Friday, April 29, 2011

The first day of the rest of my life...

Yesterday was my last day of work. I was caught up in the final preparations and last minute things to do. I was also caught up in my emotions. My departure was definitely bittersweet. I held it together until the end of the day. As I powered down my computer for the last time and prepared to go home, there was a finality to it all. It felt like the final episode of a bad sitcom. I left for the last time with tears for all the people and things I will miss.

Today, I am happy but still feeling the after effects of an emotional day yesterday. Today is the last day of the rest of my life. Let it be a good one.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Last Week: One more day to go!

Can it really be here? One more morning, one more commute, only one day left. Happy, excited, nervous, sad, and anxious.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Herb Update:

I received my herb seeds from Jardin du Gourmet or Artistic Gardens. They arrived amazingly fast, as fast as any order to Amazon. I was quite pleased. The little seed packets are nicely labeled. They came shipped in a nice bubble mailer, which included their 2011 catalog. I haven’t had time to plant any of the seeds yet. I’m out of a potting mix. I’m going to start a bunch in peat pots and then give some to friends and maybe even trade some on craigslist too.
Just a quick update on the garden:
·         Strawberries look amazing after only a couple of weeks in the ground. I would never hesitate to buy bare root strawberries. They are flourishing and growing leaves like there is no tomorrow. I think it is highly likely that I’ll get strawberries in the summer if they keep up rate of growth.
·         I’m still having problems getting the corn off to a start. The opossum or raccoon or whatever is digging in my garden will not leave the mounds alone. It’s even been digging the mounds with the corn seedlings. I think I’ll have to get a bit more aggressive and devise a system to protect the mounds from the nightly trespassers.
·         The tomatoes are finally looking good. There are some new green leaves. I think they’re over their transplant trauma or whatever was causing them to yellow and drop leaves.
·         The blueberries are still in their containers but do look quite happy. I even had a not-quite-ripe blueberry off one of the bushes. It was a beautiful blue berry if a bit tart.

Last week: 2 more days

It’s funny how you hope for something, dream about it, and then when it finally comes to fruition you can’t help but feel a little sad. I read somewhere that anticipation of something adds to one’s happiness. I’m a little nervous about this big life change. I’m worried a little about money, but I’m more worried about how it’s going to be to spend all of this time with the kids. Will I get bored, frustrated, tired of them? My oldest daughter is excited to have me home. I hope I can live up to her expectations.

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Last Week: three more days

Is it possible that all this time has passed and next Monday I won’t even be here at work? I’ll probably be walking back from dropping Neva off at school. It’s strange to even contemplate. I can already feel that I’m going to be a sorry sap this week. I’ve spent the last almost seven years of my life here, six years in this department, and three years in this very cubicle. It has been difficult but for better or worse it has been my life. I’ve shared so much with my friends here. It’s hard to believe that I won’t see them next Monday morning. I’m not going to try to delve down into any more reasons for quitting and staying home this week. I think I need to start to let go and say goodbye to my work life here. It has been difficult but it’s also been challenging and interesting at times. I’ve worked with great people and awful ones too. I’ve been torn apart at public meetings and supported by my coworkers. I’ve given great presentations to the Planning Commission and City Council, and I’ve bombed some too. I’ve produce high quality, thoughtful analyses, and I’ve had to be supportive of projects that I’ve hated. So here is how I feel on day one of my last week. Goodbye City Hall. I’ll miss you a little.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Herb-Stravaganza

