Sunday, February 27, 2011

2011 New Thing 3. Go Dog Sledding

This last weekend was a landmark of sorts for Siham, Leah and I.  It was a year ago this weekend that we headed up to Bar Harbor, Maine to see the earliest sunrise on the East Coast from Cadillac Mountain. We also finalized our lists of goals for 2010 and burned our lists of bad things from 2009.  In celebration of the anniversary, we decided to pick another winter new thing, this one a bit closer to home--dog sledding.  When I announced this idea to friends a month or so ago a number of people sent me links to articles about the abuse of dogs within the dog sledding and racing industry.  So we wanted to try to find a dog sledding outfit that we could feel good about, and I think we found exactly that in Eden Dog Sledding.

February 2011 has been the second snowiest in recent history here in Vermont, and Friday's snow showers threatened to keep Leah and Siham from making the weekend trip.  But Saturday was clear, so they made the trek to Burlington in the morning, and then we headed to Eden, a town in the area of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom. 

Eden Dog Sledding refers to its 36 Alaskan Huskies as "the un-chained gang", and we got a taste of what that meant when we arrived and headed into a large barn-style house to meet the drivers (Nate and Maria) the owner Jim and his sister, and many of the dogs who were relaxing inside.

One of the best surprises of the dog sledding experience was having so much opportunity before and after the sledding to get to know the dogs.  Gretel was my favorite.

Leah making friends with Phyllis, one of the lead dogs of our team.

Siham saying hi to Phyllis and Blueberry
After some quality time getting to know the dogs, learning about the team that would be carrying us, and getting a chance to help harness the dogs, we headed out to put the dogs on the line and load into the sled.  The sleds can only carry roughly two adults and the driver, so Leah was the anchor, with Siham and I switching as passengers halfway through. We had eight dogs pulling our sled and learned the names of all the positions. In the front (lead) were Bear and Phyllis.  In the second row (known as point or swing) were Rose and Amos, followed by the "team dogs" Gretel and Polly in the third row.  Finally the last row (the "wheel dogs"), Hosta and Blueberry, have the toughest pulling job, especially every time the sled needs to start moving from a stop. We also learned from Maria that we start not by saying "mush" but "hike", and directions are "gee" and "haw" instead of left and right.
We got to help harness the dogs -- here I am learning how to put the harness on my buddy Gretel.

Siham, Leah and our driver, Maria, getting ready for the second leg of the trip.

Here's what the team looks like when it's pulling.  They were just starting off again, and that's the Eden Dog Sled owner, Jim, standing near the starting point.
At the end of the sledding, the dogs had some beef broth and we were given the chance to give them some treats before they were unchained from the line and joined us back inside the building we started in for more hanging out together, questions and answers about the dogs and dog sledding before we started the drive back to Burlington.
After the ride was over while the dogs were waiting for their treats, Rose decided to borrow Amos' shoulder for a nice little rest.
Our dog sledding adventure was a major part of the weekend  But we also wanted to carry on another tradition that we began last year.  This other tradition is about beginnings and endings, and for us, the last weekend in February has become the appropriate time for both.  Just like last year, we each made an inventory of bad things from the year before that we ceremonially burned, and of goals for the upcoming year (last year it was new things, this year it is challenges -- with some new things thrown in as well) that we read to one another.  This year's updated list will be the subject of a separate post later this week, so for now I'll just note that it's a great exercise.  There's nothing like spending a little time inventorying where we've been and where we're going, and committing once again to the journey.  Thanks to Leah and Siham, and here's to another year of change and growth and challenge.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Holidays, Skis and Crepes: A Chance to Work on Challenges 1 and 2

Sadly, into all vacations a little work must fall. For me that meant that President's Day was spent in my office trying to get caught up on overdue reports, letters of recommendation and other administrative tasks.  But the fact that Monday was bookended with ski excursions on both sides -- cross country at Bolton on Sunday and down hill at Smuggler's Notch on Tuesday -- sweetened the deal considerably. And ending the four day stint of no classes with an evening of crepe-cooking (and eating) was a fine way to top it all off.

Here's the whole group: Patrick, Eliot, David, Greta and me. (Although I was actually interested to see if anyone noticed, I feel compelled to admit that this photo is actually a composite of two that David put together so I could have a shot of the whole group.)\

The loop we took had a lot of downhill on the part going out, which meant quite a lot of uphill on the way back.  Here's David snowplowing down one of the hills at the beginning.

