Tuesday, August 20, 2013


One of the silver-lined benefits of moving to a new place complete with a painfully slow build-up of new social connections is that you spend a lot of time with yourself. Sometimes, I feel like this opportunity could be better spent towards inward reflection with self-improvement books over knitting through 'Orange is the New Black' ... but I'm not going to argue when my mind wants some clicking-needles and well-played prison drama over digging into inward struggles, again.

Nevertheless, an observation.

I like to tell stories. I observe many little seemingly insignificant things about my day-to-day life and collect them as treasured stories. Then I wait for the right person to share these stories with, opening that carefully kept treasure box to share an observation of a beautiful tree on the way home or about running from a mean looking wasp on a Bailey venture. And in doing such, I feel complete, that my life matters through these little life happenings, and I continue on feeling okay because someone listened to what was important to me.

So, when my treasure box fills with no one to share stories with, the treasures get lost and I don't get that validated experience of feeling like I matter. What do I do when my box is full, to prevent the inevitable downfall into lonely sadness?  I don't know. Yesterday, I started to write them down with accompanying illustrations to see if that would help. I kind of like it, and it gives me a reason to practice drawing things.

Of course, there is always the internet. While there isn't the instant feedback that comes with people, the internet can serve as a means to assume one is heard and is thus important. Why else would facebook promote status updates? And why else do people look for likes and comments on those updates, even when posting mundane things about every day life? To be heard, of course - to matter in a sea of information, in boats of loneliness.

However, I recognize that my friends would not tolerate, nor would I have the energy for, all that facebook updating. And there is something empty about trying to gain my importance of being through the internet.

All of this weaves into what I've been musing over the past few weeks, as the lack of constant friendship is placed in sharp focus when you're alone in a new place. Friendship. Specifically, friendship as a post-graduate adult in the land of couples and families. When you call friends who are married or partnered, who don't need your ear for their problems. When your friends are busy with making families or with their own jobs and lives, too busy to listen to your stories, to see their importance to you because your stories don't involve big life moves like marriage and kids. When you have a hard time seeing through those unmet needs to what is still being offered for comfort.

Because honestly, friendship is hard right now. And part of this is being in Janesville, which lacks the sort of community I so strongly want to be involved with. But, part of it is my phase of life - because now is when people make families, move onto that next stage, and move past where I am. Which leaves me behind. And in a new place, where those my age have kids who can talk, where does that leave me? It leaves me on that lonely boat, with a treasure box full of stories.

... I had no idea this was going to become a story about pirates.

Nevertheless -

Sometimes, when I find myself struggling the most, I want to blame everyone else, pitch myself as the victim, and cry over my lonely lot in life. But everything I've learned in the past few years teaches me that while some of what I think may be true, that does nothing towards actually fixing the problem. In fact, it only makes me feel worse, digs me deeper into dark places. So I have to take a step back, to see what the actual problem is, explore the roots of those feelings, and figure out what I need. And I need to speak those needs, to find a way for those needs to be met, and to be open for the responses to come from unexpected or unlikely places.

What makes it difficult is that these emotions I'm dealing with now are bound so tightly with innate needs and desires, to story lines that weave into childhood, to feelings that are as sensitive as the day the wound was first inflicted. But, knowing this process is a start, and it's something. Because I can't sink my boat of lonely into the sea of despair just because my treasure box is full. That does no one good.

And so, some stories.

First, an upward swing of connections. This past weekend, I was able to meet some lovely people at Angelic Organics Learning Center in Illinois, thanks to a new friend in Beloit that always feeds me delicious things. And I spent a full day on Sunday talking with women involved in farming and agriculture in the Southwest Wisconsin area, showing me that the community I long for exists - it's just more spread out. Thankfully, it also involves AMAZING ENCHILADAS.

Second, I'm going camping by myself for the first time with Bailey this weekend. If you don't hear from me by Monday, then I'm lost somewhere in the North Woods of Wisconsin. And I've probably been consumed by mosquitos.