Those holes in the cinder blocks out in the strawberry bed are bothering me. I have the urge to plant every little bit of dirt on my upper terrace with plants and seeds. Those little blocks seem like prime property to me. I’ve tried to do a little research on what I can successfully grow in those little blocks. It seems that herbs have been successfully grown in those small spaces. I’m a little concerned about the blocks drying out or heating up too much in the summer heat. I’ve decided to go ahead and buy herb seeds and give it a try anyway. My garden is sorely lacking in herbs. I have a few various basil seedlings growing with my tomato plants but that is about it.
A few months ago, while I was searching for cheap sources of vegetable seeds online, I came across Artistic Gardens or Le Jardin du Gourmet. They have incredible 35 cent sample seed packets for all kinds of common and more obscure herbs and vegetables. I have read some mixed reviews about the germination rates and also delays in shipping or difficulty with customer service. But really at 35 cents a packet, how could I not give it a try. These packets are a great deal but the shipping is $3.50 flat rate for seeds. I went through the list of herbs last night to pick out what I wanted to grow. I went with the usual suspects: basil, thyme, oregano, chives, parsley, rosemary, dill, cilantro and tarragon. I’m also trying out some herbs that I’ve never even tried before: horehound, hyssop, feverfew, fenugreek, marshmallow, and lemon grass. They also have some unusual vegetables available so I picked up some seeds for the Queensland Blue Pumpkin and Hopi Blue Corn. 
I don’t have high expectations for these. I’m sure some will grow quite easily and other may not even germinate or grow at all. It’s kind of a fun experiment though. I’m not including the costs in my gardening expenses. Instead, I’m counting it as part of my monthly spending money. It’s for my own personal amusement.
If you’re thinking about growing some herbs and would like to try some unusual ones, it is worth a visit to the website. I’ve not found sounds cheaper anywhere else on the web. I’d compare it to a penny candy store for seeds. Who can resist a jawbreaker for five cents or a pack of seeds for 35 cents?

4 days.

I’ve started to get a little sad and weepy about leaving work. It’s really starting to hit me that after next week, I won’t be coming back. I’m going to miss my friends, having a job and title, and having a paycheck. I know that it’s still the right decision. I hope I can make the most of my time away from work.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Setting Up a Vegetable Garden

There are many ways to grow a vegetable garden: a traditional earth garden, raised bed gardening, more intensive gardening like the French intensive or square-foot method, container gardening, and even variations within these such as vertical gardening. One would think that there must be a superior method to gardening. The good news is that there isn’t one right way to garden. I am employing no less than four types of vegetable gardening right now in my backyard. I have a traditional raised bed with strawberries grown with square foot spacing, eight large self-watering containers with square foot spacing, a three sisters companion planting earth garden, and summer squash planted in the ground with more traditional spacing. There isn’t one right way to do it and depending on what you want to grow, you may find that one size doesn’t fit all. I’m a fan of square foot gardening. I do a little lower cost variation of it using less expensive soil components. It works for smaller vegetables or those that can be trained to grow vertically. I won’t grow my summer squash, corn, pumpkins or sunflowers in a square foot bed because the investment in the raised bed and soil is too great. These are large plants. I could only get a few ears of corn in one square foot but I can get four lettuce plants or one indeterminate tomato instead. It just makes more sense.  So far it seems to be working out well.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

6 days remaining. Tick tock.

What I’m looking forward to: talking to my oldest daughter right when she comes home from school. Monday through Thursday I get to see my kids in the evening anywhere from 4:30pm to 5:30pm depending on the day. That first hour is usually taken up with cooking and eating dinner. Then, it’s on to washing dishes or enjoying a bit of downtime. The kids usually like to watch a TV show after dinner. I usually ask the perfunctory, “how was your day” kind of questions. I usually get the perfunctory, “it was fine” kind of answers. I’ve noticed that when I get to pick my daughter up right after school those answers are usually quite different. All the details from the day are fresh in her mind. The Friday before last she told me all about how some historic re-enacters from Old Town had come to tell them about how kids live over a century ago. They also got to try on outfits from the time. She was fairly excited about it and talked about it for at least fifteen minutes.

What I’m leaving behind:
Baggage.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Seven days and counting!

What I’m looking forward to: living the life I choose. I think that this whole quit-my-job-become-a-stay-at-home-mom-thing is really more than just one decision amongst many in my life. It feels like a sea change for me. I’ve decided to do more, take more risks, and live more fully. I think next time I feel this way about anything I won’t hesitate to make a change.

What I’m leaving behind: a paycheck. I can’t say that I’m happy about leaving behind the sizable paycheck that magically appears in my checking account every other week. It is money that was needed and well used by my family. However, it was also the leash tying me to a job that I’ve despised for the past several years. Goodbye leash.

When it works, it works.