When I started complaining about not having managed to catch any of our falls on camera, David spontaneously obliged me with this pose.  I just had to include it.
The Bolton afternoon was splendidly sunny, although the trails were a bit icy.  My friend and colleague David had organized the outing for some of his fellow Saint Michael's faculty and staff.  Given that we had a pretty broad range of experience, from regular cross country types (Eliot) to a first timer (Patrick) and everything in-between, it was a very good sign that we all agreed the day was a big success and we're all psyched to go again.

To my surprise, the weather for skiing on Tuesday was even better.  Once again, Alexsis agreed to head up to Smugg's with me, and we had an awesome time on the slopes. We felt that Smuggler's Notch needed to make some amends after having rained out our ski plans last Friday and being ridiculously cold when Alexsis went with her boyfriend Alex on Saturday.  But it totally lived up to our expectations, and we're trying to figure out when we can go back as soon as possible.  Here I've posted pics of two institutions well-known to those who ski the area.

The Cupboard is a terrific take-out and deli attached to a gas station at the junction between Routes 15 and 108 on the way to Smuggs.  Since I am always on the lookout for great breakfast food, I am in Alexsis's debt for introducing me to the Cupboard's Breakfast Buddy sandwiches.

Each resort I've visited this year has a tree adorned with women's lingerie and necklaces that have been flung on it by people passing from the chair lift.  Here's Smugg's, decorated by riders of the Madonna lift.
Although, for once, I could have skied at least a few more runs without feeling like I'd lose my toes, Alexsis and I had to cut our ski trip short a bit so I could get to the grocery store in time to prepare for the last challenge event of the long weekend -- the Crepe Cookout. As anyone who's been following the blog knows, the way I've decided to attack my Become a Better Cook Challenge is as a group activity.  I pick foods or types of foods I want to try, then see who else is interested in trying it out with me.  Last night quite a number of students and alumni answered the call.  Alexsis, Ali, Alyssa, AnneMarie, Dan, Josh, Kate and Matt all came over and together, we trialed-and-errored our way to crepe cookery.

We started out too ambitiously, trying to make ones with too large a diameter.  So we scaled back to a smaller pan to get the hang of crepe spreading and flipping and then worked our way up to larger ones and finally -- under Josh's tutelage since he figured out the technique first -- ones where we cooked the filling directly with the crepe in the pan.  We did savories with cheese, spinach, mushrooms and apples and sweet with strawberries, bananas, nutella, honey and whipped cream. 

At this moment my first effort at a crepe looked good, but about 10 seconds later it self-destructed due to my flip fail.

Alyssa, AnneMarie, Kate, Ali, Alexsis and Matt chatting after Round I of crepe-eating.

Josh tutoring me on his newly-mastered method of folding crepes over the ingredients in the pan. 

Kate throwing on a healthy doses of whipped cream to garnish her strawberry-banana-nutella creation while Josh coaches Ali in the background.

Dan arrived a bit later, thereby missing the fails and going directly to crepe success in making his savory creation under Josh's watchful eye.

Challenge Report:

Happily the last week has been good to the various challenges I've started for 2011.But given how long this post is, I'll wait till the next one to do a challenge report. I'm definitely looking forward to this coming weekend, when Siham and Leah come up for our dog sledding adventure, and I'm sure some combination of ice skating,rock climbing or other challenge activities.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

2011 New Thing 2. Visit the Snowflake Bentley Museum

I always resent Saint Michael's College in January when everyone else celebrates Martin Luther King, Dr Day as a holiday except us.  But in February, when we get not only President's Day but the Tuesday after it off, I'm always mighty happy.  For this four-day weekend, I realized I didn't really have a burning desire to go away, and so I decided to do what thousands of other people do in the winter, namely, be a tourist in Vermont.  And so, yesterday I finally did a new thing I've been wanting to do for a while, and that is drive to nearby Jericho to visit the Snowflake Bentley Museum there.

