Thursday, October 31, 2013

When I Grow Up....

So I am, in theory at least, a grown up.  Thing is I don't especially feel grown up.  I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up.  The last few years in Malawi were busy ones.  I ended up homeschooling 2 of the 3 years.  If you have ever home-schooled then you know it is a labor of love that can simply eat your life.  I am soooo glad that I did it and if circumstances demanded it I would do it again in a heartbeat, but I think it's good that the boys are back in school.  The school here is wonderful and the boys are getting to do things academically, socially, and artistically that are far out of my teaching abilities. But now that I have all this free time I am finding I have a bit too much time to think.

I have had many dreams of what I want to be over the years.  Some of those dreams were discarded as I grew and changed, and some, a few, have come true.  For instance I've always wanted to be a mom, and I am, four times over.  And once I thought I wanted to be a teacher. I managed to get a degree and then a paying job doing exactly that for 7 years or so.  I took a break after having a couple of kids because day care costs were outstripping my income.  Teachers don't get rich, they should, but they don't. Dave and I agreed that I would go back to teaching after the youngest started Kinder, and if we had stayed in the states I'm sure finances would have forced me back into the classroom even before then.  Now after being overseas for 7 years, and and out of the classroom for more than a decade,  I can't imagine teaching again, I don't even want to be room mom.  That dream is the dream of a past me, a me that doesn't really exist anymore.

Some days I think I want to write, to be a writer.  To have an answer when asked what do you do?  I want to be able to say, "I'm a writer." but then I really don't seem to have the self discipline or possibly confidence it takes to write for hours a day, every day, and we won't even talk about the evil that is revision and proofreading. And I'm not really all that keen on somebody reading the stories I write.  Stories are different than a blog post. Stories are spun only out of my caffeine fueled imagination, so they feel more personal, more private.  I still write, not just the blog, but actual stories, so maybe someday this dream will become something more than a dream, maybe someday I will say "I am a writer" or maybe not. In the mean time it will continue to be something I do for me, because I enjoy it.

Somedays I think I should just go get a job at the embassy as a security escort or something, to contribute to the family income.  We don't need me to work, and that is such a blessing, but sometimes I feel a bit guilty about spending and not earning money.  (My husband is rolling his eyes as he reads this!) Yes, if I went to work full or part time outside of the house it would upset the balance of the house.  I am currently the chief maid, cook and bottle washer.  The boys (all of them including my husband) come home expecting a clean house and dinner ready.  I (usually) provide that service.  I actually like being a house wife, and I am good at it. Somehow these days that doesn't seem to be an acceptable occupation and I don't so much like people who ask me "What DO you do all day?"  I have noticed most of those people have a maid, possibly a nanny, and spend most of their time volunteering someplace or meeting with like minded people to "do lunch" and are shocked that anyone would ever consider cleaning their own toilets.  My husband has been known to refer to them as "Ladies who lunch" which is a little mean and condescending but then their question "What DO you do all day?" and it's implication I should be doing something more is a little mean and condescending too.

A long time ago, so long ago it seems like another life, I talked a lot about doing something with plants.  Maybe a small farm, possibly herbs, or maybe landscape design.  At the time I was drowning in dirty diapers, so it was just a fond dream for someday.  I did spend a lot lot of time playing in my own yard and even did some landscape work for friends. In fact one of those jobs ultimately led to us moving overseas.  I wouldn't take any money because she paid for all the supplies and I was having so much fun.  But the friend insisted on giving us something for our work, so she gave us a gift certificate to a local chinese place knowing we hardly ever got a chance to go out to eat.  When we went we were  the only people speaking English and the food was amazing.  Now my husband is an army brat who grew up mostly overseas in Korea and Japan.  Somehow after that dinner, listening to others chatter away in another language and eating great Asian food, it became imperative that Dave make it back overseas. That his children have a childhood filled with travel and international experiences.  It took a few years but we made it and the rest is history. That was Dave's dream and he found a way to make it come true.