Third, I've decided that I want to build a vermiculture bin for under my sink, since most of my compost will be kitchen scraps anyway and the castings would work well for the container gardens I'll start next year. I'm really excited about this.

And last, through reading my new favorite book American Canopy, John Muir has become my favorite naturalist. I may even try to name a future child or pet (it really depends on what happens in the next five year here folks, let's be real), Muir.

Until next time then, cheers.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Not Your Normal 9 to 5.

I've discovered that I like to talk about myself and my life with other people. I guess I always knew this before (I have a blog for fuck's sake), it just never needed to be discussed before. Now I find that this desire and quasi need seems all the more apparent when I haven't folks to talk about my life with.

And so, as I feel it bubbling over into a stressful ball of anxious, I turn to the internet to unleash some of my recent happenings, as most folks do. A one-sided conversation is better than a no-sided conversation.

First, work is going well, in a variable way. Some days I feel overwhelmed with information, other days I don't know what's going on or what I should be doing. And so I'm going to explain what's going on in the context of what my job is.

I'm a Horticulture Educator. I'm on a team of Horticulture Educators, where each of us comes from a different county. There are only a handful. As a team, we do professional development things and support each other. I've already been receiving a ton of support, which is fantastic. We have weekly conferences over the phone where we share what's going on in our county, then we learn something. Last week we learned about spotted wing drosophila, the week before that ornamental grasses. I've been spending a lot of time getting to know those around me, seeing what they're up to and what programs they run. Last week was Dane County and Walworth, tomorrow Racine, and the day after Waukesha. Meeting with Walworth was awesome, because I'll do joint projects with her, and being as we're neighbors, we'll work closely together. She has some great ideas, and I'm already being pulled into helping put together a conference for Stateline (Illinois and Wisconsin) green industry folk.

As a Horticulture Educator, I oversee the Master Gardener program in Rock County. So I've been meeting with members of my particular association to assess where the group is, and planning where we'll go next. Right now, the group needs some leadership - and now that I'm here, I'm going to lead it! Luckily I've been able to discuss it all with the support of my predecessor and oversee-er of the entire Master Gardener program in Wisconsin. I've been asking him all sorts of questions about my job related and unrelated to Master Gardeners, and he's been incredibly helpful and supportive. So that's awesome.

In my position, I also answer the questions of homeowners. To help me with this, I'm researching current pests, answering questions about wilted maples and pollinator problems in squash, connecting with specialist in Madison who have the answers I need, and learning a lot. I like that I get to learn things all the time, and look forward to the day when I know some of these things better on an instinctual level. But that takes time, and that's okay. I've been given plenty of time.

The UW Extension system is very supportive of me learning as much as I can. I've been encouraged and pushed to go to any and all field days and conferences I think would help me. Today I went to a Turf Grass Field Day, next week a Plant Health Field Day, the following week Organic Vegetables, then Invasive Plants, Emotional Intelligence way up in Minoqua, Community Food Systems, and others sprinkled throughout the rest of the year. Many others. And this is awesome. I simply asked my Regional Director about Emotional Intelligence, for instance, and he tells me how to sign up, and that the office will cover it as I have a certain amount of personal development paid for each year, and that I should do this for certain. And that's awesome - to be encouraged to go do this, to meet people, and to learn. And so I am.

(As a side note, at the Turf Grass Field day today I was one of a very, very small minority of women. Horticulture and organics have a fair number of women, but not as many women venture into conventional agriculture, production, livestock (cows mostly), or turf apparently. Also, I come from a different skew than most of the folks there in my approach to environmental systems. Thus, the presentation about carbon emissions left me wanting to grill the presenter on nitrogen run off and the production costs of fuel instead of its output in a mower when looking at emissions, in addition to the added values of many homeowners mowing many lawns when the minuscule differences looking at one mower seem like nothing ... but it wasn't my place. Personally, I think we should replace lawns with food, but professionally I help homeowners do what they want with their lawns. And so I listened and did learn a good deal about different grass types, and how they preform in various input systems and in drought, and that was cool. Plus, I nerded out to the various experimental set ups they had, so that was fun too. I love being a part of academia.)

