Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Balancing Act

I don't know how I do it, but I manage to keep myself busy!  I always have.  In high school, after a freshman year that was exceedingly dull, I was busy seeing friends and causing a polite ruckus.  I didn't do anything illegal, I just did some things that were silly and stupid (like walking across the waterfall at Whitnall Park and riding in shopping carts).  In college, I just got busier.

Despite having moved cross country with no friends my age down here, I haven't slowed down.  (Well, there was the time I was unemployed and looking for jobs like mad!)  I volunteered last week Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and again tonight and will again on Thursday.  I am taking my writing class and trying to figure out where to go with blogging in the future. 

I realized last night that I have piled a little too much on my plate.  Work is essential, volunteering feeds my soul, my writing class will hopefully help me grow, and I need to have time to work on my hobbies.  All of this plus making time for the husband and the fur babies (now three, soon to be four).  I was getting a little anxious and feeling overwhelmed. 

I dropped my Coursera class because it made sense, but I still feel like a bit of a failure.  I hate quitting.  When I drop a class or bow down from a position I feel like there is a rock in my gut, even if I knew I wasn't going to do my best in the class or even if I absolutely hated the job.  It's my Midwestern work ethic.  I aim to please.  I am my harshest critic.  Anything anyone has ever accused me of is nothing in comparison to the monologue running through my brain.  I'm really bummed about the class because it seemed like it would be interesting, but the minimum 8 hour a week commitment was too much. 

I think I'm struggling with this in particular today because I had a rough couple of days at work.  I've been trying to streamline processes and help students to the best of my abilities because I want to see the department and students succeed, but I am met with resistance nearly every step of the way.  The other thing that sets my teeth on edge is that in my work environment, communication is not merely talking... it's loud and frantic talking.  I am a person who likes to find the underlying problem, brainstorm solutions, and find the best one without raising my voice and while using professional vocabulary.  Even if both parties desire the same end goal, we cannot seem to agree in how to get there despite our best efforts to compromise. 

I approach life as a teacher, even though I am not teaching right now.  I cannot shut off five years of preparation for that career.  I'm aware that people learn and communicate differently.  It's hard to understand one another and meet in the middle.  I also take almost everything personally.  I try very hard to keep things light for the rest of the day when I have had a situation like I did this morning, but in my stomach I still feel that rock weighing me down and I get shaky (literally) and unsure.

I need time to step back from Miami life.  I want to recharge my batteries.  If I had the money and the time off of work I'd be on a plane to a new and exciting location in a heartbeat.  I also need to learn to let things go.  Does this mean I will have to step back from some things?  Yes.  Does this mean that if I don't do 100% on every task at work it will be okay?  Yes.  Does this mean that sometimes people might not be pleased with me?  Probably. 

I am only human.  I can only do so much.  And I wasn't getting college credit for that class anyways. ;)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

New Classic Movie Challenge: Funny Face

I have always loved the movies.  I know people use that line a lot, but my first job was at a movie theatre, so I think it holds a bit more weight.  Unless you are talking to Martin Scorsese.  Then he definitely loves the movies more than me.  In high school I wrote my first ten page essay on how I wanted to be a film director.  I guess you could say that I've always been interested in telling stories in one form or another: through illustration, through song, through writing, and I daydreamed of doing it through film as well.  I filled out postcards and had information for film schools sent to my house during the college search.  I wonder if I had followed my artistic pursuits at a younger age if I would be happier with my career... but that is neither here nor there and I wouldn't trade my college years in Madison for the world.

Given that I love the movies I don't go as often as I would like here in Miami.  In Madison I was spoiled with a Sundance Cinema.  There were only two in the country at the time (now there are six) and I made the most of the student deals on Tuesday nights.  I went so much I even had a card that got stamped for each ticket I bought.  Sundance 608 had the big movies and the little art ones.  It had awesome popcorn and even better ambiance.  Here I am fighting the throngs of teeny boppers and their poorly behaved parents (yes, parents) just to get a ticket- I avoid the concession stand at all costs.  I like feeling like I'm escaping the world when I go to the movies.  In Miami, more often than not, I struggle to keep my attention on the film and not on the people in the audience.

When I moved down here I got myself a Netflix subscription.  It was better back then because I could watch streaming television and older movies while requesting DVDs of newer releases.  I've changed my plan now that Netflix has changed their policies.  I get three DVDs a month.  I watch a lot of newer releases and television shows.  I was watching some British programs like The IT Crowd, and some American ones like The Big Bang Theory.  While I make room in my "queue" for the occasional drama, I spend most of my time with comedy.  I love to laugh.  There is enough drama on the world's stage to keep me glum for a lifetime.

After watching My Week With Marilyn I realized that I have virtually no experience with classic cinema.  I've seen Gone with the Wind (snore), For Whom the Bell Tolls (double snore), The Maltesse Falcon, The African Queen, and Breakfast at Tiffany's.  That's it.   I can't even remember what happened in most of those films.  Considering I've adored Audrey Hepburn and all she stands for since I was in high school, this is appalling.  I decided to load my "queue" up with some of the funnier classics: Auntie Mame, Some Like It Hot, Roman Holiday, The Gay Divorcee, and a few others.

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face

I started my classic movie marathon with  Funny Face and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  I've been in musicals in high school, but I'm not a die hard fan of them.  But this one had music by Gershwin in it and I'm sorry, but you cannot go wrong with him, or with Fred Astaire's dancing.  And to me, Audrey Hepburn is gold.  I thought the story was very cute and surprisingly modern.  It asks the question: can you value fashion without being vapid?  Can you enjoy the seemingly frivolous while holding your own philosophies about the important?  Kay Thompson as fashion editor Maggie Prescott was amazing.  She was an older character that displayed as much vitality, and PIZAZZ (her favorite adjective) that the younger Hepburn did.  I was pleased to see such a large role for an older woman.  And she can sing!  I sort of have a bad taste in my mouth for older, female characters (unless played by the goddess Meryl Streep).  It has to do with growing up in a culture that emphasizes youth and with being relegated to "old lady roles" (save for once) in my high school drama career because I had a different body type.  I was forever playing the mother, the brash older broad, or the stern British senior citizen.

