Friday, June 26, 2009

Hillsborough Hog Day Disappoints

I love a festival. I love a competition. I love pork. And, as part of my current exploration of all things southern, I love barbeque.

So what could be more up my ally then Hillsboro Hog Day? It sounds like so much fun. In addition to barbecue, the event promised activities such as a hog hollering contest, the area's largest antique car show, arts and craft vendors, rides, and musicians.

It started on Friday evening and continued all day on Saturday. We decided to head over on Saturday in the early afternoon, thinking that we would see some of the BBQ action and then grab lunch. I envisioned tons of smokers manned by fat guys protecting their secret sauces. Yet, when we got to the park, there was only one grill with a pig still on it. The other few were cool and packed up. The rest, I imagine, were already headed home.

I assumed that we'd be able to pick and choose who's meat we wanted to sampled. Instead all of the pork was combined (somewhere) and a single tent was selling pork either as sandwiches or by the pound. Disappointed, we ordered two sandwiches. Our disappointment grew when we saw the tubs or store-bought Cole slaw and sauces.

The sandwich itself was fine, but nothing to write home about. The rest of the event didn't bolster our opinion. Craft vendors selling crap I don't need; typical festival/street fair food, including overly sweet lemonade that I found myself sucker enough to purchase for $3.50; and second-rate rides that I wouldn't feel safe enough to put my child on.

The music was a pleasant surprise, but the hog-hollering contest took the cake as the worst part of the day. With a call for all of the kids to participate, none of the adults running the contest was willing to demonstrate what a hog call even was. In the end, a few kids timidly oinked and snorted into the microphone. I decided at that was my cue to leave.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Raleigh Races for the Cure

On Saturday, June 13, Kevin and I took the baby out for his first road race. Both Kevin and I have run our share of races in the past, but running with a stroller posed a new set of challenges for us. The baby really enjoys going out in the jogging stroller so that wasn't the problem. In fact, he slept through most of the event. The problem also wasn't managing with the stroller. After a few awkward runs, we have gotten used to that.
( Photo by Kathleen MacGuire, Copyright 2008 Capitol Broadcasting Company)

The one thing that kept this race from being great was the number of participants. There was a competitive race earlier in the day, which meant that all the serious runners were finished by the time we started. Also, we knew that we had to stay toward the back of the pack with the jogging stroller. Still, we weren't expecting was the size of the crowd. With nearly 25,000 participant, the Triangle area race ranks as the twentieth largest race among the 100 plus Susan Kolmen races and the largest road race in the state of North Carolina.

It took us nearly five minutes to cross the start line. Then, after another five minutes of walking -- hoping that the crowds would clear up -- Kevin offered to walk with the stroller while I ran the course. I had been running once a week with a group of other new mothers getting ready for the race, so I took him up on the offer and left the two of them in the dust.

What amazed me was that, over the next three miles I continued to pass walkers. I don't know if these people started running, then stopped, or if there were just that many people in the race. Along the way I was moved to see the number of people wearing either survivor bids as well as signs saying they were running in memory or in support of someone fighting breast cancer. Even if you are not interested in the exercise aspect of the race, it is a worthwhile even just to see how many people this disease effects.

Thank you to everyone who supported my team. We raised $230!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Virginia Is for Mothers

I know, I know. It's been quite a while since my last post. That's partly because when I have a few minutes I'm either trying to hustle to get stuff done around the house, or whipped out.

Since this blog was originally started as a travel blog, I figured I should rally today to write about the trip that we took over the weekend. It was the first trip we've taken since the baby was born that wasn't to the home of someone in our family. (My in-laws came with us, so there was plenty of baby visiting going on.)

We spent the weekend at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia.

Known at the "Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains," the lake is located between Roanoke and Lynchburg. In 1966, damming the Blackwater and Roanoke Rivers formed it. The purpose was to generate power and mange the water flow.

