"Every planet has its own weird customs. About a year before we met, I spent six weeks on a moon where the principal form of recreation was juggling geese. My hand to God. Baby geese - goslings! They were juggled."

Friday, December 31, 2010


Following up on the Ecuador volcanoes post, my friend from graduate school recommended I get in contact with the folks at the Instituto Geofísico regarding possible volunteer time at the volcano observatories. I did, and almost immediately got a response asking me to call when I'm in Quito and set up some time to visit and help at the OVT, the Tungurahua observatory! Tungurahua is the very active volcano I mentioned a couple posts back, you know, this one:

Photo: Patricio Realpe (from Yahoo! News) on 5 December 2010

Very excited to get involved with that! But it might be a while - we have to get through training, in-country placement, etc., and vacation days are scarce.

I spent most of yesterday hunting down student loan deferment forms. For all those curious, make sure you get the 'Economic Hardship Deferment Request' form (haha, I know, good joke) for Peace Corps service IF your loans were made on or after 1 July 1993. Only use the 'Public Service Deferment Request' form if your loans are from before 1 July 1993. It defers Federal loans for up to three years and I guess I need to submit one to both my non-Perkins loan lenders. I also got deep into reading about Federal Consolidation loans and am considering doing this on Monday (even though processing times are 60-90 days). I need to be 100% sure it can be deferred for Peace Corps service - anyone out there have experience with this?

WOW that was boring, horray finances!

I also made lists of what other money-related chores I have before I go: pay my govolcano.net bill ($200 a year, ouch!), pay the $300+ of the first month of my federal loans that aren't deferred, drop most of my car insurance (keeping acts of nature insurance), get information for PC to pay my private loan from my readjustment fund, etc. etc.

And to wrap up, a really cool video of Tungurahua time lapsed over one night into two minutes by Benjamin Bernard:

oops. It embeds but doesn't play. Click on the link for a couple great videos :)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A very short summary of the holidaze

Things aren't the same in my family as they used to be. Torn apart by personal issues, deaths, injuries, etc., the holidaze don't even resemble those of my childhood. But it was more than in previous years!

On Christmas Day mom and I (and Gizmo!) went to Nani's house with our aunt, my uncle, and his wife. I ran late because of a massive baking binge ("cornbread", gingerbread cookies, oatmeal PB choco cookies, choco maple cupcakes, choco peppermint cupcakes, green tea cupcakes, honey wheat bread. All vegan), but arrived right before we started to eat. I'm glad I brought some food because the rest of the meal on the table had meat in it, and both my mom and me are vegetarians/vegans. When I got ready to go, dad called to say there was sudden lake effect snow (it's backwards, but Chicagoland does experience it sometimes). I shrugged, and drove on. Almost immediately, I drove into a blizzard. From Wheeling to Lake Zurich, I crawled at 25 mph through 6"-deep snow piled on the roads while the white stuff kept dumping down. Even with 4WD it was scary. Just stayed very focused on staying in the tire tracks ahead of me, and eventually I arrived in Cary where they had only four inches total, so the roads were fine.

A couple days later, dad and I went to my aunt's place to visit with our family that I haven't seen in years. My cousins drove all the way up from Florida to visit family in Wisconsin and Illinois! My other cousin's kids have grown so much... the last time I saw her daughter she was a baby, and now she's running around talking and hugging. After someone strongly insisted we play games, Mad Gabs and Taboo were pulled out - video to follow.

So finally we come to Bananagrams. Driving through Algonquin the other day, LJ and I spotted a rehabilitated coffeeshop right in the suffering downtown area. Have to try it! The coffee was wonderful, the seating cozy, the baristas friendly... and there were games! We returned to spend many hours seated on the couches playing our first games of Bananagrams. It was so fun, in fact, that's what I would like to be doing right now.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Volcanoes of Ecuador

While very often new invitees post about their country's flag, the map, etc., I'm posting about volcanoes. I do care about Ecuador's government and history (which I'm reading about), but I'm absolutely fascinated by volcanoes. They were one of my top reasons I hoped very much to get invited to Ecuador, and one of the first things that raced through my mind when I received my invite. "Romantic" names like 'Tungurahua,' 'Reventador,' 'Guagua Pinchincha,' 'Cotopaxi' - all names I heard very frequently while in graduate school, but volcanoes I was never invited to come see. Until now!

And more here! Global Volcanism Program's list of Ecuadorean volcanoes

1. Tungurahua has been in the news very recently, and quite often. According to the BBC on 4 December 2010, the Ecuadorean Institute for Geophysics reported an increase in seismicity and an increase in the number of explosions. Locals began feeling shaking and hearing rumbling noises, and the next morning lava blocks and hot gases flowed down the slopes, accompanied by ash falling on nearby villages. People were evacuated, but it was nothing like in 1999 when about 15,000 people in the town of Banos were evacuated for a year. Tungurahua is a 16,479-foot andesitic-dacitic stratovolcano that has actually been constructed three times - which of course means it was destroyed in eruption and collapse two times. So technically, it is Tungurahua III. More news BBC: Tungurahua volcano prompts evacuation in Ecuador 4 December 2010

Tungurahua, 4 December 2010 (AP)

2. Guagua Pichincha is right outside the capital city Quito. It's another stratovolcano and rises to 15,695 feet. The Global Volcanism Program lists 2004 as the volcano's last known eruption, but it has many logs up to 2009 describing possible phreatic explosions and central vent eruptions.

Guagua Pinchincha with Quito in the foreground by http://www.ecuadorciencia.org (date unknown - pre-2007?)

3. Reventador is yet another andesitic stratovolcano about 11,686 feet high. Frequently active, the last log at the GVP was in November 2010 describing an ash plume rising to 15,000 feet. The largest historical eruption was in 2002, when it produced a 17-km-high plume, pyroclastic flows that traveled up to 8 kilometers from the center, and lava flows from the summit and flank vents.

Reventador in eruption, 2002 (G. Eguiguren)

Quito covered in ash from 2002 Reventador eruption (Wikipedia Commons)

4. Cotopaxi is ridiculously beautiful. The andesitic stratovolcano rises to 19,393 feet, covered in glaciers and topped off by a series of nesting summit craters. Deep valleys carved by lahars surround the mountain, and violent eruptions in 1744, 1768, and 1877 caused lahars to travel all the way to the Pacific Ocean 100 kilometers away. The last known eruption was in 1940, and the last significant eruption was in 1904.

Cotopaxi (Global Volcanism Program)

5. Sangay is another gorgeous stratovolcano, rising to 17,159 feet in isolation on the border of the Amazonian lowlands. It has been in somewhat continuous eruption since 1934, and lately small ash and gas plumes have been identified by pilots and on satellite imagery. The last log at GVP, from 1-7 December 2010, described elevated seismicity.

Photo by Minard Hall, 1976 (Escuela Politécnica Nacional, Quito)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

First vlog! Day in the life of a seasonal baker

Not much news to report, just trying to get through my seasonal job as a baker at Christkindlemarket, Chicago. Only three more work days left for me. But what's going to happen after it's over? Mom is going to live with my grandmother who needs 24-hour care after her fall and subsequent hip replacement surgery. The family asked me originally, but as much as I hate to say no to my grandmother - it's just not possible. After work, I have a month left in the United States. A month left to squeeze in as much Spanish as possible, do last-minute errands, pack up life... it would just be completely unrealistic.

So that leaves me at home with my dad. No, I don't hate him. I just have a really difficult time understanding him and dealing with his temperament. It's worse than ever now. He has an incredibly pessimistic attitude about life, and actively hates it with almost everything he does. I've never met someone so unhappy, and so unwilling to change that... so after spending so many years out of home trying to find what makes me happy, I feel like that is undone being here. After just a few months of consideration, I'm certain I can't return after Ecuador. I'll go somewhere else, don't know where.

Whew, deep. I'll just get to the video now. This is my first video in a vlogging series meant to capture my Peace Corps experience, starting now with the seasonal job I took to pay bills while I'm gone. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wrap up life and things will break.