While the movie ends on a happy note, it didn't complete like movies of our day with the stereotypical wedding and a baby.  I feel like every story I've read recently, whether it be sci-fi, fantasy, action-adventure, or realistic fiction, ends with the characters getting married and finding out shortly afterwards that there is a baby on the way.  (Or, if the book/film doesn't end like this, there is sure to be a money making sequel...)  This isn't the dream for everyone, including myself, despite the fact I married young.  As a viewer, we get the idea that even if Hepburn and Astaire don't end up together, she's still a tough cookie with a well-educated mind of her own who'll get by just fine.  I like that.  I like Thompson's no-holds barred attitude that doesn't also take a cut-throat approach along with it.  There are no true enemies in this film.  Sure, it's not entirely realistic, but movies don't have to be.  Some of the best movies and books are ones where we suspend our fantasy and enjoy the story for what it is.

At this point in my cinematic life I am going to educate myself with the seemingly simple yet deceptively layered stories that invoke glamor, romance, and slapstick comedy; where the images are not as sharp as high definition, but they are not as flat as some of the movies today.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lifelong Learning

Right now, I am the busiest I have ever been while living in Miami.  It is exciting, slightly overwhelming, and encouraging.  I have challenged myself to write more on this blog, and I have.  I have also been poking around on my Blogspot account to see what my reader statistics are.  Did you know there is someone in Russia who came to my page?  And Sweden and Germany?  Crazy!  I don't know if these are spammers or flukes, but it is still interesting to think about.  I am still a teeny, tiny blog in this vast blogosphere, but I'm trying my best to grow and learn each day.

I've mentioned the writing class that I am taking online and the literature one as well.  I have been keeping up with the writing one, but I have serious work to do for the literature one.  At least J is taking the second with me, so he will keep me motivated.  Tonight I also took a social media class at Fairchild and I came away feeling like I can build my "brand" or internet presence (Etsy, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, blogs, etc...).  I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I think that one day I could get my writing out there on a well-read blog.  Or sell handmade gifts to people across the globe.  I'm not sure what path I'm headed down, but for right now I am going to go with the flow and keep learning as much as I can.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” ~ Henry Ford

Monday, July 23, 2012

Places I Love in Florida

Originally I was going to blog about this in one of my 5 Things posts, but I am quickly realizing that I have far too many ideas for that and I need to keep working on posts about life in the Sunshine State.  J and I have been trying to explore our new state within our meager budget.  This can be hard to do.  Miami is a great city for the rich and famous.  Every other day I see that some pop star or actress is frolicking on Miami Beach.  If you have the cash to spend there are a lot of shopping, dining, and entertainment options.  You can get a valet anywhere here (even at Bahama Breeze which is a chain like Chili's).  We've had to dig a little deeper to find some of these gems, but they make life in Southern Florida a little better.

Matheson Hammock Park is located right next to the botanical garden where we volunteer.  It is a good find for families on a budget.  For just five dollars per vehicle there is a little atoll (an enclosed lagoon) that is perfect for swimming with wee people.  There are a lot of tiny shells for kids to collect and minnow-ish fish for them to observe.  There are lifeguards on duty during designated times.  There is a restaurant in the park too (The Red Fish Grill- haven't tried it yet).  There also seem to be oppurtunities for various water sports just off of the parking lot.  We take visitors here because they can see out to Key Biscayne and get a great view of the Miami skyline.  The only issue I have with this place is that it is surrounded by mangroves- which can be stinky at times- but they are important to our ecosystem, so I can't rag on them too much.

Me with Key Biscayne in the background, Thanksgiving 2011

Me in front of the Atoll, Thanksgiving 2011

While driving through Coral Gables you will realize it is truly a one-of-a-kind city.  Surrounded by the ugliness that is most of Miami, Coral Gables is a green oasis.  The trees lining the streets are like nothing I've ever seen before.  Banyans, Live Oaks, and Palms make for strange bedfellows, but here they work together in a strange, jungle harmony.  Banyans are positively huge- I daydream about making one into a little cottage.  They have all sorts of nooks and crannies and they provide shade from the oppressive Miami sun.  I grew up admiring the Village of Greendale and I always appreciated the historical significance of that small town.  Coral Gables has an interesting history and if you are in South Florida you have to drive through.  (Check out the Biltmore Hotel, the Venetian Pool, Coral Way, Granada, and the various "themed villages.")

The Southern Gulf Coast of Florida (Naples to St. Pete's is what I've seen) is absolutely beautiful, in my humble opinion.  I know there are better beaches out there, but the beaches of Miami and Fort Lauderdale don't hold a candle to those on the Gulf Coast.  The sand seems softer, there are bigger and prettier shells to collect, and life seems a bit more relaxed (probably because it's vacation central).  I also happen to like being out-and-out there more than I do in Miami.  Many of the people living there have some Midwestern roots, so they're a bit kinder.  We haven't spent too much time on the Gulf Coast, but if we had the time and money for a Florida vacation, I would like to spend it there.  (If we had the time and money for a vacation we wouldn't head to the beach, but if my parameters were Florida, I'd pick the Gulf Coast.)

There are a couple of more places I love to visit: Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens (where I volunteer), Wynwood Art District, and Dining at Food Truck Rallies and on South Beach.  Since I've written about them before I figured I'd stick to newer experiences.  If you've missed any of my posts, check out ones with Miami Life and Food Love labels.

Me, Volunteering for the Ramble at FTBG, November 2011 (I made and sold the scarf on the table)

Me and the Littlest Brudder under a Jacaranda Tree at FTBG, April 2011

J in front of a Baobob at FTBG, April 2011

Me at the John Lennon Installation Piece at FTBG, April 2011

Sunday, July 22, 2012

5 Things: Miami

5 Things I Love About Miami
  1. Food from Ms. Cheezious!
  2. Dining, in general.
  3. Comfortable weather from November to March.
  4. I live in an international melting pot (I have co-workers from around the world and the Cuban/Islander culture down here is like nothing I've ever seen before).
  5. I got Ruby! And soon I'll have Lily!

