Postscript: 3 Months After

January 7, Saturday. At least for today, I’ve let go of my angst about being back in Louisiana. It was one of those glorious days that it was warm enough for shorts and throwing open the windows, but the evenings are still cool enough to need a sweatshirt and jeans. Come February, our coldest month, it can even snow. But today was great, and my thoughts were turning to gardening, and I was enjoying being here in Louisiana and appreciating what it has to offer.

Like satsumas. During the holidays everybody is giving away their excess crop of citrus: oranges, lemons, kumquats, satsumas. Friends bring them to holiday parties, co-workers drop off bags of citrus in the break room. I’m looking around for recipes for satsumas–of which I have too many–and a google search is mostly providing me with recipes using them as accents in salads, sauces, toppings…I want a recipe that’s will use at least six whole satsumas! I probably need a Louisiana cookbook. Found a nice program on New Orleans public radio about the Orange Festival Unpeeling the Season with Satsumas.

It’s Mardi Gras season. Yes, starts right after New Years. This year Fat Tuesday is February 21. The holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas are not so great for me, I have no family here, and the local holiday traditions are not quite the same as my family’s traditions. But, Mardi Gras…oh, yes. It’s the fun season. I do a website for a bakery that was voted “Acadiana’s Best King Cake!” I get paid in food (plus money.) I just picked up the bakery’s price list today to make updates to their website. Within a couple of days of returning to Louisiana I started contract work for a company in Broussard that’s had me working steadily ever since. I’ve worked for this company before and shared my bounty of King Cakes with them in the past. They let me know I could be sure of steady work with them at least until Mardi Gras. Hmmm, I wonder why.

I recently heard some interesting news, that there is a shortage of organic milk. Why is that interesting? Because it represents that perhaps at last the time for organics going mainstream has finally come. And that’s great news! Today when I was grocery shopping in Target–where I get most of my organics and recycled paper products, in addition to getting such items at Walmart–I saw that organics eggs were just about sold out, and the organic raspberries sitting beside conventional raspberries were selling better. I wouldn’t exactly call Louisiana a hot bed of organics, but even here, I’m please to see the uptick in sales of organics. Just makes sense.

So, what’s happened since I’ve returned to Louisiana? Rather than dive into looking for renewable energy / solar work, I’ve focused on getting caught up. I ended 2011 being squared away financially, current on all bills including fed and state tax returns just filed (well, I’m sure the Feds managed okay without my paltry sum of tax money), squirreling away savings, taking care of basic medical care, and working on my house and yard.

In September a French CouchSurfer came to visit and I took him on a walking tour of my quaint, historic town. It made me realize just how desirable my little town is, and I was reminded of what a nice little house I have. It just hasn’t felt right to give it all up because of problematic neighbors, long hot summers and various and sundry other issues. I’ve invested in native plant landscaping projects, paint projects, and energy efficient upgrades that I’d like to see thru. My current plan is to at least view my place as a good investment property and do a Vacation Rental by Owner kind of thing.  In comparison to most people, I don’t have a lot of belongings, but even so, with the on-going flea problem on my return (now gone, I think) and the necessity to move things frequently to vacuum, I became highly motivated to get rid of stuff. I got rid of furniture, including a twin bed in good condition that I’ve had since high school.  I sold a solid maple dresser to a couple who bought it for their teenaged daughter.  (In fact, my parents had bought me that dresser when I was a teenager, so it seemed fitting.)  I gave away a set of nice Stoneware dishes, sold my guitar, and sorted thru and gave away a lot of nice blankets and bedding. It was amusing to see just how many blankets I had. Maybe that’s a northern thing; I doubt that folks in the south have so many blankets, esp. wool blankets. It felt a little sad to give away some things, but I realized some of what I was hanging onto was for a life I though I was going to have, but in fact didn’t have. Some doors closed, others opened. That’s probably a good thing. All the clearing out was also with an eye toward renting my place as a two-bedroom Vacation Rental, and influenced by the prospect of moving to a small Tumbleweed House.

Remember my interest in Tumbleweed Tiny Houses? I’d stopped in Portland, Oregon (Week 12) specifically to visit with Dee Williams of Portland Alternative Dwellings. It was with great disappointment that I was never able to connect with her. She appeared to have a women operated business, and that interested me. Well, in November Tumbleweed had a Design and Build your own Tumbleweed Workshop in Dallas, TX that I took. Lo and behold. Dee Williams taught the workshop! So, I got to meet her afterall. And had further inspiration to build my own Tumbleweed.