Wrapping up one's life at 'home' for at least two years is actually more daunting than I thought it would be. I knew I'd have mountains of bills to take care of (car registration and insurance - yes, I'm keeping it, my website, Sallie Mae loan, personal loan for dental work, etc. etc. etc.), so I'm trying to take this one thing at a time. I tried calling my undergrad college for information on Perkins Loan deferral, but my phone was pretty much dead. See, it no longer takes a charge because of some severely bent metal pegs. It's been sketchy the past three months, but finally it's given up. So borrowed my mom's phone, endured a little confusion on the other end about how she'd never dealt with anyone going into PC, and am waiting on paperwork.

So today was actually car registration day instead of loan day. By the time I got work done at home, it was mid-afternoon and starting to snow. The DMV is located in Woodstock, a ways through the suburban countryside northwest of where I live. Packed up all my stuff for errands and pulled out of the driveway at the same time I heard a quick thud-thud-crash. What now?! I looked in my right rearview mirror... or tried to, it was gone. I pulled around back to my driveway, but not before another car *ran over my mirror*. Seriously. Shattered into a million billion pieces. I cleaned up the big shards and went back inside to research where and how to get it replaced. Fun fun.

The snow was really picking up when I really left, but it was a nice & peaceful drive on Route 14. The DMV was easy to find, and there were no waits inside to get my registration. I explained my situation briefly to the clerk, who seemed also to not have ever encountered my dilemma. But then she offered me an extended registration through February 2011 for $16 (instead of 1 January 2010-31 December 2011 for $99). The catch is I'll never get to do that again, and I'll need to get new plates when I get back... probably not a problem because I'm hoping to move right on back to Alaska.

Not nearly as much work done as I'd hoped to finish, but that's how it goes. Too much to do but I really can't wait to get out of here. Definitely overstayed my personal limit at my parents' place. Things are changing!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Impromptu Pre-Peace Corps experience #57


I'm working as a German handbread baker for Christkindlmarket on the Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago so I can pay off bills prior to serving in Ecuador. The majority of vendors are directly from Germany...and so THE language spoken in the kitchen tent is, of course, German. I know how to say 'hello', 'good morning', 'good night', 'yes', 'and', 'no'. So at the moment, I don't know how to communicate with most of the people I see all day and all week long aside from big smiles and awkward hand gestures. I don't have much time to learn a lot of the language, and besides, I'm trying to focus on Spanish...but I think I'd be really missing out if I didn't learn at least a little.

On the plus side, the cleaning crew speaks Spanish and seems totally friendly. And one of the other bakers at the booth I work in speaks it too so hopefully he won't mind an occasional 'What does this mean?' or 'How do you say...' And one of the vendors is from Ecuador! I hope they're friendly too...I'd definitely love to talk with them.

So, here's to a good season. Opening day is tomorrow and I should be in bed... the owner wants me there at 7 a.m. and it takes an hour and a half to ride the train in. The past two mornings, I've been blessing the presence of our neighborhood Coffee Station. Especially today. Soooo cold. Am totally wearing XtraTuffs, long johns, and a fleece hat to work tomorrow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Acts of kindness

Nothing much to report on the first half of the day, but eventually we geared up to get to the hospital for our daily visit with Nani. We stayed around just talking and visiting for a while until my uncle and his wife left. Mom and I should have noticed a few odd things Nani was doing and saying, but we chalked it up to the condition she was in.

I went downstairs to get tea and came back...when things really began to go haywire. She slipped into a short catnap, and when she woke up, was totally disoriented. She didn't understand where she was in the hospital, what happened, thought everyone was trying to kill her. She didn't even trust mom or me, and wanted my uncle back. Keep in mind that this is completely abnormal behavior for her, so it was a shock to mom and myself. The nurses moved her bed to a room closer to their station against her will, and I held her hand as she slowly got out of the episode. The strange thing is she knew the whole time what was going on and what was so wrong about it, but she couldn't stop herself.

My uncle & his wife came to relieve us and mom was naturally really upset, so once things were settled we had to go.

At home my parents sent me out on a late night errand to the 7-11 around the corner for diet coke (I HATE pop, and I encourage them to quit it but not tonight). The clerk is a sweet man who asked how I was. I automatically responded "Great!" with a big smile and instantly added "Well, I've had better days I guess." Asked if I wanted coffee... oh yes please. Grabbed a case of coke and a cup of coffee and, at the counter, the clerk said the coffee was on him tonight.

What was extra kind about this is I rarely ever need to go in this store. That little gesture was so touching to me and I really needed something like that.

So... just a reminder out there, you can really help someone out with random acts of kindness. Even something like free coffee. Ok, ESPECIALLY something like free coffee.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The second time I ever called 911

Hello from the hospital.

We keep saying this happens to pretty much every family.

Yesterday my mom and I went to my grandmother Nani's house to visit with her and her sister, but when we got there we found our aunt sitting in her car in the driveway. She explained Nani was busy or something and wouldn't let her in... it didn't make sense. We walked up to the door, mom dropped her bags and started trying to break down the door. Then I heard my Nani screaming inside - I heard "fell" from someone, and automatically called 911. Mom bounded around the house to the backdoor which was open, and made her way in with me on the phone dragging the neurotic dog. Just as I hung up with the dispatcher, I heard a fire truck siren around the corner. Nani and my aunt expressed doubts ("Who called the ambulance? ughh") and I wondered if this was overreaction... but after being an EMT an elderly person falling is enough to warrant medical attention.

They packaged her up and brought her to the hospital while we followed after a bit. Things were of course not so good in the hospital, and I'd never seen my grandmother so torn up. Never saw her cry until now. I held her hand and felt terrible. Really, what's going to happen? After xrays the orthopedist came in to announce she broke her hip and needed surgery the next day. It was an incredible feeling I can't even recall right now, but it was essentially equal to 'doom.'

Moved upstairs, doped up, and stayed until 8. She was probably going into surgery at the end of the day as an 'add on' patient.

This morning, we got a text from my uncle that was was going into surgery at 11. No way we could make it in time, so mom and I made our way to the hospital leisurely. Nani was just released from post op when we arrived, and was shaking in a cocoon of blankets. Things went just fine!

She's lucid now talking about her favorite movies. Feeling some pain around her hip. Looking much better though and beating up herself less for her fall. Here's hoping for a fine recovery. My grandmother's so brave.

SO for Peace Corps news...

I still haven't found anyone going to Ecuador. Where are you all? It wasn't a fluke being invited there, right? PC didn't mean Paraguay?

Two days after I got my invite kit, I sent in my personal passport, "official" passport application, and a couple passport photos. And after investigating more, it seems like Peace Corps will reimburse me for the cost of those photos. I wasn't really happy about giving up my personal passport, but then I also read PC will return that during staging.

And I put off one of the more difficult challenges - my aspiration statement. I browsed a bunch of statements online for inspiration and, just on the last requested day to have it done, I wrote it up and sent it in. I don't know why it was so hard... it was hard to be confident and vague at the same time, I guess, but it's possible.

So next step is sending in the media paperwork and waiting for updates on staging.

Friday, October 29, 2010

How often does Peace Corps place you exactly where you want to be?

It finally happened. I heard the mail truck roll up to the house three doors down. Then my neighbor's house. Then mine. And then PLOP! Maybe an invite on the porch? Maybe my newest prints? I looked out the window and there it is, the glorious invite kit I've been looking forward to getting since June! I grabbed it, ran to my mom's room, and began ripping it open - feeling like it's the best present ever. And I saw the country name - it's not Paraguay, it's not Zambia, and it's not Uganda - ECUADOR?! Not even in my scope because of my estimation from Peace Corps Wiki. It's not even listed yet (but I had the honor of doing that myself!). So that's it - Ecuador, 2 February 2011, environmental education and awareness.