As is often the case, my friend and colleague Paul was not only totally up for going, he had some great ideas to make the whole excursion better.  For one, we decided that we should definitely visit another Jericho institution, the Village Cup, for some brunch beforehand.  If I'd been thinking, when I was setting up my challenges for the year, I should have put "try every breakfast/brunch place in Vermont" for one of them.  But that would hardly have been a challenge because I LOVE going out to breakfast, so that would be cheating, really.  Nevertheless, anytime I can sneak a new breakfast place into a Challenge or New Thing, you know I'm going to.  The Village Cup is a great space, with terrific food (at least the baked goods, because that's as far as I went before setting on a delightful brown sugar maple scone), and as you can see from the unfortunately dark picture of Paul, great views of the river outside.

Clearly, another challenge I'd better take on sooner than later is learning to work with my photos to lighten them up.  But even with such a dark image, you can see what an awesome view we had inside the Village Cup.

Outside shot of the Village Cup.  The day before it had been so warm (50s) that my ski plans with Alexsis got cancelled because it was raining (raining!) at Smugg's.  But the next day, it was just as cold as it looks in this pic outside.
After our brunch, we headed across the street to the Snowflake Bentley Museum, which is housed in a beautiful converted mill.

Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley was born in 1865 and lived in Jericho his entire life.  He taught himself how to take micro photos of snowflakes with a microscope and a camera.  He used to make cross images like the one pictured here as wedding presents for his friends and family

In his lifetime, Snowflake Bentley produced more than 5000 microphotographs of snow crystals like the five here, and they were widely published in National Geographic and many other magazines and publications.

The Museum and Gift Shop are housed in a converted mill -- definitely worth a visit!

After our Snowflake Bentley visit, Paul introduced me to a couple other great hidden gems that I had never known existed a little further up the road in Jeffersonville. The first is the Bryan Memorial Gallery, and the second is the Jeffersonville Falls.  Although there is unfortunately a sign up in the Gallery asking people not to take pictures, I can only say that for anyone who thinks Vermont is a beautiful place, this Gallery is a must.  It's devoted to Vermont landscapes and I wandered around thinking how lucky the artists are for having been able to capture on canvass so many scenes of familiar beauty to those of us who are lucky enough to live here.  I had been equally ignorant to the existence of the Jeffersonville Falls, which are lovely in winter, but according to Paul, are a prime swimming spot in the summer.
The Bryan Memorial Gallery was created in 1984 by Alden Bryan as a memorial to his wife, Mary. If you think Vermont is a beautiful place, you must check out the landscapes featured in this gallery.

Paul standing in front of the rapids of the falls.  In the summer he says you can hike upstream for all kinds of great swimming and picnicking spots.

Some of the rapids in winter. 

Bonus shot -- just before the turnoff for the state park where the falls are is a farmhouse featuring these ice sculptures.  Pretty cool-looking as you're driving on the way to Smugg's, but this is the first time I got to get out and have a closer look.
So, there it is.  Another great weekend day in Vermont and the second new thing for 2011.  I'm going cross country skiing with some friends and colleagues at Bolton in a couple hours and Tuesday I'll be skiing at Smuggs with Alexsis and some other students and Tuesday night is our crepe cook-a-thon so there will certainly be another challenge update then.  Hope everyone is having a great President's Day Weekend and enjoying the outdoors, wherever they are.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Weekend Alert: Everyone's Chance to Jump on Some Challenges

Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.
-- Napoleon Hill

Last weekend, my friend Lisa, who I met in October when she came to Saint Michael's College to speak after we viewed her film The Greatest Silence, was in town.  The weekend turned out to be a bit snafu-ridden, between delayed flights and car problems on the way to Bolton Valley, but was still a great opportunity to catch up with a friend and also see the "sneak premiere" of her new film, Sex Crimes Unit.  Her visit also reminded me of a truism that I sometimes forget in the dead of winter here, namely, that Vermont is a fabulous place that lots of people deliberately spend a lot of time and effort to visit even (especially) in the dead of winter.

So, I'm grateful to Lisa for her visit and this timely reminder because I'm facing a four-day weekend, which I've suddenly realized is a great opportunity to act like a tourist might -- hitting the ski slopes, having an apres-ski cooking experiment with students and generally enjoying some of the great things that Vermont has to offer. So, friends and students who are sticking around for the weekend as well, this is your official notice.  Here's my plan for the long weekend, and everyone is welcome to join in to whatever fits.

