Saturday, July 23, 2011

How to Beat the Heat: Get Outside!

So, right now I'm in the throes of getting ready for the biggest challenge of 2011, which will be living for ten months in Jordan as a visiting professor in the American Studies program at the University of Jordan in Amman.  I'll be leaving the first week in September, and it feels like most of my life consists of throwing things away -- at home and at work, and trying to figure out what I need to bring for my trip.

But it's also summer in Vermont and it would be crazy to spend all my time indoors doing those things when the sun is shining gloriously outside (at least when there's not a storm brewing). This last week brought two new opportunities in the outdoor realm although, alas, I only brought my camera to one of them.  Two of my big challenges for 2011 were to become a better hiker and work on my rock climbing and I've failed miserably in both areas.  But they did each get a boost this last week, first with a hike to a summit I'd never climbed before -- Hunger Mountain-- and second, with a rock climbing expedition to Bolton.

The Hunger Mountain hike fulfilled a pact with my student/friend/fellow blogger Alyssa, who had just returned from three weeks of adventure-filled exploration in South America.  Alyssa is part of the MDG book group, and is working on both the MDG 3 (Gender Equity) chapter and the case study on Ecuador.  In the latter capacity, she joined Jerry and Drisk in some pretty extreme travelling through the cities and jungles of the country.  One thing I've discovered is that a great way to de-brief from these country trips has been over bike rides and/or hikes, and as we powered up the mountain (or more accurately, Alyssa powered up and I panted after her) she told me some pretty incredible stories of ten-hour canoe rides into the Amazon, jungles with the most amazing diversity of birds and animals imaginable and episodes of beyond-reality-TV caliber wading through mud and swamps deep into the rain forest. 

Alyssa and I at the summit of Hunger Mountain. The wind was whipping around, which was great because it had been one hot climb up.

Here's a picture of Alyssa that gives a little better sense of where we were.

This was not only a new hike for me, but a whole new area.  It would be cool to come back some time and do one of the longer hikes that start from the same trail head.

My other adventure of the week, rock climbing at Bolton was, like so many of my adventures out of doors, provided through the good graces of the Saint Michael's Wilderness Program, which set up some opportunities for faculty and staff to try some sports this summer. Six faculty/staff signed up but on the day in question, four dropped out so it was just Tom and I who showed, giving us one-to-one instruction time with our two awesome student instructors, both named Andy.

The first that came with this particular adventure was rappelling, which I had never tried before.  It's not that different from being lowered down at the end of a climb, but the first time you try it, it's plenty scary.  Basically, you have to back off a cliff and the first step down is a definite leap of faith.  And the fact that rope really does get hot from all the friction is not initially reassuring either.  But once you've done it, like so many other things, it's pretty cool. And once you're at the bottom, there's nothing to do, but climb back up! The two Andys set up top ropes for two different routes for us, and we both climbed them both.

I'll be interested to see what transpires with both hiking and rock climbing in Jordan.  I met a rock climber among the students at the Fulbright pre-departure meeting who will be in Jordan when I am, and who was excited to hear about my sighting of a new climbing gym a little out of Amman on the way to the airport.  And one never knows; maybe there's a climb in world-famous Petra in the year to come. For now, I think I need to concentrate on more purging punctuated with time outside in the greatness that is summer in Vermont. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A 70th Birthday Celebration and Trip Down Memory Lane: Frankenmuth!

This was a banner year for birthdays in my family.  In January I was in Michigan celebrating my father's 80th birthday, and last weekend I was back again for my mom's 70th.  In both cases, my sister Katrinka, who is probably the most organized member of our family, was the logistical genius that made things happen.  For this celebration she had the great idea of bringing my parents, sisters (plus families) and I together (brothers Jim and Jean couldn't make this one with their families) to a place that we used to nag our mother to visit incessantly as children.

Frankenmuth was settled by German Lutheran immigrants in the 1800s and brings a bit of Bavarian flavor to an area where you wouldn't expect it.  It's a little hard to pull off since there are no mountains to complete the picture, but there is plenty of Christmas glitz.  The tourism of the town centers around the entrepreneurship of two families the Zenders and the Bronners.  The Zenders created two German restaurants across the street from one another in the center of town, Zenders and the Bavarian Inn (which boasts a life-sized glockenspiel that does a show based on the legend of the Pied Piper every three hours). The Bronners, on the other hand, had the idea of selling Christmas before the age of Christmas tree stores.  When we were kids they had three stores, but now they've consolidated them into one mega-Christmas store with every ornament, outdoor display and Santa-themed thing you can possible imagine.

In case anyone out there is looking for inspiration for trimming this year's tree, I've put together a little montage to help you out.  Check it out:

My personal favorite of all the Christmas ornament displays.  Something new for Say Yes to the Dress!

