Friday, February 27, 2009

Week in Review and some nostalgia

As previously mentioned, I spent all of last Saturday wallowing on my couch with a cold feeling sorry for myself. And ordering milkshakes too soothe my sore throat. And finishing season one of Mad Men. If you aren't watching this series, you should. I recommend getting the dvds and starting from the beginning because it is very character driven. A&E is replaying season 2 starting on March 8th so I am setting my dvr.

Worked. All day. 945 am to 7 pm. Then watched the Oscars with a friend at my house while eating delicious beans and rice and fried plaintains and catching up with my friend.

Court. I leaft work on the early side around 730 I think but since I had been in court all day my mind felt like mush so I ate leftover beans and rice and crashed on my couch to watch The Dutchess.

As mentioned previously, I met a small cadre of people from my university to discuss alumni involvement. Then I had a relatively slow day and went home at 630 to make pancakes for Fat Tuesday. I decided to experiment with German Pancakes by substituting wheat flour. As I was putting it in the oven I realize this was probably a mistake since wheat flour is so much heavier than white and I hadn't made any measuring adjustments. But then I had an urgent email from work that I had to attend to so by the time the pancake was done - all flat with a couple of odd cones in the middle - I didn't care about their failure. I doused them in syrup and ate up. Although I learned a lesson: never mess with a good thing. Then I fired up my laptop and worked until 11 or so. At least I was working in my pjs on my couch.

The emergency project that came in the night before kept me nonstop busy which means I worked late and ordered dinner at my desk. I decided I deserved a treat so I ordered a black and white cookie with my otherwise healthy meal. After I collected my food from the delivery guy in the lobby and was standing in the elevator, I noticed a bag of pretzels at the top of the bag. Strange, I did not order pretzels. When I returned to my office and was able to thoroughly inspect the contents of the bag, I realized they didn't give me my cookie. I called the restuarant with the intent of just asking them to adjust the amount they charged me. I started the call by telling the man something was missing from my order and before I could continue he asked what was left out. I felt sheepish and confessed "a cookie" like a child (I felt). The guy was so nice and so apologetic that I didn't get a chance to explain that I didn't need a new one. He asked what kind and started yelling (in a nice way) at people in the background and when he returned to the phone he said someone was on their way with the cookie. On my elevator ride down to meet the delivery guy in the lobby I chatted with a couple of co-workers and as we exited the elevator I realized how ridiculous this was going to be. Was the guy going to just hand me a cookie? How silly will I look? Should I explain? The one time I order dessert at work and it turns into a big to-do. Before I reached the security exit thing the delivery man recognized me and walked up to pass me my cookie - in a brown paper bag. I was relieved. We both kind of laughed and I said thank you as my co-workers gave me odd looks and I scurried back to my office. Sometimes a girl just needs a cookie.

I left work around 1030 and although I was tired and I still did not feel 100%, I did not go straight home. Instead, I stopped by the bar where a farewell party was being held for a work friend. The party started at 7:30 so I wasn't sure whether anyone would still be around but I needed to say goodbye so I hoped to catch them. At the back of the bar was a cluster of a few co-workers who were still lingering and I was greeted with a hug by the guest of honor. I intended to stay for only 30 minutes to an hour max. But, I ended up staying much longer than intended as: a) I was enjoying myself because as it turns out, it is nice to step out of the office and socialize once in a while; and b) the guest of honor clutched my arm and begged me not to leave when I first hinted at going and then begged me to dance with her in the very nearly empty bar save our small cadre. So I stayed. Until 1230 or later knowing full well I needed to be at work extra early the next morning. To make matters worse I returned a call from my sister on the cab ride home and she was in one of her hilariously entertaining moods and I couldn't put the phone down so we talked until something close to 3 am.

Because of my late night antics from the night before I felt terrible. And I had lots of work to do with an end of the day deadline. Luckily that deadline landed right around 8 pm which left me free and open to attend an 830 birthday dinner. It was a large crowd which initially made me wary (will I get stuck sitting next to someone lame? or worse, on the very end where I can't participate in conversations? will people all contribute their fair share to the bill?). But I ended up really enjoying myself. A lot. I don't know why I was so surprised. And the food was delicious.

Except for the cake. A word to NYC visitors. Do not listen to people who insist you have to visit Magnolia Bakery. It is not good. Not at all. Seriously, Costco makes a better cake. The cake was dry, dry, dry and crumbled into a million pieces before your fork even made contact. And the frosting was layered on about an inch thick and consisted mostly of shortening and loads of sugar. Gross. I took one bite. Only one bite! And I love baked goods. Love them. Even medicore ones are generally worth eating. I do not understand the fascination and fanaticism that surrounds this blah bakery.

The first time I visited Magnolia Bakery was during my first summer in New York way back during the high rolling times of dot com revolution in 2000. I had been in the city a few short weeks when a friend's daughter was turning one and a co-worker of ours suggested we pick up cupcakes from Magnolia - the original one on Bleeker. NY was experiencing a terrible heat wave that May with temps hovering around 100 humid degrees all month. We took the 1 or possibly the no-longer-in-existence-9 train to Christopher Street and I stepped into a new world. It was my first time in the Village. Luckily our co-worker knew her way around and led us directly to the bakery. There was a bit of a line or wait but nothing worth noting and I probably would not have remembered this particular trip if it weren't for the sticky heat which heat unbelievably intolerable levels once inside the bakery. While waiting for my friend to select a dozen cupcakes, I could not help but stare at the woman doing the baking. The only thing she was wearing was a slip. A very sheer slip with a limp apron hanging loosely over top. She had nothing else on. Nothing. And she was glistening with sweat and her hair was matted to her head. Maybe that is the image that prevents me from wanting to open my own bakery, I don't know. I thought the cupcakes were fine but nothing too get worked up over or to even remember. And in the first two years I lived in New York, while I often visited the Village, I never went back to Magnolia but always thought of the sweaty girl in the slip anytime it was mentioned.

Maybe I should challenge Magnolia to a bake off. . . .

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chapter XXIV: stepping forward

There I was, on a contrasting bright and sunny day, crumbling at the financial aid window. After the student on the other side of the window flipped through the file of checks sitting on her desk, she shook her head no and tried to shrug me off with a "check again on Monday." The sunshine that was lighting up the motes hovering in the nearly empty hall, seemed to darken and all of the air was sucked out of the room. My voice was shaking and getting higher and higher as I explained the situation and pointed at the notice I had from the feds and the bank indicating my loan had been funded and the university had the money. More to the point, the university had been holding the funds for several days now. I could not understand why no one was willing to print a check and give me the money I had signed over my future life to receive. Tears spilled down my face as I attempted deep breaths but only managed short gasping gulps. The student, desperate to get away from me I am sure, stepped away from the window after typing who knows what into the computer.

I didn't know what to do. Had I been dismissed? Was she getting someone with more authority or power? I needed to pull myself together.