My coworkers are really fantastic. My colleagues are incredibly supportive, and I'm connected to such an impressively large network. And maybe it's because these things are such a departure from my previous employment situation, but it feels incredible. And I sometimes feel taken aback by all of it, and incredibly grateful, and just so lucky. And I'm so very excited about being able to continue my work forward, to use all of these things I'm learning, and eventually do programs with it all.

Oh that's right, I do programs and stuff. I'm getting involved with the Farm to School program right now. In the fall I'll do a formal needs assessment to figure out what Rock County needs, and create programing to address that. Right now I just learn and meet people. But, I have incredible potential to do so many different things, and that's such a fantastic feeling.

Next on my list of things to do is reach out to all of the small farmers and green industry related folk in my county. I get to be friends with all sorts of farmers!

And so explaining what's going on with work, I feel like I've only scratched the surface of the day to day and everything all in between. Suffice it to say, it's going well. I feel incredibly blessed to be here, excited for what I can do, and am overwhelmed on a regular basis. And it feels great.

More on my personal life, and the rest of Christy happenings, later. I can only dispel so much on you at one time, right?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Hello from the land of Beer, Cheese, and Packers.

It has been a long time since I've last posted, and a lot has happened.

It's hard to convince my friends to follow me on a blog when I rarely update, and to this I apologize. As much as I tried, posts trailed off for what I can ascertain as two main reasons: a settling of mild depression and the settling in of life as a Midwesterner.

However, being in a new place with a noticeable lack of people to share my observations and thoughts with, I felt a desire to share my experiences with you, and need to answer the twinge of guilt I feel by letting ya'll down relaying my adventures thus far.

The last weekend in June, I moved to Janesville, Wisconsin. On July 1st, I started a position as the Horticulture Educator (fancy name for Horticulture Agent) for the University of Wisconsin in Rock County, Wisconsin. Rock County sits below the capital of Madison and on the border of Illinois. To get a feel for the place, I found an apartment in the county seat, which is a few hours drive from Chicago and Milwaukee and under an hour to Madison. And thus, a new adventure begins.

Leaving Decorah was a long time coming. I had always tried to ignore the little voice that told me on a regular basis that I wouldn't be allowed to stay for very long, because who would ever want to leave Decorah? I had imbedded myself within the community, reveled in small town living, and was on the cusp of a second glorious summer of rivers and friends. But I had to seek other employment, and thus I was spurred onwards towards Wisconsin. Luckily Decorah is only a few hours away, and despite my lack of residence, Decorah touched me in ways that will forever shape me as a human being moving forward. It seemed as though I was there for a reason, and having learned what I needed to and made the connections meant to be, I was pushed onto bigger opportunities. Were I to list the things I learned and became, you'd quickly grow bored and your perceptions of me would wander into new-age-hippie-oh-my-god-who-is-this-woman bullshit, so I'll leave you on that side of the fence.

I've been in Janesville for a total of two weeks now, and it's vastly different than Decorah. I feel as though being here is giving me a truer perception of Midwest living, and challenging my California sensibilities even more so than before. I simply hope that I don't scream 'California!' that strongly ...  blending in would be best. I look forward to the day that I don't feel like such an outsider.

So far, my observations are thus: many people own dogs, but few actually walk them. Most dogs live on the ends of lines or in backyards, to bark as me as I walk by. I walk often, which gets strange looks and comments from neighbors. I live a 20 minute walk to the library, and even less to work - so why not walk? Yet I see few others doing such, and find myself being extra cautious around cars not used to pedestrians. Janesville has beautiful parks throughout the city, but somehow managed to line the river running downtown in concrete so that it looks more like a Los Angeles canal. An empty grass lot sits next to the river, and a parking lot next to that ... over the river. I miss Decorah's grassy riverbanks, with bike paths curving past. But, Janesville does have paths and beautiful parks south of downtown ... I have yet to explore them much yet, as dogs aren't allowed in parks or on trails from March 15-September 15th, and most of my exploring I do with Bailey.