I’ve written a bit about finances here before. My biggest hurdle to leaving my job has been the financial consequences. I haven’t quite admitted until now that I’ve been waiting for the proverbial hammer to fall. I’ve been waiting for some financial catastrophe to befall us that would make leaving my job imprudent if not completely impossible. We’ve known since January that we owe taxes this year, approximately $1200 worth. It was worked into the budget so we’ve been prepared. My husband has also been commenting for a few months that he needs to get his brakes replaced on his car. Well, Uncle Sam came first of course. We procrastinated until Sunday night to finish our taxes. I’d done a quick job of it months earlier to figure out what we owed but we waited to finalize everything and pay until Sunday. We were just about done with our taxes. We use TurboTax. It was just about to run our error check when I mentioned that I hadn’t yet entered our charitable contributions to our church. We’ve never been eligible to itemize so I didn’t even bother. We decided to go back anyway and add it in. To my great surprise, it bumped us over the standard deduction. We knocked $500 off of our tax bill in just a few minutes. We were thrilled to cut our tax bill, and my husband decided to take his car in to get the brakes done today since he is off for Spring Break. He called me later to tell me the estimate and he had spoken with the mechanic. It turns out we had the brakes done less than two years ago. It’s a good thing we have a trustworthy mechanic. What should have been a $500-700 bill for the brakes is now less than two hundred for an oil change and other minor repairs.
It illustrates a couple of things for me that I’ve observed in my own life and in the lives of others but have yet to really put my faith in yet, when you are on the right path and step out in faith, your needs will be provided for. Yes, we do still owe taxes and our car did need a part to fix a leak in the brake fluid but we also saved what could have been up to a $1,000 in expenses over the past two days. There have been numerous times in my life when things have just worked out like when I got the promotion at work while pregnant with my second daughter. It allowed me to go to ¾ time at work while still making around the same money so I could spend more time with my girls.
It has worked out for us for me to stay home. I’m not yet sure where that $200-300 a month is going to come from but for the first time in my life I’m not sweating it because I know that our needs will be provided for.



Gardening: Dollars and Sprouts Update

My obsession continues. I spent a lot of time in the garden this weekend hauling cinder blocks and building the raised bed for the strawberries.
Soil mix for vegetable containers: $48 (I used my ten dollar Lowe’s coupon)
Seeds: $10
Plants: $15 for 25 strawberry plants and 6 heirloom tomato plants
Cinder Blocks and Peat Moss for the Strawberries: $22
Grand Total: $95
My original estimate was about $150 to start the garden. I’m still well below my estimate. I do however need to contend with the blueberries. After building the strawberry bed, I didn’t have it in me to haul 25 more cinder blocks and do the work on the bed. The blueberries still seem quite happy in their 1 gallon containers so I’m putting the work off to next weekend. Also up on my list is building the trellises for the tomatoes, cucumbers and peas. My estimate is that it will cost about $50 to build the bed for the blueberries and another $20-30 for the trellises.
Here is how my garden in shaping up this week. Twenty-five strawberry plants are now in the ground. Some had already started sprouting leaves. All but one looks healthy and happy in their new bed.
My three sisters garden is off to a bit of a rocky start. I have about six or more sunflower seedlings sprouted. Some evil animal chewed off the leaves and pulled the first three seedlings out by the roots. I have about six or seven corn seedlings sprouted. I mounded up six hills and transplanted the seedlings from the shady area. Last night, perhaps the same evil animal or another knocked down and dug out three of my corn mounds. I’m going to have to stay up all night and lay in wait for this garden intruder. I’ll also have to do some corn mound restoration and replant those hills.
My six tomatoes were looking a little worse for wear. The lower leaves were yellowing and turning brown. I treated them with some organic vegetable fertilizer. They still seemed a bit peaked. I was digging around in the container to see if it was a moisture problem when I discovered that the roots were still wrapped in some kind of paper. I dug each one up and unwrapped them. I’m hoping they’ll perk up soon. My four cucumbers sprouted and look strong. The lettuce is growing slowly. We had a little heat snap this weekend. It’s cooled off again so I’m hoping it will pick up. The radishes, eggplants, peas, and chard are all chugging along in the planters. The bean teepee is looking good. The plants are about 4 inches tall. They’ve been chewed on a little but look otherwise healthy. I planted some flower seeds all around the outside of the beans. They have sprouted too. My summer squash seeds that I planted in the six-pack have sprouted. I need to get their final placement in the garden decided and build up their little mounds too.
I never get tired of going out to the garden and looking at everything. It amazes me how one day there is nothing but bare soil and the next several little green sprouts have emerged holding their new leaves up to the sun. It is beautiful.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gardening & Feminism