Anyone up for a beer can tree?

In case you'd like something for your bathroom, here's purple and pink!

Car lovers should love this one.  Note the license plate and hub cap highlights.

Nothing says Christmas like a fake child dressed up like a flower between a "tree" tree and a snowflake tree

I made my niece Daisy pose next to this tree for hunters that might be equally suitable at the NRA's office

Anyone whose appetite for ballet was whetted by viewing Black Swan might read some sort of dark symbolism into this upside-down ballerina tree
We stayed at the Bavarian Inn Hotel (complete with five pools, an arcade and underground miniature golf!), shopped for all manner of Christmas knick-knacks (most appropriate for me, perhaps, since I'll be missing American Christmas this year while in Jordan) made pretzels, rode in a horse-drawn carriage and ate lots of German food.  The reaction of my nieces Tigist and Daisy and nephew Alex confirmed my realization that Frankenmuth is HUGELY loved by kids, though the older set might need to lower the bar on expectations based on their childhood memories a wee bit.
Here's the pretzel-rolling crew -- Katrinka, Tigist, Alex, Donna, Brian, me and Daisy-- hard at work in the basement of the Bavarian Inn

Our favorite restaurant in Michigan when we were kids and site of my mom's birthday bash -- the Bavarian Inn
But though Frankenmuth might be most fully enjoyed by kids with big imaginations, continued fascinations with Christmas, and the desire to swim in all five pools, it was also a fun way for three generations to help my mom celebrate a landmark birthday.  Happy birthday Karine Siplon!
My mom (sitting between my nephew Alex and my dad) receiving her birthday cake.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Work and Fun on the 4th of July Weekend

One of the best things about the enormous challenge that is the MDG book project is that all of the past and former students who are part of it are such great people.  It's pretty much impossible to get all, or even a majority, of the contributors in the same place at the same time, but whenever I know that a few who are alumni are coming to Burlington, we try to pull together an in-person meeting.  My two most stalwart teammates in last year's quest for 52 New Things, Siham and Leah had been away from Burlington for far too long, so when they decided to come up for the 4th of July weekend we knew a meeting was in order.

The July MDG meeting crew: Siham (Goal 5, Team Rwanda), Leah (Goal 7, editorial team), Amanda (Goal 5, Team Rwanda), Matt (Goal 8, Team Bangladesh), Michelle (Goal 1), and Annie (Goal 7, Team Bangladesh)
In addition to the 3-4 person teams that are working on individual chapters on the eight goals that constitute the Millennium Development Goals, there are four teams that have recently completed field research in four case study places that we are including in the book -- Ecuador, Bangladesh, the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and Rwanda.  (Two of the students involved in the case teams have been keeping their own blogs -- Annie (Bangladesh) and Alyssa (Ecuador), which I hope everyone will check out as well). Over the fourth of July weekend representatives of three of case study teams were in Burlington, so we knew we had to call a meeting and take the opportunity to talk about commonalities and differences in our experiences, as well as check in on the general chapter work.  I'm going to ask each of the teams to help write a longer post about the four cases, but in the meantime I should note a few of the immediate things that jumped out to all of us.  Of the three teams that were represented, it seemed as though Rwanda was making the most headway in the goals.  As we talked through the interviews and observations we had made, the concept of government capacity loomed large.  Rwanda has done remarkably well in marshaling the relatively large amount of resources that have come, often from donor nations in recent years to make notable strides, particularly in the area of health.  The military occupation of the OPT and the poverty and lack of government capacity in Bangladesh have seriously hobbled both nations from making similar strides. The Ecuador team was still in-country at the time of our meeting, but we're all looking forward to comparing notes with them soon as well.
Leah, Siham and Chris demonstrating the most important Burlington past-time -- sitting on a rock on Church Street and people-watching while eating Ben and Jerry's ice cream

Once our work was done, it was time for Leah, Siham and I to make the most of a fabulous summer holiday weekend, and I think we did a fine job.  Last July we had a similar weekend when we visited the Rokeby Museum. This year, we didn't go to the Rokeby, but we did lots of other Burlington stand-by's, like the Farmer's Market and a little jaunt up Mount Philo.  Leah and I also took a turn at stand-up paddle-boarding, and of course, we went to all our favorite breakfast and dinner places and watched the fireworks at the Burlington waterfront. Just one more weekend reminder that it's hard to beat summer in Burlington!
Siham is not capable of coming to  Burlington without visiting her honey man at the Farmer's Market.  Chris tried to convince her that she needed that lighthouse candle but instead she bought the biggest jar of honey in the world.

Leah and I had a great time paddle boarding but learned an important lesson -- it's easy paddling out with the wind, much harder paddling against it on the way back.
I made Siham and Leah pose for this picture under the rock overhang because I had taken an almost identical one on last year's trip to Mount Philo.