Tuesday, March 31, 2009

a yurty update, and wayyy to much about skiing

Friday we headed to the Never Summer Range! We stopped in Fort Collins to meet up with Laura and Aaron, who were coming from Denver, and to get sandwiches. Wednesday I had run into the post office to mail some Liberia stuff to Mustafa and had fun joking with the folks there about whether I was allowed in the building: a sign outside read "Guide Dogs Only". So when we stopped at the Moose Visitor Center, Laura popped out of their car and wondered if I knew what noises moose make so we could blend in if non-mooses weren't allowed. Unfortunately, I'm not really up on my moose calls, but no one seemed to notice and we made it in and out again with nothing more alarming than our car passes for the weekend.
Some technical notes about what we were up to for the weekend (skim ahead to the ** if this bores you - I found it fascinating and wanted to share!); Justin, Aaron, and I rented Alpine Touring (AT) skis. Michelle and Patrick had Telemarking (Telly) skis, and Laura had Nordic (traditional, cross-country [X-C] skis like mine in Wisconsin, only with metal edges for better turning in alpine conditions). Traditional X-C skis have light boots and completely free heels. They generally have a "kick zone", waxless - where "fish scales" give grip, or waxed - where wax is used for friction. They are bowed, so that the "sticky" part of the ski doesn't really contact the snow until you put your weight on it, giving you the friction you need to take your next step forward. They're great for flat and slightly hilly areas, but once you get vertical enough, they just don't have the grip to keep your skis pointing up the slope - you start sliding backwards. Then it's time to push your skis out side-by-side and 'herringbone' your way up the slope - exhausting! There is an easier way to do this - more on that in a moment. They're not really built for going down steep hills either, especially when it comes to turning!
Telly skis are similar to X-C, but they are constructed for back country skiing: essentially finding cool mountains in the back country wilderness, climbing them, and then skiing down. So for the downhill part, the boots are heavier and more supportive, but the heels are still free. To aid efficient downhill motion, they are not bowed like x-c skis, nor do they have a kick zone; they're also wider to better hold the skier on top of the snow. Watching a skilled telly (or freeheel) skier (like Michelle) is just awesome as they crouch with one leg forward to make turns (since the heel isn't locked in, there isn't the same side-to-side control you have with regular downhill skis). So how do telly skiers go uphill? Well, the free heel is a great start; you can imagine that trying to walk uphill with your heels locked to the ski would be taxing in the extreme - even going horizontally in traditional downhill skis is painful. But to actually give the friction needed to keep the ski from going backwards, backcountry skiers use "skins". These used to be actual animal skins, with the fur pointed in line with the slide, so they would go forward, but not easily backward. The same effect is now achieved with synthetic materials. Picture a long, flexible strip of that material they use to make lint brushes with super-adherey rubber-cementy stuff on the back. Sliding forward is fairly easy, sliding backward is nearly impossible. While you can't glide on them (it's pretty much a slidey walk to get around), you don't have to work to keep yourself angled up on a slope. The lint brush grabs the snow and holds you in place. So backcountry skiers carry around skins, apply them to the bottom of their skis when they need to do significant climbing or horizontal movement, and pull them off when they get to the top and have earned the fun of going down!
AT skis are a hybrid of telly and downhill skis. The binding lets you lock the heel down to the ski when you're going downhill, and unlock it when you're climbing. Though they're generally heavier than telly skis, you get the fun of backcountry skiing without having to learn a whole new way of going downhill. Again, skins are used for significant horizontal/uphill.
Here are some pictures of me putting skins on my skis. To keep the sticky stuff sticky, the skin is bonded to itself when not in use, so pulling it apart is major work. Once you've done that, you hook the loop around the end of the ski. Then you gradually smooth the skin to the ski, keeping it centered as you go. Once it's on, you're ready to climb! When you get to the top of the slope, you peel the skin back off the ski, fold the sticky part back on itself and stow the skin away, lock down your heels, and ski off down the mountain! Unless you're me, of course. Then you ski in very quick, short runs, dump yourself into fluffy-looking snow banks to slow down, somehow re-right yourself and your pack, sort out your poles, and shake off accumulated snow, then repeat! It's jolly good fun for everyone, as long as you don't count worn down, blister/bruise-causing rental boots, frequent pauses for breath during climbing (especially as the air gets thinner), having a very screwed up sense of balance because of the huge pack on your back, and constant wardrobe adjustments based on the temperature, wind, and whether your next intention is to go up or down. Ok, I'm overstating the negative - it really is a blast.
** (resuming actual story!) We got out at the trailhead, unloaded our gear, put the skins on our skis, and headed out. Having a pack on my back while skiing was quite a different experience for me - it's not terrible, it just means your balance is different and it's more work to get uphill. And that downhill you have more momentum - which may or may not be a good thing. :) We skied up for about 2 1/2 miles before reaching our destination, the Upper Montgomery Pass Yurt. It was a great little spot, at about 9500 feet above sea level, and the closest yet I've been to true winter camping. It's amazing how roomy it was, given that there were six of us in it, but with a little coordination, we really didn't have too much of a problem keeping our gear straight. Patrick was primarily the fire man - they leave you with a good-sized pile of wood right there, and ask that you split more before you leave. The temperature was comfortable until the fire went out at night, at which point it got down to freezing, but we all had good sleeping bags. Patrick would be the first one up in the morning (he should get LOTS of points for this!) and would start up the fire, so by the time the rest of us tumbled out of our bunks the yurt was at a pretty comfy temperature again.
Friday night, Aaron and Laura cooked up a delicious shepherd's pie while the rest of us played Euchre, and then we all went out for some star gazing. The ski was clear, and there were so many stars I couldn't find the little dipper without help - there were too many other visible stars around it! It was breath-taking. Justin set his camera on super-slow shutter speed, and actually captured part of Orion in a picture (I get major nothingness when I try to get star pictures!). The funny thing is that 30 seconds was enough to blur the stars a little, just with the movement of the earth or something. Crazy. We went back in, played Up and Down the River, then headed to bed.
Saturday morning, Justin and Michelle cooked these yummy egg-veggie-ham-toasted bagel thingies and we got ourselves set for an expedition. (Here's a short "yurt moment" video I took accidentally.) We re-applied the skins, climbed our way to about around 10,800 feet (we didn't go further because of concern about avalanches given recent snowfall), then skied back down. Laura kindly swapped her x-c skis with me for the day (the AT boots were grouchy at my shins for some reason), so I had great fun trying to navigate the downhill with them. I kept the skins on for the first, steepest part, but then pulled them off for a great cruise back down to the yurt. It's just so fun to go downhill after you've worked so hard for it. And, it goes down and down and DOWN - unlike Wisconsin which I love, of course, but that's generally flat and flat, little up, little down, and flat again. We still had packs on because we needed to keep the avalanche gear with us - and it was also nice to have storage for lunchy things and extra clothing for the windy top.