Ok, I am ready to admit it. I’m obsessed with gardening right now. I think about it in the morning. I can’t wait to get home in the evenings to tend my plants and see how they have grown. I dream about lush green vegetable gardens. I have a problem. Perhaps, I’m not so unique. I know I’m not the only one who when the sun starts to warm in the late winter and spring seeks to dig their fingers in the earth and grow things. Aside from finding a Gardener’s Anonymous meeting and submitting the to the twelve steps, I think I’ll just try to remember that there are other important things in my life too like my daughters and my husband, and some other not so important but necessary things like laundry and cleaning.
I was out last night until dark planting the last of my mammoth sunflower seeds. I also put in the first three sisters corn mound. The one I planted earlier is in too much shade so I changed up my plans. It does look the corn is sprouting in the old one so I’ll probably try to transplant it. I think that my current obsession with gardening is affected both by the seasons and by my inherent desire to create things. Many of my hobbies are geared toward that: cooking, sewing, knitting, and gardening all have a common theme of creation. I take the raw materials like soil, water and seeds and create a garden, or I take some fabric, thread and my sewing machine to create a dress. I have a deep well of desire to create things. I’m not taking credit for the production of the basic materials. I do not believe that I cause the sun to shine or the rain to fall, but I do have a part. If not for me, those tiny radishes wouldn’t be growing in my yard right now. I believe that it might be somewhat of a feminine instinct to create. We are the mothers, and motherhood is essentially an act of creation taking the building blocks of life and turning it into a human being. I feel connected to that side when I engage in these activities. I know that many women before me have done these things throughout modern and ancient times. It is important and we should embrace this aspect of our femininity. I believe it is a powerful part of our femaleness. Some of these things have been derided by modern feminists. We are no longer forced into “women’s work”. I wonder why we as women adopted that view. Why shouldn’t we have just elevated those things, our motherhood and our feminine urge to create. There has been somewhat of a renaissance of these things as younger women have eschewed the views of their mothers and picked up some of these things. The younger generation has been more fully able to embrace types of activities. I think this all gets back to how women have fought the gender equality battles. We have never done so on our terms. It has always been on men’s playing field within the male value system. Elevating these activities that have traditionally been “women’s work” is one way to continue the fight for gender equality.

Two weeks!

So this is how it ends. It seems a little strange. My career here began so long ago. I was a much different person then too. I was young, a bit na├»ve, enthusiastic about my career. I’m not so young, a bit jaded, and feel far less than enthusiastic about my career. I wish it was different. I wish that I still enjoyed my job. I wish that the organization that I work for hadn’t gone down the path it has. I wish that it was easier to balance working and family. Because in the ideal world, I would have it all: family, a satisfying career, a well-rounded personal life. I know that sometime in the not too distant future that I’ll be back in the workforce. For now though all that I can see are lazy summer afternoons, trips with my girls to the zoo or museums, a simpler and slower life.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Blueberries in the Garden

I’ve wanted to grow blueberries since I discovered that there are some southern highbush varieties that do quite well in my area. The cost of a single blueberry bush at my local nurseries starts at $14 and goes up from there to $30 for some of the more desirable varieties. Since I’d need at least two bushes to ensure good production, it would have been a significant investment for me to start growing blueberries this year.  I also can’t order them mail order since many companies won’t ship them to my state. I must have mentioned this all a time or two to my parents because when they showed up on Sunday for my daughter’s birthday party they brought me no less than six blueberry bushes. I was really excited if a bit overwhelmed. I had originally thought to keep the blueberry plants in containers but obtaining six good size containers and keeping them adequately watered seemed like a bit much. I settled on growing them in a raised bed similar to what I was planning for the strawberries. I found out that the closest spacing of the bushes was no less than 2 and half feet between the bushes. That means that I need a bed approximately 3 feet by sixteen feet. My upper terrace where I grow my garden doesn’t even have sixteen clear feet because of a tree and pathways and other things I’ve already planted. So I decided on an L-shaped garden bed that can take advantage of about 8 feet of clear space and then extend another eight feet along the walkway from the top of the stairs to the garage. It’s a great solution. I think it will look nice. You solve one problem and create another because now I have to find a new place for the strawberries.  