Up until this point I had assumed this was the very latest date on which I would receive my student loan money. I had not thought past that day. I had not allowed myself to consider the giant "what if" of the check not being ready. I had been told to come back so many times before that I had absolutely convinced myself this was the end of it. That April 26th was the day when the money would come in and the pressure would be relieved because tuition and rent could be paid and books and possibly a car could be purchased.

The weight of enduring a terrible marriage that felt so cursed combined with the pressure of supporting two people on a very meager income while forcing my way into school collapsed on me as I waited. I could no longer see options other than withdrawing from school and taking another job.

But just as I thought all hope was gone, a small glimmer appeared. The student who had previously been sitting on the other side of the bank-like window had reappeared at the back of the room. And she was talking to someone. Someone who looked like they were not a student and might possibly be in charge of something. The student came back to the window briefly and said she was trying one more thing. I was unsure of what that one thing was.

She then cheerily go up from her stool, walked into the distant portion of the room and stood over a printer that appeared to be slowly printing according to the trail of connected paper that was being lifted up off the shelf beneath it and inching its way into the carriage.

I held my breath in disbelief.

The girl stood over the printer until the cartridge stopped oscillating and advanced the paper. She tore the printed paper at the perforations and walked back to the window as she examined whatever was printed on that sheet of paper. I was much calmer.

She handed me my check and I do not even remember signing anything. I took the freshly printed check and walked away from the window, staring at it in disbelief.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

on my mind

list style:
  • today is Fat Tuesday which I recently learned is a day dedicated to eating pancakes.
  • I had every intention of making pancakes for breakfast this morning, some quick and easy, just add water type from Lehi Roller Mills - this is my favorite as they are surprisingly light and fluffy - but . . .
  • I have a cold which is manifesting itself primarily in the form of a sore throat, heavy fatigue and general aches, which means . . .
  • I took some cold medicine last night which knocked me out from about 11 pm to 8 am.
  • But I still woke up with a sore throat and a lot of phlegm.
  • Phlegm is an ugly word to say and spell.
  • And look at.
  • No time for a pancake breakfast.
  • Actually, I ended up skipping breakfast altogether in favor of some tea with the dean of the fine arts college at the U who was in town and wanted to personally thank me for my donation to the marching band (much of which was thanks to your comments).
  • He brought a couple of people from the university with him and I got really excited about being more involved as an alum.
  • I've been working a lot lately. A LOT. Including all day Sunday.
  • But not Saturday, because on Saturday I couldn't drag myself off the couch due to the start of this cold and I felt too lethargic to go to the pharmacy to buy some cold medicine. So I just slept instead.
  • I did watch the Oscars. Even though I rarely to never watch them. I was exhausted but I chose not to cancel previous plans with a friend who came over to watch.
  • She had seen every movie nominated for best picture.
  • I haven't seen one.
  • But I was rooting for Slumdog Millionaire because I have been wanting to see it since I first heard about it in November.
  • I have seen The Visitor which I highly, highly recommend and was happy (and surprised) to see that Richard Jenkins was nominated for best actor. He was incredible in this understated role. So perfect.
  • Why do all the stars coordinate their dresses for the Oscars? I do not understand this.
  • This year the memo seemed to tell them all to wear something: silvery/sparkly/gold/white/metallic or at least void of any color.
  • There were some exceptions of course, but none that got me terribly excited.
  • I think my favorite dress was Tina Fey, even though it was silvery/sparkly and colorless.
  • I can't find a photo of Tina Fey but she looked amazing - very old school Hollywood glam.
  • I read this love story today and nearly cried.
  • I think I am going to make German Pancakes of Happiness for dinner for Fat Tuesday.
  • If I get home at a decent time.
  • Did I mention that I have been working a lot?
  • And that I'm sick?
  • Not that I'm complaining.
  • I am incredibly grateful to have a job right now in a time when lawyers are losing jobs at an unprecedented rate.
  • And, honestly, when I am this busy it is really easy to ignore any other challenges/worries/concerns/stresses that might normally plauge me.
  • Except the whole - I'm eating too much and exercising too little concern since working 12-14 hour days just exaggerates the problem.
  • And the I'm working too much stress.
  • Does anyone else love The Amazing Race? I'm excited about this season.
  • Any suggestions or volunteers to be my partner? That could be a new hook, rather than "friends" or "used to date" below our names, our relationship could be described as "blogging friends".
  • My one caveat is my partner needs to be willing to do all the gross eating challenges.
  • And not mind that I will basically take charge most of the time.
  • Have I mentioned the cold? The bone jarring wind? The fact that I take cabs everywhere because I am always working late and just want to get to my next destination without effort and without freezing?
  • Last night I walked home because I left work at 7 (only an 11 hour day!). Standing on the corner across the street from my building (aka the secret portal to the Arctic Circle), my forehead was burning from the searing wind despite my knit hat and I had to lean into the wind so I didn't get blown backwards.
  • Remembering that moment as I stepped outside this morning, I took a cab to work despite the fact I never take a cab to work unless I am transporting luggage.
  • Once in the warmth and comfort of the cab I realized I chose a cab without a credit card machine. And I only had $6. So I asked the cab to stop when the meter hit $5.50 and walked the remaining 4 small blocks and the one long cross-town block after stopping at an ATM.
  • I really need warmer weather to happen soon.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Farewell Larry H Miller

Last night I received a text message from my brother that Larry H. Miller, the owner of the Utah Jazz had died. I subsequently received emails from several friends as they heard the news. He has been in failing health for a while but I guess I hadn't really been paying attention because I was surprised by his death. While it was often easy to joke about old Larry Miller's propensity for tears or that crazy media feud he got caught up in with Karl Malone some years ago, he really was an amazing man who has done a lot for Utah - not just the Jazz. He owned the Jazz for 24 years, built the Delta Center and the talk is he will end up in the hall of fame at some point. I don't think anyone knows how much good LHM did in his life, except maybe his accountant.
The Jazz pulled together tonight and beat New Orleans soundly and Deron Williams handed Miller's widow Gail the game ball after the win. I loved the old school original Jazz logo patch the players wore on their jerseys with "LHM" embroidered on it. The Jazz players will wear them the rest of the season as a tribute to a great man. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

week in review

(I'm stealing this idea because I am lazy and have no creativity today)

Aaah, sleeping in on a Monday is the greatest. Having three days away from the office and the City, even better. Tiffany and Ryan hosted me for the long weekend and fed me constantly. Tiffany even sent me off to the train with a treat for the ride home. I spent the afternoon watching a movie on my couch and napping and had to force myself to attend the dinner I had previously agreed to attend.

This was hard and I made up 101 excuses in my head why I didn't want to attend this dinner. Why? Because I hadn't seen this particular friend in five years. Also, I was worried she would be different. Oh, and I worried I would be jealous. And I was afraid I wouldn't know anyone and would feel uncomfortable. Because according to Facebook (which only tells truth), this old friend of mine is now the coolest girl in school and this somehow intimidated me. Why? We don't have enough time to go into those complex emotions.

