Monday, July 14, 2008

Enjoy the view, even when there isn’t one.

Don't hate me because I will soon have an unobstructed view of downtown SF in my master bedroom. And living room. I've gone through a lot to get to this point. I am moving this week. AGAIN. In fact, since 2005, including this move, I've moved eight times. Yes, you are reading that right. Eight times in three years. From San Francisco to Baltimore in early 2005. Through two temporary housing apartments, two houses that I owned and sold in Baltimore over a two and a half year period, and one apartment in DC that I rented. Then back to San Francisco last year. And now, this move, to my new house with the much deserved view. Hopefully I'll stay put there for a while because frankly I'm exhausted.

With all the changes I'm making in my life, this move to a more permanent dwelling being one of them, I've been reflecting on the lessons that have (hopefully) come out of so much moving and disruption over the last three years. Here are some of them:

-Home is where the dog is (or for a dog, where the couch is). Dogs often have a difficult time adjusting to moves. When I made my first move from SF to Baltimore, my dog was nearing 6 and had lived her entire life in one house, so I expected some trauma after flying her across the country and bringing her to a new place. After sniffing diligently around the new house, she watched the movers bring her favorite couch in, followed them as they placed it in its new position, and then assumed her usual position on the couch and napped as the rest of the move unfolded. That was the extent of her needed "adjustment" for all my moves. I've tried to follow her example in adjusting myself to each new situation that moving brings.

-Making huge mistakes is necessary and empowering, so don't regret them. For several years prior to leaving San Francisco, it was my dream to own an old farmhouse on a few acres of land. I dreamed of the dog roaming free, mildly terrorizing deer and other animals, and of a wonderful garden to occupy my leisure time. This dream came true when I purchased a farmhouse built in the 1700's on five acres of land in the beautiful Greenspring Valley area of Maryland. Without boring everyone with the details, suffice to say that in the sixteen months I owned this property, various nightmares ensued which all left me wondering what the %&#$ I was thinking when I made the decision to buy this, uh, "oasis." The smiling fool pictured here on the day the house closed had absolutely no idea what she was getting herself into. And, selling as the housing market went south was NOT a financially beneficial transaction. Still, I'm not the least bit sorry I briefly owned the wonderful property. Despite the difficulties of that year, I enjoyed passing through such a historical place (at one point it was a general store where Indians came to barter). I was also able to firmly put to rest the notion that my "dream" was to live in the pseudo-country and manage several acres of land. If I hadn't given this a try, I'd still be dreaming of doing this "some day."

Don't be a slave to stuff. I've always had a ridiculous amount of stuff. Starting with shoes and clothing, and extending to furniture and dishes. I mean, how can someone who has never been married have two sets of china, a complete set of Waterford crystal, and three sets of silver flatware? Because someone (ahem, mother) learned this lesson a few years before I did and shipped these "inheritances" to me via FedEx so I would have to deal with them instead of her. Moving so often has given me ample opportunity to go through my possessions again AND AGAIN. I'd say I've reduced my "stuff" by 60% over the last few moves and donated some wonderful items to charity or given them to deserving people on Craig's List. Craig's List rocks. To get rid of something, just post it and an hour later someone pulls up with a truck and takes it away. As I left Baltimore last year, I gave a whole set of bedroom furniture to a woman from Craig's List whose boyfriend had beaten her up so badly she was hospitalized, so she was starting over and had no furniture. As I start the packing process for this move, I know for sure that if it is in my house right now I either love it or need it. No middle ground. Somewhere between houses 2 and 5, I surrendered the notion that I have a responsibility to lug around grandma Sally's china, which I know I will never use (I don't have a grandma Sally, but until recently I had her china). I also stopped keeping things "in case I want them later." It's now or never for using all this crap. I've decided my only obligation is to make sure it gets recycled to a good home. I don't need it, but other people do. Pretty simple. And liberating.

Leave each place better than you found it, and improve yourself in process. I drove past the first house I owned in San Francisco a few weeks ago. The garden I planted out front was thriving – well maintained, and completely unchanged. My Myer lemon tree stood ready to offer up a dozen lemons to the current owners. I remember being distraught over leaving this garden that I'd worked on lovingly for six years. Little did I know that this was only the first of many gardens I'd be leaving. All in better shape when I left them than when I found them. I was also a different person moving out of each place than moving in. I was an excited farm owner starting a new job in a new town, a disgruntled commuter trying to live in DC and work in Baltimore, a homesick San Franciscan realizing I needed to head back home. After living in San Francisco for ten years, I had to move away to truly become a San Franciscan. We owe it to the places we pass through to leave them in better shape than when we found them, and we owe it to ourselves to evolve and become better as well. Now, as I prepare to leave this house, I'd say I am a self-aware woman about to turn 40 who has decided to prioritize my personal life and seek better balance.

I didn't realize I had so much to say on this topic when I started this post, but I guess all this moving has taught me some important life lessons along the way.