Friday: Go skiing at Smugg's with Alexsis and to the Flynn Space that night with my friend and colleague Paul.  Alexsis and I  went skiing last Friday and it was fabulous.  Although she's obviously a way better skier than me, Alexsis is also very laid-back and we had a great time.

Last Friday Alexsis and I were talking about how the snow-covered trees made us feel like we were in Narnia.

It was a pretty perfect ski day -- clear, not too cold and no wind. Here's Alexsis obviously enjoying being on the mountain.

Saturday: Depends on who is up for it, but after a horrendous 13 mile training session (completed at glacial pace on cold and icy sidewalks) for my marathon prep last Saturday, this weekend I get to take it easy with a five mile run. This opens up all kinds of possibilities.  The two most likely are doing a new thing by going to the Snowflake Bentley Museum, or doing some outdoor ice skating (never done that here in Vermont).

Sunday: Rock climbing with some of the great student-activists at SMC on Sunday afternoon at Petra climbing gym.  Kate, Samantha and Connor have all said they may be in -- if you've never been, but wanted to try it, here's a fun chance!
It's been a while since the last SMC group student rock climbing expedition to Petra cliffs.  Josh, Ben and Sarah are all still around and hopefully will be joined by some others who couldn't make it last year.

Tuesday: Another ski day at Smuggs with Alexsis and possibly Kate and anyone else who's up for it, followed by the next installment of cooking new things at my place.  And after some thought and great suggestions, I've decided what it will be: crepes!  Sweet and savory.  What a fun thing to learn to make, and of course, eat. A whole bunch of people, some veterans of other cooking adventures, like Josh and Kate, some new-bees like Alyssa and Alexsis, have already signed on, but the more the merrier.

I'll definitely post a report after the long weekend is over, but this is more of a heads-up that it's on the way.  Anyone who want to be part of skiing/ice skating/rock climbing/cooking challenges or a weekend new thing, this is your chance.  Just drop me a note and pencil it in to your weekend plans.

The Next Big Thing..

The last weekend of February is actually an anniversary of sorts for this blog and the project it's been tracking.  It was the last weekend of February, 2010 when Siham, Leah and I headed up to Bar Harbor, Maine to hike up Cadillac Mountain and witness the earliest sun rise on the East Coast.  While we were there, we wrote down all the things that had made 2009 a terrible year and burned the lists, and then started a tradition we've been following ever since, of working on our lists of New Things and now, Challenges, and then figuring out which ones we want to take on together. 

Here I was taking a little moment to enjoy the view on the way up the mountain
Obviously, we need to celebrate such an auspicious anniversary, and so we'll be celebrating with a weekend featuring yet another New Thing -- dog sledding.  Should be loads of fun, and we'll definitely have a report.
Here's Leah and Siham on Cadillac Mountain starting what was to become a frequent tradition for the three of us-- list making, occasionally as in this case, the bad, and more often the new and the challenging.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Getting Back on Track Part II: Challenge 2

I'm not a big fan of the Superbowl to begin with, and it particularly annoys me that, in the midst of the Egyptian  revolution that has the potential to rock the world, the morning news shows were doing extensive analyses with experts of the Superbowl commercials this morning.  I swear, the United States is the epitome of a nation that fiddles while Rome burns.  This distaste is why I take particular pride in having found a way to have the TV on (for the sake of my guests) but basically pay no attention to the Superbowl this year.  And that was to continue working on my challenge of becoming a better cook by trying some recipes for foods that had a more prominent place in my diet during my years as a graduate student at Brandeis -- stereotypically Jewish food.

The idea of a night of Jewish cooking emerged from a car-ride conversation (during last week's trip to the Boston SGAC conference) with Josh, my student/friend/fellow activist who has featured prominently in many of the posts over the last year or so of new things and challenges.  We were comparing notes on food and got started talking about foods we don't eat as often now, and for both of us, latkes and matzo balls came up.  We agreed that the next cooking session for challenge 2 needed to include these dishes, and an idea was born.  Happily, Ali, Kate, Ben and Dan were all pleased to participate as well, and soon the soup and potato pancakes were joined with plans to do a kugel and challah bread.
If in doubt, go on-line.  At least that was the strategy that worked for Josh and me in finding recipes.