Today the lake covers more than 32 miles and has over 500 miles of coast. We stayed at Mariners Landing, a hotel/condo right on the lake. I spent a fair amount of time simply sitting on the balcony, reading and enjoying views of the lake and mountains. The on-site restaurant, The Pointe, was better then I expected. One night there was a seafood buffet, one night I enjoyed a very decent burger, and we had a lovely Mother's Day brunch.

I was also treated a massage at the hotel's sap. The spa itself was no more then a hotel suite. This meant that there really wasn't a deluxe pre-massage shower or a quite relaxation spa to sit afterward. (In fact, a wedding party getting their hair done occupied the living room of the “spa”.) Yet, despite this, the treatment room was quite and soothing and the massage therapist was excellent.

The hotel also had a heated outdoor pool and hot tub. For the first time in my life, though, I skipped the hot tub and headed right for the kiddy pool. It featured a mushroom-shaped umbrella that provided a shady spot for the baby to enjoy his first trip in the water. I'm happy to report that, like his parent's, I think he is going to be a water bug.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Celebrating Earth Day and a Worm Update

Earth Day 1990, Central Park. I gathered with thousands of other people for a huge festival, but the thing that I most remember about the event was coming down with the chicken pox the following day. (I can only imagine how many people I managed to infect.)

Since then, the day hardly registered on my radar. Nineteen years of nothing, then this year it seems like green events are everywhere. Maybe it was Obama, maybe it's because German has heightened my awareness for environmental issues, or maybe it's just plain time that people started paying attention again, but this year it seems like Earth Day is everywhere. "Earth Week," as I've heard it being called, is being promoted with a green logo on NBC, Target is giving away reusable bags, and events are being held all over.

On Saturday Kevin and I attended the Planet Earth Celebration in downtown Raleigh. Featuring lots of activities for kids, music, and vendors, and food, I thought the event was great. There were recycling and composting garbage areas, which were overseen by volunteers who helped people identify where to put their trash. Vendors were there selling local, rLinkecycled, and fair trade products. Lots of organizations were also on hand to distribute information and promote green industries.

The thing got me most excited was the booth about composing with worms. I had set up my own worm box about a month ago, but have been struggling with it. The box began to smell. Then it got very wet and was leaking. After moving the box from the garage to the back yard, Kevin was just about ready to give up on the worm projects. I had stopped saving my vegetable scraps, but I hadn't yet given up on the project all together yet.

I'm glad I didn't. The woman working asked lots of questions about my box, and gave me some suggestions. I think I gave my worms too much food to start with. She said I should wait until all of the scraps in the box are processed before adding more. She also told me to always have three inches of shredded newspaper on top of the worms (before I had it below). And, that I should alternate the side of the box where I put the vegetable scraps.

I really hope this works, because I just planted some tomato plants this weekend and I can't wait to fertilize them with my own compost.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Old Yeller

Last week I noticed a thin layer of dust on the car and knew it was coming. After this weekend I can say that there is no doubt about it: yellow season in Raleigh has arrived with a vengeance. On Sunday we went for a walk in the late afternoon, and by the time we returned home less then an hour later the entire stroller was covered with the yellow film.

This phenomena came as a complete shock to me the first spring I spent down here. I couldn't believe the amount of pollen in the air. You can actually see the pollen in the air, moving around as the wind blows. And, after it rains, the streets glow with a neon film of pollen.

The yellow pollen comes from the region's pine trees, which (ironically) are the state's official tree. Although I've been told that this yellow pollen doesn't trigger allergies, I can confirm that it does cause same irritation. I can't walk around outside during this time of year without feeling sticky and gross by the time I get home.