So I went after some encouraging words from Tiffany. And some more encouraging words in the cab ride to the restaurant from my sister who wisely told me not to decide it won't be fun before I get there because then, obviously, I won't have any fun. [And yes, I took a cab all the way down to the eastern reaches of SoHo because it is winter and I was reluctant to go in the first place and telling myself I can take a cab both ways is the only way I could peel my lazy self off the couch.]

I was purposely about 5-10 minutes late for the 6:30 start time because I have learned that NO ONE is ever there on time. I was the first to arrive and learned the reservation wasn't until 7 pm. Ugh. I stood awkwardly in the waiting area until a familiar face showed up. Not someone I was excited to see exactly. In fact, the exact type of person I dreaded would be there. A self-proclaimed "popular" type from the Mormon social scene who is completely arrogant and (I think) is convinced every girl who talks to him must want him. News Flash: I don't! Rather than wait in the crowded little waiting area, we opted for taking a walk. We talked about work and snowboarding and I tried not to be irritated with his attitude, especially when he asked how do you know [mutual friend] in an almost accusatory way. It was weird and I brushed it off. Luckily, when we arrived back at the restaurant, everyone else was already there and seated. My long lost friend greeted me with an enthusiastic shriek and a giant hug. She was the same girl I knew before. The same excessively bubbly personality. The same beaming smile. The same warmth. And I was glad I went. Especially since she is very newly affianced and I got to meet the lucky boy.

Contrary to my fears, the dinner was small and fairly intimate with 7 of us seated at conversation friendly round table rather than strung out along something long and narrow. The arrogant boy turned out to be the odd man out as the rest of us (minus the fiance) went back to the New York social sphere of earlier in this waning decade. So what did mr. cool do? He texted. And he texted. It was obnoxious and I was irritated by his rudeness but ignored it enough to enjoy my evening.

Back to work. Lots and lots of work.

I also attended a reception to recruit law students where I met one student who has been to my house before. For my dessert party. He's mormon. Small world with us, I guess.

Then I went home and worked some more.

I don't really remember Wednesday except that I worked a lot. And by a lot I mean I generally get home around 10 or 11 pm. And in the morning when I am rushing off to work around 9 am, I am responding to early emails and listening to voicemails from callers who beat me into the office.

La la la, working.

Left the office early (!) at 9 pm to get a drink with a friend. Home around 1030.

I have already cleared 40 hours of billable work for a 4 day work-week and looking at another 10 hour day (hopefully no more) and possibly a full weekend of work. I already have a conference call to participate in on Sunday morning. Good times, right?

At least I had Monday.......... maybe I should have just made this a post about Monday's dinner since everything else was pretty blah.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Tiffany (and Ryan, but mostly Tiffany - sorry, Ryan)

It is late enough in the day that I feel like I have practically missed it, but I can't let the day expire without wishing one of my favorite people (not just bloggers), a happy birthday. If my head wasn't so fuzzy after twelve hours of non-stop work (excuses, excuses, I know), I would write an ode to why you are the perfect friend. Instead, I will just take the lazy way out and write a list. A list which fails to capture how much I value our friendship and how happy I am that you are my friend. A list which I will inevitably think of 15 more things to add as soon as I hit publish and walk away from the computer. I will save those things for next year. For now:

Ode to Tiffany Birthday List
aka Oh, the many reasons I love Tiffany, let me count the ways . . .
  • you listen
  • no, you don't just listen, you also hear what I have to say and sometimes that is all that is needed
  • except that you also process and empathize, that extra step means a lot
  • you follow-up with questions that show you care about the stupid details I always feel the need to share
  • or maybe you just pretend to care about the stupid details, which is appreciated as well
  • you send random text messages to brighten my day
  • you include me in your family
  • at Thanksgiving, at Christmas, on Valentine's Day . . .
  • it is nice to have an improvised family close by who is always willing to take me in
  • and feed me, you feed me well, maybe too well . . .
  • and you don't judge me when I sleep 12 hours (ahem, I blame long work hours)
  • you sanction and encourage the relationships I am developing with your kids (I hope that doesn't sound creepy)
  • those relationships mean a lot to me
  • because your kids are so stinkin' cute!
  • and funny!
  • it is fun to be a pseudo made up godmother
  • and did I mention how much I like them?
  • you make a mean German pancake
  • and you make me one that I get to eat all on my own.
  • you are good at selecting and writing cards - I'm bad at being prepared for that type of thing so I admire this quality
  • you are always cute and put together
  • always - do not argue with me, I know only you can pull off the elf look ;)
  • you take me shopping at Target
  • you are a fantastic writer
  • you are a hilarious writer!
  • you are even funnier in real life
  • we can obsess over Beyonce's video together
  • you pick out great gifts
  • probably because you have such great taste
  • you take me to Target. Wait, I already mentioned this, but it is an important quality.
  • you share Lucy with me which helps me de-stress
  • you humor my jokes about stealing her away
  • you encourage my writing
  • even when I ignore it and cheat with silly lists, you still encourage me to keep it up
  • you compliment my baking - which makes me feel good
  • you accept me for who I am which allows me to just be myself
  • you are responsible for giving me about 80% of my readers
  • we talk about deep stuff
  • and shallow stuff
  • and churchy stuff
  • and not-so-churchy stuff
  • we can disagree about movies but still have a good time (I wish I liked the movie)
  • did I mention how much you make me laugh?
  • because that is one of the best parts
  • you are a genuinely good friend

From 10019 musings

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

some thoughts and questions

  • I'm pretty irritated that my mortgage lender sends me letters addressed to "Mr. and Mrs." Would it be crazy of me to call and make them fix it? I mean, the mortgage is in my name alone and I clearly do not have a Mr. attached to me anywhere.
  • I also get irritated when I call my bank or credit card company and they call me "Mrs." Please don't assume, isn't that why "Ms." came about?
  • Yesterday there was a story on the Today show about how women can lose weight just by getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night. So I went to bed early at 11 pm so I could hit 8 hours by 7. But then I slept through my alarm and missed my morning workout because I didn't get up until 8:30. But I did have a dream I was working out at the gym. Do you think that is what will make me lose weight?
  • Why do fruit salads always have so much melon?
  • Why do vegetable medleys always have so much cauliflower?
  • Why did I buy so many orange foods at the grocery store last night? Oranges, baby carrots, spicy hummus, cheddar cheese . . . is there some vitamin I am subconsciously craving that is only in orange food?
  • What should I do for President's weekend? I need a plan or else I am pretty sure I will just end up sleeping since all I want to do lately is hibernate.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Amazon

[I should add a disclaimer here that this is long. It is essentially my last summation of my Peru trip and covers 4 days of action packed adventure in the Amazon jungle. Read over time, skim it or skip it and just look at the slideshow at the bottom - but beware, that is pretty lengthy with over 200 photos. For those of you who are not my mother and are willing to slog through the whole thing, best of luck and thanks for reading.]