Back at the yurt, the others settled into Cribbage - Patrick and I were on for dinner. I played prep cook and he sous chef, and he pulled off this yummy veggie beef stew that had everything from eggplant to green pepper in it. We talked and laughed and played Dutch Blitz (the boys LOVED it…) and more Up and Down the River before heading to bed.
Sunday was a flurry of berry/chocolate chip pancakes, packing up, cleaning up, wood splitting, and generally pulling things together. We took off down the mountain in decent time, and again had a blast cruising down the mountain. Michelle took a short video of me skiing around a turn (doesn't it look FUN?!).

The trail leveled out for the last mile or so, so some folks put on their skins for the trek out. Unfortunately Aaron really had trouble with his ski boots and blisters, so that part wasn't much fun for him. (Aaron did a lot of trail breaking throughout the weekend, and - whether backpacking or skiing or anything else - is generally leading the group, so we knew it was serious when he just eased himself along for that last mile).
The mountains were beautiful (as was the reggae Michelle was playing) as we drove our way out; already the snow from Thursday's blizzard was clearing out. We stopped in Fort Collins for a delicious Mexican lunch/supper where we all ate far too much, and parted ways with Aaron and Laura. We did stop to watch a full train go right through the middle of Mason Street in Fort Collins - a very odd but fun sight - and had fun talking and joking right up to when we headed out. Then it was back to Boulder for regrouping, picture sorting, and - OF COURSE - the loveliest-ever of showers.