See, I would have been more than happy to go anywhere Peace Corps wanted me to go, and I would be happy with pretty much any assignment. Really, anywhere, anything. But in the beginning of this application process, I thought a lot that it would be amazing if they sent me to Ecuador. I've wanted to go there for a while - I think mountains, volcanoes, the Amazon, the coast and the Galapagos when I think of Ecuador - but I didn't mention anything to anyone and pushed it aside for another time when I could go myself. What an amazing surprise! And doing environmental education is just perfect.

Good job Peace Corps!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What to do while I wait

I've become a post officer stalker. I've been waiting on the couch around noon when the mail comes, eagerly listening for that characteristic drone of the mail truck. Today, because it was so nice out despite the insanely high winds, I sat on the driveway knitting my very first sock (it looks ok, but I'm stuck on the heel now). It was so windy, that at one point I got up to get something inside, and came back to see my skein bouncing down the driveway heading for the road. I had to stop and laugh.

But no luck today, maybe tomorrow.

A week ago, I very suddenly decided to open up shop on Etsy to see if I could sell some prints. There was the dilemma of where to get my prints printed - I'd already been down the road of having my own printer, and I wasn't about to do it again. I tried a local camera shop but their product was washed out and blurry. Finally, a local art shop recommended Diversified Lab, and so I jumped right in. Incredible prices and free shipping, excellent! My test batch arrived in two days, and I loved the results. Problem solved!

So now I have about 40 prints listed on Etsy, most 8x10 but I can now entertain the idea of printing pretty much any size my resolution will allow. I sold one print my first three days of being an open shop to a nearly random visitor, and just sold another two to a very nice person I'd recently met on another site. I'm hoping for more, anything to help pay off the loan I took from my relative to pay for my dental bill. If you'd like to take a look at my shop out of boredom, or if you might even entertain the idea of buying a print, check out Go Volcano Photography here.

It's also just nice seeing my work out there, and I've received nothing but compliments. Feels good :)

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I don't know if emailing them did anything to improve my chances of progress, but I just got an email from my Placement and Assessment Officer - horray! She asked when a good time would be to call me, and I responded that I'm free any time. She wrote back immediately asking for my number, I sent it, and the next immediate response was: "Great. I will call you now." Cue crazy running-around-the housedness. Of course, my phone acted wonky and just gave her a busy signal. But all's well, she gave me her number and I called right away.

The conversation lasted about 20 minutes, and most of it was a discussion of my diet. After talking with other vegans and vegetarians, who have and have not served in Peace Corps, I think I've developed my own beliefs when in a PC situation. I'd really prefer being vegan or vegetarian - and it seems a lot of volunteers can do that based on where they live - but I basically said serving is more important to me than my diet. My supervisor at Alaska served in Senegal, and told me I'd have to be flexible enough to eat something that's been cooked in fish broth, and I know I can handle that. But my Placement Officer said I should probably try eating meat before I leave after explaining her own experience as a trainee. When she first arrived, she was offered meat and got pretty sick for several days since it was the first meat she had in 9 years.

So after that long conversation, she seemed reasonably satisfied. She asked me more questions that were similar to my nomination interview, like if my motivations have changed, how my family is coping, what are my reasons for joining, etc.

And then she said I'm a strong applicant, and she's definitely nominating me for service!


I have a choice.

The program I was originally nominated for is closed, and she said I wasn't as qualified for protected areas management as other areas...so...it's either:

1) Sub-Saharan Africa - Forestry, leaving in early February

2) Central/South America - Environmental Education, leaving in early February

She described both programs, and then I pretty much stumbled. I had to decide right then. I said both programs and both areas sounded perfect for me, but EE might be a little better fit than forestry, and the idea of Africa really intrigued me. So I asked if she could decide for me. She laughed and said that's often why they rarely give applicants a choice. True enough!

So I was invited. I'll get the package in 7-9 days!

I shifted through Peace Corps Wiki to see what countries are possibilities. It seems like the best I could do was narrow it down to three. These are the countries with forestry/environmental education, and the asterisks are for countries with departure dates in February:

El Salvador

Cape Verde

So if you consider early February to be 15th or sooner, it's going to be:
1. Paraguay
2. Uganda
3. Zambia

WHAT WILL IT BE? She mentioned my language skill is important, so could it be Paraguay? Unrelated or not, that's where she served. I have no idea now.

The last two weeks...

What has happened the last two weeks? Not much to me. I got Peace Corps' reimbursement check for my medical and dental costs (only $110 of over $2,000, but it helps). And today I finally broke down and emailed my assistant Assessment and Placement officer because over two weeks ago he said I could. He responded in minutes, saying my file is currently being evaluated by an Assessment and Placement Specialist...and based on my area of nomination, it's 'definitely possible' I might hear from her within two weeks. But if I don't, I can check back in again in early November.

I'm still in it 100% and excited to start, but my enthusiasm in waiting has left me. I'm frustrated seeing people get invitations for February and March, even if those are different programs from mine. It was draining babysitting email and my phone, and I'm not doing it anymore. I'd really just like to know for sure what's going on with my life.

In the mean time, I've jumped into selling my photos on Etsy. Check out Go Volcano Photography on Etsy if you're bored and want to browse, and even if you'd like to buy a print. They're priced well and hopefully the quality from my new pro photo lab will impress me whenever my prints arrive.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What's going on with my placement?

March departure dates. Plenty of them are being announced at peacecorpsjournals. And I am still waiting to hear about my January nomination. What's going on? Was I not competitive enough? Are protected areas management applicants moved along at a slower pace? Am I going somewhere else, at a later time? I'd love to know what's happening to me. How about an update tomorrow, Peace Corps? Please?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Patience? Losing it. And more volunteer photography

It's been two weeks since Placement contacted me, and a week since I sent in my second experience update to them. Meanwhile, applicants are getting invites for January, February, and now even March - even on the weekend. It's making me feel less than ok. Who knows, though, it could be because I'm nominated for protected areas management and I haven't met another in that field yet. Please let me know what's going on, PC!

On Saturday, I nearly missed the train getting to Chicago for an "interview." I quote that, because it was more like a meetup and information hand over. No interview-like questions, aside from when I can work and what I'd be best at doing.

After that, hopped the L for the first time alone and went northwest to Division. By that time of day, it was about 86*. This is 9 October, and middle-of-summer weather is not exactly common in Chicago this time of year. Just 10 minutes from the stop, hundreds of vegans and vegan enthusiasts were streaming in and out of the Pulaski Field House. Rows of bicyclists sat chained up to the fencing. Oh yes, I had found my event.

It was Chicago VeganMania, a remarkably large event that celebrates the vegan lifestyle on all creative fronts. The large hall on the ground floor was dedicated to the performing arts and featured belly dancers, DJs, and various mix groups. Around the corner was the food hall, a tiny tiny room stuffed with Chinese food vendors, Indian food vendors, a faux meat company, and two deserts tables. Even further was the chef demonstration room, filled with about 70+ chairs usually packed pretty solidly despite the blazing heat.

Back to the main hall and into another smaller room were the products vendors - a very broad term for everyone selling anything from organic cotton t-shirts, to recycled tarp bags, to books sold to benefit Haiti, to faux marshmallows and nacho cheese, to cosmetics, and a lot in between. Upstairs was a calmer room filled with working artists - a splat painter, a brush painter, a stamp block painter, and several other assorted booths. The building seemed to defy physics as I climbed higher in the building to cooler temperatures. The speakers were tucked away in a small hall but the room was routinely well-attended.

Aha, and there was a ground-level side hall absolutely packed with more vendors and people.

So yes, obviously this was a huge event and it was very populated. I was so impressed with how many people arrived, thinking maybe there's hope for the cruelty-free lifestyle to catch on. This movement is 'in' now - on the way over I saw so many apartment buildings advertising themselves as 'green'. It could just be fad following, or it could be out of genuine concern, but either way it's exciting to see.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Motorbike shoot!

