July 22, 2011

Happy, Nerdy Post

I spent the past three weeks hauling, shuffling and buying a bunch of stuff. The excitement and challenge of moving to a new city on my own had overshadowed the reason why I moved in the first place. Even though I chose  Northern Arizona University in a manner than falls just short of random, that choice landed me in a place I couldn't have purposefully picked better. While the rest of the nation roasts in 100+ temps, the weather in Flagstaff hovers around 80, with occasional monsoon storms for moisture. The summer climate here intices me to go for long walks and take bike rides that would be a chore if it were for the natural beauty of this place. I hear rumors that Flagstaff measures winter snow accumulations in feet instead of inches, but I will deal with that when it happens (Do they make chains for bike tires?).

I moved to Flagstaff to get a masters in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). My experience as a writing consultant back in Kearney, and my subsquent adventures as a teacher in Cambodia and as an underemployed young person in Nebraska proved that my interest in language runs deeper than my typical six-month obsessions.

I ordered my textbooks for this semester online. I have received about half of them and I have already started peeking! How Languages are Learned and Principles of Language Learning and Teaching are just the kind of books I want to read! Teaching Composition, the text for my graduate assistantship, also gets my blood flowing, but more because I'm so nervous about teaching freshman composition.

What I'm getting at with all this blabbing is that I think I made a good choice. Several good choices, in fact. My interest in the textbooks assures me that I've picked a discipline I can live with (for now at least), and my enthusiasm for Flagstaff and its lifestyle is icing on the very delicious, from scratch, cake.

July 21, 2011

Instead of several thousand words... Apartment Pictures!

The Living Room

The Patio
The view from the patio

The Kitchen

My Desk
My Bedroom

July 19, 2011

You know you've moved to Flagstaff when...

Flagstaff is getting the better of me. Today I bought a $100 couch from a thrift store, thinking that my butt can't really tell the difference between this and any other couch. I'm no princess and the pea.

I had a similar mindset when I bought my first bike here in Flagstaff. I'm no Lance Armstrong, I thought as I handed over the $60 to my Craigslist dealer. This bike may have been  born at Wal-mart, but that doesn't make it a bad machine. After struggling with this bike for a week on the bike-ready streets of Flagstaff, I maintain that Wal-mart bikes are not bad machines, but this Wal-mart bike was not meant for me. I decided that I could do better.

I could do way better, in fact. I could tell that I was a becoming a bike snob. I am already a snob in many things: coffee, iced tea and chocolate. However, real bike snobbery is out of my budget by thousands of dollars, so I convinced myself to start with the basics: durable, lightweight parts, a frame that fits my body, and a local bike dealer who can recommend the right bike.

After settling for a couch that screams "grad student furniture," I pulled up to the bike shop, ready to buy a respectable bike. To my delight, the bike that best suited my needs was a handsome model with a brushed black finish. It has a 20 inch frame that fits me like a glove, quality wheels and an aura of badass.

Flagstaff is getting my priorities in order. I bought a bike that cost nearly four times as much as my couch. I hope the money ratio also applies to the time my body spends on these two items.

July 18, 2011

Garage Sale Dreams

Garage sales remind me that I'm picky and cheap. But they also provide alternative views on the importance of new, clean items.

Picture from http://www.shopkitchenaid.com/
I woke up this morning with the intent to nurse my battle scars (steam burn from the electric kettle and sunburn from a tubing trip) and do absolutely nothing. If you are familiar with my anxiety, you will not be surprised that less than an hour later, I was writing down the address of every garage sale listed on Craigslist with a do-or-die mission to find--

Well, I had a few things in mind. A stand mixer, preferably KitchenAid, for less than $50. A lightly used sofa and armchair, any color, with delivery. Price very negotiable under $200. A Crock Pot, anything Pampered Chef, and silicone baking accessories.

