Friday, January 27, 2012

What 'settled' actually means.

I think that finally most of the dust has settled upon my move to Decorah. I must point out that this doesn't mean that I'm not still very excited by the prospect of snow or that I don't learn new things everyday and get excited about them (because I mean, we are talking about me here, me who happens to get very excited by most everything, small things included).

However, this does mean that uncomfortable feelings are more easily surfaced, and the reality of what my life is compared to before is no longer hidden from view by all the excitement. This is not to say that I don't love my life in Decorah, because I do very much so. I really like the new friends I'm making - just Tuesday I had a handful over to play Settlers and eat coq au vin (I had a bit of wine left over from my beef and barley stew, and thought that this would be the best application of it. It was freaking delicious, so it was.) I like the community I live in, I really like my job, I like that I can walk everywhere, I like my house and I feel good about these things.

It's just that, no matter how much you like living alone, it can feel rather lonely. And this could be for many reasons, reasons that make sense and simply indicate the growing pains in life. Like, I haven't ever lived alone before, so no one's there to ask how your day was in the evenings and offer simple interactions that connect you to people. I am thousands of miles away from friends I used to see almost daily, could walk across the street to drink tea with, have weekly girls nights with chic flicks and a bottle of wine, or hang out every Friday on the back porch with to contemplate life. And I'm also working through a lot of emotional, personal, and spiritual things that have come up and challenged me and my way of life in the past year or so that also happen to pull me into myself and away from people.

I purchased this for myself today as a reminder when things get tough to keep going.

Yes, in the days of Facebook and phones everyone is theoretically a phone call away, but people are busy - and sometimes it's out of sight, out of mind. And this isn't inherently a problem - because I do connect on the phone with these friends back in California, and I'm not actually spending a lot of time home alone anyway because I have friends here who like to do things and there are plenty of community things to do. But, it still can feel rather lonely. I haven't completely adjusted yet.

I'm doing several things to keep me busy - one of which is politics. Last night was the Winneshiek County Committee that I'm now serving on. It was interesting, and gave the opportunity to get involved in politics in a way that matters. I'm going to be serving on the Youth Initiative Committee (as one of the youngest individuals there, and the youngest woman, it was pretty easy for everyone to push me and my fellow SSE committee member onto that committee - but I'm actually okay with that) and on the Get Out the Vote committee. I'm also going to volunteer for Obama. I've realized, through many things, that I've lived my life quiety - afraid to speak my mind or really show what I believe and why. But here, one is encouraged to speak up, to share, and to discuss - in a civil way - what you think and why. And that's fun, and I'm thinking that doing such could be good for my confidence and personal growth.

I leave you with a picture of a print I purchased from a co-worker and new friend. She's a part of that print making group I mentioned last time, and they had a showing last night. Their work is really great - so I got a few prints. This one, in particular, has a good story behind it - and I may end up bartering for it by teaching her how to needle felt (including giving her a needle, wool, and having her over for dinner to do such). I find myself coming to know all of these really smart people who happen to be quite talented and creative outside of work, which inspires me to be creative because everyone here is so damn supportive of it.

Titled 'Lovey Dovey"
Speaking of which, I may have cracked my sciencey-hard-as-rock-creativity-isn't-allowed cover. No promises made yet, but I may share a poem I wrote a while ago at a poetry slam next month. How about them apples?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Adventure, all the time.

Upon coming to Iowa, I completely underestimated the amount of things I would be experiencing and doing that are pretty much awesome. I knew that snow (and snow related activities) would be a part of the adventure, but I find myself, on a very consistent basis, asking myself several things: how did I got here, who are these people, and what exactly am I doing? All of this in a 'I can't quite believe this, but it's still awesome' kind of way.

Let me explain. 

Last Tuesday I went dancing at Nob Hill. I had heard there were a lot of old people and that the band played mostly old stuff, but in my oh-so-hopeful way I thought it'd be Frank Sinatra type of old, stuff you can foxtrot to, and maybe some waltz and swing. The band, called the Memory Bros, played two-step the entire time. I only know night club two step, so my friends and I proceeded to 'dance' around on a corner of the dance floor, and when I recognized a cha-cha I taught them that. It was fun, in a ridiculous kind of way, and the band was happy to have us 'young people from Seed Savers Exchange' there. Some of those folks can really dance and bust out with all kinds of line dances, but I couldn't keep up enough to learn them. At the very least, we got free cake out of it - one of the dancers had his 88th birthday!

