Monday, June 30, 2014

Exploring Connecticut: Rocky Neck State Park


Aaron and I have agreed that we always need to live on the coast. Even though we’re now about forty-five minutes away from the beach, it does my heart good to know that a short drive can still bring us to the ocean. Ultimately we’d live right on the ocean, but we’ll be content with a coastal state.


There’s something magical about the beach; spending time by the waves is always a soul-cleansing experience for me. My thoughts untangle and my mind opens to the vastness of a world so much larger than me. I love the sun and the heat and the sand and the sound of the waves. In college, I felt like I had arrived when I could track sand all around my dorm room after a few hours at Butterfly Beach. I prided myself on the everlasting presence of sand in the car in Santa Barbara.

Well, our Subaru didn't see sand until this past weekend, but at last, we were able to journey to the beach! On Sunday morning, we woke up, packed a bag of snacks and a backpack of books, and hopped in the car. We drove for about fifty minutes until we arrived at Rocky Neck State Park in Niantic, Connecticut.


Visitors can also go hiking at Rocky Neck, and can camp there. We spent all our time being lazy beached whales, but the surrounding area did look quite beautiful.

Everyone warned me that East Coast beaches are different from West Coast beaches, but I was pleasantly surprised by Rocky Neck. It was very sandy (a high compliment in my book), and although the waves were teeny tiny, the water was warm and I enjoyed wading far out from the shore; the water wasn't very deep, especially as the tide went out.


There were a few noteworthy differences, however. We had to pay thirteen dollars to park. True, people were supposed to pay to park at East Beach back in Santa Barbara, but that was a super touristy beach, and we only went there if we had walked from State Street. The beaches closer to our house were all free, and if they had started charging, we would have just parked in nearby neighborhoods. The entrance to Rocky Neck was not close to any neighborhoods (although we saw some once we walked further along the beach), and after paying at the booth, we drove for probably a mile before we reached the parking lot.

Second, the beach was absolutely packed. There were so many people! It reminded me of Lake Tahoe on the Fourth of July. There, limited personal space receives new definition, as hundreds of people pack in a tiny space to watch the fireworks. Rocky Neck wasn't quite as packed, but it was still far more crowded than the beaches we frequented in California, which were mainly local beaches off the beaten tourist path.

 
Third, the wildlife was different. This was a fun culture shock; people were actively hunting for crabs! Most families had a net to use! I even saw a few crabs. There were also several tiny schools of fish that I saw while I was wading, and unfortunately, I have no idea what kind of fish they were. The plants were different too; the park was packed with trees until a grassy plain brought us to a bridge, beyond which we saw the sand for the first time. We didn't see the sand until we were standing on it.

Even with such slight beach culture shock, we had an absolutely lovely time. We managed to find a corner of the beach that wasn't quite as crowded, and spent the next few hours unknowingly working on some sunburns (we did apply sunscreen, but not enough!), eating chips, salsa, and apricots, and finishing the books we brought. Aaron is currently blazing through some Terry Pratchett novels, and I finished Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck. It felt so healthy to soak up the sun after logging so many hours indoors over the winter. I felt physically and mentally free. Lying in the sun felt so decadent!


Overall, we really enjoyed our beach day! We always did our best to never take the beach for granted in Santa Barbara, but there was a small part of us that definitely did. Beach trips are more rare now, and all the more wonderful when they happen. I’m looking forward to experiencing more Connecticut beaches, with perhaps some Rhode Island and Massachusetts beaches thrown in the mix!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Kitten Resilience


A few months ago, I had an important decision to make.

Where would Hobbes get spayed?

The idea of major surgery for my kitten made me really nervous. When my mom was seven months pregnant with me, her cat Jezebel, who was only seven years old, went to the vet for a routine teeth cleaning, and died. She had a previously undiagnosed heart condition that was discovered when she couldn't withstand the anesthesia. Obviously I have no memory of Jezebel, yet it was a traumatic event for Mom, and some of that sadness must have passed on to me. “Routine surgery” aren't words that reassure me.