Nine Days and Short-timer's

I have nine days left of work as of today. Time has just flow by over the past couple of weeks. I’m almost there. I’ve almost realized my goal of staying home. Since I can see my impending departure, I’ve started to become a little nostalgic about work. I’m seeing everything through new eyes. I’ll definitely miss some of my coworkers who have become such great friends. I’ll miss some of the quiet (although it’s not currently very quiet as there are hundreds of people chanting below my office window to protest the medical marijuana ordinance). Right now, I’m really excited about starting this new chapter of my life. For the first time in a while, I feel like the possibilities of my future are limitless. It’s scary and exciting.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

12 days!

I'm so excited about my impending departure from work. I can't even begin to describe it.

Garden Update: A Three Sisters Garden

When I first learned about the three sisters method of companion planting, I was intrigued. I knew that I would want to try it. I now have the time and a little space in the backyard to give it a go. I bought my corn, bean and pumpkin seeds to get started. I’ve been spending a lot of time planning out my garden over the past several weeks. The self-watering containers are mostly planted, a few are just waiting for the tomato plants that should arrive tomorrow and the bean teepee is up.
My next task is to figure out where the three sisters, the summer squash plants and the strawberry bed are going to go. I have an idea of where the strawberry bed should be running along the brick path from the house to the garage but I was stumped about what to do with the three sisters and squash. There is a space between two sheds in the back that has some old wood and debris piled in it. I thought the space was too small for much plus I’d need to dispose of the trash. I went out and measured it the other day and discovered that is about 10’ by 13’ just enough space for a small three sisters garden. I did already try a mound near the middle of the garden but it gets too much shade. I’ll wait to see if the corn sprouts there and move it over to the new plot. I’m now trying to figure out the ideal planting plan for the three sisters. The plot is bounded on two sides by fences and a shed. I think that the pumpkins should be planted toward the outside to let them climb up the fences. I’m also toying with the idea of planting some sunflowers along the fence too. The summer squash will end up near the bean teepee. I need to get those in the ground soon too. I heart vegetable gardening.
I’m really impressed with how well everything is doing in my garden so far. Even the bean seeds planted last weekend are sprouting around the bean teepee.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Are kid's lessons and enrichment classes important?

The summer that my second daughter was born, I enrolled my older daughter in no less than four different lessons at the same time. I had pulled her out of preschool for the summer since I was off on maternity leave and felt that she needed the stimulation that several classes at the rec center could provide. She took swimming, karate, art, and gymnastics. Even I was exhausted taking her to all these different classes, and we were within just a short walk from the rec center. It was definitely too much. She didn’t enjoy the karate and ended up going to less than half of the sessions. I didn’t get her to all the swim lessons and she ended up stopping the gymnastics class. It was a waste of money to enroll her in all those classes and it took an otherwise relaxing summer and turned it into a constant barrage of classes.
 I learned from my mistake. She hasn’t taken more than one class at a time since then. She has since taken violin, gymnastics again, yoga, art, and science classes. She has enjoyed many of them and done repeat sessions of gymnastics, yoga and art. She hasn’t been enrolled in a class since she stopped taking gymnastics in January (of her choice). She’s now asking for either art or as I suggested modern dance classes.
Now, I wouldn’t even try to argue that these enrichment classes are a necessity, far from it. However, with the reductions in investment in public education, she isn’t being exposed to the arts. School curriculum focuses now completely on the basics. I want her to be exposed to various things. I believe that she has quite a bit of talent in dancing. I think she should at least try a class for a few months.
I’ve held off in enrolling her in classes because of the financial impacts. The modern dance class will cost $35 per month and the art would be about $70 for the next two months. It certainly isn’t within our new monthly budget since I’ve yet to figure out how we’ll be supplementing our income. However, I strongly want her to have the experience. Are these lessons and enrichment activities important?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Disappointment into Dreams