The last stop on our Peruvian itinerary was a stay at an eco-lodge in the Amazon jungle. When I began my initial investigation into Peru, I started with the NY Times travel section and stumbled onto this article about the desert and rain forest of Peru. I wanted to do both, but I also wanted to go to Machu Picchu so I discussed the options with my sister and pushed for the jungle. About five years ago I went to Costa Rica with some friends and had a few days on my own at the end of the trip. I ended up staying at an eco lodge in the rain forest and it was incredible so I convinced my sister we needed to try this. The article gave a glowing review to the Posada Amazonas so I looked into it - expecting it to be expensive. It wasn't. And we ended up booking a four day stay at the Refugio Amazonas, one of the three eco-lodges run by Rainforest Expeditions on the Tambopata River.

On the morning of January 2nd we flew from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado. Stepping off the airplane was a shock after the thin, cool mountain air of the Andes. The sky was a brilliant blue with high, white puffy clouds and the air was thick and heavy and despite the fact that it was not yet noon, the temperature had to be over 90 degrees. Erin had wisely prepped our clothes with her special clothing bug spray the night before but we used the time waiting for our luggage to appear to spritz on a bit more bug spray and slather on some sunscreen. The airport was small but unlike others of its kind I have encountered, this one did not just pull the trailer of luggage up for people to grab their stuff; the truck pulled up outside and a couple of guys loaded the luggage onto a conveyer belt that once inside had to jump up a lip to get on the circular baggage claim rack. Passengers waiting for their luggage turned into helpers as they shifted and jostled luggage that was not prepared to make the jump. Before we even had a chance to consider purchasing water or anything, our names were called and we met our guide - Jhin. I have no idea how he recognized us so quickly but we were happy to have our bags taken away from us and led to a mini-bus. Until we were left sitting on the mini-bus with its hot, stale air waiting for other passengers. The mini-bus filled up and we were off on our journey. But we didn't go too far before stopping at the Rainforest Expedition's main office to pass along our departure flight information, use the restroom, re-hydrate and reconfigure baggage. We didn't have a lot of baggage but for those who did, the main office offered to keep extra bags.

Back on the bus again we began chatting with our fellow passengers, most of whom were also just coming from Cusco and Machu Picchu. It was a fun and lively group from Ireland, Oakland, Minnesota, Boston and LA. Erin and I were seated near the back and made immediate friends with the couple from Oakland and a guy from Ireland and were disappointed to learn that they were headed to a different lodge than us. After an hour or so drive we stopped near the river and loaded into the canoe style boat. Despite posted signs indicating the approximate length of the journey, we all felt it was much longer than expected. We reached the first lodge after a couple of hours and lost the bulk of the passengers. Those remaining on the boat we soon got to know quite well: a retired couple from Minnesota, an engineer couple (they met at a math conference! I think nerd love is cute) from Boston (although the wife was French) and a father and daughter from LA (but the daughter is in school in Paris). The Minnesota couple were the most chatty on the boat and explained how they were arriving early for an Earth Watch expedition. I was fascinated as they explained how they were volunteering to assist researchers who were studying macaws. They would be in the jungle for 14+ days observing and counting baby macaws. Such a great program, right? I enthusiastically asked many, many questions and I believe Erin internally rolled her eyes at me for thinking this was something I could do. I will explain later.

Luckily our long boat ride was not only livened up by conversation but also by beautiful scenery, our first (and sadly, only) macaw clay lick observation, lunch, a brief thunderstorm, a harrowing rescue of a lost life vest and a few random stops - one which included signing a book and getting a passport stamp. Peru seemed very into stamping passports at tourist attractions - we had one at Machu Picchu and one entering the Manu Reserve jungle area. When we got out and were instructed to bring our passports, I expected to finally be asked for that yellow fever immunization card I carried around for no apparent reason. But no. They just wanted to put a colorful stamp in my passport. Not sure how the US government feels about these. I wonder if our national parks do this? Can I get a Yellowstone stamp or maybe Statue of Liberty? Maybe I could fill my passport more quickly if every country did this. In Europe, at least back was there ten years ago, they rarely stamped passports. In fact, my sister does not have a single stamp from her study abroad in Switzerland or any of the countries we visited when I picked her up at the end. I guess she would make a good spy.

Lunch was fantastic. We were each given a banana leaf tied up with some sort of vine string containing vegetarian fried rice. It was delicious. And in keeping with the eco friendly premise of an eco-lodge, the whole thing could be tossed over board (save the plastic fork) after eating for the piranhas to nibble at. Yes, allegedly there were piranhas in the Tambopata River but we never saw any. Not that I was looking. And not that you could see anything beyond the muddy red surface of the water. I suspect the water was so red because it was so swift. Despite its width, it moved much faster than expected and was obviously deep during this rainy season as there was no sign of a bank - the river just pushed up against the jungle trees which served as a dark green contrast to the bright red river with the brilliantly blue sky overhead. The colors were incredible.

Near the end of our journey, all of the passengers became a little impatient and cranky - and concerned about what time we will have to get up to make an 1130 am departure flight. We finally reached our destination just before dark around 6 pm. After a short walk through the muddy jungle up a number of stairs we came to a clearing and discovered our lodge with its thatched roof raised above the forest floor on stilts. Jhin showed us our first Brazil nut - which is the size of a coconut, did you know that? - and gave us a demonstration of how to crack it open with a machete before ushering us into the lodge. Oddly, I never ate any brazil nuts while we were there. We were greeted in the lodge with a refreshingly cold wash cloth and a glas of ice cold lemonade. I was immediately happy with the place.

After a brief orientation, we were given our room assignments and our bags arrived shortly afterwards. I loved the rooms. The entire lodge is on stilts - to prevent flooding during the heavy rains I am sure, and I'm guessing it probably helps keep various critters out as well. The guest rooms are branched off away from the lodge and connected by stilted walkways. Our room was a short walk away and we were between the Minnesota couple and the LA father/daughter. Our front door was a curtain and the room had three single beds and a private bathroom (again, no door, just a curtain). There is no power in the lodge so everything is lit by kerosene lamps or candles by the bedside or flashlights and headlamps brought from home. The room is very open and breezy but still felt private despite the fact that it only has three full walls and the ceiling is a high lofty one shared with the other rooms in the wing. Although, the rooms aren't exactly a great place for a private conversation given the thin walls and lack of shared ceiling. The fourth wall facing the jungle was half-height and allowed for an open and intimate view of the rain forest. Although, I must admit after reading about this feature in all of the literature I received before-hand, I was kind of hoping the jungle was closer. Probably only in theory because the 6-10 foot cleared buffer between our half-wall (and beds) and the trees probably kept the creepy crawlys at bay. I loved the sounds of the jungle. The birds and monkeys and insects and frogs all crying their individual songs are much louder than one might expect. So loud, in fact, that Erin struggled to sleep with everyone making such a racket. Erin was also a little less enthused about the novelty of sleeping half-outside and chose the inner-most bed while I selected the bed nearest the outdoors. Neither the sounds nor the threat of jungle critters disturbed my sleep.