As I walk Bailey, I'm slowly coming to learn my neighborhood and surrounding downtown areas, and I like that. Lots of character. I'm also enjoying living so close to Target, having a 24 hour grocery store that stocks my favorite California beers (no joke, Boont and Lagunitas IPA!), and options for most things.

Last weekend, I swam for the first time in Lake Michigan. This experience has significantly affected my thoughts on salt water, because the lack of it felt amazing as I dove into wave after wave of beautiful, blue water. I cannot wait to go back. On the Fourth of July, Bailey and I explored Devil's lake outside of Madison, and I came to see what lakes are to Midwesterners, trails simply an afterthought to BBQ'ing with radios lakeside. I'm compiling lists of other places to explore, less well traveled (Devil's Lake was still amazing, however).

And of course, I had bratwurst with sauerkraut for my July 4th dinner. The folks on the radio said it would be a sin to do otherwise. Thank you, Wisconsin!

For now, I head back to California to see my little brother get married, and will hopefully return to a internet ready apartment so I can share pictures and more thoughts on adventures and life moving forward (and probably, some retrospective adventure reporting). Evermore and still, undaunted.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sustainable Farming and Life Plans.

What should one expect when attending a conference for organic and sustainable farmers? As one friend pointed out, a lot of sensible footwear.

Last weekend, I ventured to LaCrosse, Wisconsin for the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services (MOSES)'s Organic Farming Conference. A short drive away and with the biggest draw of organic farmers in the Midwest, this yearly event is a favorite of all the farmers and agricultural related people I know. Promising inspirational keynote speakers and two days full of delicious food and educational workshops - who could pass up such an event?

And so I found myself surrounded by hundreds of organic farmers - ranging from dairy to CSA, mixed operations to evangelical permaculture folk. It was fantastic.

To the get most out of MOSES, I talked to anyone and everyone I sat next to, stood in line with, or enjoyed a meal with. Doing such, I met a man from Illinois who told me that pigs are best for clearing pasture of any vegetation, I learned about a woman's draft horse operation and the difficulties that brought with hiring interns, and I met a couple with a fantastic orchard operation in Minnesota that I plan to visit this summer. I talked to various groups and organizations in the Exhibition hall, making connections and learning about the resources available in the Midwest. I took workshops on using animals with vegetable production, staring a CSA operation, ideas for integrating native plants onto farms, and evangelical permaculture. And then I partied with a bunch of farmers the best way we know how - drinking beer and dancing.

Learning what to do next from the Land Stewardship Project folks of Minnesota

All in all, a very successful conference.

Now you may be wondering why I would go to an organic farming conference. I'm not a farmer, though I know how to be one. And there weren't a lot of workshops or educational materials on combining education and agriculture, which is what I liked to do. But - I have hopes to one day become a farmer, and I was looking for inspiration and ideas on how to move my hopes forward.

Towards the end of last year, I realized that simply finding a job was not the settled end to adulthood I had imagined it would be. I still felt restless and unfulfilled, having discovered that my life had no forward direction besides employment. After discovering some truths about myself and my person, I  realized that not only was I a reasonable and respectable adult, but also perfectly capable of following ideas and dreams that work outside of a normal paycheck. I came to see that I could make a difference within communities in my own way, playing off of my strengths and passions. And so I developed the idea of owning B&B on a mixed operation farmstead. I plan to have a small orchard and vineyard, a flock of chickens, a kitchen garden, and a herd of Icelandic sheep for rotational grazing. These sheep have been bred to do well on pasture, are good mothers, smarter than average sheep, produce high quality wool and meat, and can be milked for cheese production. The plans are big and lofty and a long way off from being reachable, but one must start somewhere, and start small. And so I started with a conference, to get a good idea of where to take my next step.