Today was unbelievably gorgeous. Around 75*, perfectly blue sky, no wind. And Laurie, my motorbiking friend from many years back, had the day off. Whoo! So she finally got me to shoot her in a mall lot, reminding me I needed to practice shooting moving targets... they aren't really a common subject for me. It was tough but I started getting the hang of it after a few drive-bys.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


It's just going to be one of those 'I'm bored and anxious, so I'll do this elimination game that I've done before while I wait forever for a phone call or email.'

Protected Areas Management:
Dominican Republic

Central/South America:

Leaving in January:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Contact and bugs

The assessment and placement assistant responded back yesterday acknowledging he got my update - and said I could hear about my final placement any time from now until about mid-November. He also said that if I don't hear anything from them in a couple of weeks, I could feel free to contact them again. I'm not sure what I would ask...

So I'll just be waiting anxiously for that email or phone call as usual. I'll be pretty happy when this application bit is over.

Whether or not I get placed in a Spanish-speaking country, I've decided to review the language anyway by starting with the absolute basics of verb tenses using a lesson book I've had for years called "Practice Makes Perfect: Spanish Verb Tenses." I've also got 'Better Reading Spanish' picked up at a used bookstore in Fairbanks. And 'Marley y yo' rented from the library to see if I can get through it - it was the only contemporary book I recognized on the shelf. I hated that depressing movie, though.

The past few days, these buggers have been slowly invading northeastern Illinois:

Nothing wrong with that, though...at least, not for us. It's the annual invasion of the boxelder bugs who are looking for a warm place to spend winter. They're pests to some people but we've never had a problem with them. Their presence tends to herald fall...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Volunteering and the meaning of geese.

"Every planet has its own weird customs. About a year before we met, I spent six weeks on a moon where the principal form of recreation was juggling geese. My hand to God. Baby geese. Goslings. They were juggled."

Great quote from Firefly that goes along well with my blog name, which is a quote by the same character in the show. Sometimes things other people do are strange to you, but that doesn't make those things wrong...so before even realizing how perfect the quote was for this purpose, I named my blog after juggling geese.

A week or so back, while I was looking for volunteering jobs, I found a post in Craigslist looking for a volunteer photographer. Usually 'volunteer photographer' wanted ads are just wannabe models or cheapskate businesses looking to take advantage of talent for their own benefit. Or lousy firms look for 'intern' photographers, otherwise known as 'unpaid' photographers. But this ad was a legitimate charity called Stop Child Trafficking Now and a local group was holding a walk in Lake Zurich/Long Grove to raise money and awareness of these crimes. So hey, why not? It's practice, the pictures will be truly useful, and the walk wasn't that far away.

The night before, my friend and I stayed up til 2:30 with me editing photos and her downloading raw video. I had to wake up at 6:30 a.m. Not so wise. I rolled out of bed with multiple alarms sounding, zombified and irritated, and even forgot the instant coffee my dad made me on the counter as I left the house.

In sandals.

In 40 degree weather.

Luckily, my car isn't fully unpacked from my Alaska-to-Illinois trip so I had shoes to change into. The weather got windy and chillier as the morning continued, and participants showed up in hoodies and mittens. The organizer wanted shots of everything, so I got registration, speakers, the walk itself, and wrap-up. I liked the final results and hopefully they will too - one or so shots should be published in a paper tomorrow.

A speaker showing respect while the U.S. anthem is sung.

A mother holds her child while a speaker discusses child trafficking in the U.S.

The walking group starts.

The walk organizer and her father.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Out of office

It's been five days since I last heard from the Placement Office, and like any other applicant, I'm excited to know more details. I found out from another blog the office is out until Monday...but still other bloggers were getting invites, clearance, etc., so I decided to reach out.

I figured that even though my file didn't call for additional experience, I'd try to get some anyway. I emailed my former supervisor at the Crystal Lake Park District Nature Center who manages park system natural resources to see if he would like help in any of the areas that were listed to improve competitiveness in protected areas management. He responded back in just 20 minutes with a positive response, and we discussed possible activities I could do. He seemed most excited about me initiating a GIS program to manage resources in park lands, particularly by assigning floristic quality indexes...I don't really know much about plants, but he certainly does.

I really don't have much experience on this level of resource management, so I'm excited for this opportunity to become more well-rounded.

Excitedly, I emailed the placement assistant who has been in contact with me but instantly got that 'out of office' reply - happy to know it for sure, but I'm somewhat disappointed in myself, if that makes sense, for not being more patient to just wait and see what placement decides.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Return of the Peace Corps medical bills...

Last month I went to an ophthalmologist in Alaska to get a piece of paper signed saying I have a cataract and it doesn't need to be removed so I could qualify to serve in the Peace Corps. I made all of this extremely clear to the medical office, who said I would have a 'comprehensive exam for a new patient.'

The doctor and assistant began running vision tests and viewed my cataract, signed the paperwork, and said they had just a few more tests to do. They didn't say this was in addition to the comprehensive exam. So they did the tests, and I settled my entire bill in the office for $243 (without insurance). Everything was peachy. I just paid $243 for a doctor to sign off on something I already knew, but hey. One more step in the process taken.

Then I got a call on my drive from Alaska to Illinois from a medical bill collector. I couldn't hear them due to static, and thought it really strange because all my bills are paid. Then today, my mother hands me a letter from Alaska - a bill for $395 from the ophthalmologist: $110 for an 'echo exam eye thickness' and $285 for 'eye exam with photos.'

I'm absolutely shocked. I don't have that money to spare and I don't have a job...and I feel totally taken advantage of when I'm just trying to do a good thing. All I wanted was the paper signed!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Horray, the weekend is over! Hello Office of Placement...

Ever since I began the application process, I looked forward to Monday. Because Saturday and Sunday usually meant no communication for Peace Corps (apparently that's not always true according to my medical update on Saturday).

So each Monday or any other weekday is exciting - the first thing I do is check my email to see if anything's been updated.

Today I was elated. A generic email from the Agriculture/Environmental desk today welcomed me to the Office of Placement! "We wish to congratulate you on receiving your medical clearance, and achieving one of the most important steps on your way to becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer." Specifics should arrive by mail within a week, but hey! I got through it without any problems! Hopefully sooner here than most other pieces of mail took to arrive in Alaska! I hope I get to know soon what I'm doing and where I'll be going. It'll be nice not to begin or end each explanation with "I hope..." or "hopefully."

But then I got an email from the Assessment and Placement Office saying my recruiter recommended I gain more experience in Protected Areas Management. Really? I had no idea. I'm 100% certain she never said I need more experience. I did the best I could with my response describing how I've still been volunteering for Denali National Park and will continue as a contractor soon, how I've sought out volunteer jobs in Chicagoland but they're all one-day events, and sent in an updated resume. This step was mildly discouraging because I thought all was well...

The Assessment and Placement Assistant emailed me right back thanking me for the update, and another email saying that I was
"quite right, no additional experience was called for in your file. However, I will make due note of what you have sent me below and add it to your application."

Ahhhh! Rollercoaster!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Application status update - at 3 a.m.!

This morning, up way earlier than usual to get ready for my first professional hair cut in four years, I was checking all my usual things online. I was totally taken by surprise to have a Toolkit update - sent at 3 a.m. Eastern on a Saturday morning. Whoa!! My heart began to thump in anticipation... do they need more information? Did I not get a signature? Or is it... COMPLETE!! They have reached a decision and now I need to gallop out to the mailbox daily when the post officer comes by.

And now... to a wedding. My first as a guest. I remember when my recruiter asked in my interview about a time when I had to conform to the local customs out of sensitivity and necessity. Well, today would be a good example, because I'm wearing a dress and getting my hair done.

WHOOOO! Good or not, I've finally reached the end of the medical review!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dental clearance!

Like others I've read about, I check my email first thing in the morning to see if I have an email from Peace Corps regarding my Toolkit. For the past 21 days I've been waiting eagerly for just an update saying my medical information arrived, which seemed way longer than anyone else.