Today, Patrick had taken the day off (it was his birthday!!), so he and I bummed around and returned rental stuff. He picked up Frank (who seems to be doing a bit better!) from the vet where he'd been watched for the weekend. We then had a chill brunch at Blueberry Hill, picked up rental gear from Justin and Aaron (and went out to lunch with them - hooray!), and headed off to Golden where the group had rented the avalanche gear. We bummed around the town a bit, found ourselves back in the foothills at White Ranch Park admiring the state from that fantastic vantage point, and then headed into Denver to prowl a bit at an amazing book store - Tattered Cover. I have to say it's about the best book store I've ever visited - wowsa. Antiques everywhere, and lots of character-filled nooks to tuck into for an afternoon. I didn't want to leave! Patrick needed to get me off his hands, though, so I soon found myself back at the airport, boarding an on-time plane, and back in Appleton. (Even if I wasn't now afraid to complain about any air travel, I wouldn't have found much to complain about on this flight - hooray for that Appleton-Denver nonstop flight!).

So many, many, thanks to Michelle (particularly for all the gear, coordination, insight, patience, and hospitality!), Patrick (for schlepping me to and fro and for entertaining me today), Justin (for making the whole thing happen and for the advice, photography and being such a great vegetable), and Aaron and Laura (for picking up the gear and lending me your skis and being excellent trail buddies). And to all of you for being so swell to a clueless flatlander!
Click here for pictures of the trip

Thursday, March 26, 2009


So - there had been warning of cooler temps today, and they predicted 3-5 inches of snow. Last week it was in the 70s so Michelle has been bummed for me that I missed all that lovely weather. The forecast kept getting a little worse (last night they were saying 5-8) though, and when I came down this morning, Michelle informed that they were declaring it a blizzard, calling off school, and were expecting 12-18 inches of snow! It's so weird - yesterday we were bouldering, today we were taking the skis we rented for our trip this weekend out in the same park! Here's a pic of us today in roughly the same spot we were in yesterday in the last pic from yesterday's post! (Justin was supposed to make a scrunchy face too!).

The blizzard cooled off (hah!) many of the plans we had today. It ended up including excellent coffee (thanks Michelle!), applications for teaching jobs in California (Michelle - looks like she and Justin will be moving there this summer), application work for the Liberia job (me), driving 2-wheel-drive vehicles in crazy, adventurous snowy conditions (Patrick & Justin), shoveling, shoveling, and then shoveling again (Michelle), grocery shopping (Michelle and Patrick), renting AT (Alpine Touring) skis (me and Justin), crossword puzzling (Patrick) and a chance to try out the skis in Chautauqua Park (me, Michelle and Justin). That was followed by Michelle's amazing lasagna, more chilling out/plan making/food prep, and general exhaustion.

Some sad news: Patrick got a call from the vet today regarding some blood work they just ran on his cat, Frank. Apparently he has renal failure, and any interventions they do will probably only prolong his life - they can't cure it. :( It's hitting Patrick pretty hard - Frank's been a great buddy to him. We all feel for him...

Still thinking about this Liberia thing; talked to Jen and Mustafa on the phone about it a bit today. Mustafa referred me to a site as a source for info: http://www.reliefweb.int/ and I thought this article did a good job laying out some of the very practical issues the country is facing.

OK, time for bed! Here's a great picture of Justin and Michelle - and the beautiful-blizzard-that-may-cause-avalanches-but (we're pretty sure)-won't-keep-us-from-the-adventure-tomorrow!

(I - of course - won't be updating this till I get back. And don't worry - Justin and Patrick are SUPER safe people, know the signs that indicate likely avalanches, and know how to avoid them.)

a little Wednesday in CO

Hooray for good friends in cool places! United recently opened up a direct flight from Appleton to Denver, so I arrived remarkably unfrazzled and excited to be here. Patrick picked me up and we headed to Michelle’s place in Boulder. Justin was working, so the three of us hit Know Thai for lunch and headed out into Chautauqua Park for a 6 mile hike to Mallory Cave. I’m happy to report that Ponderosa Pines continue to smell like butterscotch if you get close enough, and that the Flatirons maintain their majestic coolness through the winter. The day wrapped up by meeting up with the rest of the group (Aaron, Laura, and Justin) at Yak & Yeti’s (where I had the best Lamb Korma I’ve EVER had – even the leftovers were outstanding) where we caught up and worked through more details of our trip, and then hanging out and talking at Michelle’s. These people are outstanding, and I’m having a fabulous time being with them.