I called a mobile clinic, which was $120 cheaper than the least expensive vet quote I’d received, and something in my voice must have told the woman on the other end that I was a crazy cat mom. She was incredibly reassuring, and told me that she takes her dog, who is her best friend, to the vet that performs surgeries in the mobile clinic. I put the date on the calendar and tried to forget about it.

Yet June 23 crept closer and closer, and finally, I found myself removing Hobbes’ food at 10 PM the night before her surgery. She was a little confused, but not very mad. She did try to break into a leftover pizza box on the counter around three in the morning. Luckily I woke up and was able to prevent her from eating the crumbs!

The clinic was stationed at a local PetCo about thirty minutes away, so Hobbes and I left early the next morning. I had expected to drop her off, leave to do some writing, and return to pick her up. I hadn't anticipated the line I’d wait in, or the conversations I’d have while I was waiting. I’d underestimated, foolishly, the power of pets to bring people together. While not everyone was quite as crazy as me, all the people in line cared about their pets, and had stories to share. I heard the story of a lady whose cat died while she was having heart surgery, but she had recently adopted a new beautiful white cat, who was there with her to be spayed. I met several lovely cats, included two black cats whose cat mom was a sweet ten-year-old girl who hoped to be a veterinarian one day. I even found out that there are good places in the area to go strawberry picking.

Hobbes is a very vocal cat, but once we got in line with all those other cats and humans, she quieted down and only made a peep once or twice. I was so proud of her! I dropped her off, and then went to a local Panera Bread, put the finishing touches on an Arkleus article, and ate lunch.



Hobbes looked like she’d been infected by zombies when I picked her up. She was absolutely silent the whole ride home, but did smile at me. The clinic vets told me to keep her in a confined space, so Aaron and I hastily set up a recovery camp in the bathroom with her litter box and water bowl and bed. Even though she tried to wander around, we locked her in the bathroom, and I was very glad we did. She tried to climb into the litter box, but was apparently still in pain and couldn't make it, so she peed twice on the floor. She never has any accidents, so I know she made an effort to get in the box. In fact, she didn't even pee in the car ride on the way home.

Hobbes usually complains very loudly if she gets shut in the bathroom. That night, however, she quietly climbed in her bed and stayed there for the entire night. In the morning, I fed her and let her out of the bathroom. She still looked drugged, but she did eat, and then she climbed up onto our bed and, according to Aaron, stayed there for the rest of the day. He was not feeling well either, so the two of them laid in the bed together all day.

When I arrived home from work that night, Hobbes looked one million percent better. (Aaron was better too!) She greeted me, meowed at me, and was eager to eat. She jumped into the window to watch me in the garden, and had plenty to say. I had been worried when she was so quiet, and was glad to hear her little voice and watch her personality return.



Other than her shaved belly, there’s almost no indicator that Hobbes recently underwent major surgery. She’s fierce, that little one, and she has a lot to teach me.

I’d dreaded that surgery for months, but now it’s over, and Hobbes is healthy and happy. She was never agitated, but was very calm and trusting throughout the entire experience. When I go through rough experiences, am I as calm and trusting? When change occurs in my life, or I face a particularly stressful challenge, I can know that in a few years, I’ll look back and realize how much I learned from that time. I’m learning to trust through difficult times, and seek to grow rather than to worry.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Create a Tiny Home Office


The Hobbit Hole is too small for a desk. We can fit a bed, a kitchen table, and a couch, but don’t have much room for other medium to large-sized furniture. However, I currently work from home two days a week (plus time on weekends), and wanted space to set up a home office.

Moving was not an option, nor did we want to move. We love the Hobbit Hole and our lovely backyard, as well as the convenient location to Aaron’s campus. Buying a desk was not an option either; there’s no place to put one anyway. I tried to set up a desk in a corner using a TV tray and kitchen chair, but that lasted for maybe two days. I thought about working at the kitchen table, but that didn’t work either.

Then Aaron’s Nana was getting rid of a comfy chair, and gave it to us. We set it up next to one of our bookshelves. Without ever discussing our functioning arrangement, I began to consistently use the new chair, and Aaron began to use the couch to study. I pulled the couch ottoman over to rest in front of the chair and used it as a desk, on which I could set my notebooks and refer to one as I wrote in the other. I could also place tea on the bookshelf, which is very important, because Aaron and I usually drink anywhere from 2-7 mugs of tea per day (don’t worry, we drink mainly herbal teas without caffeine; peppermint tea is our preferred blend). 


