Feathered Aspen


No Plans

We’ve had a laid back sort of weekend; we had no plans, and we never really made any.  On Friday night, I went out to Happy Hour with some of the girls from my work, and then I came home to cuddles with Henrie and Joshua’s homemade paninis.

Yesterday, Henrie woke up early, and Joshua made huevos rancheros (my favorite).  We tidied up the house a bit and then we piled into the car for a little urban walk.

Walking through the residential streets of South Colfax is probably not something you would choose to do unless you’re thinking about living in the neighborhood.  But we are, and so we decided to check it out.  I’m feeling particularly lazy these days, so I’ll upload some of the photos in a separate post.

If I were really good at surprises and the necessary secrecy skills involved with nailing a really good surprise, I’d probably wait to tell you all about our latest adventure until it was a done deal.  But let’s be honest; I’ve kept our baby-to-be’s name a secret for approximately a week, and it may be a record (and that’s with no one asking).

Sooooo…  Knock on wood, bar a myriad of problems that could reveal themselves before the closing date, we are planning on moving.

To South Colfax.

Here are some ways I’ve heard South Colfax described:  “hoody,” “sketchy,” and “mixed income.”  Racial undertones and yuppie fears aside, there may be some truth to these epithets.  Last week, an eleven year old boy was tragically killed when he was run over on Federal and Colfax, and the driver kept going.  Last month, a desperate man took a woman hostage at the 7-11 on Perry and Colfax, and a couple of hours later, he was brought down by a sniper.  Between Sheridan and Federal, Colfax is home to the following:  multiple tattoo parlors (and you know what kind of people frequent those places*), a bath house (a bath house?!), the Aristocrat motor motel, half a dozen auto dealerships, Girl’s Inc., Colfax Elementary, a pawn shop, and a dozen eateries I have no intention of frequenting now, or ever.

But South Colfax is also home to some surprising features:  turn of the century brick homes, a brand new rail line and station at Perry and 10th, and a community of Orthodox Jews.  In less than two miles of walking up and down the streets from Meade to Utica, we passed a Mikvah, a Jewish Day School, half a dozen gorgeous mansions, two brand new playgrounds, a community garden, and newly paved, landscaped trails next to the rail line.

Each time we’ve stopped by our intended (the house, that is), neighbors come out of their homes to check us out.  They’re friendly, and everyone’s remarking on the new vitality that the rail station has provided the community.

After our walk, we went back to the house for lunch, and after Henriette refused to nap, we decided to head back out for Little Man’s ice cream and a little foray to REI so Joshua could return his running spikes.

I probably don’t need to tell you that Henrie loved the strawberry and chocolate ice cream, even though it was cold outside.

That night, Joshua made Chana Masala (Joshua cooks on the weekends; I cook on weeknights), and I sorted (and Henrie unsorted) all of Henrie’s baby clothes from the attic.  I’ll post a picture, but people.  It’s a little embarrassing how much we’ve managed to accumulate in Henrie’s almost two years.  But hey, at least we’re well-stocked for Lu.

This morning, Joshua woke up early to go for a long run (he’s training for the Salida trail marathon in a few weekends), and Henrie and I slept in until nearly 730, made breakfast, cleaned the kitchen, and went for a run of our own.  Joshua was home by the time we got back, so we all went to the grocery store together.

It’s been a good weekend.


Gone Done Moved

I don’t even know where to begin, and that’s probably why I’ve avoided making an entry since January.

Yup. Still don’t know where to begin.

The past three months have been very… Complicated. Of course, I’ve recorded our journey home, my infectious arrival, and the beginnings of our farm adventure, but since then, everything has changed.

After a few weeks of searching for jobs, Joshua and I both secured employment. Following in Dave’s footsteps, Joshua began training as a manager for Holiday Gas Stations, and I got back into education as a Teacher’s Aide with Red Wing Burnside Elementary. We continued to look for different work, but things did not look promising.

Both of us missed teaching. For my part, Burnside provided a window into a functioning school where staff and teachers supported one another and students saw success every day. I loved working with fourth graders, and I had the special opportunity to help with the Title VII program, serving students from the Prairie Island Reservation. I absolutely adored the kids.

On the other hand, it was difficult to be paid less than 10 dollars an hour, and I was frustrated by what felt like regressing professionally. Here I was, a certified teacher with two years of classroom experience, unable to gain licensure in the states of Minnesota or Wisconsin without another year and a half of course work and student teaching (which would cost me 15,000 dollars at minimum). I began to see my years of education and TFA collect dust on the shelves of my resume, and with the job market as it is in rural areas, I saw no end in sight.

As for Joshua, he realized quite quickly that although he had both hated and loved teaching, he sorely missed the feeling of purpose that teaching needy students gave him.