However, garage sales by their very nature, are a display of the stuff that the seller didn't want. Rejected items such as a plastic bread slice guider, beat-up car seats, and miscellaneous appliance parts. I always try to look over the wares as though they are things that I want, and not things that must have missed the trash can on the last hurl. A broken extension cord. Old shower caddy. Tape players. Half-used perfume. A food processor from the 1970's.

Of course the upshot to garage sales is the price. You can buy a lot of someone else's junk with a role of quarters. I prefer the sales with unmarked prices.

"How much is that end table?" I ask.

"We are flexible." The lady in the hat says.

I try to think of a price that is low, but not insulting for such a table. "How about five bucks?"

"Sold." After which I always think: why didn't I say two bucks?

Hauling off another person's would-be garbage always gives the the satisfaction ants must get from cleaning up during our picnics. Wow, I just got this stained end table for five bucks. I can put this in MY house now!

By the fourth round of finding none of the things on my wishlist, and getting lost at least one time for each sale, I decided it was time to go home. Just before my turnoff, I saw a hand written sign for a sale in my neighborhood, so I made a quick left turn. A young kid was standing in the drive way waving a sign for the sale. I stopped.

A young woman who didn't appear related to the young boy showed me around the baby clothes, and used sporting goods. The super model thin woman tried to win me over by claiming that we would wear the same pants size and that I should try her jeans, but I politely declined, knowing that the pant leg wouldn't even clear my knee. Instead I settled on a blue cup, a pair of wooden spoons, and a crafty wreath made out of fake berries. My total bill at this stop was $1.25.

I realize that my wishlist was unreasonable, but it was fun (and unnerving) to look at the things people sell at garage sales. One day I hope I can afford to buy a Kitchenaid mixer and a new couch with the same paycheck. For now, I will make the off-brand, thrift store and garage sale as fabulous as possible.

July 16, 2011

My New Trick!

I wish this blog were scratch-n-sniff!

Thanks to Betty Crocker's Cookbook, I've learned to bake my own bread. It is hard work, but the smell of fresh bread is worth the sacrifice. Check out how well my third loaf came out! The first two needed altitude-attitude adjustments.

Glamour Loaf

July 13, 2011

A new ratio in Flagstaff

I love Flagstaff.

I know this may seem a deviant statement compared to the rest of my No Workee, Just Whinee blog, in which 95% of my writing points out faults and the redeeming factor is summed up in a measely 5%. But Flagstaff, and the accompanying adult-like freedom I have here, is suiting me better than I imagined. I promise to try to keep the whining to less than 80%, okay?

This morning for instance, I ate two slices of homemade bread (thank you very much) with peanut butter. I drank my coffee while listening to NPR news--life was good, so good that I saddled up my new bicycle for a ride.

I rode on South Lake Mary Road, a glorified highway with a clean 8-foot bike like on either side. Bike lanes are a marked portion of the right side of the road for bikers to ride safely with traffic. If you've never used a bike lane (I've got two days experience), I can already tell you that there are good bike lanes and bad bike lanes. Bad bike lines are slivers of cracked asphalt on the very edge of a steep road with a 50 mph speed limit. Not only is is hard to stay in a tiny straight line on a big hill, but the SUV's show no mercy when they speed by, pelting you with a burst of wind. Many bikes lanes also suffer from gravel or other slippery material, particularly at the bottoms of hills, the place where bikers reach maximum speed, and therefore maximum wipe-out potential.

I wear a helmet. I'm considering elbow, knee, and wrist protection.

Anyway, good bike lanes, like the lane on Lake Mary Road, are wide and well-maintained, free of debris and large cracks. A good bike lane also depends on the obedience of surrounding traffic, and I saw most cars behaving properly. One car, however, was trailing a long-distance runner in the bike lane. A woman on an expensive bike, pulled up beside the car and yelled at the unassuming driver for being in the bike lane. This is the bike lane! No cars allowed! 

