Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sane or Insane?

Back in the fall, I put up an anonymous poll asking: “What do you think of Amy moving to New Mexico?” The verdict was 66% of you found my relocation “insane.” It was a bit shocking that so many of you think I’m completely cuckoo, but hey, I asked.

Now that I’ve had time to look back at this life-changing decision, I thought I’d do my own analysis of the “saneness” of a geographic 180. I’m going to try to be as objective as possible (if it is possible). I’ll also try to answer those of you who’ve asked if I’ve had any “buyer’s remorse” or shall we say “mover’s remorse.” So here goes…

Arguably insane factors:
•Moving to a place where you know no one and have no family
•Going from a city of 11 million people to a hamlet of under 2,000
•Relocating to a different state that you’ve only visited four times
•Buying a house in this new place without living there first
•Choosing a town smaller than your hometown (which felt small)
•Leaving the world's best temperate climate for true winters

Arguably sane factors:
•Doubling our living space without paying more per month
•Fulfilling the dream of home ownership where buying makes sense*
•Invigorating our personal growth with a conscious lifestyle change
•Moving to a lower cost-of-living area where we can save more money
•Following our gut instincts about what places inspire and soothe us
•Taking maximum advantage of the benefits of our flexible careers

So what I see here is that this move was equal parts sane and insane. It’s a matter of perspective. Is it insane to want to both get more and save more? Is it insane to want the opposite of what you have? Is it insane to think you can make friends anywhere…at any age? Is it insane to crave space and tranquility after once dismissing it? Is it insane to want to buy a home but not stretch financially? Is it insane to seek to change yourself? Is it insane to just leap?

It may be. And it certainly would be – at different points in time. But for me, at this age and stage, it’s also the fullest realization of being a telecommuting freelancer. I’ve traded job security for the risks and uncertainties and financial fluctuations of “going it on my own.” But I’ve also bought myself the ability to live how and where I please…and now I’m finally capitalizing on that. It’s a way of paying myself back in intangibles that makes the equation fully add up.

As for mover’s remorse, we were frustrated at being snowed in this winter…three separate times. I had “a moment” during the last major snowstorm. But that’s about it. Because I already feel at home. I’ve already made some new friends. I’ve already felt a change in myself. I’ve already gotten used to the quiet. (A car alarm in Santa Fe this weekend was like a traumatic flashback.) And I’ve already fallen in love with the simple life again – in a way I probably never could have if I hadn’t lived and breathed the excitement of the big city.

Freedom means many different things, but to me, this is it. “You are free to move about the country,” as the Southwest Airlines slogan goes. It may sound insane (and it is, partially) to pick up and move somewhere you barely know, but I’ve never felt saner.

*See the New York Times' very helpful "Buy Versus Rent Calculator" to determine where it's smart to buy...and where it's better to rent. Based on our previous rent and current mortgage, as well as assumptions of a 3% annual rent increase and a 1% annual home value appreciation, we will save $29,697 over six years by owning here, with an average savings of $4,950/year.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kidding Around in the East Mountains

Last month I got to experience “kidding season” for the first time here in New Mexico. This was not a month-long April Fool’s Joke, as it turns out, but the time of year when baby goats or “kids” are born and bottle-fed on goat dairy farms.

For reasons I have yet to uncover, the East Mountains area of Albuquerque is rife with goat dairy farms. This has turned out to be a serious perk of living here given that my partner Kevin is lactose intolerant and may well be the top consumer of all goat dairy products, including goat cheese, goat milk, goat yogurt and goat butter. We used to only be able to get these products at Whole Foods. Now we can now get them right down the road. Who said country living wasn’t convenient?

Our first tip-off was finding a surprising number of local goat cheese brands at Whole Foods and the wonderful Montanita Food Co-Op. After trying Old Windmill Dairy’s amazing Holy Chipotle Chevre, I went to their website (beyond my taste buds, they’d captured my interest with their cute tagline: “The Little Dairy on the Prairie”) and discovered they offered cheese making classes. I had barely uttered the words before Kevin agreed that we should sign up.

The following Sunday we drove down many, many dirt roads until we found our way to the Old Windmill Dairy a bit late. Fortunately, we were still in time to sample all of their chevre flavors – my second favorite soon became The Great Caper – and learn how to make goat mozzarella cheese. Bottom line: it’s not easy! They were still working out their exact recipe in fact before going into production.

Beyond yummy snacks, I also got a real appreciation for all the science involved – not to mention the pitfalls. Exact temperatures. Sterilized equipment. Very clean goat utters. There are a lot of things necessary to make safe, bacteria-free cheeses that taste great – and not “goaty.” One of them is making sure the male goats stay very far away from the females. Why, you ask? Because as Ed, one of the owners, explained, they stink (it’s their natural musk for mating) and like to pee on females.