I had a much better dancing experience this Saturday night at the Mid-Winter Contra dance. With lots of spinning, skipping, and awesome music (live, with fiddler and everything) - how could you not love contra dancing? You don't even have to really know what you're doing or even have a partner. I can't wait to continue contra dancing in the spring and summer when it's done more regularly (and apparently in an old school house somewhere outside of town!)

Towards the end of last week it snowed just enough to go sledding, so on Saturday I met my friends outside of town to do such. We grabbed the plastic sleds, walked through the herd of cows to get to the hill (they wouldn't let me pet them), and climbed up the hill to sled. There wasn't enough snow to cover the  bumps along the way down or to create a good pack, but I still giggled like a school girl the entire time (to which my friends made fun of since we apparently weren't even going that fast). I did learn that I really need snow pants, and that if snow gets down your pants it's useful to get it out as soon as possible - no matter how ridiculous you look. But I did experience one of the best things about sledding - going back inside where it's warm to drink hot chocolate and watch a movie. It was fantastic.
Isn't it beautiful?
On Sunday, I helped a friend with a prairie restoration project by wandering around a hill and spreading prairie plant seed. Doing it with a little bit of snow makes it easier because you can tell what you've missed, and the weather warmed up just enough let the seeds sink through the snow to the soil underneath, providing vernalization. He's also using goats (of which he has two that live out there) to help facilitate the restoration. This project comes with experimental design (including a control) and the added bonus of hopefully pregnant and thus milk-able goats to make organic goat cheese. I've been feeding the goats this week, and they also won't let me pet them. But come on - who has friends that have goats, and designs experiments with them, and feeds them organic hay so they can make organic milk?
Me with Freya and Terra!
In fact, Seed Savers Exchange is filled with people like this. A co-worker spent almost two years wwoofing in Australia, and then wrote (and self-published) a book about. Another is starting her own farm and bunny operation. My California buddy is moving back to Davis to start a farm with friends. Another built himself a house that's tiny and movable. The facilities manager called off his winter-camping vacation to be with one of his employees as he was getting a kidney transplant, three years in the wait for. Another whipped up an entire fancy party full of appetizers, as if no big deal and definitely something to rival any fancy restaurant. Another one is writing and producing a whole radio show because he likes old time radio shows. Quite a handful are in a block printing group and are opening a show at an art gallery next week - I happened to buy and send a card to a California friend before I was aware that a coworker made it!

And so, being around all these passionate people is rather inspiring. I want to follow passions I never thought I could before, I feel driven to live my life better and with purpose, and I'm learning to appreciate my creative side. I feel more social pressure to be conscious of the power behind my spending decisions, to think about what I eat and what I do - and that's good. Plus, these people are really nice and friendly - I've only been here a month and already received all kinds of support. They're also ridiculously non-judgmental - like that creative side thing. I don't think I can sing worth shit but they all seem to think that's fine.

And so I'd have to say I'm settling in and trying as hard as I can to live up to the motivation of this blog - undaunted conviction towards the adventure ahead. I think I'm doing pretty well so far. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Midwestern Foods.

Pot lucks are a big deal around here, and in the month I've been here I've been to at least five. While plant people cook delicious things, there are some Midwestern delights that I've been discovering and I thought I would take the time to share with you.

The biggest deal, so far, is the taco pizza.

This is a pizza that, in addition to the normal cheese and tomato sauce, is loaded with shredded lettuce and crushed Doritos after it's done cooking. When you're ready to chow down, squirt taco sauce all over the top of that and consume. I tried it because I felt like I had to. And it wasn't very good. In fact, all pizza here is really quite awful. We're talking cheap-grocery-store-pizza-that's-sort-of-reheated-and-delivered-to-you awful.

What you see here is two day old taco pizza, and to 'jazz it up' a bit, my coworkers added some cheese dip and freshly crushed tortilla chips. And of course, more taco sauce.

I don't necessarily dislike midwestern food, but I don't really want to eat it. And since I'm trying really hard to not spend money, I haven't been going out anyway - I instead stick to my super-ific bachelor eating style. I make a big dish of something delicious to eat during the week for lunches, but I get rather lazy and cost-efficient with dinners - yogurt and toast, maybe some pasta if I'm adventurous, or canned soup if I have it. And because I've only been living in my place a few weeks, I haven't much in the way of spices. It's actually kind of sad and hilarious, all at the same time.

I haven't really started to miss any California food yet, though I've been feeling the craving for a good burrito coming on. I'm not desperate enough yet to try what Decorah has to offer. But, I did get to eat in town today and I had a really excellent sandwich made with castrated roosters and muenster! I want to go back and eat everything 'Ede's and the Angry Pickle' has to offer, actually.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Today it really snowed - upwards of six inches. And it was pretty awesome.

