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I’m responding to posts out of order, as I find time to respond, and as complete responses come to me, so although today is December 7, this is my response for the December 6 prompt, which is:

From author Gretchen Ruben, Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

As a nearly compulsive knitter, (I think of knitting as productive fidgeting, and have needles and yarn in my hands whenever they’re not busy with something else.) I am in the process of making something almost all the time, though I’ll admit that I often go for months between finishing my knitting projects. Right now, whenever I watch TV, often when I converse with my roommate or on the phone, and sometimes when I read, I’m making a pair of lacy, cabled socks from a tough, royal purple, wool and nylon blend. When my hands yearn for something simpler, I’m also working on an English/Irish-style flat driving cap, of my own design, knitted from tweedy green wool.

I’d like to sew more—especially to make my own fresh, fuzzy, flannel pajamas before December 28, when I’ll head off for January in Massachusetts, which promises to be the coldest winter I’ve yet experienced—but sewing is harder to fit into my life. Sewing requires space, laying things out, leaving them out, making dedicated time. It can’t be stuffed into a bag and carried on an airplane or bus, like knitting can. It can’t be stuffed into the nooks and crannies of my schedule, like knitting can. Thus, I’ll probably settle for store-bought pajamas, not quite exactly as I want them, not quite mine, but fuzzy and warm enough for January.

Still, I make plenty. I make things all the time—we all do, even (especially!) people who are convinced they aren’t creative. I made a salad last night. I made a cup of milky coffee, just as I like it, this morning. Yesterday, I made lots of web copy for my clients, and I’ll make more today. This weekend, I’d work with a group of actors to make a show to entertain a party. We all make things all the time—what else could we do with our lives?

There are drawbacks to freelancing (financial ups and downs, feast-or-famine schedules, condescending credit card companies), but there are many rewards, as well. Perhaps the greatest of those is being able to choose every project I take on, and sometimes being paid to do things I would love to do whether or not money was involved.

For example, I often do small projects for Sounds True, the spiritual and self-help publisher where I’ve once had the privilege of working full-time. Lately, I’ve been transcribing installments of Sounds True’s weekly podcast, Insights from the Edge, for posting on their web site. In these podcasts, Sounds True Founder and CEO Tami Simon interviews great thinkers who’ve created audio programs (lectures and lessons on CD or downloadable mp3) for Sounds True. Three weeks ago, I was particularly excited to find that Tami had interviewed Vicki Robin, who, with the late Joe Dominguez, co-authored Your Money or Your Life. I was being paid to listen to one of the great heroes whose ideas had informed much of my adult life! Check out the interview here.

Tami’s interview celebrates the release of the updated, 10th anniversary edition of the Your Money or Your Life. I remember when the book first came out, when I was a 20-something, deep in college studies and deep in anxiety, wondering if I would ever figure out how to handle my own finances, live free of family support, and take care of myself. I read the book, began tracking my expenses, and have never looked at a job offer or a price tag in the same way since. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this book changed my life, or more accurately, that it did a great deal to shape my adult life.

Vicki Robin and her coauthor, the late Joe Dominguez, taught me to see money as something I (or someone, such as my parents, who have given me many generous gifts over my lifetime) traded hours of my (or my loved one’s) precious, limited life to gain. They also taught me that credit is a form of indentured servitude—a harsh way to put it, but it is signing up to work for many hours, often hundreds or thousands of hours, to pay off a debt—not free money. And best of all, they taught me that true financial independence—defined not as having mountains of money, but as being wholly in control of one’s own financial life—is possible. Creative lifestyles can be fun and freeing, the “American dream” is not a dream for one, and a sustainable world for all is possible.

I was delighted to trade my life energy for money when it came with a chance to listen to Vicki Robin expanding on the ideas from this life-changing book. The interview is a nice introduction to the Your Money or Your Life philosophy, and an interesting listen (or read, if you prefer—just go to the podcast page and click “Read the Transcript” to see my handiwork). I encourage you to check it out.