The Minnesota Department of Education proved as obtuse and unhelpful as ever, and when we met with Universities in the Twin Cities, we discovered just how expensive gaining our teaching license could be in terms of both time and money. To make matters even worse, the job market for teachers in Minnesota and Wisconsin is miserable. At Burnside alone, I was working with a number of certified teachers who were unable to find work and therefore were working as Education Aides.

It was incredibly difficult to begin thinking about widening our search. We have been planning on moving home and living near family for over two years, and before that, we had always assumed that, some day, we would move back to Minnesota. We love our families very much, and it was painful to think of not only leaving them, but also disappointing and hurting them by leaving them.

But in the end, it felt like there was really no choice at all. With our wages, we never would have been able to fix up the farm or have a family of our own, and without the possibility of teaching in the future, we found the prospect of working 9 to 5 jobs 50 weeks out of the year for the next how every many years truly depressing. Our money was running out, and if we were going to make a decision, we had to make one soon.

Joshua and I began to research states where our certification might be able to transfer. New Mexico straight up accepts Louisiana teaching certificates, and Arizona and Montana have alternative licensures that allow people like us to begin teaching right away while we work towards full certification. In Colorado, charters simply require teachers to be Highly Qualified under NCLB, which we are.

But before we began casting our nets, I stumbled upon the Denver coalition of charter schools and found half a dozen openings for Middle School Science teachers. We sent off our resumes, and within a week, we had received requests for phone interviews at every single place. Two weeks later, we drove down to Colorado for in-person interviews.

After a number of job offers, Joshua and I both settled on working for the same network, West Denver Prep. We were so impressed by the positive yet driven schools that we observed, and we loved Denver. By the end of the week, we found a rental with all of our requirements (two bedrooms, yard, washer/dryer, walking and biking distance to work and grocery store, under 1000 dollars a month), and paid our deposit.

Less than a month later, we were packing our U-Haul and driving back down. We got caught in a blizzard in Nebraska, but after 14 hours of driving, we arrived safe and sound in our new home. It was even better than we had remembered, and since then, we’ve been settling in, decorating, exploring the neighborhood, and hiking.

So. That’s everything in a nutshell. Of course there are other complicated elements, but here we are and there that is. We’re happy; we’re where we never expected to be; and now we’re about to begin an unplanned life.


Are We There Yet?

Today, we’re in Wisconsin. It’s a balmy 60 degrees, and there’s green everywhere I look. Yesterday, we were in New Orleans.

Friday was Joshua’s last day of school. Once he came home, he and Tim (his dad) ceremoniously replaced the spark plugs and wires on our little red Hyundai. Despite its anti-climactic beginnings, the rest of the day turned out to be very pleasant. After auto-repairs, we piled into the truck and headed for Sarah’s. There, we ate barbeque, watermelon, and pastries with strong margaritas. Tim and Joette had flown in the day before, and a small group of New Orleans friends and family gathered to meet, greet, and say good-bye. We drove home sleepy and full.

Saturday began early with Joshua loading up the truck. By the time he was done, the bed was a solid mass of boxes filled with art supplies and books. Tim and Joette showed up with the UHAUL just before noon, and we stopped to have a quick lunch. Refueled, Joshua and Tim began packing the trailer while Joette and I cleared out the last of the upstairs. Once the rooms were empty, we swept, mopped, dusted, and polished until the house was shiny and clean.

Once we finished, we bathed and went to Mona Lisa’s little Italian restaurant for a last meal with Sarah. That night, Joshua and I slept on the floor of our empty room in our empty house.

Yesterday morning, we packed our last bags, picked up Tim and Joette, and left the city.

A few Op-Eds from the past few days…

Road Trips

In theory, the open road is romantic. In practice, 24 hours through the Mississippi Watershed bores me to tears. First up, we have the bayou; while this may seem novel to some, I assure you: after hours of poorly segmented roads and no air conditioning, the novelty quickly wears off.

By the time we arrive in Jackson, Mississippi, we’ve effectively recreated our very own swampy micro-climate within the two doors of our little hatchback. The fine hairs lining my face look as though they’ve been electrified by the wind and humidity, and my skin has a layer of oil, sweat, and tiny bug wings. Stopping for gas provides relief from the howling wind, but it’s a tossup when it comes to the heat: which is preferable? Being buffeted at 60 miles per hour by a hot wind heavy with recently evaporated swamp water, or standing in your own stink under the sun’s prickly rays?

It’s back in the car, and the seats are damp. Oscar sticks his head in over the stick shift and breathes heavily on our shoulders. It’s too loud to listen to music. It’s too loud to talk. Reading is out of the question. Both Joshua and I experience violent nausea when we combine forward motion and looking at a stationary surface for longer than two minutes. This includes finding the next song on the iPod.