Africa thoughts & activities are still going on in the background – perhaps more on that later.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

yurt yurt

Well, I'm off! Justin, Michelle, Patrick, Aaron and Laura and I will be cross-country skiing back to a yurt for the weekend! I'm all packed into my 49L backpacking backpack (which I hope they'll let me carry on - it's smallish as backpacks go) and my laptop shoulder bag. A few days at a higher elevation will hopefully give me a clear brain and some good space to mull over this whole Africa bit.
(Yesterday was a tad crazy; Mustafa said that if I can get the stuff to him by the end of March, he'd send in my visa application with his. This would be for at least a visit with the team to Liberia. Somehow in the midst of wrapping stuff up at work, packing & having "game night" with 8 people, I made it to the travel clinic - you need a yellow fever vaccination to get a visa - and got passport photos and the other stuff I'll need (I think) to get to Mustafa. Jeepers!)

Monday, March 23, 2009

a little chat about Liberia

8:48 AM Mustafa: hey stranger
happy new year
me: hello!
Mustafa: Hi :)
Mustafa: sorry... we keep falling off the earth.
8:52 AM me: hey - how are you guys doing?
9:04 AM Mustafa:
we're good
how areyou?
me: I'm good, overall. miss you guys!
9:05 AM Mustafa: we miss you too
sorry that last weekend didn't work out
did you go to the wedding?
me: no worries
no - long story, but basically I ended up being sick!
Mustafa: oh I'm sorry
Mustafa: hey...a question
9:06 AM Mustafa: would you like to go to Liberia as a project manager?
me: sure!
for how long?
Mustafa: it's a two year project though
me: ahhh
what would I be doing?
Mustafa: it is a school feeding program
me: wow
9:07 AM Mustafa: our portion is the renovation of 100 schools
9:08 AM me: wow
so what kind of person are you looking for?
Mustafa: a good project manager, skills in managing/leading people
group of maybe 5-10
organized and plan-oriented
9:10 AM the PM will work with our partner agency, IRD, to 1) select the schools 2) lead the construction supervisor team to assess the rate of repair 3) work with the logistics peron to get the proper material
4) be the face of rep of SFL in the country
9:11 AM and reporting
me: wow, sounds amazing
Mustafa: well...if you want to do it, I can make it happen
9:12 AM even though you don't have constructio management experience... that sholdn't be a hurdle
but the two-year
me: would there be fundraising?
Mustafa: the project will pay but not a full salary that I had initially budgeted for
I'm in the process of negotiation and will know exactly how much can the project pay
Mustafa: and you can add more support to it
me: what languages would I be working in?
Mustafa: even a circle of praying friends
9:14 AM Liberian English
me: definitely!!
Mustafa: it's old American slave English
oooooo Whiteman can lie-ooo
me: I would seriously consider it - where would I find more info, and what do you need to know by when?
Mustafa: is a Liberian phrase
9:15 AM me: very true
Mustafa: let me send you the link
the last in the list
the person will also bear the title of Country Director
9:16 AM me: wow
(I know, I keep saying that)
Mustafa: :)
9:17 AM Jen too thinks you'll do a great job
me: she's always getting me into situations!
9:18 AM so what would happen with the fact that I know little about construction?
Mustafa: hahaha Jen's screaming from the bathroom
saying that if she gets laid off she'll join you
me: awesome!
9:19 AM Mustafa: the construction will be a plus but the main responsibility will not be construction quality control
it's directing/managing people
making sure the corruption doesn't take over
representing in the government offices, working with the Minister of Education
and even the president's office
the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia
9:20 AM so lots of connectiong building, accountability
and so on
me: really sounds cool
I know nothing about the country so I'm reading about it right now...
Mustafa: ok.... let me know, seriously, what you think
9:21 AM
me: wow, so crazy
so you must need somebody pretty bad at this point, huh?
9:22 AM Mustafa: my contact in the country is a theologian who will be part of the program
he's a great guy
Mustafa: so all to say that there is familiar faces
9:23 AM me: what kind of dress do western women wear there?
Mustafa: it's a secular christian nation
and Monrovia in 70s was a modern city
but no restriction that you'd expect in many muslim countries
their president is a woman
9:24 AM Johnson
maybe your sibs
me: :)
Mustafa: :)
me: must be!
Mustafa: she's a harvard grad
me: wow
Mustafa: give it some serious thoughts
and send me a resume :)
as if it's only serious if you say yes
9:25 AM me: send you a resume as if I'm serious, you mean?
:) I think I can manage that
Mustafa: :)
me: thanks for thinking of me!
Mustafa: you're welcome... it'll be a beautiful opportunity.... I would personally love to spend a yr or two in West Africa
9:26 AM extremely different from the East
me: yeah
Mustafa: or Central, for that matter
me: it would really be an amazing opportunity
9:28 AM alright friend, back to study
let me know what you think
me: one more quick question
Mustafa: ok
me: it says report to Director of Field Operations
who's that?
Mustafa: it's our Op director at HQ
he's an architect and a very cool guy
9:29 AM me: where is he based?
Mustafa: just came back from a two+ years in Pakistan
me: dang, so I don't get to report to you?
Mustafa: I'm telling you... you'll be the chief
your first boss will be in the US
on the operations you'll work with the ops
me: just crazy to think about... but I'm thinking!
Mustafa: but because you'll bear the CD title
9:30 AM you'll have to work with me too
to develop new program activities
me: cool!
Mustafa: basically, besides project management, doing some basic statistics and ethnographics studies of needs assessment and best solutions
9:31 AM if we get more funding your income will go up :)
Mustafa: but it doesn't seem to be approved by our prime
me: prime?
Mustafa: it's a consortium of the organizations
9:32 AM the prime = the main recipient of the funding
me: ahh
Mustafa: does the feeding and food processing
we do the school renovation
9:33 AM me: good to know!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