I came back from my summer adventures in San Francisco all excited about renewing my commitment to my blog, and then I proceeded to not post for two months. My apologies. I have been busy, and scattered and confused, building up my life again back home in Colorado: finding work, finding more work than I expected and gratefully lapping up every opportunity, reconnecting, bouncing from house sit to house sit and remembering why that made me feel flustered and out of sorts … Mainly, though, I’ve been uncertain about the direction of this blog.

I’ve been reading some fantastic popular blogs of late, from The Comics Curmudgeon and Medium Large, to RedheadWriting and SEOmoz, to the Tim Ferriss’ blog and I Will Teach You to Be Rich. Each blog has a specific focus, an overall message and reason for being. Does mine? So far, I’ve felt unfocused, writing on whatever happens to spark my mind. I wonder whether I should stretch for a gimmick, find a way to promise my readers that I will make them rich (as soon as I figure out how to make myself so) …

But the fact is that I already have a focus for my blog. I have a very strange life. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a mortgage, and I don’t have a lease. More unusual: I don’t want any of these things. I make money, I sleep in safe and comfortable places, and I feel wealthy. I also feel creative, excited, and grateful about my life overall. While my lifestyle is far from unique—in fact, the “joyfully jobless” (as author Barbara Winter calls freelancers and entrepreneurs) are far more common than Americans tend to think. I expect that people in creative housing situations—house sitters, eternal travelers, and those who live in non-house, non-apartment homes like RVs, cabins, mini-houses, and such—are also far more common than we tend to think. Still, there’s far too little talk about the alternatives to the standard American dream of “get a job, work all day Monday through Friday for 50 years, then retire completely; while you’re at it, buy the biggest house you can mortgage, as soon as you can.” As the business world shifts, that dream is becoming increasingly impossible, and I’ll argue that it was always impractical. There are many other ways to live, and many that are not only safe, responsible, and relatively comfortable, but also fulfilling and joyful. Simply blogging about my own life experiments, and those of others I learn about, I’ll never run out of things to say.

There is another reason, though, why I’ve been unsure about this blog: It’s out there for anyone to see. I have a feeling all of the ideas that make me interesting and readable are the kinds of things any proper American should be keeping secret. We’re constantly being told to watch what we write on the interwebs, lest we be unemployable for life. Dates, too, can Google and judge, as can potential roommates, landlords, creditors, anybody. The more unorthodox opinions I share (meaning everything that differentiates me and makes me worth reading), the more I mark myself as a freak. Will I ruin my future chances by expressing myself too widely? Telling people about my odd lifestyle, how I turn down “good” “permanent” jobs, how I hop from home to home and work project to work project, has already started an argument that nearly lost me one of my best friends, and is obviously starting to worry another (more on him next post).

After careful consideration (two months of it!), though, I realize that any job, any business partners, any date or friend or roommate I’d ever really want to be with had best be willing to accept me as I am. I am a responsible, intelligent, hard working, sane, and happy person. I also happen to like exploring unusual ways of making a life. I’m willing to tell the world about that.

One of my favorite web comics put it better:

XKCD Dreams

Special thanks to the glorious XKCD.com

Home, sweet home

Home, sweet home

I was delighted to find this post, in which two of my favorite bloggers, Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferriss, talk on video about the false starts and failures they’ve had in their business lives. As Ramit points out in his written introduction, perhaps the most interesting idea they bring up is Ramit’s “tripod of stability”: the practice of making sure the big things in one’s life are reliable and secure, so that one can feel comfortable taking risks in business or anywhere else.

That idea speaks to me. I don’t feel comfortable with the life I have now, and I want to go in a more entrepreneurial, varied, and independent direction, especially with my career and financial life. Since I don’t know how to do that, I’ll have to take major risks and learn as I go along (often, I’m sure, by screwing things up). If I could build a base of stability like Ramit’s, maybe I, too, will have the guts to build my own business and create the life I dream of. How am I doing so far?