I began referring to the chair jokingly as “my office”. Yet as Aaron and I referred to it as the office, it began to feel more like a spot designated for work. Calling the chair “the office” helped the space seem official. Aaron suggested that I clear off a shelf of the bookcase to use specifically for my writing.

So today, I took the next first step towards making a home office in our small Hobbit Hole. In about thirty seconds’ time, I cleared off a shelf and began placing items on it that I’ll use in my writing business. I have pens, my notebooks, a dictionary, an idea journal, a MLA/Grammar reference book, a to-do list, and a picture of Checkers. Hobbes likes to join me in the office, too.


It’s important to be intentional about working from home. In order to create a productive space, it’s important for me to set myself up for success. My body is primed to relax in pajamas, so they don’t provide the kind of drive I need to write and research. Yoga pants are okay; I don’t climb into bed in those. In fact, yoga pants ready me for the mental and physical awareness of yoga, so they play into the goal of being productive at home.

I find it helpful to create a to-do list for the day. This tip came from my dad, who also telecommutes. Even if I don’t accomplish every single goal, the list gives me a trajectory for the day and helps keep me on track.

As my writing business expands, I appreciate having a designated office space. My office space evolved organically, and if you’re looking for a space in your own home, I encourage you to think outside of the desk. Some people need a desk to be efficient, and if that’s you, I’ve heard Ikea has awesome small desks! Yet if you can be efficient in a variety of locations, start opening your eyes to the places in your home where you naturally work the best. It may be that those spaces have the potential to be converted into a home office!

I expect my current space will continue to evolve as new needs surface, but for now my office works really well!

How does your working space help you stay organized and effective?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Exploring Connecticut: Coventry Regional Farmers' Market


84° F is the perfect temperature for this California girl, and that’s the temperature our world reached here in Eastern Connecticut on Sunday! To celebrate, we made a trip to the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market.


The market is supported by Whole Foods, and was selected as New England’s Best Farmers’ Market by Yankee Magazine in 2012. It’s the largest farmers’ market I've ever been to. Attractions included live music, an oyster bar, booths with books by local authors, and food trucks. It occurs at the Nathan Hale Homestead. Those of you who don’t live in New England and aren't up on your Revolutionary War History may not know this, but Nathan Hale was a spy for the American army and was born in Coventry. He attended Yale University. He was only 21 when he was executed. Nathan Hale is a pretty big deal around here, as far as men who have been dead for over 200 years can be.


The farmers’ market had the feel of a large outdoor fair. People watching was definitely a highlight. In particular, we were surprised at how many people there were with full body tattoos. There were also lots of families and elderly people. The crowd was a contrast to the farmers’ market in Santa Barbara, where the gathering was primarily made up of hippies, twenty-somethings, and young families. 


We bought Russian kale, sun-dried tomato garlic chevre cheese, homemade rigatoni, and chorizo. Later that afternoon, we ate an entirely local snack: chevre cheese spread over Chabaso bread. Chabaso Bakery is located in New Haven, and they bake some of the best bread I've ever tasted! It’s a little more expensive in grocery stores, but it’s always worth it. 



Sunday evening I cooked the rigatoni, and made tomato sauce to go along with it. It was amazing! Aaron is not a huge pasta fan, but he married someone who ate almost nothing but pasta growing up (before my under-stimulated taste buds developed insatiable cravings for Mexican food). I've worked hard to convert him to pasta, and on Sunday he was definitely impressed by the fresh pasta and homemade sauce, and even went back for seconds!


We very much enjoyed the farmers’ market! I’ll definitely be going back there as often as possible throughout the summer, for the Russian kale if nothing else. We ate some of it for dinner tonight and it was delicious! We haven’t tried the chorizo yet (I’m planning to cook it up mid-week), but everything else was simply scrumptious.

I wanted to buy fruit, too, but didn't see much other than apples. I either missed the rest of the fruit, or will have to wait until summer. I've heard that most gardens are planted around Memorial Day, which means it will probably take a few more weeks for more produce to show up at a farmers’ market.