5 Things I Hate About Miami
  1. Anything medical. Ever.  (Getting prescriptions, going to the doctor, having tests done... it is all a pain.  I don't speak the language of the medical field down here.  I have been raging mad about treatment we have received.  The only medical personnel I like down here are the people at the vet's office.)
  2. Driving and traffic.  (And paying tolls.)
  3. Horrible weather from April to October.  
  4. Lack of a Midwestern work ethic.  ("Miami time" is a real thing.  It's delayed from usual time by two weeks.  Nothing gets done fast here.  Nothing is done with a smile either.  You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but it still bugs me.)
  5. Laundry.  (I have never hated doing laundry this much in my life!  I've been doing it since I was in grade school.  I just hate our laundry set up so much.  I have a huge pile of dirty clothes staring me down as I type this.)

5 Things I Learned in Miami
  1. Dance music is a movement and it's not half bad.  (Even if I don't go clubbing.  Oh, and Pitbull is the King of Miami, Flo Rider is the Prince, and Gloria Estefan is the Queen.)
  2. I now get all of the jokes in the Sh*t Miami Girls Say YouTube video.  I think it is funny and scary (I've started doing some of those things).
  3. Speaking of which, I can talk really, really fast with wild hand movements now to demonstrate my excitement or anger over a situation.
  4. People don't know where Milwaukee is.  (I've been told I was from Ohio, Chicago, and the state of Washington.  It would be funny if this wasn't one of the least educated large cities in the U.S.)
  5. I learned how to bead-weave, string pearls, knit, crochet, make mosaics, and develop an Etsy website.  (Not half bad.)
5 Things I Hope for in a New City
  1. A sense of pride in the community, a recycling initiative, a decent farmers market, and city parks.
  2. A beautiful, comfortable, reasonably priced place to call home.
  3. Being admitted to a graduate program for Creative Writing.
  4. The ability to drive forty minutes away from the city to find gorgeous, peaceful scenery and places to explore.
  5. Friends who uplift me and appreciate the same things I do.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Blogs and Websites I Love

I probably spend too much time on the internet.  I'd like to think I mitigate that by reading way more books that the average American reads and by spending my time creating things (writing, crafts, art...).  I had the unique experience of growing up at the same time the internet was growing.  It is an amazing tool (and an amazing time suck).  I can see things through my computer that I may never get to see in my life.  I can learn about people I would never have met due to distance constraints.  I can learn about any topic I want with the click of a few keys.  Living with the internet is a balance, though.  For every amazing nature photo I gape at I need to make time for the real world outside.  For every person's blog I read I need to connect with a real person in my life.  When I choose to spend time on the internet, I try to spend the most amount of time on sites I either admire or sites that make my life easier.


A Beautiful Mess

This is an insanely popular blog.  If I could do a fraction of what these sisters do, I'd be over the moon.  They craft, cook, create, and cultivate really beautiful lives.  It has been said that we should hang around with people who lift us up rather than tear us down.  In high school and college I sought friends who made me smile, but also ones that made me want to meet their work ethics.  I didn't hang around with lazy people in the School of Education.  They threatened to pull me down with them.  These sisters are my online version of my School of Ed friends.  They accomplish so much and do so beautifully.  They appreciate the little things in life while tackling big, fun projects.  I may not have the same aesthic for clothes, crafts, and decor that they do, but I admire them nonetheless.

Enjoy It

This woman is another powerhouse.  How do these people do all they do?  They should bottle their energy and sell it!  Elise writes about her life in a frank manner while maintaining a positive outlook.  Seeing as she is married to a man in the military, this can be hard.  She has great tips and tricks to share regarding running a popular blog and starting her own business (A Beautiful Mess does this too).  She takes stunning photos that chronicle her life in California.  I read about her struggles to maintain friendships after a cross country move and it inspired me to write my Midwestern Girl's Guide to Moving post. 

North Carolina Charm

Here is another blogger I wish I could be like.  She brings a Southern Charm to the internet.  Her home decor, recipes, and party planning are all super cute.  She makes me want to bring out my inner Martha Stewart.  Like the first two bloggers, she brings positivity to the internet.  None of these ladies lament.  I do because it is in my nature, but I always try to make my frustrating posts funny.  She has some really good tricks and tips for making life at home a little easier. 


I don't even know HOW I stumbled across this blog.  I do know it was when I first moved to Miami.  I really admire this blogger for having a full time job (unlike some bloggers who blog full time) while posting frequently.  He gives thoughtful, concise book reviews.  I've read one or two of his suggestions.  He really likes older titles and mystery books.  I haven't read Agatha Christie since high school, but I still appreciate his well thought out reviews on her work.  I think that it is really cool that he reads books that might be a little older.  I have the problem of wanting to read the latest things that get mentions in magazines or the New York Times.  Older titles need loving too.


I've written about this site twice before because I love it.  If you want to challenge yourself to read more the statistic feature on this site is a great way to push yourself to keep reading.  You can set reading goals and Shelfari will tell you if you are ahead of your goal or behind.  It also allows you to change your goal because -hey!- it's life, sometimes things come up.  I'm currently ahead of my goal having read 24 books out of my goal of 40 this year. 


Remember how I wrote about amazing nature photos at the beginning of this post?  Yeah, I just drool over the Science and Nature category on this site.  Pinterest started as a place for people to "pin" ideas to a "board".  Crafting and DIY are prominent topics on this site.  I found Enjoy It! and North Carolina Charm through "pins" people had added.  You can curate "boards" for various topics.  Teachers like to have "boards" for lesson plan ideas or classroom organization.  Some people like to "pin" gift wrapping ideas.  Other people like to "pin" inspiring pictures or sayings.  Basically, this is an internet version of taking clippings from magazines or newspapers and saving them for future reference.  As an avid idea collector it appeals to me.  As a minimalist who hates clutter, it appeals to me even more.


I need to challenge myself to be willing to make more connections with bloggers and blog readers.  That is one of the best ways to grow readership.  It's also a good way to make friends.  I like having "pen-pals."  Check these websites out.  I wouldn't recommend them if I didn't think they had merit.  After jumping on these sites for a quick peek, you might find that you spend a lot of time there! Enjoy.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Midwestern Girl's Guide to Moving

I know I have been posting a lot lately, but if the wheels are whirring in my brain, I don't want to stop them.  I might as well go with the flow.  I also started my Beginner's Creative Writing Class today and the lesson was practice, practice, practice.  Practice writing doesn't have to be good, in fact, it can be very bad, but as long as you are writing you will keep the momentum.