The three big things Ramit mentions in his post are relationships, car, and where he lives. In the video, he also says he’s conservative about taxes. Well, I’m terrified of running afoul of the IRS, especially as a freelancer, so I’m extra conservative about taxes, too. Let’s see how I’m doing on the other major parts of my life:

Relationships: I actually do feel stable and happy in this area of my life. I get along all right with my family, and they’re doing well right now. I have a small, but solid group of wonderful friends. I feel supported, important, and drama free. I even have a serious romantic relationship in the works, and while it’s too new for me to be sure it’s a reliable, long-term thing, so far it’s bringing me nothing but joy and comfort. The people in my life definitely make me feel safe and supported.

Car: Um, yeah. For everyone who lives outside those cities where public transportation really works (San Francisco, Portland, and Chicago are the ones I’ve visited), having a good, reliable car is key to getting things done. For the past eight years, I’ve had just that, and it was a tremendous comfort. I could get anywhere I wanted (and I mean anywhere! That car took me across town, and to Canada and back.) whenever I wanted to go. I could carry anything. In a pinch, I always had a place to sleep. My car was my home, my rock, my best friend…

And now it’s dying. My car has been diagnosed with a failing front axle, plus a bad case of “Chevy Metros weren’t made to go 190,000 miles! It’s time to give it up!” It’s true. My beloved Metro has served me well, but it’s a discontinued model, which makes parts for repairs increasingly expensive, and it is, ultimately, a tin can that has already had a far more exciting life than anyone expected. My car, so reliable for so long, is no longer a rock of stability in my life. In fact, I drive around every day listening to every little noise, waiting for the front wheels to freeze up completely. It’s time to retire the Metro and get a more reliable ride.

Which is my main order of business for the next week. I’m off to buy a used car. According to Rajit, apparently being Indian requires him to drive a Honda Accord. Tim drives a Volkswagon Golf. I like both cars, but after weeks of internet research (read “procrastination”), I’ve decided on a Honda Civic. They’ve got Honda’s reputation for reliability, but they’re smaller than the Accord, less expensive than Volkswagons, and they get better gas mileage than even my beloved Metro did. Wish me luck in my car hunt.

Home: And, even more than Ramit does, I really need a reliable car in my life, because without one, I can’t be absolutely sure where I’ll sleep each night. I completely understand wwhen he says having a stable home can help you feel brave and secure, but at this point in my life, I can’t have one. I’ve spent my savings living the dream in San Francisco (except for what I’m about to spend on a car), so until I get some income—let’s face it, a lot of income—flowing in, I can’t afford to rent a home. For now, I’ve told all of my house-sitting clients I’m back in town, and I’m already hopping from house to house (all the while hoping my Metro will keep carrying me and my luggage for a few more days). I have to admit that it’s wearing me out, and I’m frustrated that I can’t find any of my stuff, that I don’t know what all I own (since most of it is in storage), and I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about where I’ll live next week.

I really do want a stable home. I love the multifaceted, entrepreneurial, exploratory career path I’m on, so wherever I live, I’m sure I’ll still be living a life of adventure. Soon, though, I’d like to stop being so literal about the “nomad” thing. I want to have a home again, to organize my stuff where I can see it and use it, to stop worrying about my most basic needs and start thinking about business ideas, creative projects, and new things to learn.

By Ramit’s standards, I’m in a Catch-22. To have the courage to take risks, I should have a stable home. However, until I’ve taken the rather large risks I’ll need to take to increase my income to the point where I can pay rent every month, I can’t afford a stable home. I suppose I’ll just have to take the risks anyway, reminding myself that it’s perfectly reasonable to be terrified—even my entrepreneurial heroes know it’s scary.

But not too scary. Heck, after next week, if all else fails, I can always sleep in my car.

Marching (flying, dancing) with The Go Game in the 2009 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade

Marching (flying, dancing) with The Go Game in the 2009 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade

I haven’t blogged for three and a half months. I think I had a good reason: I put my entire life on hold to pursue a dream. I told my freelance and pet sitting clients I’d be away, I let my awesome roommate/landlady find a new renter, I put even more of my stuff in storage, loaned my car to my mom, said goodbye to my friends, and headed off to San Francisco for the summer. Why? Following my stated goal of kicking up my acting career, I applied for the 2009 Summer Training Congress, a seven-week professional actor training program through San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. To my great surprise, I actually got in! I set off for two months in a huge, new city, to spend my days steeped in what I love most: acting. For me, it was a dream come true, and a life so different from my usual Colorado ramblings that it felt like a dream.