While driving across the country on my return to Louisiana I listened to a lot of NPR and heard authors talking about their books, one of which was The Wisdom of Tuscany, by Ferenc Mate. It’s a simple, close to the land lifestyle that is very much like what my Austrian relatives have in southeast Austria. The appeal of mountains and that simple lifestyle is probably part of my DNA; I’m only second generation American. In addition to a second home in the north or west (maybe a Tumbleweed), I’ve toyed with the idea of have a home in a foreign country; Tuscany appeals to me. I’m drawn to the colors of the southwest and Tuscan colors, and it’s providing inspiration for my Vacation Rental home.

As to solar.  I’ve looked casually for jobs in renewable energy.  I think it’s all still so new that the position I want is not quite there yet.  I want to do installations, but not the 10- or 12-hour days of solar installers.   I might just have to present myself to different companies with the proposal that they create a position for me that incorporates the variety of experience I have.  I do bring a lot to the table.  Meanwhile, I’m doing a FREE online course with Solar Energy International, Introduction to Renewable Energy (open to anyone). And recently I talked to someone who wants to get moving with doing solar in the Bahamas, and wants to work with me. What’s next? Solar in the Bahamas? Or Italy? We’ll see.


Week 18

October 2, Monday. Lafayette, LA. Summation of my trip coming soon. I’ll also be adding more info and pics to prior entries.

October 8, Saturday. A week back in my Louisiana home. As so often happens at the end of a trip, travel mode is replaced with immediate home and work issues, and somehow the last batch of photos aren’t processed, the last ideas don’t get written down. My grass hadn’t been cut in a month and weeds abound. The back gate on my south fenceline was broken, hanging by it’s hinges. I discovered at least one of the horses loved to use it to scratch his neck. A wonder I didn’t have horses grazing in my back yard. (Come to think of it, that could have solved my lawn mowing problem!) Neighbors got a new young dog who gets lonely and crawls over a low spot in my east fence, but he’s tied so doesn’t go far. My neighbor to the west with the cats doesn’t treat them effectively for fleas, and they still come around and deposit their flea eggs on my patio…which get tracked into my house. Yes, unfortunately, after 4 months of high heat in my home, somehow these fleas have survived!

Thoughts about solar, renewable energy, electric motorcycles, the economy, California state police, legal public nudity in San Francisco vs “Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic and Can You Make a Roux mentality of south Louisiana, old friends, new friends, new work, old work, new home, old home…all of that and more swirling around in my head from this trip.

I had grand plans for this summer, had visions of finding my ideal home, my ideal job, heck, even finding my life partner. And while I didn’t get as far along as I’d hoped in all of those areas, I did make good progress. I had the opportunity to interview with a premier, leading edge technology company, Enphase Energy, for a technical support position, a profession I’ve worked in for many years. But my heart wasn’t in it. I no longer want to spend so many hours of my life shut indoors in front a computer screen missing out on the real world, the planet around me. One major highlight of this summer was working with GRID Alternatives, especially their all women’s solar installation. Done safely, roof top installations are something I’m comfortable doing, and even happy doing. Great views, for one! But I also realized through working with them and Real Goods Solar, that while “early adopters”–residential home owners–are great for getting the solar industry moving, I prefer the greater efficiency and impact of large scale commercial and utility-scale installations. In my opinion, we need to ramp up our efforts. So, that’s where I’m going to focus.

I traveled all the way to Canada along the west coast. Of all the places I visited, Oregon felt the most comfortable to me, perhaps Corvallis. Unfortunately, the opportunities for a solar installer are fairly restricted in Oregon, the major drawback. California has many more options, and organizations like GRID Alternatives provide great opportunities to get experience. Driving back through Arizona and New Mexico, I found myself once again, as I always am, enchanted by the southwest. While women working in the field in solar are in the minority–one Solar City office said their field workforce was maybe 1% women–I still believe my chances might be better out west than they have been in Louisiana. But, who knows, I’ll just have to check around and see, which is what I plan to do.

I’d already been interested in the Tumbleweed Homes, but it was great to see Jay Shaffer’s home. I found returning to my 900 sq. ft. home that I thought it was more space than I really needed, and there is yet more “stuff” that I can get rid of. Doing away with a mortgage and the maintenance efforts of a home is becoming more and more appealing.

The situation with Walmart and Target stores in California continued to baffle me. Primarily I buy my organic food supplies and recycled paper products in these stores. That was not an option in the Golden state, those products were not available in California stores. But they were in Oregon, and back here in Louisiana.