Back to packing.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My Food’s Carbon Footprint

I made the decision many years ago not to eat processed or artificial foods. I spend a significant amount of time at the grocery store reading labels, and if I don't recognize an ingredient, I don't buy the food. Period. Call me crazy, but I just don't fancy ingesting propylene glycol (an ingredient in jet fuel), and high fructose corn syrup (which I believe is almost singlehandedly to blame for our nation's obesity epidemic). I also buy mostly organic foods and try to only eat whole grains, so no white bread, white pasta, white rice, etc.

Slowly, this line of thinking has crossed over into my household products. If I don't want to eat chemicals and hormones, I shouldn't be cleaning with them either. Or feeding them to my dog. Or using them on my face or body (I really struggle with this one, and often lose. I mean, Chanel makeup is so chemically fabulous).

At the same time, for the last few years, I've run marketing for various companies who offer "green" products, either to help clients monitor and offset carbon emissions or reduce fuel consumption through safer driving. It is amazing how far green marketing can catapult companies these days, but that is a separate topic…

Very slowly over the last several years, I've been becoming an environmentally conscious consumer—largely without my knowledge. I did not deliberately set out to make the greener product choice. I just wanted to be healthy. I didn't seek to work for companies who offered green products, but having spent the last several years seeing the huge impact corporate green initiatives can have on the bottom line and the environment, it is hard not to be impressed and start thinking about what I can do to help at an individual level. Gradually, the responsibility I tried to incite in potential clients through my marketing messages has seeped into my own mainstream thought process.

So, suddenly, I find myself crossing over from green by chance to green by choice. One (albeit small) factor in quitting my job this week was the opportunity to nix my commute and work in San Francisco, thus being able to take public transportation more often.

As I am solidifying what this means for me, I luckily picked up Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which introduced a new concept I had never before considered: the carbon footprint of my food. Yes, my food. Barbara Kingsolver is an acclaimed novelist (The Poisonwood Bible) whose family of four decided for one year to only consume what they could get locally, either by growing it on their farm, or getting it from one of their neighbors. She spends considerable time in the book talking about the environmental impact (and cost) of trucking tomatoes from California all the way to Virginia or Tennessee in the off season (not to mention flying in bananas from South America). Not only are tomatoes completely tasteless when they are out of season, but driving them across the country is a fuel guzzling waste which becomes a tax write off for the large food conglomerates who are doing the trucking. And, to add insult to injury, often the large food conglomerates undercut local farmers on price, so fresh produce from Tennessee sits and rots while stores choose to buy cheaper, lower quality produce which is trucked in from thousands of miles away. Wow.

Why are Americans so keen to eat tasteless tomatoes???

For the last three years or so, I've been increasingly drawn to the concept of eating seasonally – a diet that consists of eating fruits and vegetables that are available at that time. I also realized that buying as close to the harvest area as possible was a plus given the short shelf life of most fresh produce. I was pro small farmer. Pro local production. Pro obtaining the freshest produce possible in order to optimize taste. But I never considered the environmental impact of trucking food across the country. In this era of global warming warnings and hyper sensitivity to fuel prices, why aren't more people talking about the inherent waste in this system???

I grew up, as did many of us, in a household where vegetables were canned or cooked until dead. Tasteless. Monochrome. Mushy. These adjectives are the polar opposite of what vegetables should be, as anyone who has ever shopped at a local farmers market for dinner ingredients certainly knows.

So, as I move towards a consciously greener lifestyle, I am looking at where my food came from. How far it had to travel to get to me. Who got paid in the middle. At a farmers market, I hand cash to the person who cared for and grew what I'm having for dinner that evening. It costs me less money and the grower makes more money.

Many people would say that it is easy to think this way when you live in California with such easy access to fresh produce for the majority of the year, and that is certainly true. But, I cut my teeth on this line of thinking while living in Baltimore and frequenting their many wonderful farmers markets.

To find a farmers market near you, click here.

Stepping down from the soapbox now.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Free Falling Into Simplicity

It probably isn't surprising to anyone who's been following my blog during my sabbatical that I quit my job today. It certainly wasn't surprising to my (former) boss, since he'd also been following my blog while I was out. Gotta love the power of Google.

I've been silent these last few weeks as I really settled into the rhythm of being away from the daily grind, worked on my book, and sat quietly on sunny afternoons in the backyard contemplating my next move.

I've never left a job without having the even higher paying 2.0 version already lined up. But in those quiet moments I became sure it was the right thing to do for a variety of reasons. Taking a risk right now feels like the path to a greater reward – and not a monetary one for a change (although I would like to continue to live in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities on the planet, so I'll hopefully eke out SOME cash along the way).

So, as of tomorrow I'm going to be joining a friend as a partner in the marketing business she started a few months ago. Working for myself for the first time, my goals are simple: have passion for my work, focus on the areas of marketing I really care about, and help build a fledgling business with a worthy mission.

At the same time I want to have a level of flexibility in my life and not lose the natural rhythms I've discovered in the last few weeks. Again, simple things such as continuing to work on my book, driving less and consuming less fuel, practicing yoga and meditation to enhance my spiritual life, and spending time with my quickly ageing canine best friend.

Maybe this is my own personal version of having it all.

If not now, when?