Saturday, April 28, 2012

Achievement is overrated

   So last month I was writing about all of the projects I wanted to do,
and believe it or not, I did them. Or like 80 percent. I even have
photos to prove it.
   Terrarium project: I got my plants from Lowe’s — a cute miniature fern
that looks like moss and then a shamrock that was a little too big for
my container but I figured would die back to a more appropriate size.
And die back it did! Now it looks like it’s barely hanging on, so I’m
not sure if that’s going to make it or not. Shamrocks can be amazingly
resilient, so I’m holding out hope that this is still the initial
illness before the recovery that will make it look perfect. If not
then I’ll be back to looking for a new main plant.

   PEEP Show entry: I really put this one off to about a week before it
was due and had to be rescued by Josh with it. I was kind of in a bad
mood the week I was doing it too, so I did not do my best work and
would give the overall product a B-, but I still did it. And what’s
even better, someone had already purchased it by the day Josh and I
finally went to the show to see everyone else’s entries! We had walked
through three rooms of PEEP art and didn’t see it when entering the
fourth and last room, and I was getting really depressed, thinking
they hadn’t displayed it — I know it wasn’t my best effort but there
wasn’t anything offensive with it! — but then we found it hidden
behind some bigger entry. Our theory is that someone bought it to
scrap it for parts for their entry next year (Josh did make a kick-ass
tree out of brown paper and dried moss) or my stalker bought it. But
said stalker has not contacted me to brag about buying my work, so I’m
thinking it wasn’t him.

   I did start my apple blog at work, the best part of which is that it
gives me a reason to search out a new apple variety each week and then
write some silliness about it. If you’re interested, you can find it
   I have not started gardening yet but I usually do get a late start —
need to wait out the worst of pollen season — and I never did make my
biscotti. But I haven’t been drinking tea or hot chocolate either so
there hasn’t been as strong of a desire for biscotti. This one might
be crossed off the list out of disinterest.
   But I did do something I hadn’t formally written on my list that has
been a long time goal, I grew my own mushrooms! My brother and his
girlfriend got me a kit for my birthday and after waiting a few weeks
until I got some traveling out of the way, I started it and then had
about a cup of homegrown oyster mushrooms ready. I probably could have
grown more if I had let it go a little longer, but I wanted to use
them for one of my cooking videos at work (mushroom risotto) so I
harvested them a little prematurely. I thought the smaller ones would
keep growing but they didn’t. However, you get two batches per kit so
I’m getting ready to start my second batch.
   I’ve also wanted to learn how to make my own cheese since I read
Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” a few years ago, and
thanks to my awesome sister-in-law Liz, I’m now a successful cheese
maker! She showed me how to make homemade mozzarella out of whole milk
(we used raw milk from the Amish), citric acid and rennet, the
enzymes. It only took about half an hour and then some cooling time,
but it was awesome, and the cheese was amazing! Definitely planning to
use this as a future cooking video.
   So, as you might have noticed from the title of this post, I’m not
that happy even though I’ve achieved all of these accomplishments. I
guess there is that momentary satisfaction right after you accomplish
them, but in the long run, a terrarium isn’t as exciting as the idea
(or magazine photo) of a terrarium. Gardening on the other, sucks
while you’re doing it (at least for me) but the results do have
long-term appeal. And I think for most of my art and craft projects,
I’m never as happy with the results as I am with doing the actual
   Maybe this means I should be focusing my time on something more
purposeful. That’s probably a given. But how do you find that more
purposeful thing? Hopefully next month I’ll have something useful to
share about this.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I don’t know about you, but I’ve realized a huge portion of my motivation, activity level and mood are weather-dependent. I know this is ridiculous, and I’m hoping that identifying this problem will lead to me learning to snap out of it, but we shall see.

The incident that made me hyper-aware of the situation was that 68-degree day we had Thursday. Luckily, I had scheduled an interview that morning at a coffeehouse near my house, so I gave myself an extra 10 minutes to walk there and took a little detour along the way.