The past two nights I've been having dreams about waking up and seeing the update - this is how much these applications get to us. But today the dream came true, and not only has my application officially arrived, but I also received dental clearance. I whooped for joy and jumped out of bed, ran around the house looking for someone to tell. But dad is in Indiana on a business trip, and mom is bizarrely missing. Really missing. Usually back by 10 a.m., it's now 2 p.m. and her phone is off.

Oops, here she is. Beckoned by the frantic barking of their half chihuahua, half dachshund. Job interview, looking angry. Guess I have to just be happy for myself. I just told her excitedly and got a "Oh, good. Sorry, I'm not excited about anything right now."

Monday, September 20, 2010

First PC post

This is my first Peace Corps post, despite the fact I have been applying since June of 2010. The lack of communication and updates has finally driven me to write about it, maybe to see if anyone else went through the same thing.

So right before I left Alaska, I unceremoniously launched my completed medical and dental forms into the custody of the USPS (with tracking, obviously). What I shouldn't have paid extra for was Priority shipping. It started the journey on 1 September, and didn't reach Washington D.C. until 11 September. And then it did some pretty strange things. The package was redirected. My medical representative said that's normal, as all packages arriving to federal facility need to get through security clearance, and she would expect it to arrive within the week. That was the 13th and it's now the 20th.

So just now I tried emailing my medical representative, and got an immediate reply that she is "no longer with the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services," and supplied another email address. Fantastic. All those blogs I've read about these situations are actually coming true for me. So I called the office and left a message (seems a message box is the only option), and emailed the address my former representative sent me.

I'd really like to know what's going on.

EDIT: I got a reply from the person at the new email address saying they got both my phone message and email (...well, I was eager), and that again it takes awhile for packages to pass anthrax screening. It still seems way longer than normal, but she also said to contact them again if the status doesn't change by the end of the month.

10 days.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Love my car

Since I didn't get to go to Anchorage this last weekend, I've been totally and completely out of groceries. I had to use a hamburger bun for PB&J, and that was the last of my peanut butter.

So I headed to Healy, just north of the Park entrance, for a couple groceries. It's a 30-minute-ish round trip. Every time I get in the car in Alaska, I think about how great my car is. Where it's been, how it hasn't really been that much of a pain at all. I love the freedom of being able to move wherever I want to go. At the gas pump in Healy, an Alaskan commented on what a nice rig it is. I get that a lot up here, oddly.

The weather's been rainy and cold the past few days. This afternoon, the clouds have started to let in a little sun. I'm hoping for fantastic weather the next few days.

Thursday I go to the Tek field station again to meet up with a group of high school kids. I'll be going on my first up-close visit with an Alaskan glacier, the Muldrow. Friday, I hitch a ride to Wonder Lake, the furthest I have ever been on the Park road. On Saturday, I take off on the Denali Highway (a 130+ mile gravel road) for Paxson, and head south on the Glenn Highway for Anchorage to meet geocachers at a potluck. Sunday, I explore the south-central glaciers and hopefully I will have a place to stay at Kenai. Monday, I come home to Denali.

I'm just about done with my application for the Peace Corps. I've wanted to volunteer with them for a long while...now, I think, is the right time to apply.

Exciting stuff.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Love from all but one

Thursday afternoon, after blubbering in front of my totally understanding supervisor at Denali, I was invited on a field seminar. And I jumped at it.

But the in-between time was rough. I drove out to Glitter Gulch for sorbet and picked up a hitchhiker who works for a bus company. Hitchhiking is a part of life at Denali that I really enjoy. The only time I've ever hitchhiked was outside the country. There's such a stigma against it here in the U.S., and in places it's illegal. Maybe it's illegal here, but I don't know or care. I'll pick people up anyway.

The blueberry-pomegranate sorbet was absolutely what I wanted that moment. It's a nice little ice cream parlor too - a large cup only costs $3.50, which is phenomenal for such a tourist-focused community. I turned south towards Anchorage and visited McKinley Village to find a cache. The station from Fairbanks just barely came in playing 'Nice to Know You' by Incubus. What a beautiful band...

I experienced dining at Glitter Gulch for the first time...and due to what was available, I had the Hungry Hungry Hippie. It's a sort of disappointing falafel. Maybe disappointing because I didn't have it with the yogurt sauce, which maybe has all the flavor.

The next morning, I packed up overnight gear and walked the road to the MSLC. The seminar I was invited to was called 'Birds of Denali' led by Nan Eagleson. She started the program off with a slideshow of birds in Denali, which I think was really fantastic. I never knew about birds that hit other birds upside the head just to catch their projectile vomit midflight. Or that ptarmigans molt head to toe in spring, and toe to head in fall (did I get that backwards...?).

Before we drove off, an education specialist, beaming smile as usual, handed me a gift: a woven basket filled with three beautiful little notepads with inspirational themes. I grabbed the swan with the 'unsinkable spirit' and ran off. She really amazes me each day. Gifts aren't necessary to make me happy, but she hasn't known me very long and doesn't know me incredibly well - so I'm absolutely touched she makes such an effort to console me and make me feel at home.

We drove off west to Teklanika where the MSLC field camp is located. People here refer to it as 'Tek' and this confuses me completely because I immediately imagine them saying 'Tech.' It was a miserably rainy day, but we stopped for a nice walk at Savage River where we saw all kinds of birds I never noticed.

The field camp is a comfortable little village near the Tek campground almost in hearing range of the Tek River. A small shack holds cooking gear and 'smellables,' and is connected to a cooking area that even has a very posh camping oven. Nearby sits a yurt used for eating and meeting. Down a path in the woods are six tent cabins, each with four bunk beds. They are remarkably new-looking and comfy, though they don't at all shut out the neverending light of Alaska.

We made an alfredo pasta dish with salad and garlic bread with cream puffs for desert. I'm going to blame my emotional state for having totally botched my preparedness for this, as I forgot all my food at home to replace the dairy and meat. I was so hungry though, and so angry that my former inspiration failed me, I just didn't care that night. I devoured a bowl of alfredo (without the chicken... that isn't a compromise to me), ate two slices of garlic bread, a salad, and three cream puffs. Oddly, I was really pleased I didn't really get sick as a result.

After waking at 6 a.m. (you couldn't possibly tell from the sun), our group made a stop at Igloo Creek. Saturday was still rainy and miserable, so hardly any birds called. We next wandered Tattler Creek, a geological wonderland. Still, very few birds. We kept driving west, further than I'd ever been, seeing golden eagles west of Sable Pass and a raven nest under a bridge. West of Polychrome Pass, a group of five Dall's sheep wandered just below the road. What a view - a one-lane gravel road with an unimaginably steep, long drop below. Not a place to ever make a mistake.

We finished just east of Eielson Visitor Center. I'll get there someday.

In the morning, again at 6 a.m., we ate and packed up for Mount Margaret as it was actually a clear day. The general way up to the top is by a very muddy social trail that plugs through alders the first few hundred feet. Beyond that, the mountain opens up to alpine tundra. At the summit are amazing periglacial features including classic stripes, nets, and circles. Not too many birds here, but we were lucky enough to see a group of surf birds fly by us. We watched a group of five Dall's sheep walk across the high plateau to eventually meet with a group of three. A half mile before the groups joined, the five sheep took off running and plowed into the group of three. They took the offensive and flipped around to confront them. Once, twice, sheep jumped and knocked heads.

By the time we started down, the sky completely clouded up and a little hail fell on us. We got down fast and beat the heavy rain.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What I was hoping would never happen, happened

I'm sitting in the MSLC because I wouldn't know where else to go. I didn't before, and I still don't. Longer term, I'm even more clueless.

I got a call during lunch that was sickly reminiscent of my last failed relationship. I knew it was coming when I saw the name and dreaded answering because it was so...abnormal. The next two hours were spent curled up in the woods as a thunderstorm set in. My parents, well-rehearsed and doing all the talking, kept me company thousands of miles away.

It is so difficult sitting here in this lobby surrounded by tourists. I'm madly biting my lip to keep from revealing what I feel and making their once-in-a-lifetime vacation feel just a little more awkward and disappointing (it's raining, so they won't see the mountain). It's even worse because everyone here is a couple. It looks like they've been together for decades.

