"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!