Pulling it all together was a little dicey because we'd all had very late nights the night before and our morning plans (rock climbing for me, skiing for Ali and Josh) had become afternoon plans, which pushed our afternoon cooking session into the evening.  But happily, after a few small snafus (try buying sour cream at Price Chopper on Super Bowl Sunday) I got most of the ingredients and Josh and Ali took care of the rest, together with bringing over a food processor to grate potatoes. 
Kate, Dan and Ali making matzo balls

My first-ever loaf of braided bread!  It's lots of fun to make, actually.

As my sister warned me, the key to latkes staying together is twisting out the water in the grated potatoes.  We all thought Ben did a fine job, but it turns out that you need to do a SUPER-FINE job to hold it all together.

Ben also mixed up the kugel -- which turned out to quite wonderful
Once everyone was assembled, the other big challenge was timing for all the dishes, which was complicated by two competing goals: having them all finish at the same time and being able to make all them with the cookware I own (for example, one large mixing bowl and one large pot).  We developed a pretty good division of labor though, and everyone helped with at least one of the major dishes.  The results suprised us a bit.  High on the list were the matzo balls, which had shredded carrot and dill in them and were quite flavorful, and all of us really liked the noodle kugel, which we decided would be a perfect pot luck dish. The challah turned out really well -- very pretty and shiny and tasted great.  The latkes were the most stubbornly problematic, and it took a call to Josh's mom to find out that a little flour mixed in would help bind the grated potato together but in the end, they tasted great too, and we ate every single one of them.
The finished product -- a lovely loaf of challah bread

Potato latkes;warning (which I forgot to heed from my friend Lilly) the only downside is the fumes from frying that linger long after the yummy pancakes are gone..

Challenge Plans

As I noted in Part I of this update, things have been a little off-track the last few weeks, but this last weekend injected some energy back into many of my challenges.  As I keep realizing (I guess I'm a slow learner), the more you do, the more you realize you're capable of doing, and I found myself not only taking some steps on some of the challenges I set up for this year, but making plans for some of the others.  Here's a quick run-down:

New Things: I'm still committed to at least one (preferably more) new things per month, and Siham, Leah and I have decided that we do want to try dog sledding this winter.  Both Siham and Leah had birthdays in January, and I was a shamefully bad friend who didn't buy presents at the appropriate time.  But now I am going to amend my ways and buy us all a ride with the Vermont Peace Pups as our belated celebration

Challenge 1. Become a better skier/snowboarder.  Sadly, I had to turn down not one but two invitations from Alexsis to go to Smuggs, plus one from Paul for Bolton because of, all things, work.  I hate when that happens.  Happily, Alexsis has forgiven me and we are on to go skiing on Friday (I don't teach on Fridays this semester) at Smuggs.

Challenge 2.  Become a better cook. Given what a smashing success our Jewish food cook-a-thon was, I think another is in order very soon. Kate and I agreed we should stay with some theme cooking. We might do another "ethnic" night or we might go Iron Chef style and pick an ingredient to center several different dishes around.

Challenge 3. Become a better ice skater.  At long last, this woefully neglected goal is getting dusted off and put into play.  Ali, who teaches ice skating as part of her job, has agreed to go skating together  Wednesday morning at the Leddy Park rink, and we will set up a schedule for regular skating after that.

Challenge 4. Finish a marathon.  I'm still working on this one, though it feels like lots of things have been conspiring against it.  I'm taking a sort of marathon prep class at the Y on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but since I teach at 8:30 am those mornings as well, I'm always having to finish early and rush off, or do my own thing without the group.  And I lost a week last week from being ill.  But I did do my scheduled long run this weekend, albeit at the slowest pace imaginable through the horrible messy snow on the sidewalks all over town.  If anyone has any clout with Mother Nature, please explain to her that she's wreaking havoc on my attempts to stay on any kind of schedule with this thing.

Challenge 5. Become a better rock climber.  Climbing this last weekend revealed an unpleasant truth to me.  I now know that if you don't go, you regress.  So, I'm determined to get on some kind of regular schedule with one or more climbing partners so I can actually start improving again

Challenge 6. Write a book with students.  The meeting this last weekend was very productive, and I think we all feel like that we gained some momentum, which is a big deal when working with twenty-something authors at once. 