Also, I find it completely irritating that I can't open my windows until the pollen subsides. If I do, I'll be vacuuming yellow dust from my carpet and furniture for the rest of the summer.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Carrboro Farmers' Market

I love a farmers' markets. For me, the perfect Saturday morning involves a trip to pick up seasonal veggies, freshly baked bread, and perhaps some artisanal cheese or pasture grazed meat. I'm one of those people who will brave freezing temperatures and pouring rain to support my favorite farmers. Everywhere I've lived -- New York City, Bonn, or Raleigh -- finding a market is part of what makes the location feel like home.

In Raleigh we have frequented Raleigh's NC State market. The market is quite nice with a covered pavilion and adjacent building with additional vendors selling local and regional goods. Yet it lacks a community feeling.

Set apart from a neighborhood the market attracts people from all over the city. This is good for the farmers, but leaves the market without a distinct identity. Also, with the exception of a few vendors -- including a German baker and an Irish guy who sells exceptionally good butter lettuce -- most of the vendors here sell exactly the same stuff. There is always an abundance of kale, collards, and sweet potatoes, but I have yet to see many specialty items indicative of many small farmers I have seem in the past.

Wondering what other markets are like in the region, this week I decided to try something different. The Carrboro farmers markets, located on 301 West Main Street in Carrboro, is one of the regions best know. Open year round, it has been in operation for thirty years.

To support this longevity, the markets must be fiercely supported. Walking through the field and small pole barn next to the Carrboro town hall that makes up its home that community was prevalent. There was lots of interaction between the farmers and their customers, many of whom greeted each other like old friends.

Also, I was impressed with the variety of produce, meats, baked goods, and cheeses offered. Among the items I purchased were fresh garlic, spinaches, andouille sausage, and whole wheat bread. Everything was exceptionally good.

Though it may be too far of a drive for every week, I am looking forward to visiting the Carrboro markets again. Once the spring and summer crops start to come in I am sure there will be lots of wonderful treats.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vermiculture Shock

One thing that I loved about Bonn was the city-run composting program. We simply sorted our biodegradable items, called "biomüll," into a small garbage can and then put into the building's green trash bin. It didn't take long for me to realize how much less garbage we produce when we were compositing.

Upon return to the states I knew I didn't want to go back to my old ways. Throwing away all of those vegetable peelings, egg shells, and coffee grinds really seemed like a waste. That's why I decided to set up a worm box.

The project was easy. All it took was a large plastic bin, a pound of worms, and some newspaper. I drilled holes into the top, sides, and bottom of the bin to allow air in and excess liquid out. I placed the bin on one-inch blocks, allowing for circulation around the bottom of the container.

I had read that I should be able to find the worms at either a garden center or bait and tackle shop. However, my local garden center doesn't carry worms and I have no idea were a bait shop is. Instead, I ordered a pound of the "composter's blend" from Blue Ridge Vermiculture, which was made up of half red worms and half European night crawlers.

The company sent an e-mail when my worms were shipped, so I knew to keep an eye out for them. The worms arrived in a USPS flat rate box labeled "LIVE WORMS DO NOT FREEZE." (I wonder what my postman thinks of me now.)

To create bedding for the worms, I shredded some newspaper, moistened it, and placed it in the container. To that I added the compostable material that I had collected the previous week. Now, I just have to sit back and wait for my worms to turn what we would have thrown away into rich, dark soil that I can use for my plants.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

B-Ball: The Game's the Same, What About the Crowd

On Sunday night Kevin and I took the baby to a college basketball game. The University of Maryland's team was in town playing NC State. Since Kevin's favorite team is the Maryland Terrapins, he was super excited to get tickets to the game thanks to one of his friend's parents, who are season ticket holders. (When Kevin asked his friend what he could do to thank them, he was told, "Just don't cheer for the Terrapins too loudly.")
While I Germany we attended a number of sporting events, including one basketball game. Even though the game itself was the same, the European events had a very different feel to their American counterparts. Here are some of the major differences:
  • German fans loves drums. Every game we attended included a marinade of thumps and bangs from drums of all types. In North Carolina, there was the college band, but the horns were the instruments that played a dominant roll in their sound.
  • In Germany, everyone -- no matter his or her age -- drank beer. Here, because it was a college game, no beer was served. (I have to admit that I'll miss the guys with the backpack kegs walking through the crowds.)
  • What drinks there were to consume at the American arena were served in disposable cups. In Germany you paid a deposit on a reusable plastic cup.
  • The condiments here are dispensed in individual-size packages. In Germany, there was the condiment utter.
  • During half time in Germany, the halls were filled with smokers. Even though North Carolina is one of the most lenient states when it comes to smoking bans, no one was lighting up in the arena.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