One interesting difference between California and New England that I've noticed is that in California, it’s summer right now. Summer begins near the end of May or the beginning of June. Here in New England, it’s really only been spring for three or four weeks. The leaves didn't come back fully until mid-May. The start of June did not mark summer for me. I need to relish spring a little more before I welcome summer.

My season schedule here is behind the season schedule in California. Of course, we didn't really have seasons in Santa Barbara. I always thought we had seasons in Southern California, because it would get kind of cold and rain for a few weeks in February. Here’s the hard truth: when you can get married in December in a sleeveless dress on a warm, sunny day, there are no seasons. When the temperature hits 90° in January and you can go to the beach in a bikini, there are no seasons.

It’s been fascinating to notice all these differences.

So far my coworkers at the preschool have provided the locations for these two Exploring Connecticut articles, and I’m so grateful that I get to share their Connecticut knowledge!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Arkleus Broadcasting is Live!


Recently I began writing for Arkleus Broadcasting, a news network that seeks to highlight creative individuals who create beauty and positive change. So far they've highlighted a couple who’s been married for 60 years, a hero police dog, and a couple that creates art based on mythical designs, to name just a few.

My first assignment was to write about Jessamyn Rodriguez, who founded Hot Bread Kitchen in New York City. As I researched other articles and videos telling her story, and spoke with representatives from Hot Bread Kitchen, I was increasingly inspired by her story.

Arkleus launched on June 2, and my article came out on June 3 (although I was working that day, so I didn't see it until today!). Today in lieu of a long blog post, I’d like to point all you lovely readers to the article, titled “In This East Harlem Kitchen, Hope Rises”. To accompany the article, I also recorded a short video clip that Arkleus used in their daily show, It’s All Good. You can watch the clip here.

I’m excited to see what Arkleus brings to the Internet. There are not many news publications out there that are focused on presenting the goodness in the world. I've enjoyed writing for Arkleus so far, and can’t wait to research and read more amazing stories.

When you don't have any pictures readily available, go for pictures of kittens and ferns.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Journey Into Nature: The Garden

Before...Hobbes keeps watch in the window.
I planted a garden yesterday! It is the first garden I’ve ever had on my own. When I was little, there were three large garden boxes on our side yard. They belonged to my mom, my sister, and me, and each of us were in charge of what to plant in our own box. My mom taught my sister and me about healthy food and taking care of the earth through our garden. We learned how to compost, and noticed how incredibly well our plants grew when they were filled with dirt from the compost as opposed to store-bought dirt.

My mom was willing to experiment with us; one year, I decided to devote my whole box to corn, which my mom agreed to, even though corn grows better in Iowa than in California. I don’t think we were even able to eat any of the corn we grew, but we had a lot of fun growing it! We also got to name our boxes, and christened them with names like Han Solo and Frodo Baggins.

In Santa Barbara, we had no outdoor space at our studio, and thus no space to garden or compost. When we moved to Connecticut, and actually had a back yard, the idea for a garden was planted. Our landlord agreed to it, and I began scheming.

Now here’s a rather unfortunate fact about myself: I often have grandiose ideas that I never bring to fruition. This is a character flaw that I want to work on, so as I daydreamed about the garden, I became very determined to actualize my plans.

Another Before shot.
On Memorial Day, I decided I’d planned for long enough. I went to Home Depot and bought a shovel. I went to a local greenhouse and purchased plants. My mom told me how to compost out of one of the large gray bins that we used to move. My landlord had given me the dimensions she wanted (4’ x 6’), but other than that, I didn’t have a concrete idea of how I wanted to make the garden. So I put the shovel in the ground and started digging.

Essentially an adult-sized sensory tub.
You can see the newly minted compost bin in the background!
I dug up the entire garden plot, loosened the snow-packed dirt, added in two bags of garden dirt (next year I’ll use the compost), and planted the plants! Four hours from first leaving the house to buy plants, I stood back and surveyed what I’d done. 

Hooray!
I planted 12 marigolds around the perimeter to keep out bad bugs. Inside, I planted basil and tomatoes next to one other (another good combination to keep out bad bugs, says my mom), with parsley alongside them. I planted a row of jalapeƱo plants at the bottom of the garden, six bell pepper plants and three yellow banana pepper plants. At the top of the garden I planted three broccoli plants. On the far side of the garden, I planted two oregano plants.