That night at dinner we quickly fell into an easy rapport with our fellow guests upon discovering we had the place virtually to ourselves. While the lodge can hold 100+ guests, that night there were only 3-4 people other than our rowdy group of 8. We took full advantage and had lively dinner conversation filled with laughter. Erin and I were very happy with our guide Jhin and the father/daughter team we were paired with. Morgan and Tiffany were sarcastic and asked hilarious questions of our guide and had an entertaining dynamic between them. Morgan, the father, had not taken a true vacation in nearly twenty years while his 20-year old daughter had seemingly traveled the globe and back again - and stopped off for tatoos at every destination. We quickly learned not to make judgments based on first impressions because while I would have expected Tiffany - all gloomy and dressed in black with tatoos - to be sullen and irritable, she was hilarious. And Morgan cracked me up with his paranoid fears of anaconda, heights, jaguar and nearly every moving thing in the jungle. We were more frequently in trouble with our guide for our noisy laughter than anything.

That first night we met soon after dinner for our first jungle walk with Jhin. We each selected a pair of tall rubber wellies and a helmet and strapped our headlamps on top a la miners. In my haste to pack leanly, I ended up packing a bit too much on the lean side for this trip and ended up with a limited selection of clothing for my bottom half which included, in total: one pair convertible pants, on pair light rain pants, one pair capri pants, one pair heavy rain pants. Ideally, I should have had at least one more pair of pants in the mix that would have been suitable for traveling home but I failed to plan which meant I needed to try and keep the one pair of real (or closest thing I had packed to "real") pants clean for the journey home. Which meant, for all of our jungle time I had to wear the capris or light rain pants. Which worked fine, I guess. But a word to the wise about a trip into the jungle. It is hot. And humid. Hotter than you are imagining right now and yet more humid. Which sounds deliciously inviting sitting here in the middle of February but once you start tromping around in that climate, you are going to really want fabrics that breath. Because you will sweat. Throwing in my favorite sports bra at the last minute was one of the best things I packed for the rain forest, despite the fact I had packed it for the trekking portion of the trip. Those of us non-natives were strongly encouraged to wear long sleeves and long pants for jungle excursioins due to the fact that everything in the jungle bites. The clothing spray and the extra bug spray helped but my wrists still endured many bites. Erin packed the best shirt - a light weight white anti-sweat stain, if you can believe it, shirt she bought at REI which I thought always made her look fresh and clean. I generally looked and felt like a sweaty mess. That is my excuse for the photos.....

But back to the frog hike. Our expectations were blown away that first night. At one point as we sloshed along through water that threatened to reach the top of our wellies, Erin whispered to me that she felt like we were on a show on the Discovery channel. And that about sums it up. As our guide effortlessly (and almost noiselessly) slid through the muddy path in search of frogs, we sloshed and squished and crackled and stumbled our way after him in the dark, splashing water and struggling to keep our balance. Ever so often Jhin would pause and to listen to the jungle and then miraculously located a tiny frog for us to ooh and aah over. My boots kept me dry but shortly after I voiced my concern over a fear of leaky boots, as we stood at maximum depth, both Erin and Tiffany complained of slow leaks in their wellys. After my first pitiful attempt at capturing a frog on my camera, Jhin threw in a free photography tutorial and took my camera from me and started pushing buttons and making adjustments and then presented me with this stunning photo:

Never in a million years did I think my camera could produce such a photo. Oh, maybe because in my hands - even though I swore I didn't touch anything - it couldn't. I was constantly taking blurrly photos of frogs and passing my camera back to Jhin to fix and take another spectacular photo. Except for that part where I had apparently zoomed (a huge no, no!) and no one could get a decent non-blurry photo. But even with the proper settings I kept getting all shaky and messing up the pictures. But never fear! Between my sister and me we got a startlingly large number of beautiful frog photos which I had a difficult time weeding down so the slideshow has a lot of frogs. Just so you are warned. We retired to our mosquito netted beds at only 930 after quick cold showers to rinse off the jungle gunk. While I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth I saw one more frog - a laughing frog - perched on the shelf next to the kerosene lantern. I have a tendency to wander around while brushing my teeth and when I returned to the bathroom, the frog had disappeared. But not for long. Immediately after I finished spitting and rinsing in the sink, his cute little head popped out of the drain!

Our group opted for the late start - much to Jhin's dismay - with a 730 am breakfast despite our early retirement. This was vacation after all. I slept soundly all through the night and did not budge until - prior to my alarm sounding - I awoke to find my sister standing over my bed, towel piled atop her head indicating she had already showered. Since I was the time keeper of our team, Erin was concerned about how late I was sleeping. It was barely after 6 am. Apparently the early rising birds and monkeys and frogs roused Erin pretty early. She also claimed it had rained in the night. I did not hear a thing.

Shortly after breakfast, on day 2 in the jungle, we donned our jungle attire and set off after our guide down the muddy paths. I was the first to get in trouble. Jhin gestured for us to be quiet and whispered to me "monkeys" and nodded toward the trees as he raised his binoculars. Following his quiet lead I turned to the other three in our group behind me and gestured to be quiet and pointed into the trees. The monkeys stopped cackling and soon vanished. Apparently, they do not like rude tourists pointing at them. I had no idea.

We continued our walk until we reached a large tower of stairs. Erin grew nervous. She knew the canopy tower was on the agenda but seeing it rise up above the top of the jungle was a little daunting. But she wasn't the only one afraid of heights - Morgan grew nervous as well. But we bolstered their confidence and everyone climbed the 13 or so flights of stairs for the staggering view of the jungle below. It was breathtaking. Jhin hauled a telescope up to the top and focused the lens on a couple of different toucans - beautiful! - and we watched pairs of macaws and other birds soar and swoop above the jungle.

Back on the jungle floor Jhin pointed out fascinating details and took advantage of our eagerness by making us sniff trees and chew on random leaves that numbed our mouths. At one point while we were walking I heard what can only be described as a jumbo jet of bugs hovering somewhere around my ear. Erin must have seen the look on my face because, without prompting, she said "it's as big as it sounds." I chose not to turn to try and catch a glimpse of the jumbo jet.

I did, however, stoop down for a closer look at the ants. The hundreds of thousands of millions of ants that were forever working all over the jungle floor. There were points where their well-worn super-path of industry intersected with our jungle trail and from over five feet up, it appeared that the trail was fluttering along on its own. The ants blended in with the red clay but the bits and scraps of debris and leaves they carried on their backs fluttered above them in contrasting greens, yellows and varying shades of brown. It was fascinating. And all too easy to imagine these crazy workers pulling together to overpower a person and cart them away to their lair. Here is a creepy close-up:

We spent part of the morning on a boat rowed by Jhin across a stagnant lake that Jhin explained had once been condemned. He explained that an entire village of natives was once killed near by and as a result legend kept people away. It was so hot and we were all pretty tired from traipsing through the jungle that we just nodded and didn't really let the story sink in too much. But then Jhin tried to tell us that the piranhas in the lake were vegetarian. Morgan never got over this one. At that point we decided Jhin thinks we are completely gullible and will believe anything he tells us. Which we kind of did.