J and I have been talking about the future quite a bit these past few months, hence my post about the Up in the Air Effect.  These last two years have been fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants years.  As a teenager, when I developed my idiosyncrasies for list making and obsessive organization, I also started thinking about The Big Plan.  For me, The Big Plan was never about getting married or having children at a certain point, I was thinking more about what I wanted to accomplish with my career.  I thought about being an artist, an actress, a teacher, a professor, a director, a writer, a singer, or being independently wealthy.  (Alas, thus far, the last has not happened... yet.) 

I planned my life accordingly around my career dreams.  I took art classes at school and the local museum.  I acted in plays and musicals.  I volunteered working with children.  I took AP classes that sparked my interest in college-level learning.  I went to loads of movies which lead to a job at a movie theater.  I wrote in journals and tried starting stories a couple of times.  I wrote songs and performed once in awhile, too.  Eventually I made plans to go to a university and I weighed the pros and cons of Illinois Wesleyan, Marquette, Twin-Cities, and Madison.  I didn't know exactly which school I would attend, and when I got in to all four, Madison was the no-brainer choice.  Once I made that choice, I knew would be there for at least four years.  I decided to major in Education (seeing people teach was the only job I really, truly understood).  I thought about becoming a professor, then I thought about becoming a high school History teacher, then I decided I didn't like high schoolers and I especially didn't like middle schoolers, so I would do Elementary Education.  I declared my major in History sometime in there, too.  I went through the motions, I made sure I was on track, I pushed myself to be two steps ahead of the game if possible, I worked my butt off for multiple jobs, I got engaged, I planned a wedding, I graduated, I planned a move, I got married, I moved two days later... and then everything screeched to a halt.

The Big Plan brought me up to 23 years old and I hadn't considered a life away from my comfort zone.  Sure, I had dreamed of moving to New York City or San Fransisco, but I never thought I'd move for someone else.  I always thought life would be mostly on my terms while working around the parameters set by work or school.  I poured hours of work and dedication into the Elementary Education program to realize I didn't want to be a teacher in that way.  I still believe the program has merit, but I spent years making sure I met the requirements to get in and then years exceeding within it that I felt as if I spent my college life working towards nothing.  I didn't know what to do with myself after school.  I especially didn't know what to do with myself in Miami.

Well, now I am here, but I don't know where I'll be going anymore and I'm not sure what I should be working towards.  From 15 to 21 I knew those things, but now I need to learn to explore different paths.  This can be hard on anyone, but I believe it is especially hard when you move to a brand new place where you have no friends, no family, and no professional network.  A move is in our future again (when- I don't know), but it has me considering: what are the suggestions I would give someone else if they were moving to a new city?  Thus, A Midwestern Girl's Guide to Moving (in no particular order of importance).