We’ll see what happens! I’ve seen rabbits in our woods, so my main challenge so far has been trying to figure out how to deter rabbits from eating my vegetables. If anyone has any tricks, please tell me in the comments!

Aaron helped me punch holes in the bottom of the gray bin to make a compost, and I found some worms near the tree line. Mom said leaves are awesome for the compost bin, and we still have plenty of fall leaves around, so I made a base layer in the compost bin with leaves and dirt. I added the worms and then began composting! Today, tea bags, one banana peel, one onion peel, and two garlic peels went into the compost!

It may sound a little mystical, but planting the garden made me feel more connected to the land here. It’s another step toward making the Hobbit Hole home.

Unfortunately, in the process of gardening, I became a blood donor for 137 mosquitoes. Yes, that’s right. I counted the bites, and that’s a conservative estimate. I look like I have a disease. I realized that mosquitoes were far more rare in Santa Barbara than they are here…I don’t think I ever had 137 bug bites over the course of five cumulative years there. However, I should have known better; when I was a kid, I’d come back from our church’s family camp every year bitten alive. I’m still learning about this Connecticut climate.

Hobbes sat in the window and watched me for most of the gardening experience, fascinated by the fact that her human was doing something other than reading or yoga!

Even if I never get any vegetables, I’m proud that I made my garden idea happen. Gardening wasn’t as hard as the obstacles in my mind made it seem, and it was incredibly enjoyable. I’m looking forward to spending more time in my garden!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Quick Weeknight Meals: 4 Ingredient, 1 Pot Soup


It reached 75° here today, which is officially not soup weather. However, Aaron and I can eat soup year round. We once invited a friend over for dinner in the middle of a Santa Barbara heat wave, and after serving soup and tea, realized that perhaps we were a little strange.

So I decided to share this soup recipe with you, and if it is too hot where you are, save it for winter, because it is a splendidly simple, scrumptious soup that takes hardly any time at all to cook.

Ingredients
1 12 oz. package of sun dried tomato chicken sausage
1 16 oz. bag Peruvian Style Chimichurri Rice
1 32 oz. carton of Organic Creamy Tomato Soup
Extra virgin olive oil

(all ingredients purchased at Trader Joe’s)

Directions

1. Cook the sausage in a pan according to package directions.

2. Pour a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil into a soup pot, and add the bag of chimichurri rice. Coat the rice in the oil and let it cook for about 1-2 minutes (longer if you have frozen the bag of rice, as I usually do).

3. While the rice is cooking, cut the sausage into bite size pieces, and add to the rice.

4. Immediately pour in the carton of tomato soup, and bring to a boil to heat all the way through.


This recipe serves 2 people, but can be easily doubled for a family of four or five.

It’s also easily adaptable for vegetarians; simply add in one 15 oz. can of black beans to complete the protein found in the rice.

We also think that Trader Joe’s Andouille sausage would be delicious in the soup as well, but were pretty amazed at how perfectly the sun dried tomato sausage blended with the chimichurri flavors.

This recipe takes about 20 to 30 minutes to make, making it the perfect meal for those weeknights when life is busy and you really don’t feel like cooking! It’s a meal that Aaron asks for over and over, so it is husband approved.

I made this recipe for lunch today, since Wednesday is one of my writing days at home, and Aaron was home studying. We have an old wooden picnic table in the back yard, and Aaron’s Nana gave us a tablecloth to cover it, so we took the soup outside and ate it surrounded by lovely green spring leaves. We finished the entire pot! Hobbes gave us a piece of her mind last night when we ate dinner outdoors, but this afternoon she was content to let us enjoy the sunshine. 

They grow up so fast.
It’s so amazing to me how all the plants can die over the winter and then come back so brilliantly. I spent some extra time outdoors just taking pictures of all the incredible plant growth and thought I would share a few with you all. Happy Spring!

Heart shaped leaves.

A bumblebee hard at work.
The pathway to our second yard or a magical land...take your pick.
I love the patterns created by the fern.
Dandelions.
We live in a forest again!