"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, 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.