July 29, 2009

More Garden Porn

Today, a mere three (3!) days after my last garden post, we're thrilled to brag about our harvest. In fact, we're even proud of everything that is not tomato-related, which is impressive, since we're like 70% tomato-focused. Regardless, this is what I harvested from the non-tomato plants today, and I couldn't help but think...yummm!


Altogether, however, our tomato-based harvest outweighs the rest:


Let's celebrate the squash (the striped green and the yellow), the misshapen red onion (ahhh... the adorable foibles of the un-knowledgeable gardner) and its perfect small red onion companion (planted by a more knowledeable gardner 1-2 seasons later...), the garlic, the okra (seriously, you are missing out if you don't have okra in your life), the eggplant (hell yeah!), the cucumber, and of course, after all of this, we'll get to the tomatoes.

First: Our cherry and small size tomato harvest has begun to reach epic proportions. I dare you to declare otherwise:


Second: Our larger slicing tomato selection has started to become educational:


In order, starting at the top left, we have:

- 2 stiletz tomatoes (why? why did I grow these? I have plenty of sun and heat?); followed by
- 1 brandywine red lantis (so sweet. Smaller than expected, but we may save seeds and grow again, nonetheless).
- 1 thessoloniki waiting for full ripeness. If I can, I'll post photos of the slices.
- Next row: 1 super marzano (paste); 1 marvel stripe (gorgeous when sliced, can't wait), 2 orange russian 117 (oxheart/pear-shaped!!! woo-hoo!); 1 white oxheart.
- Last row: 2 black krim (purple black); 2 black from tula (lighter brown-black); 2 Paul Robeson (full chocolate black)

Finally, I am disturbed by the beauty of red current -- it produces much teensy tiny, impossible to harvest, frustrating fruit. Delicious, but annoying fruit that refuses to ripen on the same schedule and each one is entirely too small to deal with. And yet, how gorgeous is she?


July 26, 2009

Tomato Time is Coming!

We aren't at full production, but we're definitely seeing ripe fruit on at least half of the varieties. Today's harvest was impressive:


It inspired me to make an all-tomato lunch. E and I each had the pleasure of tasting and comparing large slices from several beauties:


In clockwise order, that's White Oxheart, Thessoloniki, Ananas Noir, Kentucky Beefsteak, Brandywine Red Lantis, Green Zebra, and Black Krim. All delicious. E's favorite for taste was Thessoloniki, then Brandywine Red Lantis, then White Oxheart. I couldn't decide between White Oxheart, Ananas Noir, or Black Krim for overall taste, but truly, they are all excellent, it just depends on what you want (more/less acidity, more/less gel sacs, seeds, or meat, more/less sugar).

This year, Cynthia introduced me to the awesomeness that is oxheart tomatoes -- pointed on the end and shaped more like a bell pepper, often with whispy droopy foliage. Thanks to her glowing reviews, we're growing several: White Oxheart, Orange Russian 117, Sweet Horizon, and Japanese Black Trifele.

So far, White Oxheart is the only plant that has ripe fruit:


What a pleasure -- the fruit production is prolific, and they are slightly sweet with medium acid. The best part, though, is that while they are the size of a beefsteak, they have the consistency of a paste tomato (lots of meat, little seeds). In other words, we look forward to roasting these, slicing them for sandwiches (won't make the bread soggy!), and eating 'em easily with a knife and fork all summer -- if there are too many at the end, they'll make great fried green tomatoes and sauces.

July 24, 2009

Niece-week lessons

1. If you can get the kid interested in the habit -- it'll happen. Turns out, my niece loves yoga. And waking her up isn't too much fun. The first few minutes in the morning, she is groggy, tired, whiny, etc. So, when I suggested we do yoga every morning, and she thought this was a great idea, I was thrilled. 10 minutes of physical activity does wonders towards killing the groggy, tired & whiny.

End result? I've done more Sun Salutations this week than I have since last winter holidays, when I was *on vacation* and headed to the yoga studio every day. No way would I have had the focus and dedication to do sun salutations every morning, especially the mornings after I'd already ran and we were pressed for time. But, if the kid wants to do up-dog, down-dog, plank, warrior 1, breathing, etc. before sugar cereals in milk (because, hello, I'm one of the cool aunts. I get to provide the sugar cereal treats!) -- then by all means, we're doing it.