Knowing that, with nine-hour days of extremely active training, plus rehearsals, plus getting lost and overwhelmed in the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, I let the Nomad blog slide all summer. Instead, I kept those friends who were interested updated with Facebook and Twitter updates (I could handle 140 characters occasionally, but not a whole essay). As with my trip to Portland, this adventure brought out the paradox of blogging an unusual life: When life is at its most interesting, I’m too busy living to blog about it.

It was an amazing summer. I made wonderful new friends and impressive contacts, learned more about acting and Shakespeare and voice and speech and text and the power of movement to communicate than I ever thought I could cram into my being in two months, fell head over heels for a San Francisco novelist, lived in two fantastic apartments and one awful one, got to know San Francisco’s many neighborhoods, marched as Batgirl in America’s biggest Gay Pride Parade… and I may someday write about some or all of these adventures.

For now, though, I’d like to start processing my challenge of the moment: Having put one’s life on hold, how does one ever get it going again? After a summer of tuition and San Francisco prices, my non-retirement savings are nearly gone (and I’m still not touching my retirement funds, no way, no how!). My freelance and pet sitting clients have learned how to live without me for two months. I’m now sleeping in the storage-stuffed guest bedroom at my mother’s house. My car has been diagnosed with a terminal case of “Chevy Metros weren’t designed to last for more than 188,000 miles. It’s time to let it go.” I haven’t knitted in months (!) and I’ve lost my guitar callouses. I still don’t have a play to act in. Some of my Colorado friends know I’m back in their state, some don’t. My long-distance friends have fallen out of touch while I was overwhelmed with theatre thoughts. For the first time in years, I actually have a steady, fairly awesome love life, but it’s a long-distance one—as my mom likes to sing while giggling at me, “I left my heart in San Francisco.”

Still, life looks good to me, not just because I’m still high from my summer of acting and adventure, but because this life is full of possibilities. In the next few months, I will have to find new work, a new home (or rebuild my house sitting lifestyle), and a new (to me) car. I plan to jump start my art life: land some acting roles; publish more articles, stories, and knitting designs; and finally learn to jam on my guitar. I plan to reconnect with and better appreciate the people I hold dear, and keep in touch with all of the new friends and admired acquaintances I met in San Francisco. Oh, and I plan to convince one adorable novelist that, once he finishes his MFA in San Francisco this fall, what he really wants to do is move to Colorado. Hey, it can all be done, and given my list and my life so far, it’s sure to be an interesting ride.

Intrigued? Welcome back to the blog. I promise to post about updated on my life’s reconstruction, plus some related (or not so) great ideas from the rest of the world, with new posts coming at least once a week, and usually more often. Thanks for reading.

PhoneIt’s been over a month since my last post, but I’m here again, and here to stay. As I look back on my misspent month of March, I keep thinking of the 2004 movie The Forgotten, in which (spoiler alert, though it’s a spoiler for a terrible movie, and so no great loss) Julianne Moore plays a mother who is part of an experiment run by aliens from outer space. The aliens have set out to prove that Earthling parents can be made to forget their children entirely if one just hides the children and messes with the parents’ minds. Moore’s character refuses to forget, no matter what the aliens do or how many of her fellow humans (including her psychiatrist and her son’s father) insist that her son never existed. Then the aliens have to kill her because, you see, otherwise she would be proof that the experiment had failed.

