesome.
After work, I found a welcome packet at the co-op (with glorious things like contra dancing classes, people. Contra dancing ... I am so there.) Then I went to the knit night, where a lovely group of women had no problem letting me come in and knit right there with them. They were making some rather amazing stuff, while I'm just making this for my brother ... it's almost embarrassing, really:
Anyway - I had a good first day at work, almost slipped once (damn surfaces are slippery as shit after the snow melts!) and otherwise feel welcome and pleased with things. I ventured outside when it was below 30, and I'm still alive. I've learned to bring shoes if I don't want to wear boots all day, and I'm going to personally justify the use of snow boots instead of shoes since I've never had to regularly walk on snow before. Never mind the overkill, I'm from California. Tomorrow, it's going to be colder with highs in the upper 20s. I got this.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Today was an extremely successful day.
It snowed overnight, so I got to try out my new ice scraper! I also now understand the true usefulness of a defroster ... I only hope that next time it snows and freezes, I will be able to pry open my door again without resorting to heated water treatments. I'm not holding my breath.
My car is fitted with new tires and ready for the cold as far as I can tell. I'm almost ready too - today I found out that snow is crunchy, and when the ground is exposed it doesn't necessarily mean it's safer. It actually is quite slippery.
I found the local co-op, and the smell of the place and familiarity of the products made me feel at home. It's quite a bit smaller, but they have good stuff there. I still have a few more grocery stores to try out before I find my main digs ... like Davis, things are a little bit more expensive at the co-op.
I got a newspaper, and have called every rental listing only to find that no one wants Bailey to live with me. But people here own dogs, so I called every real estate agency (like ten) to see if they could help me find a rental for us. Bailey will be with me no matter what you say, Decorah!
I also explored the grounds at Seed Savers Exchange - I'm staying at the farm house until I find my own place, and the farm house is up the hill from the big red barn and visitors center, and down the hill from the offices where I will be working. So I went to try out these paths, and kept going along the Oak Woodland path. It was awesome - a snow laden forest with deer prints all over! I even scared off a small group of them. The imagery of this place is the stuff of postcards and calendars, and it feels amazing to be tramping all over such scenic spaces. So pretty.
My favorite part of Decorah so far is this gigantic windmill for wind power that sits opposite of the town (wtf are they called? Windmills make me think of old wooden things, not big white modern ones). There's just the one, and it just looks so odd all by itself. I love it.
Until I get my computer hooked up with internet, here's just one picture for you of my woodland hike this morning - view of the grounds at Seed Savers Exchange.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
I am finally in Decorah, Iowa!
Travel was easy - my car is a trooper, and the bike didn't fly off either! It did earn me many funny looks, however. Understandable. Who takes a beat up looking bike across the country at the beginning of winter?
Natalie waved me off early Thursday morning. I enjoyed noting the differences between the plant communities on the eastern and western sides of the Sierras, which was good since there was little vegetation to see the rest of the way. Reno looked exciting, but the rest of Nevada was not. There were also very long stretches of highway without gas ... only a close call to empty, but with over quarter of a tank I thought I would be okay! I wish Nevada used those 'next services in X miles' signs. Utah was pretty (the salt flats were awesome!) - but it got dark going in to Salt Lake City, and people were unfriendly so I slept over in Park City, Utah instead. I left early enough to miss a storm, but also didn't get to see how pretty it was. I got a little snow in Wyoming, but not much over the Rockies. Blowing snow, instead - but this meant clear skies to enjoy the view. Nebraska was boring, so I kept driving past dinner and got a deal on a room in Lincoln, NE. Heading into Iowa, a sign welcomed me followed by rain that became snow. Here's a point of interest i learned while getting gas in that sort of weather - my leather boots have no traction. Luckily, no full slips and the snow let up as I got closer to Decorah, leaving only rain.
I'm settled in my temporary housing, missing the familiarity of Davis and California. But I got a little Christmas tree from Walmart for my room and set up all my things to feel as much at home as possible. This place is just so different, and the Midwest is so unfamiliar to me. But so far, it's pretty. And not that cold.
I got an ice scraper first thing, and better windshield wiper fluid. I learned while going over the Rockies that the stuff can freeze, which isn't useful for dirty truck snow on my window.
Tomorrow, I plan on getting more weather appropriate tires, finding a grocery store I like, and beginning the search for housing. Eventually I will have internet, and can share some photos of the drive. No pictures of food though ... you understand why. In the meantime, a picture of my room as homey as can be.