Challenges 7-12.  Still not ready to add any more right now; I need to keep working till the ones I've already started are nicely incorporated into regular schedules and activities, and then worry about the others.

There is no question that taking on a challenge is infinitely easier with a partner, so if anyone wants to commit to working on any of these together, whether at the same time and place or in-tandem but long-distance please let me know.  For now, hope everyone's been able to dig out of the snow wherever they are!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Getting Back on Track Part I: Challenges 6 and 5

I'm only a little more than a month into this year's challenges, and I've discovered something important.  Staying with things that are hard to do is much tougher than just trying them once. But happily, this weekend felt like a chance to get back on track on a number of fronts.  Before the Superbowl was over, I had put in some time with three of this year's challenges, namely:

Challenge 6: Write a Book with SMC Students

On Saturday twenty of us had a four-hour writer's meeting. Here we're having a discussion about different possible book titles.

Challenge 5.  Become a Better Rock Climber

After ages of saying we would, this weekend Leah, Siham and I finally all went rock climbing together.  Leah's an expert, Siham had never been, but now we can't wait to all go the next time we're in the same place at the same time.
Challenge 2.  Become a Better Cook
Sunday night while the rest of America was eating chili, pizza and wings, we made noodle kugel and challah (pictured here) together with matzo ball soup and potato latkes for the ultimate high-carb meal
The weekend started off on a great note, because the Saturday MDG writer's meeting meant that a number of alumni authors were visiting from out of town and staying at my place.  Friday night first Shaleen, Kate and Julia rolled in, followed by Siham and Leah. Everyone had various things they needed to do Saturday morning (such as try to do a long run on the miserable snow-packed sidewalks outside), but brunch at Penny Cluse was obviously a non-negotiable necessity.

The afternoon writer's meeting was probably our most productive yet.  It last for four hours, and we went over chapter outlines, our book proposal, produced chapter summaries, worked through some logistical issues, and had a great debate over the book title.  We've got it narrowed down to two, but our final vote was a 10-10 tie, so we're doing a re-vote this week on-line to include the writers who couldn't make it to the meeting.
Kate took notes on the board for much of the meeting.  Here Connor's asking about something she wrote

Annie, Josh and Leah (three of the four members of the MDG 7 team) during the title debate

The MDG 5 team -- Siham, Amanda and Lauren -- working on their chapter summary.

Team MDG: Back row: Chris, Jason, Alexsis, Michelle, Lauren, Kate, Ben, Connor, Jerry and Jackson. Front row: Siham, Alyssa, Claire, Kate, Julia, Shaleen, Amanda, Leah, Annie and Josh
After the meeting was over, the plan was for a few us of to go climbing at the Petra climbing gym, but once we stepped outside we realized that a snow storm had started. So after a couple of hours of finding parking spaces that weren't in parking ban spots for everyone, those who were staying at my place went to dinner at the Farmhouse and then back to my place, where we were joined by a few other students and alum.

The next day Leah, Siham and I finally made good on a plan we'd been talking about for a very long time -- going rock climbing together.  Leah is an expert rock climber, and used to be an instructor for the Wilderness Program.  Siham had never gone, and I hadn't been since before Christmas.  Although Siham had her doubts initially, once she got to the top of her first route, she never looked back.  Leah taught us both a lot and we have all definitely decided that rock climbing will be an activity we will try to incorporate into any time we get together from now on. 

Leah demonstrating the flexibility and balance that is just one of the many reasons she is a great rock climber.

Siham, on her first-ever climb to the top of a wall.
Since this is getting to be a very long post, I think I'm going to split it and do a second one that covers the Jewish food cook-a-thon that Josh and some other friends and I did during the Superbowl last night.  In the meantime, I'll just close by noting that, thanks to some great students and friends, this year's challenges are getting back on track.  Weekend snow storm or no, the book meeting went off without a hitch, and it was great to have a chance to hang out with so many alumni; here's hoping the rest of the winter goes so well.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