After tromping around the forest on the other side of the lake, we were all very much ready for lunch and were disappointed when we discovered we had to not only get back in the boat on the hot windless water, but we had the long hike back to the lodge standing between us and lunch at 1 pm. Back in the boat I pulled out my trail mix and offered it around. Jhin took one tiny little dried raspberry and made a face once my back was turned. He was much happier when I picked out m&ms for him as he was a crazed chocoholic.

Lunch finally came and we were able to eat and relax before our next excursion: a local farm. I don't think any of us were very excited about this trip because we did not know what to expect and Jhin liked keeping us in suspense on the details. We saw bananas and star fruit and crazy huge spider webs and sampled fruit we had never heard of before - honestly, what is leaping toad fruit? Is that even its real name or was this another trick our guide pulled on us? It must have some other name because google doesn't recognize leaping toad as a fruit.

When we returned to the lodge we were disappointed to discover a rather large group of people had joined us and were threatening to take over "our" lodge. Especially disconcerting was the fact that I was unable to take a shower before dinner since while Erin complained she only got a few drops of water - I had none. Sure, I took a shower before lunch but I really needed another before I was willing to present myself at the dinner table. But I was forced to make do with a few wet wipes and fresh clothes. Our group was lively and animated over dinner as we compared notes with our Earth Watch friends - the Minnesota and Boston couples. Heretofore, the Boston couple had been fairly quiet and we didn't really even know their names yet, which made it difficult for me to enquire as to where the husband half of the couple was over dinner after I noticed he was missing a second meal and had missed their afternoon excursion climbing trees (I really wish I could have climbed trees by the way, it looked really fun!). Claire, in her dainty French accent, responded curtly to our inquiry with an off-handed "I have keeled him" and turned back to her dinner. We all laughed and waited for further explanation that never came . . . luckily he did turn up later and was probably just not taking to the jungle heat or food too well.

After dinner we were supposed to go caiman hunting. Unfortunately - or fortunately - the water was too high or something like that for us to go. While I am disappointed that I never saw any of these supposedly "miniature" alligators in the dark jungle. Especially since further research has revealed they are not actually miniature. Instead, we decided to continue a game of Hearts we had started before dinner. I should back up a bit and explain a funny little side drama that started with our territorial possessiveness over having new people show up at our lodge and was escalated over some bizarre antics that played out over a power strip.

As I have explained, the lodge does not have power. The lodge does, however turn a generator on for a few short hours around dinner time and during that time they provide a power strip for charging essential electronics - like camera batteries. Knowing we were heading into the jungle with zero power, Erin and I used every outlet in our hotel in Cusco we could find to charge ipods and cell phones and blackberries and camera batteries and whatever else we might need. I had two camera batteries but was only able to charge one and unfortunately it turned out to be the older one that does not hold a charge very long. By the end of that second day without charging I needed to charge at least one battery so prior to dinner I brought my charger down to plug in. And I walked into a mess. Our friends also had a few items to charge but the charger only had room for one more item so we agreed to keep an eye on them and swap out. But apparently the new people did not get the memo about the no power thing and decided to descend upon the power strip and claim it as their own to charge everything they owned using bulky converter plugs that blocked other available plugs. Ugh. It was a mess. At one point while dinner was still finishing up I walked over to the charger to check on the progress of my battery because I didn't want it to stay plugged in longer than necessary. Morgan walked over with me to check on one of his things to see if we could swap things around. As we were surveying the mess, I - far too loudly - scoffed "why would anyone charge their cell phone when there isn't even a signal up here?" Of course, of course! the owner of said cell phone had snuck up behind me like in a bad sitcom and quietly and humorlessly remarked "as a matter of fact I use my mobile as an alarm." I tried to laugh this off and joke around with the guy by way of an apology while he peered over my shoulder at what was happening at the power strip but he stood stoic and unmoved. He also hovered over the power strip the rest of the evening monitoring everyone's actions. It was ridiculous. Later when I walked back to check on my battery some other guy was standing there holding my charger in his hand! I pointed at it and before I could say anything he said "is this yours? the light was green." I was irritated. He had already taken the spot I was saving for a member of my group but rather than stir up more drama, I took my charger and walked back to the table where my group was lingering after dinner. There were a few people who seemed fine enough in this new group but a couple of bad seeds were really ruining our impressions of them.

And the "dudes" or "bros" as Tiffany called them didn't help. They were probably not bad guys but they just seemed so frat boy-ish they felt awkward hanging around the lodge, hovering just beyond our perimeter, clearly wanting to join us but not brave enough to say anything and we were content enough with ourselves not to reach out. Which sounds more calculated and rude than it was. We just really got along and were enjoying fun conversation and card playing into the later hours of the evening. In fact, we stayed up late enough that someone had already gone around and snuffed out all the lanterns which was fairly troubling since none of us had bothered bringing our flashlights to dinner with us. Oh, and it had started to rain. Which meant, we had an exhilerating run through the rain along the hardwood raised path back to our room in the pitch black darkness. I remember running on the slick planks of wood in my tevas with my hands spread out wide so that my fingers skimmed the surface of the railing on either side of me so I would know when I reached the T and not run right off the stairs and onto the muddy jungle floor. My eyes couldn't adjust because there was no contrast - just black upon black upon black. We snickered and tried to be quiet as our feet slapped against the wood and I tried to make out the shapes of the others following more cautiously behind me.

Once again, I slept well that night.

On Day 3 we were instructed to attend the early 630 am breakfast if it was not raining and to sleep in for the 730 breakfast if it was raining. Unfortunately we woke to the sound of heavy rain that dampened almost all the other jungle noises - save the frogs - as the monkeys and birds slept in as well. We all lingered over breakfast as the rain poured down around us and the temperature dropped and dropped and we tossed out ideas for rainy day entertainment. While I almost always travel with cards - and rarely end up using them - this trip they were left home and the deck we had borrowed from the bar the night before had already been claimed by the newbies.

We were disappointed to be missing our walk to the macaw clay lick so Jhin pulled out some videos on macaws and had the generator turned on for a couple of screenings - ironically negating the need for the previous night's "power" struggle (heehee!). After watching about 45 seconds of one documentary with the bizarre commentary of an overly enthusiastic newby (because on Day 3 we were soooo much more experienced in the ways of the jungle), I called it quits on the movie watching and began wandering the lodge in search of something to do. I tried reading in a hammock but ended up just chatting with an extremely low-key Australian guy who I only ever saw dressed in a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and what can only be described as hippy pajama bottoms. You know you have seen these pants before on stoned dudes at concerts, on dirty vagabond travelers in train stations around the world, on an unwitting returned missionary recently back from a two-year stint in South America. Sure, they look comfortable but that is all that can be said about them. Of course the guy was super nice. And mellow. He had been traveling in Africa for a month before recently coming to Australia. How he had the time or money for this trip, I have no idea but he certainly didn't let the rain get to him. We later saw him in the airport leaving Puerto Maldonado in his uniform and flip-flops. The only thing he was carrying was a small plastic bag that could not have held more than a beverage and a book. Yet somehow, when he got off the plane in Cusco and waved farewell, he had acquired a long-sleeve shirt. Had it somehow been stuffed in the tiny plastic bag or was Erin correct in guessing he bummed it off a fellow-traveler when he realized that Cusco is significantly cooler than the jungle? I guess we'll never know. But I suspect this guy is still wandering around South America somewhere with his plastic bag and money belt under his shirt.