So there I was, rolling down and barely ascending the hills and valleys of the self-policing road. The scenery was incredible. To my right, lush forest, meadows, quaint Bed and Breakfast operations; and to my left, the small communities, horse stables and the distant mountain peaks. What a ride.

It's downhill when I'm headed away from my house, which means that the way home made my legs and my lungs burn. While riding, I came up with this discouraging metaphor for life's awesome things. Sure the downhill part is really fun and easy, but just wait until you turn around to come home! Paying for things by credit card, making a huge mess while cooking, eating too much cookie dough...I wanted to putting "Moving to Flagstaff for grad school" as an example, but I can't sabotage my future after Flagstaff just yet.

For now, I'm enjoying a downhill coast in a beautiful bike lane in Flagstaff, but if there is gravel at the bottom, or errant drivers, or maybe the sun's too hot, you know I'll write about it.

July 9, 2011

How all the cool 23-year-olds spend Friday night...

I have never liked recipes. The tsp and tbls, the sautéing and the broiling, the waiting for water to boil and the planning ahead for room temperature butter. I always found the whole thing constricting. I am the kind of person who has the stick of butter in a dish in the microwave because I forgot to put it out a few hours before. I am also the kind of cooking rebel who seasons my own chili (none of those mild prepackaged mixes), much to the alarm of everyone else in my family. Sour cream, anyone?

But more than my forgetfulness, my adventuresome spirit is what has driven me from recipe cooking. I like to start with a main ingredient and open up the fridge and cupboards to see what comes out. When this type of cooking goes right, everyone is impressed at your creativity. The trouble is, you can never make the same dish twice. My famous "Fresca Beef" began with whatever cut of beef was on sale in a marinade of Fresca grapefruit soda. From there, I could never quite remember what I had put in the original version, and each time, the Fresca beef was less enjoyable because it lacked the serendipitous combination of the first.

Now that I am in total control of what stocks my cupboards, my attitude is changing. Grandma Irene gave me Betty Crocker's Cookbook and lots of cooking supplies to help me get started in Flagstaff. After successfully following Betty's recipes for Chocolate-chip Cookies, Oven-fried Chicken, Tuna Salad and Blueberry Cobbler, I am a changed woman.

Recipes make things so much simpler! Sure there is measuring and planning, but the results are worth it. Besides a consistent outcome, planning ahead to follow a recipe creates a shorter grocery list with fewer processed foods. Instead of frozen chicken strips, but a fresh whole chicken. Betty will show you how to separate and cook the pieces and make several economical servings at less than the cost of processed chicken. On the other hand, I was given a large tub of blueberries, a food I don't usually like plain, so I popped open the cookbook and found a recipe for delicious cobbler that depleted the nutritional value of the berries, but delighted my pallet.

Now that I'm trying to figure out adulthood, I want to develop my household skills. Learning how to cook (for real) is important to me. To make a meal from scratch is cheaper, healthier, and more satisfying than opening a bag and turning on the microwave. To follow a recipe is not to give up creativity; instead, it is to create something consistent first, then to fine-tune as needed. You never know, maybe I could take one of Betty's beef recipes and sneak in a little Fresca.

Flagstaff Exceeds Expectations

I've been in Flagstaff a full week now, and it's about time that I pass judgment on my new home.

As with any new place I visit, Flagstaff has been subject to my discerning tastes and personal values.

Do the people there speak a language I understand? Initially, -5 points because it's still part of the United States. But, +2 because I hear Spanish and Navajo on a daily basis.

Do I have a view of ancient-volcano-turned-rocky-crags? +5 Yes, I do have such a view thanks to the San Francisco peaks.

Can I sit on my patio and look into a forest? +5 In fact, I can sit on my patio, look into a forest and blog all at the same time. +10!

Are there scary bugs? -3 Crawling out of the forest and across my bedroom!

Are the scary bugs small enough to kill with a rolled up magazine? +2 Thanks, Cambodia for creating this important distinction.