2011 Serendipity 2. A Weekend at Harvard with SMC Student Activists

The last couple weeks have not been kind to this year's challenges or new things  Between the start of the new semester, Chris and Drisk's departures for a big chunk of the winter, and some unfortunate bouts of illness, I've lost a bit of traction.  But last weekend the momentum started to pick up a bit again with a weekend at Harvard University with ten of Saint Mike's best student activists.
The Saint Mike's team in Harvard Yard (back row: Nic, Anne Marie, Sarah, Josh, me and Alyssa; front row: Alexsis, Rebecca, Kate, Siham and Sam)

The conference we attended was for members of Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) and other global health and social justice advocacy student organizations on a variety of campuses.  There were delegations from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Columbia, Cardozo Law School, the New School, Penn State, University of Florida, U of Indiana, Florida Atlantic, and others that I'm probably forgetting.  So it was a source of pride that our Saint Mike's Chapter was asked to teach a workshop on student activism and share with the other chapters some of the work we've done over the last decade in advocating for global AIDS treatment and greater social justice in issues connected to it.  Alexsis and Kate, both seniors who joined SGAC their first year and spent a big chunk of that year going to New Hampshire to directly speak to presidential candidates on global AIDS issues, presented on behalf of Saint Mike's.  It was pretty exciting to listen to them draw on almost four years of experience of social justice advocacy as they explained how to put an advocacy campaign together. Alexsis also earned the title of most hospitable SGACer ever when she invited the entire SMC group (less Josh and I) to stay at her family's house when the Harvard host students found themselves in a crunch for beds.
Alexsis and Kate take the podium to walk everyone through the nuts and bolts of campaigning for change

Siham, one of our most illustrious SMC and SGAC alumni, also attended the conference, and her family kindly hosted me at their house south of Boston. Because I was battling a stomach malady all weekend I was quite the boring guest, but it was still awesome to see Siham's mom and siblings, who I haven't seen since her graduation.

Siham and her mom celebrating the acquisition of their new record player

One of the important goals of conferences like this is to collectively make some plans for moving forward, and there were plans galore from this one.  If we are able to accomplish half of what we put together, it's going to be a busy spring semester, including some excursions to see politicians in New Hampshire and Washington, DC. As the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives sends out ominous (and in my opinion, incredibly short-sighted) statements about wanting to cut foreign aid, including global AIDS funding, we have our work cut out for us. 

P.S. I just noticed that student activist, friend and fellow blogger Alyssa wrote up her own version of events, which you can check out here. She also had the presence of mind to include a link for anyone who wants to learn more and potentially get involved in this campaign to save the lives that are literally in the balance in the face of these proposed cuts.  Check out the take-a-number campaign here.

In the Works

New Things.  Got an unexpected message from Lisa, the film maker who made The Greatest Silence that we showed for the Dear Hilary campaign in the fall.  She's coming to town again next weekend for a visit, and so I think I may try to think of a fun new thing to do together.  Anyone with a great idea, feel free to send it my way.

Challenge 1 Become a Better Skier/Snowboarder.  Haven't been since Sugarbush a couple weeks ago, and I was all set to go skiing with Alexsis Friday, but we have a faculty meeting so, alas, it's looking like February 11 with Alexsis will be my next ski adventure unless another opportunity emerges.

Challenge 2.  Become a Better Cook.  Once again, I've let things slide, but Josh and I were talking about Jewish/Eastern European foods we've made or are interested in learning on the drive to Harvard, and we may be having a cook-off featuring latkes, kugel, matzo ball soup and whatever else we can think of for my house guests this Saturday night.

Challenge 3. Become a Better Ice Skater. Way, way behind on this one.  I think I need to create an actual skating schedule to get this back on track.

Challenge 4.  Finish a Marathon.  Being ill has thrown me off-track of my training schedule.  I was supposed to do an 11 mile run last weekend and didn't.  I am hoping to make it up this weekend, when I'm scheduled to do a shorter one -- we'll see.

Challenge 5  Become a Better Rock Climber.  Tonight's rock climb with Amanda, Kate and Claire just became a casualty of today's storm.  I'm still hoping to turn Wednesday night Women's Climbing into a regular thing, and do the same thing with a regular outing to the Petra Gym.  Anyone else want to?

Challenge 6. Write a Book with Students.  We've got a big meeting this Saturday afternoon, with a lot of alumni writers coming in from out of town.  Should be great!

Challenges 7-12.  Got to get everything else back on track before I'll even think about the others. Here's hoping February is a bit more productive as months go!