Despite a decent conversation with the mellow Aussie, the option of a good book and a notebook to write in, it didn't take me long to get stir crazy. While I believe in some down time on vacation, I felt I had had enough relaxing and was ready for more adventure, thank you very much. So I occupied myself with photographing the lodge. Drinking hot chocolate and getting to know people better. And I learned a lot. For example, I learned that although the Minnesota couple seemed fairly nice and normal, they were a bit nuts. The wife brought something up about drinking or noted that I wasn't drinking and pressed me as to why I abstained. After I divulged my religious affiliation she pointed accusingly at her husband and exclaimed that his sister is Mormon and she is a piece of work . . . with a hurried "not because she's Mormon" disclaimer afterwards. She then went on an unprovoked rant about all the kids this sister-in-law had as I stood there trying to figure out how to get out of the conversation politely, not in the mood for arguing. Then the woman turned to her zero population growth theories which I really did not want to argue with her about but could not just let slide. I mean, honestly, I thought zero population growth was a late 80s/early 90s thing that has fallen out of favor now that Europe is encountering so many population issues after having many of its citizens ascribe to this zero population growth theory. She conceded that maybe smart, well-educated people should have kids or everyone may end up dumb (uh, yeah, a very elitist and classist concession if you ask me) but I needed an exit from this conversation. I realized this was the reason for her odd tone when she explained away that her husband had two duaghters who she raised but she didn't have any kids. Unfortunately, not long after I extracted myself from that conversation by searching out more hot chocolate, I landed in another - not as irritating in substance - discussion with the husband. I have no idea what we were talking about, all I know is the conversation went on too long and I grew weary of it. I really needed a new distraction and Erin was occupied with her new BFF Tiffany. Those girls hit it off surprisingly well and soon had their own inside jokes.

Still bored, I signed up for a massage before lunch. I had low expectations for my brazil nut something, something massage but it was cheap so I decided to give it a try. The massage room was located right off the lobby and next to the walkway to our wing of rooms. It was private in the same way everything else was private in that it had curtains for a door but instead of walls, there were curtains surrounding the room, which isn't so bad when the wind is calm but . . . a simple breeze makes the curtains dance around quite a bit. Now, I am used to massages where you have to strip down and crawl under a sheet. I didn't really have an issue with this. It was a little odd to me though when I walked in and the woman simply held out a basket for me. Through gestures and simple words I asked if she wanted my clothes in there and she nodded and did not move. She did not leave the room and she did not turn her back. She just stood there encouragingly. Ok then. I stripped everything off until I was just in my sports bra and panties and paused and she gestured for the sports bra to come off as well so I wrestled that off over my head as she stood there collecting everything in her basket and I crawled under the sheet before she could direct me to remove anything else. With the curtains billowing in and her staring, I need to keep something on. The massage was what I needed to finally relax and by the end I think I even fell asleep. That is until the lunch bell rang and I realized the massage was over and the woman was just standing next to me. She stepped out of the room as I got dressed and tried to decide which way to face that would expose me the least as the curtains billowed inward and people shuffled by outside on their way to lunch.

By the time we finished lunch, the rain had stopped and Jhin announced we were taking a walk to the mammal clay lick. We were anxious to get out and excited at the prospect of seeing larger animals. As we were preparing for our afternoon walk, some of the other groups were trying on wellies in preparation for their first jungle tour. We soon discovered that our little pretend rivalry with the newcomers was not the only tension in the lodge. I had noticed one of the new guides at dinner the night before as he was tall and thin and attractive. He was also very neatly and cleanly dressed. At lunch he had spoken to me briefly and had that arrogant manner that screamed machismo - this guy thought he was the best and was doing me a favor by talking to me. Ugh. As we put on our helmets to head into the jungle, Rico Suave, as I named him, started harassing Jhin about our silly hemets and the fact that Jhin was carrying a machete. There was clearly a rivalry between the two and we realized the intensity of the rivalry when Jhin looked at Rico Suave and said "You are an ass hole" in his delightful Spanish accent. It was hilarious. Jhin later confessed that he meant to say it in Spanish. We joked about it the rest of the trip.

By this point in the trip, we were all so comfortable together and I was in such a good and relaxed mood I was singing made up little songs along the way and everyone was teasing each other. We had really jelled as a group. And when Erin pulled out her video camera I frequently performed little dances for her to grab her attention as we trudged through the mud and carnage from the storm. I had a lot of pent up energy. Which was not exactly good for this particular excursion. After a not too long walk, we reached the little camouflaged hut up on stilts where we were to hide and wait for animals to come lick the clay.

Despite the fact that I had insisted to Erin earlier on that I would love to do one of the Earth Watch trips like the one our fellow travelers were signed up for, she did not think I had the patience for it. I argued that maybe when I was older and retired it would be good for me. However, sitting on a hard plank bench and staring out this little slit of a window down at the jungle floor where nothing happened, I realized I could not do it. I lasted about 45 minutes of silent sitting before I got completely restless. About that time Jhin got up and wandered out of the hut. When he was out of sight Morgan nearly panicked. Had we been abandoned? How would we find our way back? It was actually very funny because Jhin had just told us about the panthers that wandered the jungle and then disappeared. I was pretty sure we would not be encountering any panthers and I was likewise pretty confident Jhin just needed a pee break but it was funny how we all immediately started talking and confessed our boredom as soon as Jhin left. I broke out some snacks and we chatted for a while when Jhin returned about the different jungle animals. At some point the conversation turned toward what I referred to as "my babies." On the first morning in the jungle I had discovered an odd swelling on my left elbow. I assumed it was some sort of bug bite but it didn't look or act like a mosquito bite so I didn't really know what it was. For whatever reason, over that first breakfast as we compared bites and heat rashes (Tiffany's, not mine), I joked that something had implanted babies in my elbow during the night. This became an only-funny-if-you-were-there running joke with us and at one point Morgan had asked if I had named my babies and I agreed to name them after the group members as there appeared to be three of them. Somehow my babies came up while we were sitting in the hut snacking on cookies. Jhin had somehow missed the prior discussions and responded "the bot fly?" only, the way he pronounced it, it sounded like butt fly. Being the mature adults that we are, we found this hysterical. Until he told us this bot fly does in fact implant its babies under the skin and I asked if they will make me lose weight as we all laughed. Jhin got gravely serious as he looked at me and said "you are very beautiful, you do not need to lose weight." Which was both very sweet and kind of funny because he did not realize I was only joking because of course I do not want some crazy fly to plant its babies in my arm even if it does make me lose weight (unless there are no other side effects of course). Over the course of this discussion Jhin also described some sort of wild pig with "holes above the bottom" which emit a stinky odor which of course resulted in all of us snickering and later erupting in laughter as we repeated his description to each other over and over. Again, you probably had to be there but with the accent it was so funny and I know you are thinking exactly what we were in terms of these holes. . . .