I wish I could just let go when these things happen and feel the way the person who hurt me does -justified to destroy the bond. I shouldn't hurt. This should be an agreement, not a severance. I should feel set free and whole; instead I just feel cut in half with the rest drained. I believe I didn't get a proper chance to fix whatever happened. Thus I feel this is so utterly wrong.

So here I have to remain. In a beautiful land that, for me, has been tarnished forever. I came here for a future and to keep building what was begun. The only reason I even bothered to look for employment in Alaska was for him. I came here, tearing as fast as I could away from graduate school, for him. I stay because I have to. I will probably leave when I'm allowed.

What was I fighting for? Every day through graduate school was an enormous struggle, powered by the desire to get back to him. All I wanted in the world was to escape. I felt energized and encouraged by his beliefs and loved what he wanted for his future....I desperately wanted to be a part of that.

Rebecca told me not to give up on love, but I want to. It's not worth the pain. It's not worth investing so much just to realize in the end that it was meaningless. I would rather just avoid the blissful highs because, as I have learned again, they are always followed by the tragic realization that - after all - I wasn't loved as I had come to believe.

I would rather not feel anything instead of how I feel now.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I take a school bus to work

Saturday, I went to Fairbanks on some errands and to have a little fun. Before I could even get out of the park, however, I spotted a moose and her newborn calf. The calf had been born the day before.

My first stop in Fairbanks was the Museum of the North to check out the geology materials. Most of the museum was one room of very excellent displays centered on Alaskan natural and cultural history. The upstairs area was art and an exhibit called, 'The room where you go to listen.' 'The place,' as the artist seems to have nicknamed it, is a white room with a screen. On the screen are colors in constant, but very very slow, change. On the speakers are bells and chords reflecting the movement of the earth around the sun and moon around the earth and the aurora borealis. Booming speakers announce earthquakes occurring in Alaska in real time. I wondered what the 2002 Denali quake or the 1964 quake would have felt like...?

Next, to the Farmer's Market on College and Caribou. It's not a farmer's market yet, but rather a market full of artisans. The only crops so far are cucumbers and radishes. I picked up some dandelion jelly, fireweed jelly, and fireweed honey. A very friendly couple selling carved rock pendants let me take away one of their creations for a dollar less than they asked - with the promise that I come back with the final dollar (I ran out of cash...). I picked out a rounded pendant that came from a tailing pile - it certainly looks metamorphosed, and the greenish tint makes me think it used to be basalt. The woman had me pick out a silk string, and the man carefully glued connections to the ends. Very nice. I recommend them.

Last place to stop before errands was the Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge to find an EarthCache about an ice wedge. Beautiful nature trails and a peaceful walk on an amazing day.

I went to Savage River yesterday, a 20-30 minute bus ride from the Murie Science and Learning Center. Denali was out in full view but only visible for a short distance before nearby mountains blotted it out. Temperatures have been in the low 60s lately, practically balmy.

Wandered along the west side of the Loop Trail up to the bridge and kept going to try and find the knickpoint. I walked for quite a while but never did definitively find it. I'll have to get back.

Took the east side back and was stunned to meet a Dall ram right around a corner. As he began to trot up the trail towards me, I backed up and realized an ewe appeared behind me.


Dall sheep ram heading up the trail towards me.

Arctic ground squirrel, I think?

Partway through Savage Canyon.

I spent this morning brainstorming with a Park employee in a building called 'Over There.' A lot (or all) the Park buildings have strange nicknames. C-Camp's recycling center is called 'Over and Over.' Our rec hall was once called the 'Bloody Bucket.'

Our talk was totally inspiring - I really have a desire to produce useful geological materials this summer, and it helps to have encouragement from all over. In the past three weeks, I've received more helpful advice and encouragement than during my entire graduate career.

Since I walked to the office, I decided to try taking a bus home. It's funny, getting on a school bus all these years later.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Not a day for tea, apparently

Moose aren't all that uncommon, suddenly. Two moose reside in C-Camp with the humans, Belligerent Momma and her calf. The calf, for visualization, is taller than a small pony. Belligerent Momma got her name before my time because she apparently charges...a lot. The other day, I walked within 20 feet of her without realizing she was there. In a good mood, maybe. Later in the afternoon, I walked back to the washhouse and there she was again. Only this time, she craned her neck, lower her head, and just stared at me. And I thought I was a safe distance away...

As I was typing up another chapter of the geology field guide, an MSLCer wished me a happy Monday and gave me a beautiful card and... a rock-print mousepad! It is really touching. I see her as one of the most accommodating, positive and encouraging people I've ever met.

Another MSLCer and I walked down to Horseshoe Lake on an errand. Beautiful place - a classic oxbox lake surrounded by gnawed-in-half logs. No other sign of beavers, though. The trail was lined with pasque flowers (ground-hugging light purple flowers that generally herald the onset of spring). And a random fact...apparently pasque flowers are extremely toxic causing bradycardia (slowing heart). I should have munched on glacier and avalanche lilies in Washington when I had the chance. No way I'm eating anything but blueberries here.

I decided I probably shouldn't "adopt" a sled dog for the summer because I'm hopefully going to be getting in a good deal of field work that may last days at a time. I still need to get out and see a sled dog demonstration though...for another post, maybe...

I'm still mentally toiling over what to do with my thesis. Independent Study seems like the way to go. It just feels like giving up, though.

Friday, May 14, 2010

First moose in Denali!

Today I began the interpreter's field guide. It's already turning into a huge deal, definitely going to be some kind of book at the end of summer. When I began describing concepts behind the tectonics and glacial history of the park, I realized most people don't have a geology background and few people have a basic understanding of the subject. So in go chapters on the rock cycle, the theory of plate tectonics, accretionary terranes, and all of that interesting stuff.

At this point, I only have a basic understanding of Denali and Alaskan geology. It's confusing, for sure. Denali is the size of Massachusetts. But I know the glacial history of the park pretty well now, even though I'm having trouble tracking down the actual published (?) papers that documented each glaciation.

Still no official word on what will happen to the other two GeoCorps interns who were going to work with the geologist who died. I'm curious - it's really an unfortunate situation to be in. There's a chance they had other offers elsewhere but turned them down in favor of this opportunity. I also selfishly mourn for the loss of who would have been one of my biggest mentors, as he was eager to incorporate me into his field research. Just an hour or two before I was told about his death, my supervisor and I were discussing how I would take an aviation exam to accompany researchers on small planes throughout the park (glacier landings!!).

Picked up two hitchhikers in the park who jumped for joy at me stopping. It turned out they were part of a pack of bicyclists heading for the Savage River checkpoint...way, way west down the park road. I think the place is only 15 miles from the entrance, but it seems a lot longer. Especially because of the hilly conditions the first few miles. We passed three of their other friends on bikes. We lucked out and saw a very large moose right on the side of the road, oblivious to our presence with that 'MUST EAT' zoned-out look on its face.

Hitchhiking won't be all the common, I'd imagine, once the buses pick up in the coming weeks.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Too much sun

I decided to pick up The Host instead of either option. I'm really liking it so far, which I don't find too surprising.

This morning, I *think* I encountered the state bird of Alaska, the willow grouse. I'm not actually sure what it was. I called it a ptarmigan, and if it was really a grouse, I'm still technically right. All I know is that it was a big, raven-sized hen-like bird with brown and white feathers.

[briefly asked by a interpreter asking me what kind of rock he found. It was probably slate, and I haven't seen it naturally in the park yet]

I spent the day researching and organizing future EarthCaches. It's really amusing getting paid to do what I really enjoy doing. In the coming weeks, bus service will eventually carry all the way to Eielson and Kantishna both located on the farthest western reaches of the park road, 89ish miles in. It doesn't go near the very western edge of the park. While my supervisor is away the last week of May, she suggested I do the frontcountry hikes and visit these far-away places to really get started.

