"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."

Monday, January 31, 2011

Finally, a blizzard!

...right on time for Ecuador staging.

I love snow but the predictions are ridiculous. I've heard people say it'll be anywhere between 8 and 26 inches, and it sounds like most reports are leaning towards the high end. There's always the chance it won't be as bad as the news says, but if it's anything close, our flights out of Chicago are going to be canceled. We got an email from our staging coordinator assuring us that even though we might miss all or part of staging, we'll get to Ecuador eventually. I'm just sad I might miss part of the 'Peace Corps experience' - what staging is really like.

Plows began salting the roads before the snow even started falling about two hours ago. The roads just started getting pretty slippery right when I got home from what was probably my last ride in my Jeep for another couple years.

Well... going to try to enjoy this!

EDIT: United 600 is canceled. Calling SATO travel first thing in the morning!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Shoppingphobe hates shopping.

Tautological statements aside...

I spent the day digging through clothes at the local mall to find business casual tops. I found: nothing. I'm not packed, nor is everything I'm packing in one spot. And I have five days left. Oddly though, this is normal for me. Things don't happen until it's last minute, REALLY last minute. I'm just not in the mood yet, and I'm not panicked enough to get it all done.

I really wish I'd just get on it though.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What's left to do? Just about everything.

COUNTDOWN: 8 days to departure

Mom, dad, and I had lunch with my aunt (dad's sister) at a place called Cafe Roma in Elgin where I got my favorite sandwich of all time - a caprese. Except whatever's inside a caprese sandwich will always end up outside on the first bite. Aside from the insideout sandwich, it was so great seeing my aunt!

On the way home, I asked to be dropped off at the bank (four blocks from my house) so I could put a note on my account and debit card about where I'm going to be living. The bank teller asked where in Ecuador I'll be, and I mentioned our training city. And then my mind was blown - her daughter served in Ecuador in the Peace Corps. I keep wondering how these strange coincidences keep happening to me. She might be wondering the same thing?

Yesterday, three very large white tailed deer hung out in the backyard for most of the day. They slept under the pine tree overnight to escape the snow, so they weren't more than 30-40 feet away most of the time

And my remaining 'to-do' list for your own amusement:

-Return library materials
-Half.com/eBay accounts on vacation (so no one buys things while I'm gone)
-Reduce car insurance on January 31 (no driving in a few days, sad!)
-Loan deferment paperwork (mostly done)
-Get Skype working at home, get camera for home computer (working on 1/2 computers)
-Type out list of passwords (mostly done)
-Create photo 'factory' to make my business easier on parents (this is going to be a pain)
-Designate power of attorney (pretty much done)
-Create USB of backup programs, drivers, etc. (not started...)
-Clean up laptop, desktop, hard drives (half started on both computers)
-Clean car, oil change, detail (Wednesday...? Friday?)
-Print out pictures to show and give (haven't picked them out yet)
-Clean lap top hardware (keyboard and screen = ick)
-Get PC set with Sallie Mae loan disbursement (??? called a few times and still no help)
-Launder sleeping bag and down coat
-Get Firefly DVDs and book to Laurie to Chuck
-Check and reply to geocaching answers
-Put South America caches in GPS
-Clean hiking boots
-Make a list of Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela geocaches
-Update iPod
-Finish Denali stuff (to wrap up internship in Alaska) & mail them package
-Clean room
-Buy remaining things (mainly a duffel bag and vegan marshmallows)
-Probably a billion more things to do that I just haven't thought of writing down.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Financial woes alleviated; Mayor gives me his best!

COUNTDOWN: 11 days

Another letter in the mail today, this time from the Village of Cary. I couldn't really guess what it was about, so I was happily surprised to see it was a letter from Mayor Tom Kierna wishing me well. Thanks Mayor Kierna!

My preparations for Ecuador are at a standstill. Again, time is flying. Another week's gone by, and soon I'll have just one week left to get everything done. I still haven't done a test pack, and I still have a couple more things to buy - but I ran out of money. And before the last four days, I was reviewing Spanish almost all day, every day.

So yesterday, Cafe Firefly hosted their first-ever open mic night and I had to go. I carted along my piles of Spanish books to study, and even manage to slog through some pages while some very talented people played up front. I think I managed to stuff 40 verbs in my head before I had to give up for the day. The least useful of them all: 'surgir,' or 'to surge.' It probably does have a lot more uses than I give it credit for. Like how a lahar surges. Electricity surges. People surge with anger.