  1. Read up on your new city.  Crime reports and maps will give you a good idea of where not to live.  You might have to go ahead of time to find an apartment.  It is worth the trip.  Driving around and getting lost is a good place to start when figuring out where to make your home.  You'll see and hear more important information in the real world than you would find online.  If you are moving for a job or school, contact a future colleague and ask them where people they know live.  Keep their considerations in mind, but don't be afraid to look elsewhere.  (J and I live in a great neighborhood that was not suggested to us originally.)
  2. Consider the climate of your new city.  I went from Madison to Miami.  The Land of Snow to the Land of Snowbirds.  I didn't have money to revamp my wardrobe, but you can bet I left my puffy North Face jacket where it belongs: up north.  I had to buy shorts (I only had two pairs for working out).  I had to buy a swimsuit (I hadn't owned one in years).  I also made a Hurricane Emergency Kit for my new subtropic home (luckily I'm married to a meteorologist).  
  3. Find your local library, stat!  If you are bored, cannot find work, or broke, reading books from the library will occupy your time and your mind.  Reading keeps your mind sharp, yet open.  Libraries have community boards and you can possibly meet up with an interest group.  (My local library isn't the best for this, but others are great for community outreach.)
  4. Volunteer.  I tried to make a couple of volunteer connections before I found Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens.  There I learned a lot about my community and the area's natural history from orientation classes.  I found a position that works well with my education and crafting background.  I get to meet new people.  I don't hang out with them or even chat that much when I'm there, but they are interesting folks who come from all walks of life.  (A few of them will serve as inspiration for great characters in a story some day!)  Volunteering is good for your resume, great for you, and priceless for your community.  One hour a month is probably thirty minutes more than the average person is giving.
  5. Get a GPS.  You will get lost without it unless you have an uncanny sense of direction.  I'm actually pretty intuitive when it comes to getting around, unlike some people I live with...  (Don't tell my husband.  He's been know to drive aimlessly and he won't stop for directions.)  Getting lost can be fun and educational, but it is not okay when you are headed to a job interview, meeting, work, or a class.  
  6.  Make your new house/apartment your home.  There have been times I have lamented, "Why could I not find a place like this in Wisconsin!"  My apartment is pretty spacious and we worked very hard to make it as homey as possible on our budget.  It was the first time living together where our things were cohesive (our office is a bit of a style jumble, though).  We put up art and pictures.  We bought candles.  We moved the furniture for comfort and function several times.  There are things about this place that are sucky, don't get me wrong.  (What I wouldn't give for an in-unit washer/dryer, central air, and less bugs!)  Yet, there are things about this place we will probably never have again.  (Tons of storage space, two bedrooms for a reasonable price,  and a beautiful neighborhood.)  I love my apartment so much; it has been my oasis in this crazy city.  Here I can unwind.  This apartment is HOME even if Miami is not.
  7. Meet your neighbors.  At first I considered going old school, making cookies, knocking on doors, and introducing myself.  I soon learned that people in Miami have a mob mentality that is anti-social, rude, antagonistic, and suspicious.  Doors are not held open for you; they are slammed in your face.  Even native Miamians tell you this is a rude city.  I was constantly asked where I was from because it was clear I wasn't from around here.  I don't consider myself to be especially friendly or outgoing.  In fact, I'm a bit of a hermit who likes to be left alone while in public, but I try to be nice.  Now, I have had the pleasure of getting to know some people from around the world while living here and people who were born and raised in this city.  There are only a few people up for the roles of the villain in my future books (oops- did I say that?).  Interacting with people one-on-one is generally an okay experience here.  I met my neighbors when it was natural: when we were both out and about.  I know them all with one exception (and heavens knows I've tried with that one).  We became pretty friendly with our downstairs neighbors.  They were great and we would often exchange favors of watching each others pets.  They moved to Baltimore and it was such a bummer because we lost those people we trusted.  However, at least we had them for a majority of our stay here.  People like them are valuable to you.  Meet your neighbors, get friendly enough with at least one or two so that if something comes up (you need your mail to be collected, you get locked out, etc.) you will have someone to count on.
  8. Consider branching out online, but keep in touch with friends back home.  I found out about the sites mentioned below a little late in the game.  I tried to invest in some people my age here, but I eventually figured that I can focus my energy on my hobbies.  Yes, sometimes it is lonely, but I'm never bored.  Know that people will change (most likely you) and you will probably become emotionally distant to some people you had considered close friends in your past.  There is a bit of an out of sight out of mind mentality with people my age group these days.  If they can't "tweet" it to you or put it on your "wall", it's too much of an effort.  I wish I could throw some people's phones in the toilet.  140 characters is not communication- it is merely supplemental!  (But I digress...)  I regularly e-mail a friend (an old neighbor!) who moved to Rhode Island for her husband's job.  She's in the same boat as me.  I try to call my girlfriends from the School of Education every few weeks to get the scoop on their lives.  If I thought I had more time here I would try out Meetup and Grub With Us.  Meetup is a website where you can find numerous interest groups.  It costs money to make a group, though.  I haven't found any groups in my area that really intrigued me (or J).  Grub With Us is a site that connects food lovers to other food lovers at local restaurants. We thought we would try Grub With Us in our new city.  (PLEASE NOTE: Exercise extreme caution when meeting with someone online.  Meet in a group, in a public place, don't exchange personal information until you trust the individual explicitly, take a friend, and tell someone what your plans are!!!  I am probably overly cautious when it comes to these things, but I'd rather be a safe, old hen than a dead, careless chicky.)
  9. Find a local newspaper or magazine.  The local magazine down here is geared towards the rich and slightly famous.  I can't afford the cafes and spas they suggest.  However, the Madison women's magazine was an awesome resource and a great read.  I learned about local shops, initiatives, and community events.  The New Times down here is a newspaper that is more for my speed of life.  We just picked up their big "Best Of..." issue.  We tried out two restaurants already, but there is all sorts of info in it that would have been incredibly valuable to us when we first moved.
So, these are things I've learned that can make a cross-country move slightly easier.  I could bore you to tears with organizational details and packing ideas, but these are more general life tips.  Feel free to share these with someone who has recently moved or might be moving.  I'm going to apply these to my next move.  If you, or a friend, need more advice, don't hesitate to ask.  It was hard to go through a cross-country move like this with no one in my life who had experienced it before.  I'm happy to be of service to anyone who needs it.

Now, about becoming independently wealthy...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Miami Meals

(Consider yourself warned!  This is probably my longest post yet.  Don't worry, I broke up the text with some pictures.  Make yourself comfortable and get ready to get hungry...)

If you've only skimmed this blog once or twice, you know what a foodie I am.  I don't consider myself to be an epicurean, though.  To me, those are the food adventurers who love to try new, odd, and exotic eats.  I will occasionally try something a little out of the ordinary (like my latest Persian dish), but I'm very particular (yes, you can read this as picky) about food.  I'd like to think it's because I'm a super taster, but until scientific testing labels me as such, I'll have to remain with the term particular.

I have implemented some dietary regulations on myself (such as eating ethically raised meat), so I can't chow down with abandon like I have in the past.  J and I eat meat that is rated 4 or higher from Whole Foods about once a week and for the most part, I don't miss eating regular meat.  (J doesn't adhere to the exact guidelines I do, but we're pretty close.)  I think this kind of meat tastes better, but I have a clear conscious which allows me to enjoy the meal more.  Having less meat means that it is more of a treat.  The only complaint I have about it is the lack of ease.  There are few vegetarian options on the go and even fewer vegan ones.  (One day I would love to get my food from farmers markets, but it is a hard in Miami and J and I have financial constraints.)

That being said, I still love going out to eat.  There is something about sitting down at a cleared table, having food made for you, and not having to do the dishes.  Going out for a meal also allows for conversation.  When we're home, J and I will eat at the table once or twice a week.  Otherwise we take our meals to opposite ends of the apartment, or both sitting on the couch watching The Colbert Report.  It is nice to catch up and daydream together while exploring a new facet of our city.

A great way to get to know a place is to go on a food tour.  When J's family was here in April, we went on our first food tour with Miami Culinary Tours.  I don't have my own camera and I don't think J brought his, so I don't have pictures to share, but I can still remember the food.  At Bolivar, a fusion restaurant, we had the most amazing patacones.  They are usually served with beef or shrimp, but J and I had vegetarian ones.  Patacones are deep fried green plantains that are served with a scotch bonnet and tomato sofrita (spicy, but pleasantly so).  I would never have tried them on my own because I dislike plantains in general, but I still dream about that dish.  J and I talk about going back.  If we do, we'll have to snap a picture for you.  Another great stop on that food tour was the Tudor House.  There we got gourmet grilled cheeses and homemade Oreo cookies.  I promised to take J there after he defends his thesis.  My favorite drink on the entire tour was at Chevichery on Espanola Way.  It was a pisco sour drink (I don't know if that is the proper name) and it was refreshing and tart.  It was also the first alcoholic drink I've ever had made with egg whites (sounds gross, but it was good).  There were so many other stops on that trip, but those are the highlights.  I'm sorry I don't have pictures.

The second food tour we went on was with Miami Tour Des Forks.  I loved it.  The first tour we got to learn a lot about the history and interesting facts.  The second tour focused more on the development of Miami as we know it today and the amazing architectural history.