As you might imagine, the topic of the economy and lack of jobs often came up when I talked with Couch Surfers and others that I met in my travels. I think I startled a lot of folks when I proclaimed “There are plenty of jobs!” I confess I’m rather baffled by all the people who say they are having trouble, and mystified when I hear people being out of work for six months or a year. What are you doing, America?? I’ve been living without “permanent” employment for about 10 years, and I don’t recall going for more than 2 – 3 months without work. I’ve not had unemployment to fall back on in those 10 years. I put together a variety of jobs to make it work, and in those 10 years I’ve bought a house, and become debt free. I don’t go looking for the long-term employment opportunities with benefits. Those kind of jobs might, in fact, be harder to get. But, there are lots of jobs. When I first arrived in Oakland, CA I told my friend I didn’t have enough money to travel any further than Santa Rosa, but I’d just stop there and pick up some jobs. She later told me her thought at the time was “What is she talking about??” And, of course, I did pick up jobs. I always do. There’s nothing special about what I do, or special skills I have, and the jobs have been various places around the country (when I travel). I am not fearless, but I just choose to fear less. Attitude makes it easier to pick up work. I can only think that the constant barrage of messages about terrorism and the bad economy has taken it’s psychic toll on people. I stopped listening to all of that a long time ago. (Getting down off my soap box, now.)

Some of my greatest adventures were with the Couch Surfers I stayed with. They ranged in age from a 26-year-old journalist to an 86-year-old practicing architect, and I had a wide variety of sleeping and eating arrangements, sleeping on couch cushions in the living room, all the way up to sleeping in my own apartment. Some I shared great meals with, others no meals. Some I returned to and stayed with for up to a week, others for only one night. Nearly always, there were great conversations. One way to learn what the world is really like is to do something like Couch Surfing. There are many organization of that type. You will learn that the world is generally filled with friendly, helpful people, that are curious about you and your life, and fun to be with. A far cry from the constant threat of terrorism we heard in the mainstream media.

When I was in college I subscribed to a publication called Only One Earth. While my interest in the well being of our planet goes back decades, it’s been in the past few years that I’ve taken a more active role. You wouldn’t know so much from the doom and gloom of the mainstream media, but renewable energy trade publications and news sources like Ode Magazine indicate that changes are coming, and they’re coming like a tidal wave…a good tidal wave. The promise of the late ’60s, early ’70s is finally upon us. All I can say is don’t doubt it, and don’t get left behind. It’s an exciting time.

This is my final post of this blog. Thanks to those of you who shared this journey with me. Feel free to send me your comments.

Week 17

September 25, Sunday. Departure Day. Today is my last day at the winery, after which I’m heading south, staying with a friend in Oakland, CA for the night. Applied for a GRID Alternative volunteer gig in Paso Robles, but it didn’t come through. First rain of the fall season today.


September 27, Tuesday. Flagstaff, AZ. It surprised me that I was happy to get to Arizona and leave California behind. With California’s late summer pollution haze stretching from what seemed like Redding to Bakersfield, Arizona is a breath of fresh air. The sky is bluer here, the air cleaner, and then there are those wonderful vistas that stretch on forever. I feel like I can breathe again! (Yes, okay, I wouldn’t feel that way if I were in PHX or ABQ, I’m sure.) Somehow being in Flagstaff makes me feel like I’m already on my home turf, even though it’s less than half-way back to Louisiana.  Now, if I could just park Oregon next to Arizona and Utah, I might just have my little piece of paradise.

On my way out of the SF Bay area on Monday I stopped off to visit Sun Light & Power in Berkeley. And now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t pursue visiting them sooner. My friend in Oakland had solar installed on her house by them some time ago and recommended them to me a couple months ago. For some reason, I thought they were a small company. I’m glad for the early adopters who are putting solar on their homes, but I’ve felt we need to ramp it up. I want to be involved in utility-scale and commercial-scale solar installations…and, in fact, Sun Light & Power is doing commercial installs. Well, they’re now on my list to apply to.

September 29, Thursday. Albuquerque, NM. Stayed in Albuquerque last night on a last minute Couch Surf. So glad it worked out. Much better talking to local people about an area vs just passing thru. Got the opportunity to go on a short walk this morning to see petroglyphs and also see some of the balloons from the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta! I was so tempted to stay longer. I once had fun being on dawn patrol for the Fiesta. At just a little over 1000 miles from Lafayette, Albuquerque is within reach of one of my early plans to have my second home be within 1000 miles of the first.

Drove on to Lubbock, TX today. West Texas is lots of wind and blowing sand, not my favorite. On to Austin tomorrow.

