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.