The first stop was The Cafe at Books and Books.  Books and Books is a great bookstore chain down here.  It's a little pricey and I usually get books from my library or on my Kindle, but it is still a neat place.  The Cafe specializes in Miami Nouveau Cuisine (read as fresh, French-style fare that is friendly for your waist).  There we had Bernie's Starter for 2 which included ceviche, humus, corn salad, and avacado salsa.

From there we stopped at David's Cafe, a Miami institution for Cuban cuisine.  I learned about the various types of Cuban coffees.  Colada is the strongest type and it is served in thimble sized cups;  drink anymore and your tummy is going to be tied in knots while also having heart palpitations.  Cortadito isn't as strong and it's fairly sweet.  I'm not much of a coffee person, but if I had to drink coffee, this would be it.

At A La Folie on Espanola Way we had an amazing plateau de fromages that consisted of Brie, Cantal, Goat cheese with herbs de provence, Swiss, Roquefort, apple slices, walnuts, and grapes.  As a Wisconsonite I love my mainstream Cheddar and Mozzarella cheeses, but I also love branching out and trying new cheeses.  The flavor combinations when cheese is paired with fruit and bread is something that I would like to learn more about.  This was my favorite dish on the whole food tour.

While on Espanola Way we stopped at Boteco Copacabana.  There we had really awesome limeades (a whole lime for each serving).  They serve traditional Brazilian fare, like coxinha, a type of "chicken nugget."

Me, with my limeade, taking copious notes so I could share with you guys.  

The plates at this restaurant were absolutely adorable and I made J take a picture of his.  I think I'm going to buy them later!

I loved going on the food tours.  It was such a great way to experience our new city and it was an even better way to share it with guests.  I wish I had taken my parents on one when they were down here.  They would have liked it.  Before going on the food tours I had always avoided South Beach because it intimidated me.  I'm not a beach bunny and I'm not a club kid.  I didn't think there was anything there for me to enjoy.  Boy, was I wrong and I'm glad I was.  The dining there is great (a lot of it is pricey, but there are reasonable gems).  Shortly after the food tour we went back to South Beach to have brunch at The Ice Box.  I saw it on the Cooking Channel.  Oprah had declared it as the best place to get cakes in the U.S.  I listen to Oprah.  I had a red velvet cake there and it was divine.  I cannot wait to go back.  (Another mental note- take pictures here too!)

J and I found another little place closer to us called Del Sur.  We had read about it in a local paper and we wanted to give it a try.  The prices were really reasonable, the wait staff was awesome (on par with my favorites at El Racho Grande), and the chef was so nice.  He came out to greet all of the customers as if we were some snobbity-snobs at a Michelin rated restaurant.  My favorite thing there was the Mozzarella Tasting plate (again with the cheese!).  It had Burrata cheese on it which I have been dying to try.  Burrata is fresh cheese that has a Mozzarella outer layer, but when you cut into it it's creamy.  Amazing.  The other thing I loved about this cheese plate was that it came with sauces.  My favorite was a spicy marmalade.  The others were honey and a cranberry-esque jam.

Ignore J's soup.  Focus on that amazing cheese plate.  I need to work with J on what to focus on at dinner.  :)

Here's the sandwich that I had.  I wasn't as fond of the chips, but the Diet Coke was oh so cute!

Last, but certainly not least, are some pictures from Ms. Cheezious, our favorite food truck.  I gush about it all of the time, but trust me, it's worth it.  If you are ever in Southeastern Florida, make a pilgrimage to a food truck rally.  You will not be disappointed.  I try new things from trucks each time I go, but I always make Ms. Cheezious my main stop.  These pictures are horrible, so I apologize in advance...

Grilled Harvest (Havarti Cheese, Apple Slices, and Spices)

 Goat Cheese and Prosciutto with Arugula and Tomato

Crabby Cheese Melt

The best cheese fries in the state.  There is just something about them that is amazing.  They are never soggy, always crisp, and perfectly salty.  These are meant to be shared though.  Unless you mean business. 

J pleased with himself for scoring some awesome food.  This was the trip where we were called out on being regulars.  If it is wrong, though, I don't want to be right.  (This is technically in Hollywood, not Miami.)

Whew!  What a post.  I've been working on this for the better part of the evening.  It's probably really bad blogging etiquette to post something so long.  I've been meaning to break it up into a couple of little posts, but I figured I'd throw caution to the wind.  (Please note, that these events were during the course of four months.  I like my food, but I'm not that big of a piggie!)

Miami doesn't really feel like home, but it is where we find ourselves.  Living here is an eye-opening experience.  There are wonderful things we have discovered and other things that make us disgruntled.  But it is nice to know that even though we are far from Milwaukee, there are still little things that keep us tied to our hometown.  While walking down Lincoln Road on South Beach I came across a PBR sticker on a sign post.

I know PBR has a reputation for being a very "hipster beer."  See my "hipster" Halloween costume below.  (If you don't get what a "hipster" is, that is good, because my costume was "meta-hipster" because "hipsters" don't like anything that is mainstream.  But if you are still curious, you can look it up on Google for a better definition.)

But, seriously, PBR is sentimental for me.  It is one of the few beers that I actually enjoy and it was my grandfather's favorite beer.  His dad worked at Pabst.  Seeing that PBR sticker was a connection to home and it made my heart happy.  And if we know one thing about Becca's heart, it is that you get to it through her stomach. 

Bon Appetit!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Up In The Air

Time is such a funny thing.  It likes to play tricks on me.  I will have days that drag by that make up weeks that fly by... I'll have one random day that goes far too fast.  Months can either take forever or pass in the blink of an eye.  I cannot seem to catch up but sometimes I think I don't really want to.  I'm at a really weird stage of my life right now where the answer to every question that I seem to be asked (or ask myself) is "I don't know."  I had discussed this feeling with my friend Airbud on the phone a few months ago.  We called it the Up in the Air Effect.  We don't know anything and we don't know when we will know so it's just "I don't know."  If you know me and Airbud at all, you know that this does not sit well with gals like us.  But right now, there is nothing either of us can do to really change that.  Time and life feel like a big shoulder shrug lately.  If I had plans, I'd be more than happy to share, but "meh- I got nothing." 