Today, my parents wanted to do something with me - the realization that we have little time remaining is setting in with all of us. They suggested we go for a hike to find some geocaches, so we drove off to a conservation area near Woodstock. I had the info for four caches, but after the first one, the dog (Gizmo, see below) was too cold and tired to continue on. It was a much shorter hike than I was hoping for, but at least it was something.

For dinner, I convinced them to go to Lou Malnati's - yes, I'm a vegan... usually... but I AM trying to eat cheese now and then to keep up those digestive enzymes. And Chicago deepdish is pretty good. Laurie stopped by just in time to go with us, so we had a good time apparently annoying the table next to us. My parents presented me with a card and a deposit slip for a chunk of money from my dad's yearly bonus. I couldn't even really refuse it because it was already in my bank account. It's amazing, though, how that money alleviated so many of my problems. 80% of my worries were money-related. I had trouble getting to sleep at night the past month wondering how things would work out before I left. It's like they pressed a 'reset' button.

I guess it's time for VLOG 5, starring our fiesty dachshund-chihuahua who shares his namesake with a gremlin. Supposedly unrelated. I'm a little bizarred out that Peace Corps Journals caught my YouTube upload before it was even posted here, though.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Heeey it's snowing. Again.

COUNTDOWN: 16 days

It would be more fun if I didn't have to drive back in it.

Oh wait, it's lake effect snow now. HORRAY.

Laurie and I spent a good part of today driving around in the stuff, and we thought it was over so we escaped to Cafe Firefly. I filmed a lot of it, including a bit of Laurie trying to drive her motorcycle in 4" of fresh powder. Obviously (I hope) it was just a joke. Hilarity does ensue. It also starts with a delightful folk French tune.

The snow is now just heavy flurries, but the roads are totally coated. I'd like to say that thankfully I have a Jeep, but that doesn't necessary mean much.

I made another 'Peace Corps purchase' yesterday - three bras. Something tells me that's not enough, but seriously, $66. For three. Ridiculous. I'm quickly running out of money and it sort of scares me. Once the snow clears up, I'll be visiting the local resale warehouse for some 'new' shirts.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The inner has carbon, do not EAT

COUNTDOWN: 19 days

Yesterday, I got a card in the mail from a Cary address, the same town I live in. It starts, "Congratulations on joining the Peace Corps!" and continues to explain the writer's daughter served in Guinea, and that the experience was fulfilling for both her and her family. I was absolutely touched that this person took the time to send me a handwritten note. And a couple who frequents a local coffee shop I like to go to befriended me, and is insisting on sending me care packages (I think coffee and tea?) during my service. It's wild, this support.

Then today I got an email from the Ecuador Training Assistant welcoming me to the country and introducing herself and her job (the subject title was "Hello my new Trainee." Who wouldn't love that?). I much appreciate the contact and the introduction because, aside from knowing the right person to go to for whatever task I need to complete, it gives the experience a more 'real' feeling. There are people in Ecuador right now who are getting ready for Omnibus 105.

And so if you've arrived at this point, you're maybe wondering where that title came from. Or you forgot about it. Or didn't read it. Anyway...my mom dug this 'fortune' out from the bottom of a foot massager-bath-thingy...I don't know...whatever it is, this slip of paper cracked me up:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Etna erupts

COUNTDOWN: 20 days (This has nothing to do with Peace Corps...)

I was aware Mount Etna in Italy began erupting (which isn't really anything to be surprised about), but the first bit of news I heard just described it as a little explosion. A week later, my mom asked if I heard about the Etna eruption. I looked it up and found this:

13 January 2011, REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello

Still nothing out of the ordinary for Etna, but wow is this picture spectacular! Check out this article by the National Post for more pictures and a video.

I visited Italy in 2009 for a month to check out volcanoes (mainly Vesuvius, Stromboli, and Etna) with my friends Rebecca and Gabe. Vesuvius was totally quiet (usually a good thing), Stromboli was erupting every minute or so, and Etna was just really steamy. Something felt really odd on Etna with the summit totally choked in clouds. Steam gushed from cracks and fumaroles covered some hills. Still, no lava or explosions that we were aware of. It looked like this:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vlog #3 - A tour of my house in the U.S. (or rather, trying to get the dog to walk around it)

The online comments on the article published today are amazing:

"Way to go Christina! And thank you Northwest Herald for this inspirational story!"