Suddenly, the whole day felt limitless! After the interview as over, I walked home, dropped off my reporter gear and decided to use my lunch hour, you guessed it, taking another walk. I think I was able to get at least 2.5 miles in around town, and being in the sunshine just fueled me to do more and more. After work I went to Lowe’s and bought some herb and flower seeds and those biodegradable pots to start them in. I stopped by Michael’s and picked up some craft supplies I had been meaning to get all week. And when I got home I made split pea soup, which I had defrosted some homemade broth for on Sunday and then not made all week until then, as well as did four loads of laundry.

No, I was no on amphetamines or a caffeine high, it’s just sunshine and 70-degree weather really peps me up. All winter I put off doing things, even things I WANT to do, because of the gloomy skies and cold (even indoors I have to bundle up, sitting still gives me the chills). By Friday the temperature had taken a dive again, even though it’s remained sunny, but my Friday wasn’t nearly as productive, even though I had a clear schedule and plenty of opportunity.

Since it will be some time until we get consistently warm days, I decided to make a list of things that I want to do and will try to work towards completing one of them every night that I have at least two consecutive hours of free time. Writing this blog was one of them. Starting a second blog for my newspaper website is another one. It’s going to be called “Apples to Apples” (I know, it’s cheesy and I love it) and it will be me talking about how much I love apples and comparing new varieties of apples. I’ll probably only have 10 readers but I plan to get a real kick out of it, so that’s good. When you’re a professional writer, it’s good to have outlets where writing can be strictly for fun.

Other things on my list include cleaning out my flower garden out front. All the dead stuff from last year is sitting there making it look ugly and it really needs more sun for the little green shoots to come up. And I need to start the seeds I bought on Thursday, which was my next planned activity, but a nap kind of sounds more appealing. Hey, it’s freezing outside!

All winter I’ve wanted to make biscotti, the Italian cookie sticks. I’ve done it before and it’s incredibly easy, but kind of time consuming because you cook them for so long to really dry them out. This will be a great activity for a cold evening.

As for the goals I set back in January, well, I'm not doing so good. My goal to lose four pounds by my birthday has technically failed, however, I’ve lost an inch and a half and I’m almost able to use the belt hole two notches from where I was before, so I think that’s a more important success than the number on the scale.

The terrarium project: after reviewing websites looking for special terrarium plants, I haven’t found anything good enough to lead to a purchase. The selection at Lowe’s was also poor, so I need to check out some more local stores. I did see some pre-made ones at Lowe’s though, so apparently this has become a trend.

And my PEEP Show entry, well, I’ve printed out the entry form, and looked up some images on Google of the thing I had in my mind, and I’m still kind of undecided. But, next week’s schedule looks busy so I think I’m going to give myself until the week after to officially tackle that.

Less than two weeks until the official start of spring. Hopefully we can get some more upper 60s days and then I’ll be set!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A decade later and still going strong

