Wednesday, March 9, 2011

First Challenge List Update for 2011 -- Seizing the Moment While in Travel Limbo

I just finished a new thing that I very much hope to never repeat: being trapped in an endless travel cycle of movement that doesn't get me any closer to home. Much as I love, even adore Vermont, at the moment I'm a little peeved with it's cavalier approach to weather.  I just spent the weekend at a meeting of Health GAP, the global AIDS activist organization with which I've volunteered for a decade now.  One of our members, Staci, opened up her Manhattan home to host the twenty-some group of us during the meeting, and my good friend T. Richard, let me stay at his place in Brooklyn at night.  Walking to the subway I spied crocuses on the verge of blooming and knew(or thought I knew) that spring had arrived. 

And then I got to the airport Sunday night only to have my flight cancelled  because of weather in Burlington.  After spending an hour or so standing in line, got to talk to a ticket agent, who re booked me for WEDNESDAY (it was Sunday night) and far down a stand-by list for the Monday flights.  I then decided to go into the city to try to catch the midnight bus that went on an incredibly long (eleven hour) indirect route to Burlington.  I took the air train out of the airport and just as I was boarding the subway to go to the city, the ticket agent called me to say she's put me on a confirmed flight for Monday morning.  So, I got out of the subway and went back to the airport to get my new boarding pass, then spent the night in the airport to ensure that I'd definitely be the first in line and definitely get on the flight, since there were three flight's worth of cancellations competing for seats. The next morning there were three hours of delays, and then they announced that the Burlington airport had closed for an indefinite period, the flight was cancelled and others for the day would probably be as well.  I had now lost my Wednesday reservation and they were working on ones for THURSDAY, and I was now sitting on an even longer wait list. So, I decided to do what I should have done before and bite the bullet, go into the city and buy a bus ticket.  On the bus I learned some good news and bad news. The good news is that (at least some) Greyhounds now have WiFi! The bad is that they have bus drivers who roll their eyes when they see tickets connecting bus travel to Burlington and issue ominous warning about how that bus may or may not be running when I try to make the 1 am connection. As it turned out, the connection was made, and the bus did run, and I got into Burlington only an hour behind schedule, at 5:30 am.  I retrieved my car from the airport lot and drove home to find I couldn't park because the city had completely plowed over every single driveway entrance on Main Street. So, the one-hour flight had become a 36 hour epic journey that ended with me parking at the Y parking lot downtown and walking through the drifts back to my house.

However, the silver lining is that I optimistically brought some grading to do, and I did it. Then I realized all these delays were a good opportunity to do something I've been meaning to do since last weekend when Leah and Siham were up.  In addition to our fabulous dog-sledding adventure, we did our first list overhaul of 2011, and changed some things and made some new plans.  So, here's the first re-vamp of the 2011 Year of the Challenge List.

New Things.  Although this is officially the Year of the Challenge, we're all still planning to keep up our habit of new things.  I've done three new things in 2011 so far: moonlight snowshoeing, visiting the Snowflake Bentley Museum and dog sledding.  Leah has offered to host a weekend trip to her neck of the woods, New Bedford, where I can do some more new things, including boarding a tall ship, the Ernestina, on which she used to work.
One thing about dog sledding -- the sled is not big.  Best to get along with your fellow rider, since there's not much space between passengers.  Here are Leah and I loading in.

Challenge 1. Become a better skier/snowboarder.  Although I have concentrated solely on skiing, I am pleased to say that this challenge is definitely on-track.  Thanks to Chris, Alexsis and Josh, I've been out pretty regularly this winter, and the big dump of snow that just turned my travel plans into nightmares should make the next couple weeks pretty sweet for skiing opportunities. Anyone want to put in some time together at Smugg's, let me know please.

Challenge 2.  Become a better cook.  This is the other challenge that is definitely on-track, due in no small part to the enthusiastic participation of others.  So far, I've tried or hosted whole groups trying Greek food, pretzels, traditional Jewish food, and a whole galaxy of crepe varieties, and as a cookie inventor (and at least, namer) I've definitely gone to town.  In the past couple months there have been Chris Crinkles, Siham Surprises, Almond Bennetts and Lemon Driskies.  Josh, Leah and the two Kates have all let it be known that they are next in line for cookies named after them, and I am envisioning a couple new experiments -- one a peanut butter and jelly-based bar cookie that may become a Kate Square(d), and the second, in homage of maple season here in Vermont, a maple flavored and glazed short bread or sugar cookie whose name is to be determined.  In fact, I think the next cook-a-thon is going to be one where all the recipes use maple syrup or flavoring. Or it might be a Vermont Brand night featuring maple syrup and cabot cheddar.  Anyone got and opinion, and who's in to do it?