North Carolina Farmer's Market

While in Germany I shopped at the weekly markets in Bonn and Bad Godesburg. The markets were great and offered a huge variety of vegetables, meats, and cheeses. The problem that I had shopping in these markets, though, was that I didn't always know were the food was coming from.

Some stands were labeled with the location of the farm -- and sometimes I even knew where the town was -- but more often then not I knew that the produce being sold was not local. As delicious as the pineapples, bananas, and kiwis were, there is now way that they were being grown anywhere near the Rhein no matter what the season.

Now that I'm back in Raleigh, I have been frequenting the farmer's market here. There are a number of farmer's markets in the area, and the one that I go to is the NC State Farmer's Market located at 1201 Agriculture Street in Raleigh. All of the farmers are from North Carolina and only seasonal items are sold.

The awesome thing about North Carolina is that there is a great selection of local and seasonal produce. Every week I am able to get root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, beets, onions, and turnips and a huge variety of greens, including kale, collards (of course), and mustard greens. I've also discovered that there are some unexpected treats available this time of year. There is a farmer who grows hothouse tomatoes and another one who produces a variety of lettuces (including the most delicious butter lettuce, which stays fresh in the fridge for well over a week). There is even a German baker who sells brezels and pastries.

But the single most surprising items so far -- strawberries. That alone makes me happy to be living in the south.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Blogging Blank

The baby is sleeping upstairs* and I finally have a few minutes to update this blog. The problem is: I can't think of anything to write about.

At this time last year, each day brought something new to share. Trips, festivals, customs, and strange foods were any everyday occurrence.

Today, on the other hand, I'm house bound (but happy). And while everyday still presents itself with a new set of experiences, they aren't really exciting to anyone other than me. Each day is broken into three-hour cycles of eating, activities, and naps.

I wouldn't change a thing about my life right now. (Well, maybe I would move my family closer and figure out how to avoid the overtired meltdowns.) But I also have to accept that everyday may not provide blog-able material.

* The baby was asleep when I stared to write this post. Now I"m typing with one hand.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's American and I Like It

Living in Germany was a wonderful experience. I got to see and do so many things that I never would have been able to experience had I not lived there. But there are things about the country that I just never fully understood, like the no closets thing.

Today's post is dedicated to some of the little (or not so little) American things that I have been enjoying since I moved back to the states:
  • Storage. I love having closets and cabinets and shelves built in to every room. It certainly made unpacking and setting up the house so much easier.
  • A kitchen. German apartments don't come with kitchens -- the renters bring in their own. Since we knew we weren't going to live oversees forever, we has our landlord put in a small kitchen for us. It included the smallest sink ever. (My brother-in-law claims he couldn't brush his teeth in it, much less was the dishes.) Now I'm back to having all of my big ol' American appliances, and I love them.
  • The clothes dryer. Even though we were one of the few people we know who owned a dryer, it still sucked. Instead of being vented to the outside, as most American dryers are, the one we had in Germany drew the moister out of the clothing and deposited the water into a drawer in the machine, which needed to be emptied before each load. The biggest complaint I had about this process was that it took forever. Now, I can't express the pleasure I get when -- 36 minutes after going in -- my clothes are dry.
  • Big parking spots. I never really liked to drive in Germany. One of the chief reasons was the microscopic parking spots. Going into a garage in Germany made my heart race. Not only did I worry about getting into the tight spots, I also worried about getting out of the car without hitting another car.
  • Stop signs. Sure there are stop signs in Germany, but not that many. Instead, you have to learn that the car on the right always has the right-of-way. This was counterintuitive to me when the car on the right was pulling out of a small road and on a bigger one. (The German's claim this keeps people from going too fast in residential areas.) To me, however, it is much clearer to put a stop sign up. That way, there is no question about who has the right of way.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Night and Day