The abundance of daylight is getting to me a little. By the time I try and get to bed around 10:30, I toss and turn for a good hour even if I cover my head. The sun sets way earlier, but dusk and twilight last forever. At least until midnight, if not later, you can walk outside and see just fine. Based on the sun's position when I wake up in the morning around 6:30ish, I'd guess the sun rises around 4:30 or 5. Yep, I was close! According to wunderground.com, civil twilight is 3:16 a.m. and 12:20 a.m. Actual sunrise and sunset is 4:47 a.m. and 10:55 p.m. And tomorrow will be over 6 minutes longer.

It all feels so strange to me, almost artificial. It's great having so much light, but it's so hard to go to bed when it's still perfectly bright outside. And we're not even to the point of having 24 hours' light yet.

Healing biscuits

On an impulse, I made biscuits based on a recipe on the back of my baking powder. Had no shortening, so I gambled with olive oil and won. They really hit the spot.

I'm feeling better, personally, about what happened today. Less like it's unreality and more like yes, it really did happen.

Finished up A Walk Across America, enjoyed it enough, and now have to pick out a new book. Should I delve into Ayn Rand? Or run far, far away to some relatively mindless travelogue?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Old geologists never die...

That's the beginning to a really awful geology joke that I never really liked anyway. But the Denali Park & Preserve geologist wasn't old, he was more what I would call young - just older than my dad, maybe. We found out today he died from heart failure while leading a group of kids on a hike outside the park.

I just met him yesterday at day 1 of the park research bonanza where he gave the one and only talk I would ever hear him give on the top 10 geological facts and features of the park. I introduced myself, immediately liked him, and he invited me to participate in his field research for the summer. Yesterday I was charged and ready to do everything I could to improve understanding of the park. But I wonder now what will happen with all the projects he had running, specifically the mining restoration at the west end of the park. I wish I knew more about the park and policies - I would love to help keep going what he already put so much work into.

On my semi-regular hike home from the office, I thought a lot about the apparent spontaneity of death. While I acknowledge that a number of young people who do healthy things still die from medical causes, most of the time there is a very good reason(s) someone passes away. Since I lost my uncle to heart failure and especially since working directly on a man who succumbed to the same at a hospital, I guess I felt super-sensitive to the news of the geologist's death.

Anyway, I talked to my dad earlier and called my mom while hiking home. Just had a hole in me, feeling empty and wishing I could see at once all the people I love. I sat on the bench overlooking the frontcountry area and just thought it out for a while until an audible cloud of mosquitoes gathered around me.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thesis woes

I spent this weekend oscillating between being sure I'll accept the independent study option just to end this all, and being slightly sure I can manage thesis edits according to schedule. Honestly I'm not sure what only have an IS versus a thesis would mean for me. Would it change how potential employers see me? Would it be an issue if and when I ever decide to go back to school? I'm facing solid deadlines now, though. 18 June is the close of summer registration, the latest I can get my thesis materials in. My committee requires a new version three weeks prior to that day, which is 25 May.

It's making me miserable. But I know, either way, when it's all over, I'll be a better, happier person.

Despite feeling horrible about how my graduate life will finally end, I really enjoyed just relaxing in the cabin. I wrapped up Breaking Dawn (no laughing, it was actually a great book that my former roomie had me read), Under the Banner of Heaven (which was totally enlightening, personally), and began A Walk Across America (I read Jenkins' Looking for Alaska and really enjoyed that one).

I really want to jump fully into this Denali work - but the thesis needs to be out of the way. Once it is, I'm anticipating being actively involved with the Denali project beyond the regular work hours. The more I research what I'll be doing, the more enthusiastic I get.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Already I'm seeing a drastic decimation in an element of my food supply...honey. It might last a couple of weeks, though.

Yesterday I started writing down my thoughts and goals for this summer. And began researching all the resource options I have, which aren't many. There is a definite need for a comprehensive geology book on Denali.

And today I faced reality - my thesis must be done by 15 June. I really have to work on it today, which is what I've planned. I originally wanted to hike all the frontcountry trails and investigate the current Earthcaches, but I'm putting what I want to do on hold for what I have to do. There'll be time later for that later, I guess.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Today is my second day back in the Park. The weather and the daylight have completely confused me. It was dusk until at least midnight, when I rolled over under my covers to shiver away the night. Daytime temperatures have, so far, been quite mild...though it seems to rain throughout the day without my notice. There are rain droplets on the cabin window, but I somehow missed their appearance. Puddles repeatedly form on the gravel volleyball court across the way, but I *really* missed those events.

C Camp feels so snug in the mountains. Not quite choked, and lofty enough to have some excellent snow-capped mountain views. I'll try out the roadside trail tomorrow morning, granted I get myself up at a reasonable time. Definitely would like to limit car usage (for money, for the spirit of the wilderness too for sure, and for the exercise ...and hopefully for the animal sightings).

Spent the day just settling in and meeting people. Went to a couple interp sessions on the bus system and informal contacts. Denali is definitely a different kind of park since accessibility is so unlike what I'm used to. Only one road drives in to the heart of DENA, and private vehicles are prohibited after mile 15 (the road is 89 miles long). Buses take over from there on a gravel road that gets increasingly narrower as you travel further west. I understand that and appreciate it a little better now, but it still makes work a little difficult.

Started making a dent into my food stockpile...shopping with Dave a few days ago cost about $208 at Fred Meyer, and $68 at Costco...plus a lot of miscellaneous stuff. It would be interesting to post a list of all the stuff I got and to see what lasts and what doesn't, how long it lasts, etc. Not sure where the receipt is though.

Still have my thesis hanging over my head. I have a little glimpse of what life would be like with it finished...it's really the only major thing barring me from being pretty happy. Things would be much grander with it out of the picture.

Nice living in a Park again, though. Actually *inside* one this time. But government bureaucracy is hilarious as always. My current officemate laughed at it, but then seriously commented that if it's a system in place to treat everyone equally, it's worth it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Today is my fifth day in Alaska, and it's 60 F out. Not bad! Currently FREEZING in a Borders in Anchorage, though. Trying to work on my thesis revisions, but it's just not happening. It's like climbing or hiking a really difficult route - you use serious amounts of physical and mental energy getting to the goal, but when the goal's in sight, you collapse...not quite there, but almost.

The geology we saw on our trip from Socorro, NM, was spectacular. I've always loved northwest New Mexico, but it just got better after we left the state. My last impression of Utah was a never-ending desert with mountains in the distance you could never reach because it was so flat. My new impression is that Utah is a dynamic state, packed with history and exposed geology. We drove a ways into Arches National Park to see the Windows section, but saw the enormous Moab normal fault, hoodoos, fins, balancing rocks, pretty much all manner of amazing desert formations.

The next day, we realized our hotel was located a mile north of a geyser. A cold geyser - one that ejects water and CO2. When we arrived on site, the geyser was gushing away noisily. CO2 poured out the top of the pipe and refracted light...I wondered how much it expels a day. Shortly after, the geyser ceased and mudpots just 30-40 feet away began filling with water and bubbled away. About 30 minutes later, they completely drained, and the geyser began bubbling up again. Totally fascinating.

We spent two full days wandering around Washington state, including a day on Rainier to measure the temperature of the springs in Longmire meadow and to see a really fantastic video of the park in Paradise. I took my mom to the northwest side of St. Helens to peak into the breached crater, but we only got *just* close enough to see the very northern tip of the dome. Coldwater Visitor Center was closed, as was the road to the Johnson Ridge Observatory. Another attempt at getting to the JRO spoiled. Someday, right?

I thought the northern Canadian Rockies would top all ranges I've ever seen, until we spotted the St. Elias mountains. They closely resemble the enormity of the Himalayas and extend 300 miles - the Magdalena Mountains in New Mexico are only 18 miles long. The St. Elias are just 10 million years old - once more to compare, the volcanic rocks of the Magdalenas are about 32-28 million years old.

Totally stunning.