So Monday was my 10th anniversary at my job — quite the anomaly for someone in my career in and in the “40 and under” bracket. But rather than philosophizing today, I just wanted to reflect on what it was like when I started at my job 10 years ago.
One of the first thing coworkers ask when they hear how long I’ve been here is “how old were you when you started?” I don’t take that as an offense — I look younger than my age and any time you hear someone has done something for 10 years you want to know how the heck that is possible. I was 21 when I started, though I turned 22 just a month later. It was my first full-time job out of college, and I had graduated a semester early thanks to some AP credits from high school and taking 21-credit semesters through most of college. As a college freshman I thought my accelerated pace would allow me to study a semester abroad, but once I got engaged in junior year, or rather as I knew I was on the path to marriage, I decided graduating early would help me get a job more easily than if I waited to May when everyone else was applying at the same time.
My finance/now husband was still in school and had two more years to go, so I knew I wanted to stay in Maryland. Rather than putting all my hope in the two or three job openings I could find in Maryland, I decided to send my resume and maybe two or three clips to every weekly newspaper in Central Maryland. Journalism school had very responsibly taught me to set my goals low — both in expectations for salary and types of positions that would be available to a newbie. So while I didn’t really want to write for a Jewish weekly newspaper that would require an hour commute from my house, I figured that could be my only offer.
I was very excited when I started getting emails back from editors who were interested in me. Several weeklies from all over said they would be more than happy to have me contribute, though probably as a freelancer since they did not have any fulltime positions open. The bi-weekly Cecil Whig got back to me about a part-time position, and one of my editors from the previous summer’s internships emailed me about a position opening at his former paper, the Carroll County Times. I interviewed for both positions, didn’t hear back from Carroll County or was told that they weren’t sure when they would be able to hire for the position was open, so I took the job at Cecil Whig. For three weeks. Then I got the fulltime offer at Carroll, and with my wedding less than six months away, I had to take it. Plus my husband had an aunt and uncle and cousins that he was close to there so it felt more familiar than foreign.
I started out as the agriculture and environment reporter, also taking over two towns on the western side of the county that were also the smallest towns in the county. The reporter who had covered those towns, Jamie, drove me out to see them and show me where the town halls were located and reviewed her source list with me so that I could have people to call when I needed a story idea. She was only about a year and a half older than me, but the fact that she’d been a reporter all that time when I still felt like an intern had me in awe of her ability to handle everything so smoothly. I also really liked her writing style, and the fact that she wrote short stories and later was pursuing her MFA in writing. She wasn’t afraid to use more of a magazine style in a daily newspaper setting, and I think I adopted a bit of her informal tone.
I sat next to Jeff, the county reporter, and a real sourpuss in general. I felt like he constantly disapproved of me. Behind me sat Dawn, the education reporter, who was pretty nice and I think was known as the person who had been there the longest at five years.
I remember that Megen had also sat behind me, so now I’m rethinking where Dawn sat. Anyway, Megen covered Westminster, and she was so quiet — extremely quiet — that even by sitting two feet away I didn’t learn very much about her. She and Boris, the South Carroll reporter, lived in the same house that was divided into apartments, owned by the sports editor’s parents. Boris was a few years older than me and kind of all over the place. I remember he would come in on the weekends to finish his weekend stories because he couldn’t write two of them on Fridays, like everyone else did.
Lauren was the state house reporter, so I didn’t really meet her until two months after I started. But I was super impressed with her professionalism and the way she carried herself. She and I are still Facebook friends and comment on each other’s statuses a surprising amount considering I didn’t feel like I really got to know her when we worked together. I do remember that she came to my 23rd birthday party though and gave me a gift, a book of 1,001 questions, to keep on my desk for when I got bored. She was so cool!
And the final news reporter was Mia, the cops reporter, who I spent a lot of time with during my first week or two so that I could train how to do all of the cops and courts checks. I didn’t get to know Mia very well either, but she didn’t seem very happy working there. I think we only overlapped there by about six months, so it was good that I had all of that cops training so that I could fill in until they hired her replacement, another Jamie, this one a guy, who would be like a total brother to me at the paper since we were the same age and hired so relatively close to each other. He later became my editor, and I became his landlord. But that’s another story.
I don’t think I had any timeframe in mind when I started at the Carroll County Times, but I don’t think I ever would have imagined I would make it to 10 years. Not that I hate it here — because that couldn’t be further from the truth. But what 21 year old can really predict where he or she will be in a decade?
I'm no longer the super shy, youngest on the team, can't-go-out-on-the-weekends-because-I'm-commuting-an-hour-from-my-parents'-house cub reporter that I was in 2002. I've seen a lot of changes at the paper, and worked with 60-some reporters who have come and gone over that decade, and I'm on my fifth editor. I've learned to ride the tide of both good times and bad times.
A lot of times people I’m interviewing ask me how long I’ve been with the paper, and when I’ve said nine years, I get a look of total shock. Back when the answer was four or five years, people would ask if I wanted to move on to a bigger paper or make it to New York, and I’d always smile and shake my head no.
“I just want to live somewhere nice and have a job I like,” is my genuine response. And I feel like I'm doing pretty good with that.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'm back! In more ways than one