2. I work more than I realize. This week, I finally realized that on an average week night, I send 5 emails between the hours of 7:00 and midnight when I think of myself as *not working.* It's too easy -- go to bathroom, check the email (both personal and work), write a quick response. Spend time surfing and if something comes in (either personal or work), write a quick response. Also, I've learned that regardless of what's going on, I explicitly check work email at least once before sleep and, usually, I end up scheduling at least one call to discuss the emergencies that have arisen and need to be dealt with the next day.

This week, with a child, I'm truly not working *for reals* for many of the hours between 7:00 and midnight. Not even the little bit that I didn't used to count. So those emails don't go out. And I'm less responsive. Clients are less happy. The next day is more stressful. In other words, if I were to have a child (which I'm not planning to do), areas where I don't even think of myself as productive would suffer. And I probably wouldn't be able to predict how it would affect me, because I wouldn't even notice I was productive in those areas until they were gone.

3. The entertainment value of a child changes the work-reward analysis. I found that it was much easier to get over my bad/boring/frustrating days at work this week because I came home to someone with an inquisitive mind with happy stories to tell full of wonder, questioning, and just general good will. She really caused me to think and question my viewpoint on a regular basis. It was so rewarding that, I understood, in a very clear way, how, if I had a (couple of) kid(s), I could choose a job or career options that are less fascinating, challenging or rewarding in exchange for more financial, temporal, or location stability because the kid(s) would be providing much of the emotional and mental stimulation that I needed.

I think that covers the big ones.
Bar Exam Takers: Now is the time to Breathe

Just breathe between now and the end of the exam.

I found it helpful to read everything I could about people's actual experience taking the exam to prepare myself for the experience, so if you're interested in doing the same, the link to all my posts is here.

July 21, 2009

Getting Out

I've got two close friends who are currently struggling through divorces, a friend who is in the middle of leaving his partner of 10 years, and my brother who has been dealing with the acceptance of his role as a father in the face of his daughter's mother's new love and their baby, his daughter's half-sister (and he's handling it beautifully--I'm so proud!).

When I talk to these folks, their experiences make it clear that it is always difficult to extricate yourself from close relationships, and that the difficulties are both public and private.

My mom walked away from a few relationships that were bad for her during my life. Watching it happen, I'm certain I learned some very important lessons about standing up for myself. And yet, when it comes up, I get the sense that she may be embarrassed that she didn't leave as early as she wishes she would have, or that she wishes she hadn't gotten involved at all. I can't help but wonder if we all don't feel this way about some of the relationships in our lives?

Also, I recently found myself at a party where I learned from the mother of a close family friend (but an acquaintance of mine) that he was getting divorced too. Weird, right? To learn intimate relationship details about someone you have spoken to on a monthly basis, when he hasn't mentioned anything? To realize your last, "say hi to the wife" adieu when you hung up the most recent call was probably horrific to him, since at the time she'd moved out, was living with her parents several states away, and he was dating again?

All of these people taking formal steps to exit and/or formally modify the public treatment of their relationships result in quite a bit of pain and awkwardness, not just for themselves, but for others who thought they understood the nature of their relationship too.

When I imagine if E was to take these types of actions towards me or vice versa, it is very painful. But, when I can back up from the empathetic pain, it's also been very inspiring. The courage to make those choices is not easy to come by and I'm proud of each of these people for finally making the difficult decisions (and dealing with the necessarily awkward explanations) so that they can redirect the course of their lives.

One of the things that is healthy about *not* being in a committed monogamous sexual relationship is that life is fluid. When you are trying on potential life-partners for size, you are constantly re-evaluating the healthiness of your most committed physical/emotional relationship(s), and thus, at least for me, I think it was easier to evaluate every other relationship as well. But, once a person commits to the largest emotional relationship in their life and, potentially, children that are supported by that relationship, most people probably let up on the constant relationship re-evaluation (which is a good thing).

The tricky thing is -- if you are in this situation, many of the other relationships in your life are not committed at the same level and probably should continually be reevaluated. Some will naturally evolve and dissolve. But some may actually need you to take some sort of action to force the evolution or dissolution.

So, for me, Penelope's most recent post was perfectly timed.

Before taking multiple gasps of Holy Shit! while reading it, I'd been having floating thoughts about getting out of or putting space into relationships and how it seems to be something that is happening to many people in my life (myself included), but I had no cohesive idea of my current belief system.