And why a B&B? Why sheep, and all of these other things? Well, first - I'm a fantastic hostess, I love to bake, and I enjoy working with people - all perfect for running a B&B. I have a love for grapes and fruit trees, and having a small operation would allow me to indulge this passion. And sheep can be used to graze within my orchard, with the added bonus of producing products to sell - meat, wool, and cheese. It helps that I'm a knitter, and as most knitters go, I like fiber. And with a B&B, I can host educational workshops and various retreats - as well as educate anybody that comes to my farm about organic and sustainable farming, and why sustainability and local, small operations matter so much.

It's a big idea, and I don't know if that ultimate end goal will be achieved. But having an idea, having something to work for, and having a plan to help people connect with plants and agriculture in such an intimate way - it helps me move forward, pushes me to continue learning, and encourages me to work for things I believe in. And so this summer I plan to learn everything I can about sheep and sheep production. If all goes well, I may buy a few next year, rent some pasture, and begin my adventure forward.

Icelandic sheep with badass horns.
Crazy, right?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Slush-filled Valentines

I've found myself skidding into February, angry at snow that turns into slush with just enough time to notice that today is Valentine's Day. And I hate Valentine's Day.

Cupcakes make everything better.
I know this is a strong stance to take. I have formed a truce in past years, attempted to overcome an embittered lonely day by having a fancy feast with friends and sharing Valentines with loved ones. And this year, I plan to host a fancy weekend brunch, bring cupcakes into work, have a solo pork chop feast the following day, and give Valentines to my friends. But I still hate this day. The thing is, if you're single you're just reminded that you are still unlovable and lonely, missing out on what all the 'normal people' seem to have accomplished, stuck to bitterly drink your sorrows away. And if you're in a relationship, you're pressured to prove your undying love and devotion, surprise with romance, and make a big deal out of your love. Even if you and your partner decide to not celebrate Valentine's Day, the pressure still exists, and really you're just shoving it into the face of your single friends that you have the option to not celebrate a day of couplely love. As you can see, no one wins.

Now, this could be the embittered viewpoint from one who has spent the last five Valentine's Days alone, stewing in the fact that every ex is now married, and I still can't figure that out. But maybe it's not - and in the end, who cares? I have a plan for my Valentines day. I'm not going to press my hatred or love on other people, I'm going to be eating cupcakes and cupcakes are pretty damn delicious. 

Svalbard seed vault themed cupcakes. See nerdy reason here.
Valentine's Day has a greater impression on me this year than last because I'm now actively dating. Seeing as I live in a really small town, a friend convinced me that online dating couldn't hurt - it would expand my circle outwards, allowing me to meet people I wouldn't normally get the chance to. And so within a few days of uploading an updated profile, I had messages waiting and boys to talk to. And this has led to a handful of first dates, and now I've come to realize that dating is not as easy as I thought it would be.

It should be easy, right? You find a person you think is pretty cool and message them. Then you message back and forth, and if that goes well, you meet in person, chemistry clicks, and the rest just flows forward like a classic romantic comedy. But there's the problem - dating, and life, is NOTHING like a romantic comedy. Because it's not that easy. Sure you can message back and forth, but you still don't know a whole lot about that person. A first date is fun, but the universe may not speak to you in a definitive way as it seems to in the movies. And then there's the physical aspect to maneuver because a kiss should be fine, but for me it's not on a first date. Or maybe even the second.

But we live and learn, right? And I'm definitely learning. I've been surprised by the underlying guilt and pressures that have bubbled up. I felt like I owed these guys something for them liking me, felt guilty for wanting to slow things down, and felt pressured to just go along with what social norms expect me to do. So now I'm slowly building upon the idea that I don't owe anyone anything. And I need to move forward at the speed most comfortable for me, and that there is no normal. There are no romantic comedies, there is no soundtrack for this life of mine. And that's okay - not easy, but definitely okay.

I have no great expectations - and this is what pleases me the most. I have, somewhere in the past year or so, lost my burning desire to find someone to be with forever. I've started to work on being better at being alone and begun the battle against my lonely feelings. And to see myself not grasping for any sort of boy to like me back makes me the happiest of all because it indicates that somewhere inside of me, I'm starting to believe that I'm worth something more than what the proverbial 'everyone' thinks. So if something happens in the future, if I find true love and it lasts forever, that'd be awesome. But if it doesn't happen, at least I can say I stopped waiting to make my life worth living.