It's pretty deep, but oh-so-fluffy.

I discovered that it's really hard to concentrate at work when a snow storm is taking place outside. Especially when it's fluffy, powdery, jump through me snow. A good deal of my co-workers didn't come into work, and half of those that did left early. And because I haven't been sleeping very much, I find myself staring at the snow more than usual today.

I'm still really terrified to drive in the snow, and I have decided that the next time it snows, I'll will carpool. My body hasn't released the tension from the drive here, and is tensing up in anticipation of the drive home. I blame my weak-ass California sensibilities.

Otherwise, I have learned that just because it's says it's heavy snow, that doesn't mean the snow is heavy. In fact, because it's really cold the snow is 'dry' and powdery, and you can't make snowballs or snowmen out of it. Heavy snow fall just means a lot of snow fall.

I have failed to learn (and remember) that the insides of cars are cold. I'm used to the inside of my car being a bit colder than the inside of my house, but here - it's like being outside. It's really cold.

I have learned, somewhat in the difficult way, that you shouldn't touch metal without gloves. As in, when you're getting gas in the morning it's rather painful to touch the damn handle because there's metal there.

I have also learned that if there is enough snow, you can run and jump into it as if it's a body of water and it won't hurt, so when you go sledding it's not a problem to bail. I think this one will take a bit longer to really believe.

I have also experienced snot-freezing cold, and it feels like just what you'd imagine it feels like. Really cold, in a very weird way.

And so, this is the experience of a Californian during a winter storm.

This picture was taken because there are three of us here from California (although one of them is leaving this weekend to head back to Davis. That's right - all three of us Californians are from Davis, though the one staying here didn't live there very long). All three of us have Hondas as well, and I don't see very many Hondas around town.

There's a possibility of sledding this weekend, or (finally!) cross country skiing. I'll remember to bring my camera this time, and hopefully get snow pants beforehand.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I finally have internet, which makes my house seem a few steps closer to feeling like home. I really, really need more furniture - you'll notice how empty my house looks as it is now. I have been trying my hardest - but it's not garage sale season, and I found out (the hard way) that my doorway is narrow. It's a shame I had to find this out with a nice couch the co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange gave me. What makes this story better for you (and worse for me) is that the couch got ripped a bit in the process of discovering this fact, despite removing the front door and various door frame parts. And what happens then? Give the couch back, now that she can't even sell it or give it to someone else? It's like I'm on a mission to embarrass myself in every way possible at Seed Savers Exchange ... I think I'll need to take a sick day when the board members visit.

In any case, here are a few pictures of my house - I've put them in this Picasa album because the formatting will be better. It's a pretty awesome looking house, isn't it?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Welcome to Winter.

Yesterday, I experienced my first true winter storm. I don't know how much it actually snowed, but enough to cover everything in white and make the sidewalk indistinguishable from the street before the snowplows came. It's like I live in a Christmas card, with the snow softly falling outside, building up on my window panes, and making everything look wintery. It's gorgeous.

As soon as the sun came up, I took Bailey outside and we stomped around the front yard. Bailey LOVES the snow. She gets really playful, running and jumping around. Eventually she discovered you can eat snow, which makes her whole snow experience even more hilarious. Because it's really powdery, she does this half-bite half-sneeze grab into snow piles, and then it builds up on her whiskers and makes her look like she's been doing some illegal recreational activities.

Because a lot of my co-workers live in town, and town is incredibly small, we set up a small carpool and this week was my week to drive. When I was living in the Farmhouse, I wouldn't leave until I heard the snowplows go by, so I had to ask my carpooling buddy if I had to wait for them in town too. It's a gift I give, these moments of complete winter ignorance, that my coworkers (and you!) can laugh about later because no, you don't wait. You just go. Snowplowers, as I have now learned, are incredibly unreliable.

And well, I have now learned why driving in snow is absolutely terrifying.

I like to think that I just got a little squirrely, but carpooling buddy has been describing it as a spin out. And see, the difference to me is that I just sort of slid around a little bit, in and out of my lane (and the next lane) until I stopped moving and could proceed as normal. I didn't end up in a ditch or hit anything, but I did learn that ice is fucking slippery as shit. And while I felt rather embarrassed for slipping around (because of course, I reacted in every wrong way possible), I found out later that another coworker did a 360 in the same spot, and another one ended up in the ditch at that same spot too (he's fine). So after work, my friends took me out around town and out into the country to work on my snow driving. We didn't practice spinning out or anything, but just got me used to driving in the snow and on slippery surfaces, getting over drifts left in the middle of the road, and navigating slippery hills on both upward and downward trajectories. I'm still terrified, but I feel a little better, and have learned that it doesn't matter if you're a little late to things - go as slow as you need to in order to be safe. If you're safe and slow, then you won't spin out.