Is there a quintessential coffee shop? +10 Macy's is the stuff of legends, but -2 since I don't have a coffee buddy yet.

Are there designated places for people on bikes to ride safely? +5 Once again, thank you to Cambodia for fine tuning my list of desirable qualities.

Is the traffic frustrating? -5 Milton Road. Route 66.

Does the frustrating traffic make me want to walk, bike or ride a bus? +5!

Overall, Flagstaff scores very well on my list. Especially dominant in the physical beauty category, Flagstaff is edged out only by Hallstadt, Austria as most stunning place I've ever been. On my way to the mailboxes, I see the San Fransisco peaks; on my way to downtown, I see Ponderosa Pines; and one day I'll have visited the 50 gazillion gorgeous natural wonders around here.

I don't even have friends yet, and I'm still happy. I congratulate myself on a city well chosen and I look forward to more blogs from the patio.

July 6, 2011

Independence Day

Fourth of July Parade in Flagstaff
The Fourth of July was never one of my favorite holidays. I have a hard time enjoying myself with the startling pop-pop-pops and deafening bangs of fireworks, the hot and buggy outdoor eating, and the constant playing of that “Proud to be an American” song. I had not factored the Fourth of July into my moving plans, although the beginning of July did mark my living in Lincoln for one year. I reasoned that there would be good sales for the holiday, and that perhaps I could get away with ignoring the parts of the Fourth that I don't like for one year.

I could have easily avoided all festivities in Flagstaff, citing a lack of information about goings-on, or lack of friends, or even lack of interest, but all of those make me seem like an unpatriotic recluse. I think I'm more of an “Introspectively proud American who happens to enjoy some alone time,” but whatever the title, I didn't move to Flagstaff to stay cooped up in my apartment the whole time.

Hike and bike Trail in my neighborhood
I went to the Independence Day parade in historic downtown Flagstaff this morning. As my boyfriend pointed out, “Independence Day” symbolizes more for me this year. Indeed, my moving to Arizona signifies a new and more adult phase of my life in which I make the decisions and I finance them. In an effort to save gas (and to kill some time), I walked for an hour to get to the parade. But before you feel sorry for me, remember that I'm in “Flag,” as the locals call it, and this place is set up for hikers and bikers. My walk began in my residential neighborhood, then faded into a long, gravel trail along a winding street. After crossing onto a bigger thoroughfare, my forest trail was asphalt paved until it turned once more into a wide sidewalk. During the entire trip, I had at least a sidewalk, if not a trail through stunning pine scenery.

Once I came nearer to downtown, I started to follow the Teva sandal-wearing, iced-coffee drinking masses to the parade route. With the other 80,000 people of Flagstaff, I assumed my position along Aspen Street to wait for the parade to begin. I have not been to any Fourth of July parades since I became too old to scramble for the candy, and so I wasn't really sure what adults do at these things. One of the first floats handed out small flags to wave, which helped my nervous ticks look more patriotic than anxious. I saw everything from the expected veterans, ponies and marching bands; to the more niche Native American dancing, Bikram Yoga Instructors, and the antique tractors of Northern Arizona. My favorite parts of the parade were the former Peace Corps members (one who served in Afghanistan in the 1960's), and the veterans from Vietnam and WWII. Although I rarely talk about it, I admire people who sacrifice so much for this country and I always get a little choked up when I recognize their service (required patriotic moment).

After the parade, I wandered over to the Arts in the Park festival I had seen on my laundromat misadventure. I made a beeline to the Italian ice vendor for something cool and sugary. Then I browsed the vendors' wares. Lots of metal cacti, blown glass, and tie-dye apparel were being sold to the tourists and locals who had planned their morning with roughly the same schedule as mine. No one was selling cheap second-hand furniture, so I decided that I had better wait until I had a table for the sculpture to sit on before investing.