October 1, Saturday. Austin, TX. Last day of my journey, 375 miles to go. My original plan had been to spend a couple of days in Austin investigating what’s going on with solar/renewables in this green city. My Austin Couch Surfing host told me Austin has a healthy economy, one of the first to recover from this so-called economic depression. At this point, however, I’m road weary so I’ve decided to just head on to my Louisiana home.

Yesterday on my drive from Lubbock, TX I was impressed to see miles and miles of wind farms between Lubbock and Abilene. Seems like a really good use of the west Texas winds! This morning just outside of Austin I saw a business that had really nice solar pole mounts.

Week 16

September 18, Sunday. A week from today I begin the trek south and east. The gas prices continue to be high, temperatures continue to be high. I’d thought by now temps in the Bay area would drop, as well as the gas prices!

September 22, Thursday. San Francisco, open your Golden Gate.
Yesterday I headed into San Francisco, prompted by the encouragement of a friend. I’d given serious thought to not going, due to the gas and bridge expense, but I’m so glad I did! Popping out of one of the south bound tunnels I caught my first glimpse of the twin towers of the Golden Gate bridge, with a little bit of fog swirling at it’s base. It was a magical sight. Spent a couple of hours at the Ocean Beach, headed off to the Mission for a very yummy lunch of organic Mexican food at Gracias Madre, and walked around the Mission admiring the street murals. By the time I headed back over the Golden Gate bridge it was nearly dust and the fog was pouring thru the gate at a rapid rate, almost totally obscuring the towers.
Today was my last day on the job with Real Goods Solar. Friday, Saturday and Sunday I’m working at the winery, then Sunday night I head south. I’ve had the good fortune to have an extended stay with one Couch Surfer all this week. Hard to believe my summer expedition is soon coming to an end.

Week 15

September 11, 2011.

Remembering September 11th.


September 14, Wednesday. “Drinking on the job permitted.” How often do you get the chance to drink on the job? Working at a winery certainly has it’s perks. Matanzas Creek Winery, with it’s lavender gardens and wonderful landscaping is a beautiful place to work. At the end of the day on Sunday there was leftover cheese from a cheese-wine pairing event. So as we closed up, we ate cheese, crackers, and sipped wine. Not a bad way to end a day! I just discovered Humbolt Fog goat cheese. I’m not a huge fan of goat cheese, but this was wonderful.

Still, Sept. 11 is a good reminder to me to not put off doing what’s important. “Saving the planet” can be heavy, serious work and the winery job has been a good reminder to have fun on the job. I think both are possible, to do good and have fun while doing it. The Fun Theory Deepest Trash Can or Piano Stairs are good reminders of a healthy balance.

My time in the west is coming to an end. Just 12 more days, two more weekends at the winery, a little more work with Real Goods Solar and I’ll start the 2,245 mile trek back to Louisiana, stopping in Austin on the way. If I can do a little more work with Grid Alternatives (anywhere in California) I’d like to do that. I’m trying to hike as much as I can, often in Helen Putnam Park in Petaluma, or Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa (near the winery). I will dearly miss the opportunity to so easily hike in the hills–on a daily basis if I wish–when I return to Louisiana. I get homesick for the hills. About a third of my time here I’ve camped in my truck, the other two-thirds I’ve stayed with friends or couch surfers. After four months, it’s been a long time being on the road and I’ll be glad to get back to my house and yard–esp. with cooler weather!

Much of what I set out to achieve on this trip, I have. I’ve had the chance to do work with Grid Alternatives, got to explore new home possibilities in Oregon, northern California, and even Canada. I’m comfortable doing roof work as long as it’s safe (thank you, Grid Alternatives). Heck, one of my favorite things is to hike to a high spot and hang out. I like being on a rooftop for much the same reason.

As a place to live, I think I’d be comfortable with Oregon and find lots to explore for a long time. Unfortunately, Oregon is one of the most restrictive places in the nation for PV installers (moi) to do work. It would be a major step back, I could do far less than I’ve already done. California is much easier to do PV work. At this point, I’m going to focus on various companies that are doing good work in renewable energy and sustainable building design, and see where that takes me.

As to Louisiana? I find myself reluctant to give up my cute little home there. I know it’s not some place I can be year round, but I’m not ready to let it go right now. When the time is right, I’ll know.

September 16, Friday. Finally! Made it to the Pacific Ocean and wasn’t fogged out. Tried at Jenner and Bodega Bay last week, and today went to Point Reyes National Seashore and got to see the ocean! (See pic; remember you can click on it for a larger pic.) It took us a little long to get there, and I was getting nervous, but in fact, got to see the waves crashing in. Maybe I’ll try Bodega Bay one more time, since I’ve heard there are some whales hanging out there. I’ve been avoiding San Francisco all summer, wanting to steer clear of the traffic, but it looks like next week–my last week–I’m going to go for a visit.