domino adventures

You wouldn't think too much trouble could come from a nice comfy evening of playing dominoes, would you?

Tonight was a chill game night; just me, Tammy and Javier hanging out and finally agreeing on Mexican Train for the evening's entertainment. Last week I made the Best Recipe Cookbook's version of thin and chewy chocolate chip cookies, and this week I was going to try their thick and chunky version. Unfortunately, I was on the phone as I started baking, and I started on the WRONG recipe (have you ever done that?!). 10 minutes into it, I realized I shouldn't be adding cocoa and melting chocolate to mix into normal choc. chip cookies however thick and chunky they are aiming to be. On investigation, sure enough. I had gone a page too far and was making double-chocolate cookies for which chips were only optional. Jeepers! By this time Tammy had arrived, so she helped me fake my way through the rest of the recipe, ad libbing when I didn't quite have what I needed.

So, fast forward a bit. We're industriously combining dominoes and cursing as the other players lay down uncovered doubles, when suddenly the fire alarm goes off. My first thought is that the cookies are burning, so I run to the oven while Javier runs down the hall to turn off the smoke detector. Except that it's NOT the smoke detector. It's the full building fire alarm, and it's blaring incessantly. We make a half-hearted start at evacuating, when a sheepish-looking neighbor peeks out from a very smoky doorway and says it's nothing to worry about. So we return to the game, endeavoring to tune out the grating noise. Another neighbor knocks on the door, informing us that the older folks downstairs called the fire department. So we return to our game, and before too long hear sirens, then slamming doors, then the hum of a high-power fan (to blow out the smoke).

Finally, FINALLY, the alarm turns off. Then turns back on for a few more minutes. Then goes off, replaced by the beautiful, resonant, precious sound of silence. I head out, cookies in tow, and offer them to the firemen and the neighbors. One of the firemen tells me that they're not really supposed to accept them (something weird about if other people see them accepting them or something??), but that doesn't stop them all from taking one and going on their merry way. I get a chance to talk a bit to the neighbors, which never happens, so hooray for near disasters!

Unfortunately, the evening did not end well: I did not win a single round of dominoes. What-the-dilly-o?!

Saturday, March 14, 2009


I often hear people say things like, "of course that would happen to me..." and as I've thought about it, I don't know that it's really unusual to think of oneself as an outsider to the general stream of humanity. For me it's been a variety of things: being a pastor's daughter, being a Christian, being part of a unique and dynamic (and wacky?!) family, or the cultural unawareness that comes with not watching many TV shows/R-rated movies. But it can be all sorts of things for folks, I think: medical conditions, physical characteristics, family story, whatever. It's like we think if that characteristic/set of characteristics were different, life would somehow be "normal". It took me quite a while to figure out that the majority of people feel like they're part of a unique minority for some reason or another.