I knew it was important to know when to get out of unhealthy relationships. I knew it was important to be able to draw your own lines to try to heal an unhealthy relationship. I knew that you were never really in a relationship unless you were actually in it, and thus, you couldn't really ever say, fully, whether someone else needed out of theirs.

But, I also knew that after a while, if its been unhealthy for some time, outsiders see enough that they can often make observations and judgment calls about the relationship that turn out to be right more often than not.

For me, today's lesson, is that sometimes people (like me) are so tied up in the image of who they want to convey themselves as, or how they don't want to inconvenience, embarrass, confuse, or make others feel awkward, that they perpetuate relationships, or the facade of relationships, long after the relationships are probably best abandoned. And, further, that when people are in the "perpetuate for the sake of perpetuation mode", it can be very clear to outsiders that the relationship is most likely very unhealthy.

So, in my ever-changing quest to become a more present person, I'm going to try to pay more attention to the day-to-day *reality* of my relationships as opposed to my ideal of what they have been, or, could, should, or would be.

July 20, 2009

A lesson in communication

Why didn't you tell me I was signed up for Day Care?

Uhhh... (Oh, shit. I didn't tell her that, explicitly. I told her she was going to day camp. I told her I'd pick her up at 5 PM. But camp ends at 3:30 PM, and there was extended care for which I'd signed her up. And I hadn't told her.)

I'm sorry. I should have told you that. You were probably very confused.

Yes. I waited a long time for you to come pick me up. Even though they told me I was on the list. I thought they must be wrong because you didn't tell me I had day care.

Man. If she were an adult, I'd probably be thinking about the many things I did that *hinted* that she had day care. The reasons she should have figured it out because, you know, I have a job during work hours, and she was on the list, and I said I'd pick her up at 5 PM, and, I'm sure I'd come up with more.

But she's a child. And my first response was to accept my errors, apologize for anything and everything I could explain, and to empathize.

I would like to have this response to adults as well. I think it would greatly increase my quality of life.

Interestingly enough, this response is exactly what I should be trying to do in all areas of my life according to the content of the cheesiest book title ever (Nonviolent Communication? Yeah, there's cheesy poetry in it, too. I read it in Alaska, and at times, I couldn't help but think the author was deliberately trying to incite a force-yourself-to-learn-from-your-ridiculousness response from the types of people who need this book (like me)).

Anyways. Today was instructive. I'd like to be able to listen through people's questioning of my performance and be able to hear the confusion, hurt, and sadness that was so obvious in my niece's voice today. Hearing it made me respond in such a positive manner. Clearly, I need to *listen*.

July 19, 2009

Psuedo-Parent Week

We've got my niece all of this week. She is a bouncing 7 1/2 year-old ball of energy.




But so adorable.

Today's Lessons:

1. 30 minutes in the grocery store with a 7 1/2 year-old is about 3-times as expensive and 5-times more tiring than the same 30 minutes on my own.

2. It takes about 2 hours to finish all of the tasks related to "going to bed."

July 16, 2009

It's Dark Here!

I got up this morning when my alarm went off at 6:30 anticipating a lovely morning run.

Instead, I looked outside and it appeared to be more of dusk than morning.

Grumpy, I woke E, pointed to the window and said, "It's dark here." He grunted and rolled over.

I stumbled into the kitchen and stood there contemplating making coffee, which I don't ordinarily need to do before my short runs.

But, this was my first AM run since the AM runs in Alaska. So, I guess it would make sense that I'd recognize the decrease in light.

And then I looked at the clock on the oven.

5:30 AM.

My foggy morning brain slowly processed the implications, ahhh... that's why it's so dark. Looks like I managed to set my clock ahead by one hour while setting my alarm last night.

So, I went back to sleep and enjoyed another 3 hours before waking up to the bright blue sky.

No AM run today. But at least I know it'll be less dark when I do find the motivation to head out in the morning next time.

July 10, 2009

(Travel) Lessons from Alaska

For the Alaska trip, I did all of my usual maneuvering to whittle the final price-tag down. I watched flight fares and waited 'til I saw what I thought was a good deal, confirmed with Arvay and we jumped. Also, I learned long ago that the true value in travel miles comes via the combination of AAA + hotel reward programs (in the form of infinitely cancelable room bookings and reward stays). On this trip, Hilton Honors treated us exceptionally well, as I initially booked in April but completely re-booked all Hilton-affiliated hotel reservations (they control about 5 brands) when prices went down and bonus miles went up in June.