"This will be a great experience for her. No matter where she goes afterward, the life lessons will only add to her success."

"The true legacy of JFK lives on. Maybe there is hope for all of us after all."

Maybe there is hope for all of us after all. WOW. I quoted this to my mom, and her reaction was the same - "Wow! Where did that come from??" I thought, maybe people are sick of bad news, of wars and murders, shameless mudslinging, humanity failing humanity over and over again. Sure, that's life, but maybe people want optimistic news, stories that encourage and empower us to see that the world's not an entirely bad place to live.

This afternoon, I took a (long) walk around the house to film what that's like...while walking the dog. Or attempting to walk the dog. He had other plans apparently. I'll caution you though, it's awfully boring unless you enjoy laughing at my feeble attempts to coax Gizmo on.

Other than that, I have no idea what happened to today. It's just gone. I don't recall doing anything interesting or important. I didn't make progress towards my departure (the Ecuador Training Manager did email a hello though), I didn't shop or study, I didn't really read. How does time do that?

In the news

Just a note to post a link to the article in the Northwest Herald today: Cary woman joins Peace Corps, to be stationed in Ecuador (zero embarrassing stories from my parents, oddly enough). If this article does attract readers from McHenry County and other places nearby, welcome :)

...hope you're enjoying the snow as much as I am :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The art of shopping (or evading it)

COUNTDOWN: 23 days

What's new - not much. A couple packages arrived, including my Ecuador climbing/hiking guide (sobering how unlikely a climb up Chimborazo, etc., will be for me... but still fun to read about, at least), and two pairs of pants by Mountain Hardwear. These pants are especially wonderful because of the material they're made of - a super-stretchy, water-resistant fabric. So they're great if you gain a little weight or lose a little too. Unless they're too big, which for me, they are. The waist is almost perfect, but the legs are incredibly wide and long. I'm hoping they'll shrink at least a little bit in the wash, but another benefit to these pants is they don't change size, and after two years of heavy use, they still look new.

I finally kicked myself out the door to do some shopping. I highly dislike shopping. I'm well aware that shopping fills only a fraction of a percent of a void better filled by more meaningful activities. My mom has (had?) a shopping addiction that I almost caught, except department stores actually make me very nauseous. So, meaning to go to Algonquin for the one-stop mall, I managed to go in the very opposite direction to the stores along Route 14 in Crystal Lake. Towards the top of 'things I most hate to shop for' are sunglasses. None ever fit, and if they do, they wear out almost immediately. And I do feel goofy in 99.9% of the glasses I try on. I shop for black, silver, dark gray sleek frames... so of course I ended up buying pink-framed glasses. PINK. Pink is the opposite of every criteria of mine, ever.

Next was Borders to take them up on their 33% off coupon for a Spanish book that focuses on informal conversation. The book would probably even be handy in English - how many times have I been at a loss for words of praise or interest? It's not that I'm not interested, I'm just sick of saying 'wow, awesome, cool, sweet, nice, etc. etc.' So it'll be nice to be conversation savvy in Spanish.

Next... I got bored of shopping and ended up in Cafe Firefly for a drink.

Success!! Er... well... *relative* success. My kind of success.

I'm in the middle of accomplishing another of my tasks on the Great Big List of Things I Need to do Before I Leave: organizing photos on my lap top and deleting ones I don't want/need. I'm finding some fun ones I forgot about, like:

Dad trying out the new snow blower on our driveway, late 2009 or early 2010?

Where I feel most peaceful, centered, optimistic - on mountains. What is it with mountains? It's the wild places that make us feel human. Where they remind us we're vulnerable, that life is ephemeral but still important. It's not about conquering the mountain, it's not about conquering yourself, it's about finding freedom and total release. Huh... maybe I should post some Henry Miller stuff next.

Sevendust guitarist, 2010. One of my favorite activities is shooting concerts. This night, I discovered how difficult it is shooting metal bands - the strobe lights are constantly flickering, so I resorted to rapid fire shooting with white balance adjustments. I got a bunch of good photos, but this one stood out the most. Right before the guitarist was white washed in blue light, at the perfect moment, I caught him.

