Friday, December 12, 2014

'tis the season

I'm getting really into Christmas preparations this year. Which is ironic because this is the year I'll be spending the least amount of time in my apartment during the Christmas season – just two short weeks between the Saturday after Thanksgiving and this Saturday, when I'll be flying back to Tunis for the presidential run-off election. I'll be back just in time for Christmas in southern California with my family. Which all adds up to exciting times! Though I'll miss my friends' holiday parties and some of Christmas-music-everywhere season, I am excited – these are once-in-a-lifetime elections and it's a small miracle that we'll all be back for Christmas day. And I figure your mid-20s are for shaking things up at the holidays anyways, a blank slate between childhood traditions and creating rituals with your own family. 

With a shortened timeline, I knew I had to act fast. I came back from Tunis with a resolution to burn lots of candles this winter. I now have both kitschy DIY Christmas candles (made from red and green Mason jars I filled with votives) and classy all-the-time candles thanks to Anthropologie's Black Friday sale. I love lighting them for dinner or computer work at the kitchen table – it makes everything feel just a bit more special.

I had also been itching for a real Christmas tree. 25 seems like a good age for a real Christmas tree. I had mostly talked myself out of it because, again, I am leaving the country. But we picked up a wreath at the farmer's market on Saturday for that nice evergreen smell. And then I convinced Austin to walk by our local elementary school's Christmas tree sale "just to look," like you do with puppies or craft supplies. They had a $15, three-foot-tall tree that was just perfect. And like with puppies and craft supplies, I couldn't resist once it was in my sights. It has been a great addition to the family. We now spend our leisure hours wondering whether it is drinking enough water, and removing and rearranging our four ornaments. I'm crossing my fingers it will survive through the twelve days of Christmas. 

I also had the brilliant idea to send Christmas cards. This is both because I have fallen in love with paper and found some great local letterpress cards - and because it is dawning on me that we are not, in fact, going back to college after a long break, and I want to make sure to keep in touch with all those friends. I'm not sending a cheesy photo of me and Austin – instead just a funny card with a handwritten note. I wrote most of them with a candle lit and a Mexican martini in hand, as you do.
I haven’t done much for Christmas decor in the two years that I’ve lived on my own in DC – mostly just borrowed a little decorative tree from my parents. But we get to choose what our holidays look like – which also means making them happen for ourselves. In the course of these festivities, I realized that I had been waiting to be more settled before getting really into the holidays. To get engaged or married before sending Christmas cards. To live in a place for more than a year before getting a custom address stamp made. To celebrate Christmas at my own apartment before getting a real tree.

But I realized this year that I don't want to wait for all that good stuff until some more certain future. I want to commit fully to the life I'm living now. It made me think of Elise's commitment to fully decorating a space even amid frequent military moves, and the idea that you shouldn't wait on stuff you're excited about until you are not "moving soon." And nothing says "enjoy the moment" like a Christmas tree you will not spend Christmas with. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

cheers, weekend.

This weekend was for buying a wreath from the farmers' market and a Christmas tree from the elementary school. For fighting everyone else in DC at Target for a tiny string of colored lights for the tiny tree. For collecting the last farm share, full of apples, carrots, and radishes, from a long CSA season. For collecting addresses from friends and catching up over Facebook message. For "so far, so good" on the mile-a-day between Thanksgiving and New Years plan. For enjoying mussels and a French 75 after Austin came around on Le Diplomate. For warming up after walks and runs through the rain. For taking a breath and enjoying this time in between leaving Tunisia and flying back again.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sunday at Parc Belvedere

I love visiting parks when I travel. It's an easy way to step outside the tourist circuit and enjoy what the locals enjoy about their city. Plus parks outside the US are often way more tricked-out than what our staid park and recreation departments offer, with noisy rides for kids and cotton candy and SpongeBob balloons for sale.

While in Tunis (a few weeks ago now), I decided to take a break from report-writing one Sunday and take a walk through Parc Belvedere, just across Place Pasteur from where I was living in Tunis. It's a sprawling park with lawns, a parcours, some historic buildings - and a zoo. I had a one-person picnic of a weird tuna sandwich with way too many pickled vegetables and then wandered around, past kids shrieking and demanding candy, young lovers tucked away along the twisting paths, parents kicking the soccer ball with their kids. I paid the 800-millime admission fee for the zoo (feeling just a little out-of-place as a single foreign woman surrounded by families). I saw lions and giraffes and hippos and smiled at the thought that I was “on safari” – in Africa, looking at African animals… behind bars in a city zoo near the Mediterranean. I took pictures of palm trees and succulents of all varieties.

And, of course, half the fun in a zoo far from home is the people-watching. Like any park, the Parc Belvedere attracts people from all walks of life. And of course I tried to guess who random passersby would vote for in the presidential election. I’m sentimental, but seeing parents with their kids, how tenderly they showed them the animals and posed them for pictures, and knowing that they want the best for them – it makes me believe all the more strongly in Tunisia's democratic transition, and want it to succeed all the more.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

October: Currently

Experimenting with writing a bit more off the cuff. With typing directly into this little box and seeing what comes out.

Feeling change in the air. I have said and typed and used it as an excuse too much, but things have been crazy lately. We looked for a new apartment, packed up and moved, the pace picked up at work as the Tunisian elections approached, and I started putting more thought into the future and where I am headed. I felt like I never had a moment to pause and process everything, and looked up one day and thought, whoa, my life feels totally different all of a sudden  even if it doesn't look different from the outside. It's a fall feeling, for sure; seasons changing, some things going to sleep and new things emerging. I remember feeling similarly last fall when I had (also) just moved and was (also) preparing for a big international trip.