Although my first two challenges are cruising, I need to step it up on the rest.  Here's the outlook:

Challenge 3.  Become a better ice skater.  The good news is that I have found a skating inspiration and Wednesday morning skating buddy in Ali, who is a seriously fabulous skater.  The bad news is that illness and work has made our meeting attendance less than perfect.  But it's a start. Here are a couple pics from a recent morning skate.
Unfortunately, I just missed the backwards spiral Ali was showing me in this pic but it was awesome, like all the fancy stuff she knows how to do.  Next time.
Here I am working on a much-easier forward spiral.

Challenge 4. Finish a marathon.  This is the first official fail of the list.  I have had to concede that I am just not cut out for 15 mile runs (however slow) on weekends where we get record-breaking levels of snow.  Even my marathon class coach at the Y has thrown in the towel for this season, and down-graded to training for a half marathon because long run conditions outside have been so abysmal.  Leah, Siham and I have agreed to find a half marathon to complete this summer instead, so that's our new challenge training goal.

Challenge 5. Become a better rock climber.  No excuses on this one except extreme lack of time.  My plan for spring break next week is to use the week to get back on Challenge track, and in this case to hit the climbing gym at least once, and better yet twice during that week.  Who's up for going?

Challenge 6. Write a book with students.  The MDG book is moving along, but we need to start a big push of getting some draft text on the chapters in.  The last couple weeks I've been working with the returning SMC students on grant proposals to help fund them (and potentially others including me) to do research field work for our four case studies (Ecuador, Bangladesh, the Occupied Territories and Rwanda).
At the last MDG meeting we broke out into Chapter groups to work on some draft text.  Here are Julia and Alyssa brainstorming their thoughts.
The other members of Kate's group (this is the Kate who is 1/2 of the Kate Square cookie idea) couldn't make the meeting, so Kate found a spot on the floor to do some composing.

Challenges 7.  Take a cargo ship to Alaska.  The original plan had been to do this during my upcoming spring break, but alas, the ships don't take passengers during what is for them still the winter months.  So, last weekend Siham, Leah and I re-committed ourselves to this goal, but it will now be a summer trip, to be scheduled to fit in with our other summer plans.

Last weekend we also fleshed out our lists a bit more in terms of other challenges on tap for the remainder of 2011.  My list of currently uninitiated challenges looks like this:

Challenge 8. Begin studying Arabic.  I've gotten as far as having my friend and student Connor lend me his copy of Rosetta Stone which I've loaded on my computer.  But I have to get a microphone for the speaking part, and haven't done it yet.

Challenge 9. Expand my hiking horizons. I'm really excited about this one, and I'm hoping to include some new destinations -- like the Adirondacks, the White Mountains, and the Hell Brook trail of Mount Mansfield, but all will have to wait till mud season is over and the trails open up for none-winter hiking here.

Challenge 10. Work on my mechanical skills.  Despite last year's excellent tutelage by Nigel, this is clearly just not something that comes naturally to me. Chris has offered to give me lessons, and I'm still kicking around the possibility of signing up for a beginning night course in either bike or auto maintenance once my spring semester is over ( found a beginning auto maintenance class but it directly conflicts with my Monday evening global studies course at Saint Mike's this semester.)

Challenges 11 and 12.  Leah, Siham and I deliberately left the last two open in this go around so we can think some more about what we want to get out of 2011. We'll fill them in during a future meet-up and joint participation on challenges and new things.

All challenges are more fun (and easier to do) with others, so if people see something on this list they want to take on, shoot me a post or email and we'll do it together (in-person or long distance).


  1. I would suggest adding Rugelah (sp?) to your cookie baking night. They would fulfill two aims: cookies (and you could potentially integrate maple syrup into the recipe) and traditional Jewish foods (of the Eastern European variety -- which is what you cooked before.) A two-fer as it were. I can send along recipes for rugelah if you like.

  2. Hey Lilly,

    Thanks so much for the regelah suggestion. Great idea! I think Sunday night is going to be the maple cook-a-thon and this is going on the list.