Maybe I'll post more another day.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Interviewed, part 2. Warning: random post

COUNTDOWN: 25 days

Getting prepared: Spanish

It's one of those days when you feel like you slept for 12 hours. Because I actually did (excuse: persistent headache). I fell asleep last night half sitting up on the couch with a tedious Spanish language DVD still running on the TV (imagine a guy in a red sweater over a white collared shirt, huge curly hair, huge and unnecessary gestures - "Quisiera el menú del día" *hugesmilenodnodhandwaving*). It didn't seem very helpful, and it was geared towards Spain Spanish anyway. I think I'll stick with studying books, watching DVDs in Spanish, and listening to Ecuadorean news.

I returned it and rented 'The Motorcycle Diaries,' one of my favorite Spanish movies, ever. It's about Che Guevara, before he went militant and actually became 'Che'. He was inspired to help the voiceless, excited to change the world (or just America) for the better... all before he became the ruthless, bitter revolutionary the world is more familiar with. The movie shows Che and he friend Alberto in a child-like light as they explore South America by motorbike - until it breaks (for good) and they continue on foot and boat. If you haven't seen it, I recommend watching it AND reading the journal.

¡Una sorpresa! Random interlude:

I wanted to point out that every night when the house windows fog up, this little guy, the Rage Hippo appears:

Thought my fellow EE invitee would appreciate that.

Northwest Herald returns

A photographer from the Herald came by today to take some pictures of me shuffling through my pile of stuff. Her comment was something like, "That's not a lot of stuff!" Well...clothes aren't included yet. I'm guessing clothes are going to take up the better part of one large bag. And it's hard packing clothes, because I wear them and wash them all the time. I suppose I could attempt putting them in a general area just to get a better idea of what's to come... hm.

Doing work

LJ and I are doing 'work' at the Firefly Cafe in Algonquin. It's a brand new coffee shop rehabilitated from a previous version filled with comfy seating, delicious drinks and food, and really excellent internet. It's pretty much like our second home. We saw it driving by one day and had to try it. Especially because of the 'Firefly' part (the owner's never seen the series!!! Someday, she must). In honor of this, LJ is wearing a Jayne hat. Where's my browncoat??

Hello! Coddling my free gingerbread soy latte because I filled up a loyalty card. I will miss this place.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Staging Invite! and interviewed by the local paper

Staging invitation

Yesterday, the members of Omnibus 105 (the 105th group to Ecuador) were inundated with emails from Peace Corps about staging information. Just when you think Restless Applicant Syndrome is over, you're still checking your email first thing in the morning to see if Peace Corps emailed you about staging.

The first email was the staging invite that had attachments about baggage limits (initially 80 pounds total for warm weather), registration, reporting instructions, and safety and security. I called right away to arrange travel to Washington D.C., our staging city (the same day, Paraguay invitees go to Miami). Registration is at noon on 2 February, so the agent wanted to get me there as early as possible. He somehow talked me into a 6:05 a.m. flight out of O'Hare. That means I need to leave my home at about 3:30 a.m. - guess I won't be sleeping that night! I arrive at 8:44 a.m. and plan on staying in the airport to meet the rest of known trainees.

The third email was a list of things to do with attachments about the program in Ecuador, which included a better description of how training will go. We'll be training in Tumbaco, a town about an hour's ride east of Quito. Granted all goes well, we'll be sworn in as official volunteers on 20 April 2011 at the Ambassador's Residence and also celebrate the 50th year of Peace Corps!

Finally, the fourth email (see, rapid fire!) corrected the baggage limitations. Instead of the warm weather restriction of 80 pounds max, they erred on the side of caution by upping the weight limit to the cold weather restriction of 100 pounds because some volunteers work in the sierras (and Tumbaco is a valley in the mountains).

So I'm still swamping through all this information. I didn't even realize our group number was Omnibus 105 until my fellow trainees began posting that in our Facebook group.

Interviewed by the Northwest Herald!

I offered the Northwest Herald (also here at the Cary Blog) a story on my Peace Corps experience and was almost immediately contacted by a reporter. My main motivation with this was to 1) fulfill the third mission of the Peace Corps, which is "To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans,' and 2) to gain local followers who might be interested in donating to any of my projects in the future that I may help develop. Even though the Peace Corps pays for a lot, they can't cover supply costs and other expenses that might come up . This is certainly down the road, but I think it's good to look ahead. All donations will be handled through Peace Corps when/if that time comes, so I can't accept anything.