A couple of years ago, we found out about a mortgage loan program for teachers through my husband’s retirement program. It seemed like a great deal, 3% down and a deferred 17% second for five years. It just about put a home within reach for us. We had the 3% saved but not much more. We planned to borrow the closing costs from my 401k and my parents. With that in order, we set out to buy a home with a firm plan to spend around $300,000, even though we were preapproved for much more. We made seven or more offers on homes and probably looked at between 40-50 houses in the span of about five months. We lost out again and again, coming pretty close to having our offer accepted once or twice. It was quite a disappointment when after five months of an exhaustive search we called it quits. My dream of home ownership was almost within our grasp and it just slipped away.
Once we decided to rent for a few more years and save up more money, I accepted that decision. We moved to a larger, more comfortable home and life, as it does, went on. In hindsight, I appreciated that we hadn’t bought any of the houses because some were either in less than desirable areas or were older and would need quite a bit of work. It was a better financial decision for us too.
Now, I see that if we had bought a house, my dream of leaving my job wouldn’t be an option. I would need to continue working to pay the mortgage and upkeep on a house. Renting has provided us the flexibility to quickly reduce our expenses to enable me to quit my job. Of course, I had no idea at the time that my disappointment at not buying a home would lead to this. I couldn’t foresee the future or imagine a time when I would be able to leave the workforce. Perhaps, other people are out there in the same situation. They’ve been disappointed. Things haven’t quite worked out in one way or another. Try to remember that beautiful things can come from keen disappointments.

Happy 14!

Trentaquattro
What I’m looking forward to: becoming more self-sufficient. I may have touched on this before. I’m looking forward to cooking more from scratch, making things like clothes, fixing things, and making what I need rather than just buying things.

What I’m leaving behind: getting dressed up for work. I’m ready to ditch the heels, trousers, and nylons for jeans, t-shirts and flip flops. I like to be casual and comfortable. I do enjoy getting dressed up every so often, but I also like not having to find and dress in four business appropriate outfits a week.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Gardening Update: Dollars and Sprouts


In my endeavor to extend my frugality to my vegetable garden, I’m trying to keep my costs as low as possible and focus on growing vegetables and fruits with a good return. Here is what I’ve spent so far:
Eight self-watering vegetable containers: free! My mom wasn’t going to use them and passed them on to me.
Soil mix for vegetable containers: $48 (I used my ten dollar Lowe’s coupon)
Seeds: $8
Plants: $15 for 25 strawberry plants and 3 heirloom tomato plants
Grand Total: $71
I still need to build a small raised bed for my strawberry plants. I’m planning on using cinder blocks to keep the cost down. It shouldn’t cost much more than $20. I also need to construct trellises for the peas, tomatoes and cucumbers. I did make a great discovery, which should save me some money. There was a pile of what looked like leavings and clippings back between the storage sheds. It’s actually the remains of a compost pile. I can use this to supplement my garden soil for the strawberry beds and the hills for the three sisters and summer squash.
Here is what is growing right now in my garden. Lettuce, peas, and chard have sprouted. I’ve planted cucumbers, pole beans on the bean teepee, and one hill of three sisters (corn, beans, and pumpkins). I’m still waiting for my strawberries and tomatoes to arrive in the mail. I still need to build up some mounds to grow summer squash and a couple more hills of three sisters. The garden is really coming along. I started composting again. I can’t wait to have even more time to devote to the garden. I don’t have a huge space to garden. I only have the upper terrace, of which part is shaded by a Mulberry Tree. It is surprising how much you can really fit in a small space.

It's April! 15 days more!

Numero Trentatre
What I’m looking forward to: being a teacher to my kids. I discovered while spending time out in the backyard gardening the past couple of weekends that my youngest loves to shadow me and “help me” with my chores. She loved digging around in the dirt and dropping handfuls of it into the garden. She loved poking holes in the dirt and placing tiny seeds in them. I’m going to love doing things with my sidekick.

What I’m leaving behind: guilt. Working moms have it in spades. I sure do. I feel guilty about leaving my kids each day. I feel guilty about worrying about feeling guilty about leaving my kids when I’m supposed to be working. It goes on and on.