And that’s what I hate about that movie, and about any argument about science that fails to understand what science is and isn’t, or how a scientific experiment, or any experiment, really, works. Here’s the deal: An experiment is simply trying something to find out what would happen. To be a scientific experiment, you would make an educated guess (hypothesis) as to what would happen, and then try something to find out if your guess is right. (To be truly scientific, then you would have a large sample for the things you’re testing, and at least one control group, but I’m digressing now.) And what if your guess is proven wrong? To a true scientist, or anyone who loves the true nature of an experiment, that’s wonderful! Whether your guess is proven right or wrong, the experiment is a success. You now know something new. Going back to the movie, the aliens have succeeded in finding out that not all humans can be made to forget their children. The experiment was a success. The only failed experiment is one that tells you nothing.

How does this explain where I’ve been all March?

Well, I tried two experiments in the realm of moneymaking, or attempts to get something resembling a “real job.” The first was blogging for Examiner.com as the Denver Knitting Examiner, which sucked up what little time and mental energy I had after my day job (more on that below), and got me just a few readers. Since Examiners are paid exactly one penny per page view, I made less than $0.50 per 200-1,000-word, researched, originally written blog post. Based on the statistics on my start page, this is about average for the site. It may have been worth my while anyway if I was having fun, but my posts on the very narrow topic of local, current, knitting news bored even me. Finally, on a particularly stressful day, an Examiner editor wrote to complain about the capitalization of my posts’ titles, which did not fit Examiner’s unusual and bizarre-looking official style. She further said that she had “fixed” them for me, but when I went to my site, I saw that she had no understanding of grammar and parts of speech, so the new headlines didn’t fit Examiner.com’s style, my style, or any grammatically consistent style. I thought of sending her a copy of my copyediting resume to establish my credentials, and then arguing with her, but I realized that I really didn’t care. Based on my first experiment, Examiner.com is, to my mind, not worth the effort I put in, or any effort at all. I’ve shut down my Examiner page. I may write for pay by page view sites with different structures in the future, but the Examiner’s setup did not work for me. I’m much happier writing my own blog, for free, than writing the overly constrained one for pennies…or for promised pennies. I’d like to publicly note here that Examiner.com never paid me even the $10 or so I earned during my month with them.

My other experiment was taking a temp receptionist position, for $10 an hour, with an old friend of my dad’s and his wife in their accounting firm. (All of Dad’s friends are old friends, since he’s been dead for 20 years now.) I might have known better. Because I haven’t been making much money, and I’ve begun to feel guilty about not having a regular job, I tested some long-standing assumptions: 1) I hate reception work, especially when it amounts to writing down messages for one or two people who simply think they’re too special to answer their own calls or use voice mail, and I can do nothing to help the caller, myself. Such jobs make me feel like an impediment to any real accomplishment, stress me out, and piss me off. 2) I won’t work for less than $12 an hour, unless the job really is volunteer work for a cause I care about. Less than that makes me resentful, and isn’t worth the time away from my freelance gig hunting. 3) I am fascinated by almost every field of endeavor, but accounting bores me to tears. I can just bring myself to do my own taxes each year because I like being a law-abiding citizen, but I can’t bring myself to care about anyone else’s taxes or day-to-day finances.