At more remote locations, we booked the cheapest rooms we could find at independent hotels (Pike's Waterfront Lodge and economy cabins at the Salmon Bake -- both highly recommended). I assumed we'd wait 'til arrival to see if we could (or wanted to) do any better. This is a great travel trick -- the gamble is that you may end up with the cheapest parking-lot-view room and a shared bathroom or something else along those lines. But hey, if you are willing to take the cheapest offering and pocket the savings if the upgrades aren't at a price you like, then it works just fine. In this case, we hit the jackpot at our first hotel -- the only upgrade available was the nicest cabin suite on the property. It was ours for less than half of the rack rate and we spent many hours enjoying the views of the Chena from our rocking chairs on the porch.

Although my usual approaches worked well in some cases, Alaska, like any foreign place, had a few surprises in store for me, including some on the travel front.

For one, Internet booking is not always the best way to go in Alaska. The Alaska Railroad site claimed they only had first class seats available for the dates we wanted. I called to confirm and was shocked to find that Alaska is still a location where a human on the phone can do much better (at least with securing coach rates -- the tickets were in the wrong names, but we figured it out at the terminal).

The one organized tour we did (Glaciers are cool, hee hee!), we booked on-line. I never received a confirmation so I called the night prior. Turns out, they had us down for September, a different tour, a different price, without the meal, and with no train transport included. The reservation could not have been more incorrect, but the pleasant surprise was that at 7 PM the night before, I got a human on the phone who happily fixed it for us (and didn't seem shocked that the Internet booking engine had failed in such a spectacular manner).

The last morning, I thought Alaska might be the most civilized place in the world when I called to ask for a late check-out from our final hotel room and got 3 PM. Ordinarily, I'm thankful to get a minute beyond 1 PM.

Basically, for the majority of my Alaskan travel experiences, I found folks to be extremely capable, flexible, and unflappable. After seeing how things work, I have to attribute some portion of this to the do-it-yourself mentality and unpredictability of power, water, wildlife and just life in general on the frontier.

Execute at the highest possible level when things are working, and when they aren't... do your best to find a way to fix it (ideally in a way that doesn't inconvenience others), and if you can't do that, apologize, explain, and then wait it out 'til it is fixed with a good attitude (if all else fails tell frontier stories about how difficult life can be and how this particular failure isn't actually so bad).

Even our Alaska Airlines pilot seemed to embrace this philosophy--on our flight up it was a gorgeous clear day -- so he slowed the plane, angled to allow us to view the glaciers and Denali park and narrated a historical tour of Mt. Foraker and Mt. McKinley for us as we flew by before speeding back up to get us to our destination on time.

The only exception to this general theme occurred on our last day. We planned to enjoy a leisurely morning before the 3 PM checkout, then early luggage check, subsequent viewing of some Anchorage sights and a long evening at the airport before our 1:45 AM flight.

But, when we tried to check in, we found there is a very strict window to check our bags, and anything before 4 hours prior to take-off does not cut it. This 3h20 minute window of availability is a strict absolute for Alaska Airlines. In fairness, this may have been a rule in the U.S. for quite some time now, and it may be a lesson I needed to learn. I'm not sure I've ever tried to check luggage at a U.S. airport for a domestic flight more than 3 hours prior to my flight.

But, in Alaska, the rules are often different. For example, there are no building codes in Fairbanks. People build and live in whatever they decide suits their needs. I used two outhouses and was fed a King Crab leg dinner from the kitchen of a log cabin built to resemble the inside of a ship (that had no running water).

We were in the state for less than 2 weeks and we were on one train that lost electricity, resulting in a trip that was 50% longer than it should have been due to running solely off the generator. At one point, we saw all traffic on Alaska highway 3 stop for a bear. And, of course there's the combined rail/auto one-lane tunnel in Whittier, where you have a 25% chance of hitting it when your traffic type and direction have the green. These experiences, combined with stories from locals, make me think you'd need to build a bigger cushion of time in Alaska than in other locations if you wanted to be sure you wouldn't miss your flight.

So, even if the 3h20 window makes sense in other regions, I think it probably doesn't make too much sense in Alaska. Especially in the Winter!