I'm also going to try to keep my California plates for the rest of winter, hoping it'll serve as a sort of explanation to the Iowans around me as to why I'm going so very slow. And maybe warn them to keep their distance.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Everybody knows everybody else.

One of the things I'm enjoying the most is that there is a really significant sense of community here. Everyone not only seems to know everyone else, but it matters. For example, I went to the democratic Iowan caucus on Tuesday in order to learn how it works and to make some suggestions for platform resolutions. Twenty-eight people for my section of town showed up, and since I had met the two men running the group before and they remembered me, I was sort of volunteered into doing more than I expected. I realized after the fact that I can't expect to just disappear into the crowd anymore, but now I can say I'm trying new things! Like going to the county caucus and attending monthly Winneshiek County Democratic meetings. Apparently Iowans are political anyway, so really I'm just trying to fit in. And the caucus was a really neat experience - it's actually really cool to be involved with ideas at the starting level - the resolutions we passed will go onto the county caucus, and from there the state and up to the national. Building the platform issues!

Because Decorah is so small, it ends up being that everyone lives really close to each other, and knows where everyone lives too. I'm pretty sure I pass at least four co-worker's houses on the morning walk with my dog if I head towards the fairgrounds, and if I go the other way I get into the historic district and pass pretty churches and houses. Even more, the librarian at my work knew the people who lived in the house before me. The most hilarious part of this all to me is the phone book. I got the 2012 version in my PO Box, all 56 pages of it as a little booklet no bigger than a DVD case. That's no phone book - you couldn't stop a door with that!

I'm slowly building my personal community, starting with co-worker friendships. I'm lucky that most of my co-workers are about my age, are social, and live in town. It's rather fun to be able to call up someone to meet at a bar only a block away from both, or wander a block in the other direction to watch a movie. Today, a handful of us went to the Yellow River to hike around the state forest. Bailey absolutely loved being able to run around unleashed, and I enjoyed the beautiful view and gorgeous weather (it was in the mid-forties! and sunny!). I saw a bald eagle that was quite majestic, a very large tree that beavers had chewed down, and even waded across the creek - in the cold January waters! We crammed two dogs and four people into my little honda, but lucky for me the guys got stuck with my smelly dog on the way back. There are a few more holes in my car ceiling as they discovered her drive to catch reflections of shiney things, however.

And while I like all this community stuff a lot, I find it's not always easy for me. The hardest part about creating communities is the newness of it all and my apprehension of putting myself out there. Plus, I have a tendency to get really overwhelmed if I encounter too much of the unfamiliar and new. On my first day here, I almost had a complete break down. I needed to get things in town and I wanted to explore, but nothing was familiar to me and I started to feel closed in. In a weird way, the co-op smelled like Davis Co-Op and the Walmart looked very similar to the one in Dixon, so wandering around in both made me feel a little less lost. With time, I found I could experience more and more of the new as places became recognizable, but I find myself having the same reactions with new friends and people. I've had plenty of opportunites to meet new people and make new friends, and I have really been trying to push myself to get involved and ignore the apprehension. I really like my new co-workers and have really enjoyed becoming friends with them, I went to a church this morning and met more people, I've become recognizable to those involved with the county's democratic party, and I'm starting a yoga class later this week. But sometimes I find myself tightening up again, especially when I open up to new people as you do when you make new friends. After I shared a lot about myself on Friday I found myself closing in on myself today, apprehensive of exposing myself and longing for a place where I don't feel so vulnerable. I know it's fine, and I have no need to feel this way - but the reaction to the new is there, and it's more notable when there's nowhere not-new to seek refuge in.

And with being new in a new community, I was reminded at church today that it is also a new year. I know what I've left in 2011, and I know that pieces of it are still apart of me in 2012, but I'm grateful for the reminder to think about what I want this year to be for me and to plan for that. I'm in such a unique position to really be starting new in 2012, so I need to make sure I sit down with this thought process and take advantage of what I can do. Part of it, of course, is learning to live here in Decorah. And so far, so good on that [... except that my house still needs a decent amount of furniture, and I find myself missing random important things like a can opener just when I need it]. But another part of it is really coming into my own because I have this wonderful opportunity to rebuild myself, to be what I want to be and take what I've learned from 2011 and keep going with it. Plus, I find my co-workers and this community really inspiring. Everyone cares about the environment and thinks about agriculture along the same lines that I do. And unlike in California, I feel like I can take my passions and these things I care about and do something about them in a way that will matter. It's an exciting feeling, and the spark is only just beginning to ignite the possiblities within me. I didn't realize when I left Davis that I could become fired up like this, but I like it.