After the class, we got to go see the baby goats, some only a few days old. My favorite moment was watching this bleating herd of kids chase the farm hand – their long ears flapping comically. (See the picture below.) But this was soon eclipsed by getting to bottle feed a baby goat ourselves two weeks later. Ed informed us that we actually lived on the same road in Edgewood as another goat dairy farm – South Mountain Dairy. We couldn’t believe our luck! And, as it turned out, they hold bottle-feeding open houses every Sunday in April.

So of course, we had to go to that too. Fortunately, the timing was perfect as we had friends visiting that weekend with their toddler, who loved playing with all the goats. We bottle-fed a fidgety kid, we walked around the high-tech goat housing (the owners of South Mountain Dairy both retired from Sandia Laboratories) and we eagerly bought all the products they had on hand, including drinkable raspberry yogurt, apricot chevre and lemon chipotle marinated feta. All fantastic. All different than Old Windmill Dairy’s product line (which you can buy in CSA fashion). Score.

So between these two dairies and an organic CSA farm called Frost Hill Organics that’s started up five minutes away, we should be able to buy a lot of what we eat from people we actually know. And, after watching Food Inc. (the Oscar-nominated documentary about the industrial food system), I’m pretty happy about that.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Riding Ten Thousand Waves in Santa Fe

I've learned that when you’re having a hard time relaxing, it never hurts to follow the Japanese example. No, I’m not talking about getting a karaoke room - although I know several people who would swear by that. I’m talking about soaking in some hot springs in the mountains (what they call onsens) until your skin turns pink, your mind clears and your entire body begs for a nap.

For my birthday this year, Kevin and I checked into a Japanese-style spa resort called Ten Thousand Waves in the mountains above Santa Fe. We had spent the two weeks prior clearing out the contents of his mother’s home. Upon returning to New Mexico, we were wiped. Recharging was clearly in order, but we needed something to help us snap us out of the “what has to be done next?” mentality.

Fortunately, Ten Thousand Waves had just what we needed. “The Natural” spa package promised “total transformation in just three hours.” Sold! Dressed in our robes, bright orange kimonos and spa sandals, we followed the stone path and climbed several steep sets of stairs from our suite to check in at the spa. After catching our breath and sipping some cucumber water (lest you think we’re pansies, I should mention the entire resort is 20 acres), we then ascended several more levels to our private outdoor hot tub.

Fenced just high enough for privacy – and just low enough to let you take in the scenery - our tub looked like a steaming cauldron in the cold mountain air. Snow covered the ground beyond the fence, and when the wind rustled the ponderosa pines, small flakes fluttered into the hot water for a kamikaze death. Disrobing was not something to take your time with. It was winter, and we were at an elevation of 7,800 feet. So we jumped in quickly and exhaled deeply. Before we knew it, our 50 minutes were up, and the attendant was at the gate beckoning us to the next treatment.

With noodles for legs, we shuffled indoors to a couples massage room for the “yasuragi” head and neck treatment. The name “yasuragi” means “comfort” in Japanese, and for me, this was truly the best part of the package. With warm camellia oil slowly dripping down my scalp, I was more than comforted. I was practically asleep. They say most people hold tension in their head and neck, and I’m definitely one of them. After the “yasuragi” was over, my scalp pulsated with a happy lightness, and I welcomed the mental blankness.

Next came the full body massages followed by a salt glow. Personally, I could have done with continuing the “yasuragi” and forfeiting all the rest. While most of the massage felt wonderful, parts of the salt glow had me alert with anxiety. On the thinner skin of my calves especially, I felt like I was being assaulted with sandpaper. Later, in the sauna, I asked Kevin if he found the salt glow as painful as I had, and he hadn’t. So go figure. Apparently I have sensitive calves.

It wasn’t enough to keep me from slipping into a near-narcotic stupor, though. We made dinner in the suite’s small but functional kitchen, lit a fire in the fireplace (with Buddha sitting above), passed out at 8 p.m. and slept for ten delicious hours.

When we woke, for the first time in many days, there was nothing we needed to do, other than make a pot of coffee and try out the complimentary organic granola in the fridge. That, and have a long discussion about our Warmlet, the suite’s Japanese-style heated toilet. I found it a bit startling. Was it turned up too high? Or was it just the cold temps that made it seem overly toasty? More importantly, what IS the optimal temperature for one’s behind?

After this ridiculous dialogue (although perhaps not so ridiculous given the warnings posted on the Warmlet above, including a note that the young and elderly should be supervised), we needed no further proof that our adrenaline rush was over. We were finally relaxed. Perhaps a little too relaxed. But let’s face it, sometimes mindlessness is bliss.