Of course, I should probably quit my whining -- it's Summer. And we didn't have any of the Alaskan excuses putting us at the airport before our flight. We were just ready to head home and we'd exhausted the sights we could see during the traditional work-day open-hours (the bush flight museum closed at 5 PM before we were able to visit...Drat!).

So, we found ourselves stuck at Ted Stevens International at 8:45 PM, outside the secure area with all of our bags, with the choice of spending $6/bag to check them with baggage hold for the privilege of going through security once to enjoy the *amenities* and then again after we checked them. Or we could just wait in the baggage check area. I don't care that they had a big stuffed bear in the glass case while we sat there. This strict rule, to me, just didn't seem very Alaskan.

But other than that, we loved almost every minute and we can't wait to go back. The nature is too big and beautiful to accurately capture in words. The people are fascinatingly diverse -- the majority have chosen to move from somewhere else in the world (we met people from 4 continents and countless U.S. states, all living away from the people and family they left behind). This ecclectic mix of folks blends with those who grew up there to form a group of very different people sharing one thing that is bigger than anything else in each of their everyday lives -- the natural forces of Alaska. Many of the people I met had previously lived impressive urban-based lives, and then each for their own reason, they'd chosen to move to Alaska for a life filled with beauty and adventure but devoid of most of the creature comforts that I (and most of my contemporaries) take for granted.

Alaska is truly Amazing.

July 9, 2009

A brush with fame

Through random life connections, I grew up sharing many of my childhood swim lessons, fishing trips, camping outings, and just general childhood shennanigans with Kate Levering.

She's ridiculously talented (how many people do you know who've been nominated for a Tony?) and back on the small screen again, this time in a lifetime series called Drop Dead Diva.

If you are looking for a new show to get hooked on, might I suggest that you give this one a try?
A Sample of the North to the Future

(Yes, "North to the Future" is the Alaska State Motto. Weird.)

It's 1:25 AM and it's slightly grey out here, in Anchorage, E just turned on the lights by the bed. We're getting ready to wrap up our wonderful trip (Yay free wireless at our final hotel!) and I'm certain pictures will speak much more efficiently than I ever could. So here you go:

Mt. McKinley (aka Denali) from our plane:


The municipal airport in Fairbanks:


The cars we road upon while guests of the ridiculously civilized Alaska railroad:


One of many views from the Alaska railroad:


One of many views from various trails within Denali National Park:


The truly mammoth tomato operation at Ann's greenhouses:


The Alaska Pipeline:


July 1, 2009

On Being You

For much of my life, I was weird. Really weird. Like, I didn't fit, and boy, did I know it.

People let me know it. And not just a little bit. Often, it was so clear to me that there was no point in trying to fit in. So I embraced who I was and defiantly approached the world with, "what the fuck?" Those times in my life were very liberating, and occasionally, I miss them.

Of course, for the most part, I went along to go along.

The thing is, recently, I've been spending quite a bit of time thinking about who I really want to be, and how to be that person.

Turns out, the person I truly want to be doesn't look that weird on any scale. She's not exceptional. But she also doesn't want to try to be normal, and she doesn't care if you think she's different. The person I want to be doesn't need to prove anything by trying to look smart, athletic, etc., and so she doesn't try to avoid looking normal, dumb, or uninteresting (this, in particular, if I am honest with myself is an area where I am too far from the person I want to be).

The person I want to be looks good to me. She is comfortable with the idea that she may be admirable or impressive to you ('cause she is to me) but she also realizes you may not value anything she values and you may find her completely and totally misguided, lost, or even unremarkably sub-par.

I've been spending quite a bit of time in the last year thinking about the person I want to be and how to get myself closer to being that person.

So I've been paying attention to the times when I find myself closest to the person I want to be and I've been taking notes. I'm shocked to find that for all of the careful thought I've put into this endeavor, the thing that's most important appears to be the element of chance.

If I am honest, sometimes, my flaws are my strengths and my strengths are my flaws -- and I need to learn the lessons these unexpected flip-flops teach me while still admitting that my strengths will probably always be my strengths.

Sometimes, my mistakes are the best things I do and the calculated well-thought-out actions are those I regret the most -- and I need to learn to let go where I hold tight and to hold a little tighter where I let go -- because that is how I bring more randomness into my life and if DNA can teach us anything it's that randomness breeds awesome.