I'm really glad to be here right now. Despite the craziness of moving to Iowa, I really think it's going to work out well for me. And I have only, now once, fallen on my ass due to ice. So far so good for being here a whole month!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The bachelor pad.

Living alone is awesome. Granted, it hasn't been very long - but so far I love it. Living alone and finally having a place of my own was a part of the 'big adventure of moving forward in life' that I had been waiting so very long for. It just so happens to be in Iowa. And there are reasons that it's so very exciting to me - aside from not having to do my dishes every time I dirty one. I have always centered my home life around my room. Living at 'home', I spent all of my free time in my room - between homework, reading, internet, and talking on the phone it was my little world. In college, most all of my belongings were in my room, and 'shared spaces' weren't relaxing nor usable by me. After college, having housemates didn't change things - only that I no longer had to share my room. So now I finally have my own space, my own living room and couch to relax on, my own kitchen to cook in - everything of my own.

I can leave my dishes in the sink until it's full because I find this more efficient. And I don't have to feel guilty for leaving dirty dishes, and when I decide to do them, it's not that much of a chore because there aren't many and they're all mine. Other chores like vacuuming and sweeping the floors don't seem like a big deal, and make me feel like I'm 'playing house'. I want to vacuum my curtains (they're really dusty), and since I have seven sets of ceiling to floor curtains I can do them when I feel like it and don't have to put the vacuum away in between. I also don't have to make my bed every morning because I never really saw the point in it. And I can leave my knitting right next to the couch for doing a row here and there, as well as my books and anything else I own. All of these little things turn out to be quite fantastic.

I forgot to mention in the last post why my microwave-less kitchen may be of some importance. While I mostly only make the morning oatmeal, I found myself in charge of making popcorn last week for a Friday movie viewing at work. I'm sure you can all see where this is going, and the lesson I have learned is that you shouldn't trust what the internet tells you, and never trust me to make popcorn. I had read that you could pop popcorn in a paper bag with some oil, and so the HR person and myself tried this method since the stove top way wasn't working. She left momentarily to use the restroom, and while I was wrestling with the stove-top popping I noticed a fire had started in the microwave. Panic set in as I didn't know where the fire extinguisher in the kitchen is and knew that moving the fire to the sink wasn't going to work. Plus, my first reaction was to remove the oxygen from around the fire, which is surely both do-able and the most efficient way to stop the fire. The Executive Director (doesn't that make this story so much better?) tells me to take it outside, so I pick up the flaming bag of popcorn (and this is a big bag, because it's the only one I could find), and I toss it on the deck where he proceeds to stomp it out. I was mortified. This was the end of my third week on the job and not only do I fail at making popcorn, but I try to set the kitchen on fire. Thankfully, I was able to come back to work yesterday, and even better no one has really said anything - so there's a possibility that it'll all be forgotten anyway. Therefore, in outfitting my own home with appliances I have decided that I can wait on purchasing a microwave.

Everything (despite the fire) is becoming so adult in my life, and in such a good way. Not only do I love living alone, but I had a fantastic New Years Eve. I felt incredibly grown up and wonderful, wearing a fancy dress and heels, drinking fancy (and very delicious) drinks, and talking with new friends - I couldn't have had a better start to 2012 if I tried. So with all of these grown up things happening around me, it's only fitting that I try to set a kitchen on fire.

In what will now be a traditional closing (weather), we have not had an epic snow, nor has it dropped below zero. I know I am shooting myself in the foot for saying this, but I feel as though I have been lied to. My long underwear are still unused and new, and while it's been cold, it hasn't been shockingly cold. Granted, my California weather patterns taught me that December is the worst of winter, January no one cares, and February brings the spring. It may still be rainy, but December is the coldest and that month has passed. It's only the first week of January, and I know that there are many more months of winter left because I've heard, reliably, that it can snow in April (my new friends seem to think this will squash my Birthday joy) and I have heard, unreliably, that it will snow in July. So should I knock on wood when I still have at least four months of winter left? Nah. I want to try cross country skiing, and I want to skate on real ice lakes. My excitement for snow hasn't even come close to wearing thin.