Preparing to leave for Tunisia for five weeks. Super excited for the chance to play expat for a good period of time, to get to dive in and learn more about the country I work on, and to brush off my French and Arabic. Definitely intimidated about the workload ahead of me, though. And a little sorry that I'll be missing some fall fun at home  the wine-tasting and apple-picking and mountain-hiking and all the other wonderful things that come with fall. And since we just moved, I was looking forward to settling in and displaying pumpkins and sitting on the new terrace. None of those things really happened. But that's okay  everything has a season, and on balance, this season I would much rather be taking part in this exciting time in Tunisia than crossing off my fall bucket list.

Wrapping up my "extracurriculars." A couple weeks before leaving for Tunisia, I said my goodbyes to the Bhutanese refugee family I had been volunteering with for the past six months. And I froze my Bar Method membership a week before my flight. I had mixed feelings about both  there was a lot more I wanted to accomplish in my volunteer gig, and Bar Method is so much a part of my morning routine  but I needed to say no to a few things to make some space in my life. Again, feeling the shift and the change of seasons.

Cooking Blue Apron and trying to eat as many CSA greens as possible before leaving the country. Enjoying watching the vegetables change at the farmers market even though the leaves don't seem to have gotten the memo yet.

Soaking it all up and enjoying the feeling of being busy, productive, creative.

(Drafted last week in the midst of my pre-Tunisia preparations.
Posting now before this is all old news.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

It begins...

…with a photo out the hotel window, as all trips must. Glad to be back in Tunis!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Recent work mantras

Recent mantras, home edition.
I love words. If I ever get a tattoo, I am SURE it will be word-based. I love pithy and, dare I say it, inspirational phrases that capture big ideas in a few short words. (And I love/hate the ones that make it to Pinterest). Lately I've developed a few mantras that keep coming up during my work day.

Do one thing. I don't have ADD (to my knowledge), but like everyone else, my attention span has suffered as Internet speeds have improved. I tend to load up a million tabs and click around between them when I'm waiting for a page on my ancient work computer to load, or to draft most of an email only to leave it in my drafts when I'm almooooost done. So I've been reminding myself to "do one thing" lately. Like to finish handling an email before I click out of it, because it takes more time to find it again and pick back up. Doing one thing at a time makes my mind feel calmer and (shocker) my work get done faster and less frantically. I also like this as a reminder, when I come in in the morning and start getting overwhelmed by my task list, that I don't have to tackle the whole thing right that minute. Just do one thing, and the second will follow after that. 

This isn't fun. This is sort of an anti-mantra. Since reading this post, It has been popping into my head when I have started digging into a project and whining to myself about how it's harrrrd. Whenever I think this, it signals to me that it's time to buckle down because this is where the magic is happening – where stuff is getting done and where I'm growing as a professional. It signals to me that I should dive deep rather than looking for something easier to do (like responding to an email or gasp! discreetly flicking through Instagram). It means I'm in the zone. And once I'm in the zone, it might not be fun exactly, but it becomes satisfying – whether I'm stringing together a narrative or solving the puzzle of a budget.

Two years into my first real job, there is still so much I'm learning. But I am realizing that I am in control during my workday, of my attitude and my task list. I don't choose my tasks, but I can choose how I prioritize and tackle them. Sometimes it seems that that's the exclusive domain of people who work for themselves. But even at a cubicle YOU are in control, to a large extent, of what your day looks like.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Way to Plant, Ann(a)

(If I ever write a memoir about my farming life, and if people still remember Arrested Development in that future, that will for sure be the title.)

I have been meaning all summer to do a series of garden updates. But since I just pulled everything up and cover-cropped for the winter, this is going to be one big recap instead.

Overall, this was a fantastic year in the garden. I'd like to think that it's because I have some experience under my belt, but I'm not so sure. Sophomore year or no, I don't think I did anything very different. Maybe the weather was better (I think this was part of it – it was pretty cool and wet last summer). Maybe my Home Depot-supplied seedlings this year were genetically modified for survival, compared to their organically raised forebears last summer. Maybe I just had more magic on my side. 

So even though much of gardening is still a mystery to me, here are some of my big-picture thoughts and lessons from this summer in the garden.

Master the space issue. Last year I had a 12x12 plot. This year I had 24x12. It felt like an abundance of space, but when I hit Home Depot, my eyes were bigger than my plot and it filled it up pretty quick. It was enough to make me contemplate getting a full-size 24x24 plot next year so my plants are less squished – and so I could grow even more of what I eat, because how cool would that be?? But I also got lazy about garden maintenance by the time August rolled around. So maybe I'll stick with the 12x24 plot next year and just not cram as much in. 

Start with a clean slate. My 12x24 plot came with a little strawberry patch. I opted to keep them in, both so I could eat strawberries and because it seemed like the community-minded thing to do for future summers of gardeners (strawberries are perennial). But a ton of weeds popped up in the strawberries, and they were perpendicular to my other rows, which made for a sort of weird configuration. There were also big weeds growing on two sides of the garden that kept creeping in to my plot. Things got messy and hard to weed and maintain. I think next year I'll try to at least make everything neat at the start.

Plants are resilient and nature is so cool. The garden stayed awesome even when I got lazy and basically quit weeding – I only went once or twice a week as the summer wound down. Every time I'm there, I pick some squash that I hadn't even noticed before. It feels like free food.

I'm not sure what I'll do next year. I love love LOVE community gardening, but it can be sort of impractical to Metro to water it every couple days. We have some outdoor space at the new apartment, so maybe I'll go rogue and stick to container gardening, or some raised beds if I can finagle it. It would be awesome to be able to just step outside and fuss over my plants. But we shall see.

(Look for a post later this week with a plant-by-plant breakdown of how things went! Because I could seriously talk about this stuff all day.)