I wondered if I’d been cheating myself out of opportunities by clinging to these assumptions, so I took the job. Now I’ve confirmed all of them. I hated the job, and it sucked the life out of me so that I could barely get keep my Examiner blog going and keep up with my stage combat class (more on that in a later post), let alone find any other freelance work or do anything else for fun. I also added one more assumption, now proven, to my list: 4) I should never work for those people, and should be wary of working for any of my parents’ friends. While there is hope that people older than me, and even people who knew me when I was nine years old, might be able to see me as a peer, an intelligent, educated, skilled adult worthy of respect and empathy, my bosses were not such people. In the four weeks I was there, they didn’t bother to pay me, ask for my timesheets (which I’d compiled on my own, unasked), or tell me when I would be paid. They often set up my work so that I was alone in the office, waiting for someone to come by to pick up a check or some financial papers, and unable to take a break and get my lunch (while they were out to lunch, themselves). When I spoke sharply to the telemarketer who had called me back six times in a row and then started to swear at me, one of my bosses chastised me for “shouting at callers,” and continued to bitch the incident daily for the next three weeks. When, exhausted, I accidentally locked my keys inside the office as I was leaving on a Friday night, trapping me in the office building (as I couldn’t drive anywhere, and if I left the building, couldn’t get back in), I called one of my bosses for help. Her first suggestion was that I camp out in the lobby for two days until the cleaning crew came by on Sunday. When I pointed out that I actually had a life and responsibilities outside of her office (not mentioning that I also like to eat at least once every 48 hours), she seemed surprised, and suggested I call AAA, have them break into my car, and ask them to hotwire it so I could drive home. When I pointed out that AAA doesn’t hotwire cars, nor does any legal business, she told me to call a locksmith. Only when the locksmith arrived three hours later, charging me $40 (half a day’s salary, before taxes) to tell me that the only way in was to destroy the lock, did she agree to drive for half an hour to unlock the door with her key. And when I quit the next week, pointing out that this job was killing my freelance business and thus losing me money every time I came in, and I gave them two weeks notice to find and train my replacement (a job that could be done in two hours by calling any temp agency, as I told them), they replied, “Well, two weeks would put us right up against tax day. I don’t think we’ll bother to find I replacement. I think we’re going to, um, go ahead and, ah, have you just work the two weeks and be done with it.” I thought for a moment that they were joking, but then I realized that these people didn’t know what a podcast was, what iTunes was, or how to use Google, let alone how to quote Office Space. They weren’t joking. The next day, I brought in my organized timesheets with a note pointing out that Colorado labor law requires them to pay me by the 10th of the next month, and a letter of resignation that carefully explained the point of two weeks notice, that it was a courtesy and not a requirement, and that I was taking mine back. At the end of my work day, I announced that I was never coming back, left my letter and timesheets on my desk, and I was free.

I learned a good deal from that experiment, annoying as it was. I’m tempted to take other assumptions from it, such as: 1) I’m not cut out to hold any job, 2) I hate answering all phones, 3) I can’t stand anyone my parents would associate with, or 4) I should avoid all accountants, but none of those is true. I just shouldn’t do that exact type of job, for $10 an hour, or for those people. Ah, and most important: If a job sucks that much, I can leave, and I will. Life is too short to lose money hating one’s job.

My next experiment: I wonder if someone would hire me to deliver pizzas, and if I’d like the job. My hypothesis is that I’d have fun, and make pretty good money. I’ll tell you what I find out in a few weeks.

Home, sweet home

Home, sweet home

It’s good to be a freelancer. Right now, I’m in the house I grew up in, and right after administering another dose of Vicodin, I’ve just finished the last of the work projects I’ve struggled to get done this week, and I’m taking a moment to be deeply thankful that my life is so amazingly flexible.

Let me back up. At about 2 a.m. this past Tuesday, my mother was still bustling around her house, putting laundry away and generally tidying up. She trotted up the steep stairway to the second floor like she has hundreds of times over the 36 years she’s lived in that house, with her arms full and not bothering to turn on the hall light. It was so dark in that hall that, once Mom turned aside to set the laundry down on the hall table, she couldn’t see which direction was the rest of the second-floor hallway, and which was the stairs. Sleepy and disoriented, she picked the wrong way and, intending to take a step down the hall, stepped into thin air above the stairway, then fell head over heels down a full flight of stairs. She broke one arm, dislocated one shoulder, torqued her neck, and bruised several of her ribs.

Here’s where my gratitude comes in: A friend who lives nearby took Mom to the hospital to get x-rayed, diagnosed, prescribed, and patched up. When she got back home, she called to tell me the story, and at that moment, I was able to toss my laptop computer, my guitar, my knitting, several books, and a week’s worth of clothes into my car and rush right over. I’ve moved into her house for at least one week, and possibly longer, depending on what her doctor says at her checkup next Monday. I don’t have to worry about missing work, because I can work from anywhere. I don’t have to ask anyone for time off, because my time is entirely at my command. I decide when I have to work in order to meet a deadline, and when it’s time for a break because my mom needs me to fix her lunch, open her prescription bottle, or bring her a better pillow. I have no idea how I would have managed this if I’d had a full-time, in-house job, but as my life is, I have have been able to meet all of my work deadlines while hearing my mom tell her friends on the phone, “Don’t worry about me. My daughter is here, and she’s waiting on me hand and foot!”