Before the baby was born, I anticipated many long sleepless nights when the little guy just wouldn't settle down. So far, I'm happy to report that our nighttime routines have not lived up to this image. In fact, to some extent, I find that the nights are almost easier then the days.

At night there are three things that I need to do: check his diaper (I quickly learned to do this first thing when he wakes up), nurse him, and get us both back to sleep as soon as possible. To accomplish these tasks I've found that it is best to keep the rooms dim. I have a three-way light in his room, which I turn to the lowest level. Then I nurse him in my room in the complete dark, then it's directly back into the cradle. This has worked so far. He sleeps three or four hours at a time. We're even able to get through a few nursings without Kevin even stirring in his sleep.

Days, on the other hand have been a greater struggle. In between nursings, changings, and naps he's actually awake sometimes. It's during these times that I wonder, "What should I do with this kid?" So far, I've discovered that he likes to be sung to and listen to music. Green Day is his favorite; he doesn't like Stevie Wonder. Just like his Dad, he likes to be on the go. He loves riding in the car, his stroller, and his Ergo baby carrier. He also really likes the vacuum cleaner. I may now have the cleanest floors in the neighborhood.

Monday, February 2, 2009

German vs. American Baby Prep

Throughout most of pregnancy, I expected that I would be spending my first few weeks with the baby holed up in our apartment in Bonn. It wasn't until almost week 30 that I had to shift gears and start imaging what it would be like to have the baby in the states. While something were a great relief -- like being able to take birthing classes in English -- many of the things I had already planned for the baby's arrival were no longer necessary.

In my German planning, when I did get out of the house with the baby, it would be into the Rhineland’s dark, damp wither. Even though I wasn't expecting cold like I'd know in the Northeast, the temperatures I anticipated were still pretty chilly. To prepare for this weather, I purchased a super warm snowsuit and got a sleeping bag insert to go inside his stroller. My Mom and sister had the same idea, purchasing snuggly warm clothing for the baby's first few months.

Now that we are living in Raleigh, however, my adorable snuggly snowsuit may never get worn. I tried to use it on Saturday on our outing to the farmer's market, but even though it was cold the baby would have suffered heat exhaustion if I put it on him.
Another purchase I may have made differently if I had known that we'd be in the states was my stroller. The Harman VIP that we bought second-hand has big wheels to handle old cobble stone streets and maneuver easily on and off the escalators to the U-bahn (Bonn's subway). It doesn't, however, fold up to the same tiny package that American strollers do. Nor does it have the "travel system," which would allow me to pop the baby from car to stroller without taking him out of his car seat.

Also, if I had purchased the stroller in the states, we would have received instructions about how to fold it up in English. Instead, the booklet is in German, which is really no help to us. Yesterday we decided to take the baby for a walk around one of the lakes in the area. Before being able to get in the car, though, we had to call friends in Germany who had the stroller before us to ask how to fold the thing up.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Inauguration Bawl

As someone who wrote a number of posts waxing on about my support of his candidacy, it may be surprising that I had nothing to say about Obama's inauguration last week. Here's another shocker: I didn't even watch the ceremony until almost a week later when I discovered that it was available on-demand. So, what was I doing instead?

Last Tuesday morning, right on schedule, I had the baby. He's perfect, and the whole family is doing well.
For the next few weeks blogging may be erratic. I'm a first time Mom and just learning how to do this. Thankfully my Mom has been here for the week helping me through the first few days.