Curving around the Yukon and into Alaska, a very narrow view of the Kluane ice field was visible. The ice field is the largest non-polar field in the world, and I think I read the ice is up to 2,200 feet thick. Wish we could have seen the interior closer.

Finally reaching Denali National Park, we were able to drive to mile 33 on the Park road due to good road conditions (a first this time of year since 1980). We only got a short glimpse of Denali from 76 miles away. The drive showed me how much work I have to get done at Denali, and how hard this work will be to complete.

We tried to find some glaciers on the Kenai Peninsula, but it was raining hard the entire day yesterday. Portage would have been our best bet, but the boats are out of service until May and the lake is frozen over. I walked down to it from the gate but there was nothing to be seen.

And now, I have to finish this thesis forever. Santiaguito just had its biggest explosion since 1989 - not something I would have expected for a lower extrusion rate.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I miraculously passed my thesis defense. It was truly brutal, though. I'm disappointed in myself for not performing the way I practiced. My defense took about 20 minutes from what I'm told. I just started crashing - whenever I messed up, I just imagined it snowballing in my mind to the point where I wouldn't be at all successful. The audience asked some good questions, but I had a hard time with a few of them. The committee interrogation took about 1.5 hours, really was a painful experience. When they excused me to discuss, I sat in the office swearing to my friends surrounding me that I'd failed. Alas, when my advisor opened the door inviting me back it, he immediately shook my hand. I haven't seen him smile that broadly in a *long* long time. Maybe he's just excited to get rid of me?

So a bunch of us hung out and camped at San Lorenzo canyon to celebrate. Toasted champagne and all that. We assumed the weather would be cold and super windy, but NM shocked us! The entire night was gorgeous, minus a little wind. Woke up at 7 a.m. to the sun shining on the conglomerate cliffs.

Got to pack! Heading to Alaska tomorrow!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The night before the defense

Tomorrow I defend my master's thesis in geology. Now that the day is really finally here (it's actually 12:30 a.m. so TODAY is the day!), I sort of wish I had been able to prepare further in advance. I'm a neurotic speaker. I tweak and poke at my presentation until the very last second, and tend to write up what I want to say - and if I can't get those words right, I get thrown off.

This is exactly the case, now. My thoughts are sort of finally coming together just now after repeating the entire presentation to myself all day. Memorization has never been a strong point. Like the dates of Santiaguito - it began extruding in 1922 with Caliente. Activity shifted 700 m west to La Mitad in 1939 (took me forever to erase '1938' from my mind and replace it with '1939'). Activity shifted again in 1949 to El Monje, and once more to El Brujo in 1958. Caliente began erupting concurrently with El Brujo in 1968, and El Brujo ceased activity in 1977... Caliente has been erupting ever since. And extrusion rates! Extrusion rates of 0.6-2.1 m^3 s-1 are 'high' and last for 3-5 years at Santiaguito... 'low' extrusion rates of 0.2 m^3 s-1 last from 10-12 years.

And THEN I've got to remember all the calculations and numeric results of my project.

It's odd, but I haven't felt any anxiety about this presentation until just a couple hours ago. I used to love giving presentations in my undergrad, but things were different in grad school. I lost my confidence and feel I'm only just now building it back up again. If only I could just remember the whole speech I wrote out for this, despite my aversion towards prefabricated talks.

Half the car is packed and ready to go. If I don't pass, the trip to Alaska is going to be a pretty depressing couple of weeks. I can't think about not passing though, it can't be an option.

Friday, January 1, 2010


This entry is a brief overview of my host country and what I'll be doing there as a member of Omnibus 105, the 105th group to arrive in Ecuador.

From Volunteer Work in Ecuador

Ecuador! Bordered by Peru and Colombia and situated on the Pacific Ocean, Ecuador is about the size of Colorado. For its size, the country is an ecologically diverse wonderland divided into four main zones: 1) the Galapagos Islands, 2) the coast (light yellow/tan), 3) the sierra (goldenrod), and 4) jungle/Amazon. Running north to south down the center of Ecuador is the Andes mountain chain spotted with some very active volcanoes.

What I'll be doing in Ecuador:
I'm in Environmental Education and Awareness which is part of the Natural Resources Conservation program. Major tasks will be:
  • Assess existing community knowledge of the local environment and socio-economic situation.
  • Identify and select local organizations, leaders, park guards, teachers, youth, and children that may be interested in participating in non-formal environmental education activities.
  • Identify and promote the formation of groups for non-formal environmental education activities.
  • Develop a plan and implement non-formal environmental education activities, including goals, objectives, activities, teaching materials, and evaluation tools.
Where we'll be during pre-service training:
Tumbaco, about 40 minutes east of Quito (red dot on the map above). During this time, each of us will be living with a host family.

What will pre-service training be like:
11 weeks of intensive language and technical training. I have a feeling I'll be posting a lot on that.

My job location:
Unknown until after pre-service training. While many Natural Resources Conservation volunteers are placed in rural communities, it could be in the Andean highlands, the Amazon Basin, the coastal lowlands, a city - who knows? Not me! Most sites have basic infrastructure (water, electricity) and bus transportation. Peace Corps has changed our baggage allowance from 80 pounds to 100 because some of us will be living in the cooler sierra. Like pre-service training, we have to live with a family in our community for at least three months.

Swearing in:
If we make it through training, we will swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers at the Ambassador's Residence on 20 April 2011.

Other members of Omnibus 105:
Better than Middle Earth
Ecuador: La Sierra, Cuy, y Quichua
Ecuador: My Moveable Feast...
Heather's Life in a Different America!
Hokie Hokie Hokie... Hola!
Peace Corps Adventure
Peace Corps Strix
Sometimes in This Country
The Peace Corps Extravaganza

Packing list

Last updated: 1/11/2011
* denotes something I still need to get.

ELECTRONICS: ridiculous, I know. I blame photography.

-Nikon camera
-Nikon camera cards
-Nikon camera batteries (3)
-card reader
-Nikon camera battery charger
-rechargeable AA batteries + dock
-iPod charging cord
-laptop cord
-surge protector
-Exilim camera
-Exilim camera batteries (5)
-SD cards*(1/2)
-Exilim camera battery charger
-external hard drive + cord
-thumb drive
-alarm clock
-1 AAA battery*
-short ethernet cord
-SW radio?*


-U.S. stamps
-journals (2-3)
-daily planner

BATH: mostly extra things I already have and would rather not buy again.

-tea tree oil
-nail clippers
-medicinal wax*
-lip balm*
-soap bars
-super dry towel
-razor blades (3)
-elastic hairbands
-hair straightener


-sewing needles and thread
-knitting needles
-crochet needles

OUTDOORS: horray for being an outdoorswoman!

-large Osprey pack
-large bag #2*
-REI daypack
-water purification tablets
-sleeping bag
-sleeping pad
-cotton insert
-warm hat
-cool hat
-nalgene/metal bottles (2?)
-neck warmer
-overnight pack
-day pack
-hiking boots
-Chaco sandals
-crampons (if possible)
-ice ax (if possible)
-4 lithium AA batteries
-pocket knife
-camelbak reservoir (?)
-slacklining kit (if possible)

CLOTHING: still have to get a lot.

-long underwear
-black mtn. hardwear pants
-khaki mtn. hardwear pants
-mud mtn. hardwear pants
-short sleeved shirts
-long sleeved shirts
-business casual outfit
-business outfit
-bathing suit
-waterproof jacket (*?)
-heavy coat


-luggage locks*


-recipe book
-chile pepper*
-garam masala
-nutritional yeast
-matcha tea
-loose tea (sencha, white chocolate chai)


-Environmental Geology
-Living Off The Grid
-Viva Travel Guides Ecuador: Climbing and Hiking Guide
-Ecuador & Galapagos Insight Guide
-Big Red Book of Spanish Verbs
-Field Guide to Geology
-Medicine for Mountaineering
-Spanish Phrasebook
-Spanish dictionary (?)
-Spanish Among Amigos Phrasebook


-Staging information
-Backup copies of documents
-Loan deferment forms
-Immunization record