The scenery? After ten miles of flat interstate lined by trees on either side, you’ve gotten a pretty good idea of what it’s going to be like for the next thousand miles. Memphis and St. Louis pass by without event, and by the time we cross the border into Illinois, I’m singing loudly to CDs I purchased in high school – Faith Hill, Natalie Merchant, Ani DiFranco, Dixie Chicks, and Christian pop (eclectic, I know… Clearly, I developed discerning tastes early.) – to stay awake. That, and slapping my own cheeks, prying my eyes open with my fingers, and pinching my arm flesh.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to confess that I’m a terrible driver. I’m easily distracted, and I could never be accused of being overly meticulous. On long trips like this, it also becomes apparent that I lack endurance. After an hour and a half, I’m toast. Joshua is truly my knight in shining armor. He’s got a lead foot and longevity to match.

Which raises another complaint in my litany: sleeping in the car. First, let me just say that I have an uncanny talent for sleeping anywhere on any surface. It’s a gift. While this is undeniably true, and really, I can’t complain too much when I’m able to catch six hours of shut eye in an upright seat, with 60 mile an hour winds in my face and ears, and unbearable heat, but hey, that doesn’t mean that I’m immune to car-nap-cottonmouth-and-creaky-back-syndrome.

The border crossing into Wisconsin is deceptive. You may think that we’ve arrived in the Midwest, but no. There are 300 more miles.

Ok. I know what you’re thinking. Why am I complaining when I’ve been waiting for this moment for pretty much two years? You’re right. Moving on.

Refrigerators, Toilets, and Ovens (Weak of Stomach Need Not Read)

I am unclean. After I saw what hid beneath my refrigerator, toilet, and oven, I know that claiming otherwise would be dishonest. The debris – a collection of dead skin, pet hair, old food, cockroaches, toy cars, old mail, and mystery sticky – could have supported its very own little ecosystem.

Kind souls may excuse me for the hidden messes beneath my kitchen appliances, but I think everyone can agree that the not-so-hidden messes within are clear signs of poor housekeeping. After clearing out sauces and leftovers months past their expiration dates, what remained in the refrigerator was truly heinous: red sticky, wilted veggies, and the smell of rotten kidney beans. The oven was no better.

On the up and up, I used a bunch of highly toxic cleaners, and they worked fantastically. I even developed a sort of morbid fascination with oven cleaner. This time, I read the directions, and it worked fantastically (last time, it did a really fantastic job of eating through my skin): after ten minutes the noxious suds turned the charred remains of food into a gloopy sludge. Yum.

Packrats Part II

Two years ago, we packed everything we owned into our little red Hyundai Accent. I may have mentioned this. I mention it again, because in just two years, we’ve accumulated enough baggage to fill the cab a quarter ton truck, the Hyundai, and a 6 X 12 UHAUL trailer. We very nearly ran out of room.


From where I left off last, I believe we were taking a detour into Chicago. Thankfully, the paperwork for my driver’s license arrived last Monday. That night, Joshua and I went to Walgreens and took our passport photos. At home, we printed out our birth certificates, filled out the TraVisa applications on-line, and created a TraVisa ticket. The next morning, I brought my filled out driver’s license paperwork to a Notary Public and retrieved a fax from the Minnesota DMV that said I had been in their system since 2002.

At FedEx, I made copies of everything, crossed my fingers, and sent everything overnight delivery. With regular service and overnight return delivery, I’m happy to say that our Visas arrived at Tim and Joette’s today, just as they were arriving home from our cross-country trip. Despite my hodge-podge paperwork, everything worked out, and now we can go to India! The only slight hiccup is that our Visa expires on December 9, a few days before we had intended to leave. Luckily, we hadn’t already purchased tickets, so we’re fine. We just have a few more days to spend in England before we leave again for home on December 24.

Shout Out!

After two years of canned gratitude, you might think I would have moved on, but old habits die hard J I’d like to revamp this tired tradition and create my own: Blog Brag. In my Blog Brag today, I would like to give my most sincere gratitude to Tim and Joette. These two Superhero Superparents flew down to New Orleans to help us pack, clean, and move. They bore through grime (Sarah says that she’s seen cleaner bathrooms in bars.), heat (It was above 90 the whole time.), sweat (We looked like we had been swimming in our clothes a number of times.), oven cleaner (Tim actually is Superman. He didn’t even wear gloves, and somehow, the oven cleaner didn’t eat him. I think this might be because he has developed cleaning solution resistance. Clearly, I have a way to go before I develop the same thick skin.), uneven tongue weight, and 1,000 miles (see Road Trip) just to help us. They rock, and we couldn’t have done it without them. We love you, Tim and Joette!

In addition, I’d like to Blog Brag Yvonne and Dave. These two generous souls are not only adopting our pets for six months, but also donating the better portion of their basement and guest room to store all of our crap. If that weren’t enough, they also helped us unload the truck, car, and trailer in the pouring rain. You’re amazing! We love you!