No, it’s not fun to see someone I love in pain. Yes, it’s getting tedious to keep driving off on little errands, opening bottles and jars, and making yet another cup of tea. Yes, it has been a challenge fitting my work projects in around my worrying…but accidents happen. Illnesses happen. Heartbreaks happen. Relatives need extra care sometimes. Sometimes friends need someone to listen to their stories, or just a ride to the airport. I’m happy to know that I can make room for anything life throws at me.

Courtesy of Stockvault.com

Courtesy of Stockvault.com

As I settle into my new, rent-paid, call-it-mine, honest to goodness long-term home, I’m reveling in something that most non-nomadic Americans take for granted. In fact, most folks with homes have the opportunity to do this many times every day, and they actively avoid it. We spend thousands of dollars every year trying to avoid it. Advertisements abound, on TV, radio, billboards, and in magazines, promising to eliminate it from our lives. Still, I have to say it now: I love cooking! Cooking is how my favorite past boyfriends won my heart. Cooking is why I love Thanksgiving Day: Growing up, it was the one day of the year when my typical 80s suburban, both-parents-working family cooked a meal from scratch, beginning to end.

And now, after three years of fast food, frozen dinners, and canned soup, I’m cooking again! After two weeks of getting used to my new home (This is my home! Mine! I really live here!), last Friday I finally felt comfortable enough to make an epic trip to the grocery store. Now I have only to saunter down to the kitchen to find butter spread, milk, yoghurt (plain and flavored), cottage cheese, pita chips, bread, peanut butter, three kinds of cheese, and oh, the vegetables! I have fresh potatoes, asparagus (on sale this week!), avocado (ditto), a bag of salad, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and my favorite staple, cabbage. Then there are the veggies in the freezer, next to all of those beautiful chicken breasts. I have a full box of Cheerios and one of Wheat Chex, and enough baking ingredients to whip up a batch of Toll House cookies on a moment’s notice.

This is a luxury I couldn’t have in my pure-nomad, house sitting days. When I knew I’d be changing houses in two weeks or two days, it didn’t make sense to buy a full package of any ingredient. I couldn’t stock up when something was on sale. I simple carried a small box of canned vegetables and soups from house to house, and if I was really settling in, I bought just enough Lean Cuisines to serve as dinner for each night before the next move. The only fresh milk, eggs, or vegetables I had were those that my clients begged me to eat before they spoiled. And while I was saving money on rent, I was spending quite a bit on Noodles & Company and Chipotle.

So now I’m cooking. I love the tightwaddery of making things from scratch. I love the creative process of putting food together. What I love most, though, is the freedom it gives me to make my meals exactly the way I want them. Today I brunched on a fried egg, overcooked so that the whites are all crispy, and sunny side up, which no diner will do these days, for fear I’ll get salmonella poisoning and sue them. With it, I had nearly, but not quite burned whole wheat toast, and 1/3 pound of asparagus, steam/sauteed in the special way my friend Rachel taught me years ago, flavored with a little olive oil and a little lemon juice. All of this was topped off with my beloved, not-available-in-any-restaurant-I’ve-ever-seen, caffiene-free Pepsi. And I ate it all while still wearing my pajamas.

I expect this glorious pleasure at eating exactly what I want, this satisfaction at opening the fridge and cabinets and seeing a wide array of fresh, nutritious foods, this glee at saving vegetable steaming water for making soup later on, will wear off to a degree. On days when I’m rushing to get somewhere, I will just grab a shaker bottle full of water and artificial protein drink powder. Still, I don’t thing I’ll ever fully get over this joy of simply, directly feeding myself.

sockAs I settle into my home, finally completely unpacking after years of dragging unexamined luggage from house to house, I’ve realized something: I have a lot of worn-out socks. There are the socks I’ve been wearing anyway, blissfully ignoring the holes in the heels, and there are many, many more socks that I’ve stored away because the holes were too big for comfort. Why didn’t I just throw them away? I was too busy moving around.