Which brings me back to what I want to be when I grow up.  Plants are still my passion.  I love plants of all kinds, but most especially those which smell good, and taste good, and look pretty.  I thought I had left behind my dreams of farming or landscape design, after all those are not exactly portable careers.  I began to remember how much I love playing in the dirt in Malawi where I had a huge yard with a massive vegetable and herb garden.  I also had two gardeners who had been with the house through a few rounds of embassy families.  They were slightly baffled at my wanting to play in the dirt.  They often drove me absolute batty by trying to help, like the time they "weeded" my herb garden pulling up and throwing onto the compost all the "weeds" including my oregano, curry plant, tarragon and sage.  I was never able to replace the curry plant or sage.  All the same I enjoyed spending hours weeding and planning, composting and harvesting.  It went a long way towards making Malawi home.  It also re-awakened long forgotten dreams.

Lately it seems the universe is refusing to let those dreams return to long forgotten status. A few weeks ago one of my favorite author blogs Jill Shalvis linked to a friend's blog Chickens in the Road, a writer turned farmer, turned writer again. I read her blog and thought "That's what I want to do! I want a little farm"  Then I spent the better part of the day blog stalking her, reading every blog post about her farm.  I thought, "Isn't that lovely? Someone is living my dream." Actually her farm and life is far beyond what I previously thought to dream of, but now it has expanded my dreams, and isn't that why we read? Then I put away my computer and my blog inspired day dreams and went back to unpacking boxes, cleaning, cooking, and creating a home here in Oman.

Recently  I have discovered a TV series on Hulu Plus called Chefs a Field where chefs who are committed to cooking organically and sustainably visit the local organic farms that supply their produce.  Some of those farms are as small as half an acre.  Others are huge.  Most are in-between. None of them are getting rich farming.  It's kinda like teaching that way.  But all of them are finding a way to  make their farms work, often in unusual ways. I think that in the future it will be those farmers that think outside the box that are able to continue to exist, perhaps prosper, and supply our food needs.

A few weeks ago I tuned into Ted Radio Hour podcast while cooking and heard an amazing talk by Ron Finley about the food desert in his South Central LA neighborhood and how he planted a food forest to supply fresh produce.  Amazing!  I first learned about food forests while taking a permaculture course in Malawi.  At the time I thought how much could we alleviate hunger if we could just get more people to plant a sustainable food forest instead of sweeping the dirt away or planting a lawn.  And here is a self-styled guerrilla gardener using the same principals to fight hunger in LA.

Even my cooking shows seem to all be doing special segments on the farms that supply the produce. It seems like everywhere I look someone is taking a little plot of land and turning it into a place to grow something.  Bees, or chickens, or beets, or goat cheese, or Romanesco broccoli.

So now I think someday I might want to be a farmer, of sorts. Not when I grow up, I think I am safely past that stage, but maybe when Dave retires. Not next week, or next month, or even next year, because there are a lot of years between now and retirement, and a lot or research and work if this is a dream I really want to pursue.  Not growing rows and rows of corn and soybean in rotation, but maybe more a hobby farm with a couple of acres of organic gardens and produce sold at farmers markets or maybe the local CSA (community supported agriculture).  When Dave envisions this dream it has a B&B or possibly self-catering vacation cottages on part of the property, and I think there is room in this dream for that too, as long as HE cleans the rooms, not me. I'll be out back turning the compost to aerate it and keep it hot and picking my micro-greens and heirloom vegetables.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Unpacking: Making Progress and Dreaming of Floors

I am finally nearing the end of the cardboard boxes. YAY!!  By this time next week the artwork will be hung (I hope), and I can post some finished pictures of our home here in Oman.

The house has a few quirks, like who thought it was a good idea to put the kitchen light switches BEHIND the fridge, seriously.  But what FS housing doesn't have quirks? It's beginning to feel like home, quirks and all. And so far I haven't found a single spider  large or small, so it's all good!!  By the way karma, this is not the signal to send hordes of giant spiders heading my way. Nope I am really good with no spiders!

Unpacking an entire house can be mind numbingly boring and tedious.  While I am unwrapping the bazillion and one dust collectors we seem to have accumulated I am only half focused on finding a place for them here in our new home, mostly I am thinking about flooring options.  Hardwood, or tile, or natural stone?  Polished concrete, or acid stained, or painted? No the house here isn't getting a new floor, our floor here is all shiny, slick marble.  I am thinking about my little vacay house in the 'hood.  When we bought it the floors looked like this:

But then just before we left Malawi for home leave this happened:

I know right? What a mess.  All total we lost 24 tiles in 2 rooms. 24 oversized 15 inch tiles.  That is a lot of floor.  We had the foundation checked, it's fine.  Apparently what happened is that there was a heat wave that lasted for about a week and with the house unoccupied at the time and not air conditioned the tile expanded a lot faster than the foundation.  That combined with a bad DIY tile job and POP exploding floor.