... for all my angry words, a guy did give me this today. Way better than real flowers!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Chilly Start to a New Year

Happy 2013, friends!

Ice Skating up Canoe Creek
So far, so good for 2013. The year started off with a brisk walk through a chilly night followed by a few days of rather cold weather - but I'm happy to report that I'm still quite pleased with Winter. I've come to find that one of the best things about this snowy wonderland is cross-country skiing - and luckily for me, the weather has allowed two weekends in a row full of it. I'm no expert by any means, but I'm getting better with every attempt (meaning - falling fewer times and looking at my feet less). I love the opportunity to enjoy nature during winter, to get a work out that is low impact and full body, and find relaxation and satisfaction when you can catch a good rhythm and so easily move forward (sort of like swimming). Plus, my build is perfect for the sport.

Double-lined mittens just recently finished for myself!
I spent the first day of the year relaxing with a book, knitting some, and developing some goals for the new year. I enjoy the opportunity of January to develop ideas I'd like to achieve moving forward, and take note of my progress over the last year. I don't generally think of these goals as resolutions because in many cases, there is no end to what I'm trying to achieve. Life moves forward, constantly full of change and growth, never stagnent in one place or idea. So how can I expect to one day wake up having accomplished perfection in everything?

Last year was a big year, with lots of change and growth. I moved to Iowa and successfully found a place for myself. I learned to enjoy life with a different kind of zeal, and came to feel comfortable with the cultural differences of the Upper Midwest. I made several new friendships that have great meaning to me, and landed in an incredibly supportive and inspiring social group. I went on many adventures, did many new things, and developed a burning desire to continue doing the same. I started the year having lost a considerable amount of weight, got glasses mid-summer, and one day noticed that I liked the way I look. Subsequently, I found myself in a fun short-lived romance and on the cusp of a few other dating opportunities, which is a change from my multi-year single streak. I began to fill my time with things I enjoy doing, like knitting and reading. I took an art class and enjoyed drawing - I even want to continue drawing and being creative. And I struggled a lot with loneliness, though I learned better ways to cope with the dark feelings, and started to understand the feelings to work around them better. A part of this was discovering towards the end of last year that I had never seen myself, and taken myself seriously, as a person. I disregarded my feelings as merely annoying, my desires as second to those of others, and with no dreams forward because, well, if you don't see yourself as a person, how do you develop dreams and a life to live? And while discovering this hasn't magically made life better, it's a substantial discovery to take note of because out of that I've started to dream big of future goals and aspirations. But that must wait for a new blog post. For now, this discovery helps move me forward - if I find myself a person, and worth caring for as such, then I do not need to find approval outside of myself and I can believe I'm worth many things, both big and small.

So what do I want to do with life going forward? Here are a few I feel comfortable sharing.

The easy, end goal ones:
1. Keep better track of my finances, stick to a budget, and reduce unnecessary expenditures  I have to save up to buy property and sheep (teaser! teaser!)
2. Waste less time on the computer
10. Go camping. Explore more of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Bike the River Root Trail. Run the Trout River Trail.

The long term, moving forward ones:
3. Be less critical and judgmental of others (the idea here is if I am less critical of others, even if in my own mind, I will be less critical of myself and probably not assume others are judging me as harshly as I judge myself)
4. Continue to explore my passions and purpose, and make sure I'm working towards these ideas to achieve fulfillment
5. Continue to build self-worth and value
6. Accept love around me, see the love in my community, and strengthen those relationships
7. Continue to be creative
8. Find a stable, spiritual base
9. Depend less on others for wholeness, learn to live life forward without seeking approval from others

I've got many struggles to face moving forward, and that idea gives a more daunting, darker look on a new year. But I've also got many adventures to go on and exciting things to do - such is life in the end, right? So let's hope that whatever becomes of the new year, I can fill it with the things and people I love. And as much cross-country skiing as possible.

Bailey on my blanket, New Years Day 2013