Now I’m pleased that I still have so many worn-through socks around. As I finally started to look at them, I was reminded of a former boyfriend who kept a bucket full of dead socks, cut down the back of the leg and through the sole to the toe, so they would lie flat. He used them as cleaning rags, and so saved money and landfill space, for he was an environmentalist as well as a cheapskate. (Ah, how I adored that boy!) He could dust, scrub, wipe down, and sop up any mess, then toss the rag into the washing machine to become clean and white and ready to use again. If a job was so gross that he couldn’t bear to wash the rag, (Toilet overflow, anyone?) it was no great tragedy to throw away a sock that otherwise would have been tossed months ago.

Remembering him, I was cutting open my holey old socks, dreaming of soft dusters and counter moppers, when I noticed how truly soft and cushy my socks are inside. I wear terry-lined, cotton-blend gym socks  most of the time, so my new rag pile is fuzzy, luxuriously soft—just what I want on my face when I’m washing mascara off of my eyes at bedtime. Forget cleaning rags. I now have a stack of incredibly comfortable, though odd-looking, washcloths. I keep them under my kitchen sink (lest my roommate walk by the open bathroom door and decide I’m a freak with a sock fetish) and use one fresh, clean, soft sock every night.

You may be more squeamish than I about rubbing your face with something that once absorbed a workout’s worth of foot sweat. I, for one, trust my washing machine to completely de-gross my socks, so I now see only odd-shaped bits of fabric. Even if the washcloth plan is too much for you, I still recommend socks as household cleaning rags. Rags are beautiful things, things we have far too few of in today’s American culture. They’re even sturdier than Brawny towels and more absorbant, they won’t tear or dissolve mid-cleanup, and best of all, they’re free!

The Eye of the Tiger

The Eye of the Tiger

I spent this weekend cat sitting again. No, I’m not on the move already. It’s just that I miss having cats around, since we have no pets here in my comfy home. My roommate/landlady tells me I can get a cat if I like, though she’s not a fan, herself, and so I’ve been thinking and reading web sites about getting a foster cat. That would mean taking in a kitty who lives at an animal shelter, but for some reason is not ready for adoption—she has an illness or injury to recover from, or he’s been in the shelter so long he’s forgotten how to play with people—and loving him or her until it’s time to go back and find a forever home. I’m also still open to sitting for local clients, especially those I know well. Besides, I could use some extra money, as well as the extra fur.

This weekend, I was in Longmont with two cats in a home I’ve stayed in for many weeks during my full-on-nomad days. It was refreshing to pack for just a three-day trip, easily finding everything I might need in my own closet, dresser, and shelves. It felt like a vacation instead of a total home move. In fact, I was surprised to see how calm and productive I was all weekend.

I was more surprised at how irritable I was when I got home last night. My roommate was out for the evening, but I twitched at every little thing that had changed while I was gone. How dare she run the dishwasher (Quite nice of her, actually.) and not unload it immediately? What was a clothes drying rack doing in the office (folded neatly, right next to the washer and dryer)? Why was the door to the unheated basement left open, sucking warmth from the rest of the house? Then I took a moment to be surprised at myself. My roommate is wonderful, actually. She’s easy going, rarely home, and charming and interesting when she is around. After knowing me for a week and a half, this woman baked me a cake for my birthday. I couldn’t ask for a better roommate, and I wouldn’t trade her in for another…well, maybe for Christian Bale or Kal Penn, but it would take quite a lot.

After giving it some thought, I realized that I was bothered only because I have a roommate, any roommate. I’m not used to living without cats, but more than that, I’m really, really unused to living with people. Even the sweetest roommate is a lot to get used to. I’m not used to doors being open when I haven’t opened them, trash being created by anyone but me, tiny spills on the kitchen counter that I don’t recognize. I’ve been far too isolated for too long, and I’m still not used to all this humanity. That’s why packing an overnight bag and running away for the weekend felt, more than anything, like going home.