Week 14

September 4, Sunday. Got back into Sonoma County on Tuesday, and discovered there are less hours with Real Goods Solar due to some changes they’d made. It had only ever been at most a 20-hr/week job, so since I’m now working to make money for the trip back to Louisiana, I was very concerned about the reduced hours. However, the day of my return I was fortunate to pick up a job thru a temp agency pouring wine for wine tastings at a very nice winery in the area, at better pay and more hours than I was making with Real Goods. One of the bonuses at this winery, Matanzas Creek, is, based on the daily sales, employees get a bottle of wine. Saturday–a holiday weekend–we were so busy that we qualified for two bottles of more expensive wines. Earlier in the day I’d had the chance to try a 2008 Journey Chardonnay (one of their premium wines) and liked it, so chose that for my free wines, two bottles. It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered it was $75 per bottle! No wonder it tasted so good!

The “glorious” summer days of California that I found when I first arrived are no more. At least for now. It’s been hotter lately than it was in July or August, and I found a persistent haze from Redding to Santa Rosa, obscuring the pretty blue skies and hiding the mountains. I imagine this is likely to be air pollution. With no rain for several months, and nothing blowing it away, the haze hangs around.

Looks like holiday travelers are getting gouged at the pump. I’ve seen prices in Oregon and California jump two and three times this past week, by as much as $0.15.

As is typical for this time of year, hurricane activity is picking up. Just saw a report about Hurricane Lee coming ashore in Louisiana.

September 8, Thursday. Is it 9/11 that’s creating this? I’ve not had any tickets in decades, yet in a short time I’ve had two from California police. The first time I was pulled over because the officer thought my out of state tags were expired. They weren’t. In the process of stepping on my brakes it was discovered my brake light was out (the one trashed by the hit-and-run driver). $25 ticket for that. The next time I was returning from Redding and near Napa I was pulled over because the police thought I wasn’t wearing my seat belt. I’d already repaired the brake light and had it signed off as repaired by the police, but meantime it went on the fritz again. So, another $25 ticket to get the same brake light repaired again. As previously mentioned, I sometimes camp out, sometimes stay with Couch Surfers. One Couch Surfer showed me a book she had about “Car Living.” A suggested camping out spot was a hospital parking lot. Good spot, tried it several time. But, the other night I made the mistake of camping in a spot with not many other cars around. At 4 am, someone was pounding on my camper shell yelling “Security!” I was quiet as a church mouse. It sounded like when he called it in as looking like a vehicle someone could sleep in, they blew him off as not that important. I left soon after. But looking around, there were lots of campers, RVs, and similar vehicles in the hospital parking lot, many of which were there overnight. In 15 years of camping out, I’ve never been bothered. I’d made the mistake of not blending in better this time, but way was this guard so hyped up? Is it California police being overly cautious? Is it 9/11 paranoia? All the terrorism stuff of the past 10 years has taken it’s toll on our psyche.

Headed off to Bodega Bay over the past two days and twice got fogged out, couldn’t see the Pacific Ocean. This sea gull joined us in looking for whales in this area.

Week 13

August 28, Sunday. Oregon Caves National Monument, OR. Arrived in Cave Junction late this afternoon and met up with my old college friend. Had a nice tour of the caves. (Click on the link above for a virtual cave tour.) Hard to believe just a few days ago I was in British Columbia! Tomorrow I’ll be back in northern California. Learned a lot these past two weeks, much to think about.

August 29, Monday. Medford, OR. Stopping by in Medford to get some Moose Munch (found this handy store locator) then onto Redding, CA for the evening before returning to Sonoma County to pick up working with Real Goods Solar again.

August 30, Tuesday. Redding, CA. I missed Redding on the way up to Canada, so I wanted to stop. Redding has been a bit of a surprise. For some reason I expected it to look like Bakersfield, CA. It has much more greenery and trees, although it is hot. It looks like a big city, but in fact has a population of about 90,000. Lafayette, LA, in comparison, I though was smaller, but has a population of about 121,000. Redding is spread out. I’m told it’s conservative, old-fashioned. One really nice surprise was being able to see the stars at night due to the lack of city lights. Onward to Petaluma and back to work today. This is now beginning to feel like I’m on my return to Louisiana. Will stay in Sonoma County earning gas money for the trek back.

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