While I wait to get a better idea of where life will take me (or where I force myself to go) I have to do something for fun once in awhile.  This weekend I had Friday off of work.  It is always nice to have a day off of work with no plans, but I ended up feeling icky.  I get headaches and migraines a lot, and Friday was a day where I was fighting the migraine.  J and I wanted to try an All-Natural cafe in Sunrise, but the drive up there was brutal (about 40 minutes away - but there was traffic).  I thought I was going to be sick.  I made him stop at a store so I could get Saltines and Sprite.  We drove all the way up there and ended up feeling so-so about the food.  I tried fes-un-jun and I learned that I do not like fes-un-jun.  It's a pomegranate walnut sauce served with basmati rice and I got tofu as well.  I like pomegranates and I like walnuts, but they should probably not be blended together.  It was a really strong dish.  I ate the rice.

On Saturday I worked on reading Shadow of  Night by Deborah Harkness (I finished on Sunday night).  It is her sequel to A Discovery of Witches.  I read both books as soon as they came out and there was such a delay between the two that I forgot a lot of the details from the first book.  It was okay at the beginning and it started to get better towards the end.  It had aspects of history that I really liked and I found myself having to look up a lot of vocabulary (a challenge I appreciate), but I'm not as excited for the third book (who knows when that will come out?).  I just try to take mental notes about what I like and what I don't like about books.  Maybe I'll apply them to something of my own in the future?  Who knows.  Big shoulder shrug here too.

On Saturday night, J and I went to the Wynwood Art Walk.  I love going there.  To me it feels like home.  When I have the fewest tattoos out of a huge gathering of people I get a comfy feeling and I start itching to make a collage or doodle.  We stopped in to a lot of the same galleries that were there before.  It is a little more organized now compared to the last time we went.  We had to drop by Ms. Cheezious!  It was just filmed for a Cooking Channel show that I watched called Eat Street.  I asked the owner when he thought it would air and he said sometime around January.  (I went way after filming because I don't really like chaos, but I still wanted to go to support my favorite small company in Miami!)  I picked up a really cool upcycled bag from an artist named Migdalia http://www.recyclemybag.com/  I appreciate the use of previously worn materials that might have been thrown away or left in a thrift bin purgatory.  She is an amazing illustrator and I was immediately drawn to her work.  I got a bag for $30 which was an insanely good price.  I cannot work a sewing machine that well (I try!) and her craftsmanship is as good as the art.  I was especially happy with her price because I had just bought two handmade collars for Ruby online and it cost me $40 and they were a month late and completely unprofessional.  Migdalia and Ms. Cheezious have restored my faith in small businesses after my debacle from last week with two others.

On Sunday night J and I hit up the new location of Shake Shack.  It's a restaurant that started in NYC and opened a location on South Beach.  It's the only place where we can get frozen custard down here and sometimes it is hit or miss, but it is always worth a shot.  They have more artisinal flavors like Sweet Corn (it was lightly disgusting) and regulars like Boston Cream Pie (much better).  I miss my Red Raspberry from Kopp's though.

So, it was a food filled weekend that occupied my time and took my mind off of the Up in the Air Effect.  My lunch break is over, so I should sign off, but here is an update of Lily (her pretty eyes are open!) for you until I write again.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

"The best laid plans of mice and men..."

Friday was one of those days where everything seemed slightly off.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, we found out that the puppy we thought we were getting wasn't going to be the puppy we were getting.  Hence the quote starting this blog post.  I'd rather not get into the details, so please don't ask.  J and I got the news in the morning and we spent the whole day in a sort of funk at our respective offices.  Then one of his Chinese friend's had a car back into hers (not her fault) so he went to help her navigate the confusion that is filing a claim.  It is a frustrating, whirlwind situation for someone who has lived here their entire life, so I can only imagine how I would feel if I got into an accident in another country.  Then I had a less than pleasant experience as I was locking up the office by myself at 5:00 PM.  It was just one of those days that culminated in overall frustration and weariness.

J and I talked about the puppy situation for a long time, and we decided that instead of passing up on a puppy altogether, we would consider one from a different litter.  We had gone to visit with blinders on, trying not to fall in love with any puppy but "ours."  Still, while talking to the breeder, we had a chance to hold a couple of other puppies.  One of those was a sweet, little girl from a different litter whose color I adored.  We decided on her.  She's a little bit older than the one we would have originally taken home.  Her mom was very sweet and calm, which I took as a good sign.  We briefly considered a boy, but J and I had our hearts set on a girl.  We will still call the new puppy Lily.  Some might think it is odd, since it is a different dog, but we've been calling a second puppy Lily since November, before either dog was conceived.  (I already have boy names picked out for future dogs, when we have a house with a yard.)

Here is a picture of the new puppy:

She is a blue Italian Greyhound.  She shares a lot of family with Ruby, even though they don't have the same parents.  If I understand it correctly, Lily's mom and Ruby are half sisters, so Lily is Ruby's niece of sorts.  When I shared this observation with J, he started singing "I am my own grandpa..."  He can laugh all he wants, I just wanted to be sure that we were getting a dog that will be healthy and pleasant like Ruby.  Now that I think about it, it is sort of funny.

Unlike when we went to pick out Ruby, both puppies were still so young that they had their eyes and ears closed.  So, while it was heartbreaking to get the news on Friday, it wasn't the same connection we had with Ruby, who was attentive and had a clearly developed personality: quiet confidence.

After our emotional flip-flopping Friday, I spent the evening watching episodes of The Big Bang Theory and Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog (DVDs from Netflix).  On Saturday J wanted to grill sweet corn and potatoes again, so we ran errands and he cooked.  I finished a book and updated my Shelfari page.  If you are looking for a way to track your reading, this is a great website.  You can sign in with your Amazon account.  If you want, you can sync your Amazon book purchases to Shelfari (I choose not to because I have bought some books for work that are highly technical and now Amazon thinks I am smarter than I actually am...).  You rate books, you can edit book information, write your own reviews, connect with book groups, and best of all- see how many pages you've read.  If you choose to join, feel free to "friend" me: http://www.shelfari.com/beccaf

Yesterday night we went to Starbucks and I wrote four pages to a story that I've been thinking about.  I read it out loud to J when we got home, took his feedback into consideration, made some edits, reread it to him, and went to bed thinking about how to edit again.  I have had five story lines floating around in my head for months on end now.  I've been painstakingly plotting out one since November of last year.  I want to have it mapped out before I sit down and start writing, but sometimes I just want to write, so I am playing around with the other four stories in bits and pieces.  J and I are taking a free Science Fiction Coursera class starting later this month.  I hope to apply what I learn from that to my writing.