They say "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." To be specific, John Lennon said that. Sometimes that's true, but as I've been reflecting over 2011, I found that in my past year, that has not been the case. Sometimes you can put so much of your focus into one thing, such as a new job or a relationship or an opportunity, that it blinds you to everything else that is out there. And you get stuck without moving forward. As an avid plan maker, mostly borne out of disappointment from things not happening, I also believe in the axiom "Life doesn't happen when you don't make plans." And I do mean "plans," as in the plural. One plan is not enough.

And with that said, I am leaving 2011 behind and embracing the New Year. And I really do want to start blogging again. So I am sorry to the handful of you that I may have disappointed with my writing hiatus since May. I was stuck muddling with something else.

This year I am full of "plans," plural. And I already have a handful of goals that I'm really excited about--things I've wanted to do for a long time and really am going to do this year. Some of this might seem silly, but for those of you who really know me, they are elements of pure Carrie-ness.

Immediate goals:

1) Create a terrarium. I have long been fascinated with terarriums, and I don't mean those giant fishtank ones, or those empty cages at the zoo or aquarium that are plants with no animals or fish in them. I mean like those apothecary jars with a glass lid so that you can trap the moisture inside it and have a little mini rainforest going on inside it. Usually you have one to three plants, some moss covering the soil (and I love moss!) and then you can see the soil, stone and charcoal layers through the glass as well. I used part of my off day on MLK Day to purchase my jar, now I just need to get all the stuff to go in it. It's important to pick a plant that doesn't need too much light because my windows have this UV barrier that doesn't let much light in, and there's nothing sadder than a dying ecosystem trapped behind glass.

2) Create a submission for the PEEP Show at the Carroll Arts Center. PEEP Show as in PEEPs marshmallow candies, you sickos! This is a spinoff of the Washington Post's amazing contest where people make dioramas out of PEEPs, or at least the characters are made from PEEPs. Carroll's contest is a little more broad -- it doesn't have to be a diorama, it can be any kind of art -- but I have maintained my childhood passion of creating dioramas for school projects and think this is an excellent outlet. I've put off doing it because I've had a hard time coming up with a theme that would a) have mass recognition and appeal and still interests me, and b) could have a clever title with PEEP in it, since I think those are the ones that always win. Not that I really want to win, but I want to at least get a chuckle or a smirk from viewers. And I haven't thought of some amazingly better idea this year, I've just decided to go for it for my own satisfaction. The contest is in April so I should probably get started on this pretty soon.

3) Lose 4 pounds by my birthday, March 10. For years I've been struggling to lose that last 4 pounds, and while I'd like to say that's what I'm planning to do by my birthday, that's not what this goal is about. This 4 pounds is actually the weight I've put on since last summer, and that's really all I want to get back to at this point. Maybe I'll get up the gumption to go the last 4 by this summer, but I'll see how hard the first 4 are. Now that the holidays are over and crazy rich food isn't being pushed on me (OK, or created by me), I have a really sensible normal diet, so my main efforts will be in exercise. The goal is to work out 6 days a week until I make my goal, then maintain my previous routine of 3 to 4 times a week to keep it steady. I know 4 pounds might seem silly to make such a big deal over, but when you're 5'0", each pound really counts (and is visible). I'm two weeks into this routine and while I thought I had already lost 1.5 pounds, the scale changes so drastically from day to day that I can't really back that up on a daily basis. However, I'm already feeling better (and looking better, if I may say so) in the waistline, so there are already results backing up my motivation.

Long-term goals:

Still working on those. I think I might just keep coming up with more of these 3-month goals as I finish those that are already on my list.

To be clear, these are not New Year's resolutions. These are projects, and I am my own project manager. Expect photos to come as I accomplish each goal!