Dave and his brother Paul chipped away all the loose, broken tiles and mortar, cut plywood to fit the holes, threw some carpets over it and called it done for the summer.

It looked good, really good actually, but at best it's a very temporary fix.

The plan is for me to head back to the states ahead of the rest of the family and take care of the floor so that the summer would be relaxing and fun. There is not much relaxing and fun about living in a construction zone.  Originally we were thinking I would just supervise the contractors, that plan was great until we started getting some quotes. OUCHIE!

I really want black slate tile but the quote to get that done rules out the possibility of going to Thailand, or Zanzibar, or China, or pretty much anywhere really.  And you know one of the major benefits of the FS is the chance to travel.  Why would I give that up for a floor, even a really pretty floor? There is time for that slate floor when we retire and by then I will probably want something different anyway.

So began the search for affordable flooring options.  First thing that came to mind was laminate. I don't like laminate floors.  They feel fake.  Probably because they are fake. And it's a lot more expensive than I thought it would be.

I really like the look of this plywood floor, and it wouldn't be that expensive.  That really is plywood. Gorgeous isn't it? I might like this better than slate, maybe.

Plywood Floor
But this is out my skill level, and since the new plan is for me to head home early and do the floor by myself, what ever we choose has to not only be cheap, it has to be something I can handle as a solo DIY.

Enter the painted floor. Do a quick internet search and you come up with some really cool looks.  I love the way this floor looks painted solid robin's egg blue.

Blue Floor
Simply stunning, and I would imagine it shows every blessed piece of dirt that comes by. With 3 boys who spend the summer roaming from house to house with their pack of friends, that can be a lot of dirt.  So maybe not for me, not right now anyway.

How about faux bois?  I may have to do this just so I can say I have a faux bois floor. Isn't it fab?

Faux Bois Floor 
I thought about simple diamonds in grey and white.

Diamond Painted Floor
It's classic, and probably not too hard to do.  Sounds like a winner, BUT if I am going to go to all the trouble of chiseling up all that tile, scraping, sanding and painting BY MYESLF, I think I want something different.  Something fun and maybe a little funky.

So I looked at stencils.  Wow are there some cool stencils out there.

Stenciled Floors
Check out this all over floral stencil from Royal Design Studios.

Lace Stencil by Royal Design Studios

I love this!!!  It's a little funky.  It's fun.  Done in grey and white it will make a lovely background for my rugs and furniture and brighten up the room.  BUT I live in a house of men.  I showed this to my husband and the boys. Four men looked at all those flowers and simultaneously broke out in hives. I'm guessing door to door flowers are out.  Of course I will be in the states and they will be in Oman, so it's not like they would know what I was up to until it was a fait accompli.  Would that be too mean?  It would, wouldn't it? I thought so. Darn it!

I like the organic look (exactly what does that mean??) of acid staining, but doing it professionally is not cheap, albeit a whole lot cheaper than slate, and it's out of my DIY range.  Plus it seems like 99 out of 100 acid etched floors are brown.

Acid Stained Floor
Not a big fan of brown.  If I wanted brown I would just leave the plywood and broken tiles there for a few more years.

I have a freind who's the queen of DIY and faux painting who tells me I can totally get this look with paints, and it's cheap and I can choose my own colors!  Cheap is good. Colors are better. Mottled floors are good for hiding dirt. With 3 boys and their pack of friends in and out of the house all summer hiding dirt is a very good thing.  I am thinking something like this

stained concrete floor
Mostly grey with hints of blue and green and touches of brown.  Nice and bright and fairly neutral, but still fun and funky.

And then I found these really cool stencils.

Fossil Stencils
I am not sure exactly what I want to do with them but they do seem to suit our family to a tee.  The boys are forever dragging home skulls and bones and rocks, shells and fossils and feathers. In fact right now there's a goat skull on the front steps, a cat skull on the book shelf, what we think might be a fox skull in the display table, and sea shells everywhere.  Somehow stencils of long dead critters seem entirely appropriate, I just need to figure out what to do with them.

I have months yet to figure out, and research exactly what I want to do. In the meantime I am having a ridiculous amount of fun day dreaming about all the possibilities.

Does anyone else out there day dream about DIY projects?