Life for me has been fairly uneventful lately, not particularly by my choice. I had three awesome things lined up this weekend, and it was killing me that doing one meant missing the other two: my cousin Steve got married, my church did a mini-work trip in St. Louis, and it was Canoecopia in Madison. The wedding won out, but none of the plans I had made for it to be workable came through, so I ended up figuring that it just would have been pushing it too much to go. Then I got sick Thursday, and so watched hopes of St. Louis, and then Canoecopia dissipate. The funny thing is, I really have nothing to complain about - I got to watch the Badgers/hang out with friends yesterday, catch up with Amy on the phone and go rambling with Tammy today, get my hair cut tonight, and generally just clean and get caught up on rest and stuff. This is a dilemma I often face. Who likes complainers? I'm BUMMED - for real - that I missed out on those very-cool-marvelous-awesome things! And yet, how can I possibly, remotely have any valid reason for upsetness? If any of you have figured that one out, I'd seriously love to hear it. It's like after our apartment fire: it was majorly bitey to lose pretty much everything. But within a week, due to peoples' incredible generosity and the fact that I still had a job, I was back to having more possessions than probably 80% of the world can claim. What do you do with those conflicting emotions that somehow don't average out to any one feeling or perspective?

In light of these observations, here are a couple misadventures that I thought it'd be fun to share. I've back-posted them to the dates they occurred, but I'm hoping that with all of above as disclaimer, they won't sound too complainy! Notice I'm NOT claiming that, "of course, this WOULD happen to ME"... :)

Monday, March 02, 2009

spilt milk

Once upon a time, I got into buying milk in glass bottles. Tastes better, less waste, kinda cool. All went swimmingly till one time when I carelessly put two half-gallon bottles in the back footwell of the car, never dreaming that those heavy bottles might clunk together and break. They did. Well - one did anyway. It was summer and I had a heckuva time cleaning up the mess, and dealing with the smell for the next few months. I foreswore milk in glass bottles for quite a while, but it was only a matter of time before their old-fashioned charm worked its magic on me and I was back to my old ways. This time, however, I was SMARTER. I bought this really cool wooden caddy that would hold 2 bottles side by side - making it easier for me to carry them, and harder for them to smash themselves into each other. I had learned from my carelessness, and was prepared to go singing off into to the sunset, intact milk bottles in tow.
Tonight, I was in a bit of a hurry and I plunked my (full) milk bottle caddy down on top of the crocs which were residing in the back footwell of my car (notice a theme developing here??). I wasn't too worried about it, because even if they weren't perfectly stable on the floor of my car, where else could they really go? And it's not like they could hit each other being in the caddy and all, right? Well, somehow - still don't know how exactly - they managed it. I was on my way to meet my friend Linda for dinner when I turned a corner (ok, a bit abruptly), and heard an ominous (that word's for you, Tammy!) cracking sound. I got to the parking lot, opened my door with great trepidation, and sure enough - the top of one of the bottles had sheared clean away. Dang it! At least this time, most of the milk was still in the bottle, but it was a frigid, windy night, so I had a heck of a time emptying the bottle, pulling out the crocs and floor mat (trying NOT to tip them!), sopping up what I could of the mess, and regrouping myself. I can't help but wonder if the glass was a tad flimsy, because as my frozen and sticky fingers tried to pick the broken bottle up from the pavement it broke again, and again, before I could get it back into my car. I headed into the restaurant to clean up and meet Linda (who was probably wondering what happened to me!). On my way back out to my car after dinner, I noticed that my right rear tire was nearly flat; so my time spent in the cold with frozen fingers was not quite done for the night! At least this job can be done with thin gloves on, so as I sent tire guage pieces flying around, fought for supremacy with the stiff air hose, argued with the little cap thingys about whether they really wanted to be on the tire stems, and re-filled all four tires with air, my fingers were not as cold as they might have been. I came away thinking, you know, these two incidents could really make me think of this as a terrible horrible no good very bad day, but that would probably be overly dramatic. It's been a good day - with two terrible, horrible, no good very bad incidents thrown in!