Although proud of myself for attending two events that I would never think of going to solo in my hometown, I wished I had been more outgoing and struck up some conversations. “Wow, great hiking boots! I bet those are great for...everyday use!” or “How long have you been growing your hair...that way?” or even, “Hey, where did you get that iced coffee?” Wanting desperately to fit in, but not to stick around any longer, I bought an iced coffee for the way home. I will make friends later. Happy Independence Day.

Laundry adventure on my first full day in Flagstaff (written 7/2/11)

For a minute there, I could have sworn I was on study abroad. My mission of the day was to have a bed set up and ready to sleep in. The final step to complete Operation Bed was to find a laundromat.

Finding a laundromat was my forth or fifth step in the day's mission. First thing this morning, I went to the Furniture Barn and bought a bed because “sleeping” on the floor for just one night is more than enough motivation. The second phase of the mission was to go buck wild at Target, picking up everything from a silverware organizer to a shower caddy—and don't forget sheets for the new bed. Unfortunately I did forget laundry detergent, which spurred a third mission. Since returning to Target so soon would have been a total embarrassment, I decided that I would go to Home Depot (across town) instead, because they have laundry detergent and Adirondack chairs for my patio area.

Since I began this entry with the need to find a laundromat, you may have seen this next part coming. Detergent and laundry in hand, I marched right up to the locked laundry room door to read a sign informing me that the laundry rooms would be out of service until July 8th, presumably for an upgrade of the 1980's-style machines lined up out front.

My experience trying to find a laundromat was not unlike the frustrating times I had in Cambodia, waiting for tuk tuk drivers to admit that they had no idea where the Post Office was (and then demanding extra money); and not unlike the agony of coordinating five Austrian bus routes only to arrive at the office building and realize that the office hours are from 10-12:30 Tuesdays only. Today, I had called upon my trusty cell phone GPS to help me search for and navigate to a nearby laundromat in this unfamiliar city. After the third laundromat failed to be where the phone insisted it was, the phrase “you are now off track” applied more to my phone than to me.

I gave in to the stomach growls and headache and pulled into a grocery store. I could only handle the unwashed sheets if I had a full stomach and stocked cupboards.

On the way home, sitting in a form of traffic unique to Flagstaff's main drag, I saw a laundromat. Right there, on the street I had been driving all day. About 200 yards after the place where my phone had insisted I turn (that was the DMV, by the way.)

I had a choice to make. Totally abort mission or resume. After a quick grocery drop-off, you bet I was back at that laundromat. Once I had my sheets spinning around amidst hundreds of other people's, the scent of communal laundry took me back to a very dark place: the laundry room at the Ghegagasse Student Apartments, where I had lived as an exchange student in Austria.

To wash laundry at Ghegagasse, I had to go to the basement of another complex and brave the “drying room,” which was just a damp, windowless, barely lit room full of clothesline and the ghostly shadows of other people's trousers. If I was lucky the light in the actual wash room would be on, illuminating the outline of the door I wanted. Once inside, I had my choice of machines in varying degree of disrepair. This one leaks, that one stains, the other runs it through the wrong cycle. Well, actually, it was impossible to know which cycle you had chosen because, like in Cambodia, the machines had directions in an unintelligible language. Even if it was German, I couldn't make any sense of it.

There are no dryers in other parts of the world, either. Drying clothes in Cambodia was a breeze. A few minutes at midday and you had crispy shirts. In Austria, it wasn't so easy. The lack of space in our five bedroom apartment proved difficult for freestanding laundry racks. No matter, we put them in the hallways, blocking the bathroom. I borrowed a rack from Gimi', my happy-go-lucky Serbian roommate. He taught me that there is no shame in displaying your socks and underwear in the hallway.

The Flagstaff laundromat proved that a little perseverance goes a long way. My experiences on study abroad continue to help me see everyday situations as both funny and triumphant. The little victories lead to something bigger, like a freshly made bed. Or a sent letter. Or a signed form.