If you are looking for free classes to take, check out Coursera.  You have to participate in the class online and it is graded, but the courses are free and they have unlimited enrollment.  Unfortunately, you cannot get college credit for them.  A lot of the courses are for people in the fields of science and technology who might want to brush up on a topic without having to take college classes for it, so there are limited offerings for people who prefer the humanities, like me.  Still, it sounded intriguing.  I'll let you know how it goes once the class gets started.  I also signed up for an online writing class from Miami-Dade Community College.  I had to pay for it and I won't be getting college credits for this one, either, but at least I don't have to worry about my residency status, tuition fees, segregated fees, prerequisites, and competing for seats in a class.

I shouldn't get too ahead of myself though.  I can plan all I want, but sometimes life just changes the parameters and you can choose to adapt or you can change course altogether.  We decided to adapt to the new parameters and we still believe we are doing the right thing for Ruby.  We want her to have as much love and companionship as possible.  We are ready and capable to take on the responsibility of another little life.  Who knows?  Maybe this will end up working out for the best.  (And now Little Lily can come home on my birthday weekend instead of having to wait an additional week.  Happy Early Birthday to Me!)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

All Things American

Happy Fourth of July!

I had the day off so I slept in, cuddled with Ruby, and then I headed to Whole Foods with J.  There we bought steaks (rated 4 on their Animal Welfare Rating System), corn on the cob, potatoes, apple cobbler, and ice cream.  I sneaked a piece of apple cobbler in before dinner, but it didn't ruin my appetite.  J grilled the potatoes, the corn, and the steaks.  It was so nice to have fresh, grilled corn.  After we digested for a bit, we had Sprecher Root Beer floats.  We had bought the Sprecher at the Greenleaf Cheese store in Sarasota when we went to visit Lily last weekend.  It is so wonderful to have little bits of home here in Miami, and there is nothing like Sprecher Root Beer.  (The owner of the shop said he would try to get me Cream Soda for when we go back in August/September!)

While J watched his Brewers, I worked on a batch of magnets to sell on Etsy.  I found some neat supplies at Hobby Lobby in Fort Meyers (again, a stop on the trip to see Lily) that I wanted to try out.  I tried Modge Podge and Modge Podge Dimensional Magic for the first time.  So far I think it is pretty cool, but the only major problem is that the smell (combined with the smell of E6000 glue).   It gives me headaches.  When I make the polished magnets I get headaches too, so it is best for me to work in batches every other month or so.  At least I got things done on my day off!

Tomorrow it is back to the grindstone.  But before then we are going to take Ruby to the dog park and bike to the fireworks.  I love fireworks, but I hate crowds, so I hope that we have a good time and it isn't too packed.  We didn't get to go last year.  Today it was all about America: baseball, apple cobbler, root beer floats, grilled food, making stuff with your hands, and fireworks!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Sweetest Surprise

Well, it's not a surprise to us, but it is a surprise for my readers and Ruby: we are getting another puppy! 

Ruby, meet Lily!

Little Lily is a day old in this picture. I got the e-mail from the breeder and we dropped everything to drive five hours to meet our new bundle of joy.  Of course we had to bring Big Sister Ruby with us!  After all, she had to see where she came from.  Lily was born on June 28th, almost 14 months to the day after Ruby (April 29th).  They share the same mom but different dads.  Interestingly enough, she and her mom did not seem to have a connection or remember each other, but I'm sure that is because her mother was exhausted from delivering five puppies and feeling rather protective.  (That picture of Ruby above is her looking at her mom and the litter- oh the trepidation on her face as her mom gives her the stink eye!).  Ruby is seal and white and Little Lily is black and white.  Lily will be coming home with us around the end of August/beginning of September.  I cannot wait!

Ruby is 14 months old now and we have been sincerely considering expanding our furry family since November.  We really liked the breeder and we love Ruby's spirit.  We briefly considered a dog of another breed, but deep down we knew we wanted another Italian Greyhound.  Ruby needs a friend who can keep up with her energy and who understands how IGs play.  Ruby gets plenty of crushes on big dogs (and to be honest, so do we) but we have limited space and two mature cats.  After a couple of hiccups, Ruby has managed to develop respectful relationships with Trini and Tashi, the resident royalty.  Trini is older (she will be 18 in August!) and she has earned her days of basking in the sun, enjoying the peace of our office.  Tashi is more of a trouble maker and she and Ruby like to play- as long as it is on Tashi's terms.  Another stipulation we had for getting a puppy was that we wanted a puppy from Ruby's mom, so we had been patiently waiting to find out when she would have her next litter.

Ruby is at a good age for a little sister to come in the picture.  She is potty trained and well-behaved.  I think she will be a great role model.  Soon Little Lily will be able to run and play with Ruby at the dog park.  This is something Ruby desperately needs because she tends to leave other dogs in the dust.  Ruby, unlike some IGs, is pretty social.  She can be a bit wary of newcomers at first, but she warms up quickly.  Ruby likes other dogs (we mentioned her big dog crushes), but there is something that another IG can provide for her that other dogs and humans cannot.  I know that having a new puppy, like a family having another child, will slightly shift the dynamics of our current "pack" but we have had numerous discussions with our dog trainer and we know this is the right decision for us.  Our pets are our family and we love them all dearly.  We have more love to give (in a responsible, well thought out capacity) and we are overjoyed that Lily will be in our lives.  She is another piece of the family puzzle falling into place.

While we wait for her to come home with us, I will continue showering Ruby, Trini, and Tashi with all the love in the world.

(I have to text my parents STAT, they've known we are getting another dog, but I think they will want first dibs on viewing the pictures!)