So this morning, I began cleaning practically the second I woke up. I spent most of the morning in my pajamas, doing a massive load of dishes by hand, sweeping and hand-mopping floors, vacuuming, dusting, EVERYTHING. And even though it was a ton of work to do by myself, it feels so great sitting here in a clean living room with no clutter, anywhere. I finished just in time to whip a pan of chana masala to feed LJ, mom, and myself.

The reporter, Katie, arrived right on time and we jumped right into the story. I really enjoyed talking with her and loved the questions she asked, so I'm looking forward to seeing the story! Hopefully I'll get some Northwest Chicago-area followers soon, so welcome to anyone checking my blog out.

I was lucky enough to snoop in on my parents' interview. I wasn't paying 100% attention, but did notice my dad was talking more to me than to the reporter. They said some pretty embarrassing things about when I was a kid, so maybe you'll all get lucky and read about that soon. Why, why must they show pictures of me? Why?

Boring stuff

I think I got my finances mostly straightened out. Who knew it would take so much effort to just up and leave your life in the United States? I talked with a financial officer to ask how I can use my future readjustment fund to make payments on my private student loan while I'm away. She told me to forward the information to her, but she said to use the generic Peace Corps email address. I was really reluctant, and would have rather sent her a direct email. I still haven't heard anything back. I want to go to staging and sign that 'no commitments' paper! I want to be sure this is totally taken care of. What a pain...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Being positive

I'm feeling pretty down today, but decided I need to focus on the positive things going on in my world instead of dwelling on the negatives that could easily tear me apart if I let them. I encourage anyone else out there who might feel the same to think positively. After making this list, I felt a lot better, and a lot more able to take on all the bad stuff hovering over me. It's not a bragging thing, just a way to change my view of life right now.

-Northwest Herald is interviewing me on Thursday. I offered the idea to them in hopes of gaining more viewers for this blog, who might later donate to my project (IF that's needed. That's still down the road).

-Got a pro deal with the company I wanted to buy pants from :) It's killing me not being able to afford this giant expedition tent for only $2,800-something when it's usually $4900. I know, it's ridiculous. I guess I'm strange (or in the perfect mindset for Peace Corps), but I love the idea of living in a tent. And this company's tents are the best.

-Getting contact from friends and friends with friends who have been to Ecuador, or are from Ecuador! It makes me feel so welcome already just from peoples' hospitality and thoughtfulness. My college friend helped me get in touch with the Geophysical Institute to volunteer at the volcano observatories, another college professor/club advisor connected me with an Ecuador RPCV and her husband from Ecuador, and another friend connected me with family in the Galapagos. That's not all!

-Peace Corps' Health Benefits program is (hopefully) accepting my second request for medical expenses reimbursement after the Alaska clinic sent me a surprise bill.

-Grandmother's hip replacement recovery. Nani's mobile!

-Being invited to serve in Ecuador. Of all places, this is where I most wanted to go.

-I actually found a seasonal job that paid well to help pay my bills so I can leave. Without it, I wouldn't have been able to afford leaving the U.S. I think... things are really tight....

-Celebrating one year of not getting sick. No colds, no flu, just one day when I had sniffles.

-... there are plenty others. But I had to really start digging, so I stopped.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cinnamon buns, veganized

One of my favorite hobbies is cooking and baking veganized recipes. I love the challenge of making food without animal products taste even better than their original versions (and I love even more seeing the happy stuffed faces that consume the results).

So. this first day of the year, I decided to pull out a recipe that's been hiding in my bookmarks list for quite a while. Presenting, Perfect Cinnamon Buns! And oh yes, they are perfect. PERFECT. Since diving into the art of bread making, I'm not longer afraid of making yeast breads. This recipe isn't even difficult, it's just time consuming. And it takes a LOT of vegan butter/margarine. It's sort of disgusting. I'll make them once more before I leave for Ecuador, and I'll be cutting the butter almost in half.

The tasty results (and picture #1 of the 365 project):

...half were gone that night, and the rest in the morning. Yuuuuuum.