That night was our last dinner together and everyone was in an upbeat and fun mood - I think because most everyone had a few cocktails prior to dinner. More people had arrived at the lodge and the dining room was now nearly full and yet our group was the loudest by far. For reasons I forget or never knew, I became the easy target of everyone's teasing. The crazy Minnesota woman said something vaguely offensive but also hilarious to me that we were all laughing at but I forget it now and Tiffany decided to jump on the bandwagon and at some point after we essentially had the whole room's attention blurted out "That's Why You Aren't Married!!" The dining room went almost completely silent in shock until I burst out laughing so hard I was crying and I was soon almost doubled over I was laughing so much. We were finishing up three very enjoyable days with an odd-ball group of people that somehow worked together. I guess you could say they were drawn together by their ability to mock me. I'm helpful like that.

We were hoping for an evening jungle tour but Jhin had apparently had enough of us and we were left on our own with instructions to be ready for 5 am breakfast. The shower I took at 430 the morning of the 5th was the coldest shock of a shower I have ever experienced in my life and the last I had before I was back at my own apartment around 3 pm on the 6th. The boat ride down the Tambopata was much swifter than the nearly 5 hour journey up the river and we were boarding a van bound for the airport sooner than we had expected. We made a stop back at the offices to pick up the boarding passes that had already been printed for us before heading to the airport. Jhin hopped on his motorcycle to follow us to the airport and gave us one of his signature gestures: a lift of the nose and a slight "Miss America" hand wave to signal the "fancy people" or snobs. We loved this so he gave us one last glimpse as he jumped on his motor cycle:

We said our goodbyes at the airport where we were surprisingly early and I was happy I still had some Mrs. Fields truffles in my bag to give Jhin the chocoholic along with his tip. He was really an incredible guide and made the trip.

The last thing I will say about our trip to the Amazon is a word about airport security in Puerto Maldonado. When I first led our group of four to the security desk that man told me to come back in 15 minutes. Not having anywhere else to go, we lingered a few feet off wondering what the deal was. Not five minutes later, a couple walked up to the same security guy, he spoke with them in Spanish, inspected their tickets and waved them through. So I walked up to the desk where he looked a bit sheepish and asked if I spoke Spanish. I faked it a bit and said I spoke a little and he let us in. Weird, right? Not sure what he thought I over heard but it was enough to get us entrance. But the best part was that once we got to the conveyer belt, it was not moving. In fact the x-ray machine was shoved up against a wall and there was just a table next to the metal detector frame. It was like going to a concert. The woman opened my backpack, poked around a bit and then waved me through. It made me wish I had tried to sneak in a bottle of water or something more than a can of pringles.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Help a Blogger Out!

So there is this blogger named Erin who reads my blog, commented and now I read her blog. We've never met. She lives in Malaysia with her husband and two kids, which I find very cool. What else is cool? She is applying for The Best Job In the World. Have you heard about this? Australia is hiring someone to go live on an island in the Great Barrier Reef as a caretaker and write about it. Sounds exciting, right? Well, her video was accepted and she has asked people to go vote for her video here and give it 5 stars. So help her out and vote! Maybe she will let us all visit if she gets the job. And who wouldn't like a free place to stay on an island along the Great Barrier Reef? Having been there before I can say I would not turn that down. Good luck Erin!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

to cheer Tiffany up (and me too)

Winter sucks. It is cold and lonely and can lead to the blues. 
So here are a few things to help cheer Tiffany up. Forgive if you don't see why these things are funny. I will post something for the rest of you again soon.
please tell me this makes you laugh as much as it does me
and this:
surely the goats will cheer you up
I mean, look at this little guy! Who could resist him?
Not working? How about Christian levitating in my living room?
I do not know why I find it so hilarious to see your kid in a John McCain mask but I do.
Yeah, you know what this is about. 
Who can resist smiling at the sight of this?
and this
If none of that has made you smile, just think of this:
And this?
the strangest gathering of people I have ever seen in Utah
And finally, look how happy:
Luckily February is a short month!

can we talk about January for a minute?

I know, I know, who wants to go back to that bitter month, we are happy it is over and done with and we don't have to deal with it for another 11 blissful months - most of which will be much warmer and longer. But here is the thing. When I finally got around to uploading my photos from the month I thought would never end, I discovered some fun things happened. Yes, after I got back from Peru even! So here goes. A photographic (okay, there is some narrative) tour of the fun things I saw and did in January that I never got around to blogging about - all in one post.

First off, remember how I went to Utah for MLK weekend? You don't? Right, I forgot to mention that. Well, it was great. I sat next to someone hilarious on the plane who started talking to me after watching me play around with my Peru photos for a couple of hours. I never talk to people on planes. Ever. He was the only exception. But he's married so don't you get any ideas.

I was planning on snowboarding Saturday but my sister sent me a text while I was at the airport asking if I would be interested in seeing a Sundance film instead. So I adjusted. And I really, really wish I had focused enough to sit down and write the blog post I had intended to write about the film we saw - Amreeka. It was simple and poignant and beautifully written, acted, directed, filmed . . . everything. It stayed with me for days, settling in just a bit deeper the more I allowed it to marinate. I hope it gets picked up for national release because then I will pester you all to go see it. Here we are waiting for the film to start.The woman way off in the distance in the below photo is the filmmaker - writer/director Cherien Dabis. Her little chat with the audience introducing the film made me predisposed to loving it. She was quite endearing - especially when she asked the audience to say hello to her mother who was on the phone in Jordan. Very sweet.
Here is the cast during the Q&A session after the premier. Please note the pink plaid flannel-ish getup of the girl on the far right. If you are a fan of Arrested Development you will know this girl by the name of Maeby Funke but her real name is Alia Shawkat and she was excellent in the film. She was the only known Hollywood type in the movie and the only crazy-pants on stage. She even made the fug pages! See the outfit up close and personal here.
More post-screening questions. 
And here are my sister and I post-Sundance movie screening and pre-outlet shopping and Mrs. Fields cookie eating.
That night I hit Cafe Rio with some good friends.
After monopolizing a couple of tables at the busy Rio for a couple of hours on a Saturday night we moved ourselves across the street to Paradise Bakery for dessert and all I can say is Ginger Molasses cookies, where have you been all my life? I'm in love.
Sunday I met up with my 'boarding buddy Angelina and hit the slopes at Solitude and we got a little adventurous in Honeycomb Canyon.
I am telling you, this is what a mountain should look like:
It makes me homesick to look at these.
Taking a little breather in the middle of Sunshine Bowl (note the big smile!).
Unfortunately, the sun and/or the tightness of my helmet or my lack of hydration resulted in some threatening wavy white lines dancing across my vision during lunch which forced us to call it a day after just a few more runs. I spent the rest of the weekend chilling with family and catching up with more friends and not taking photos.

Back in NYC, work set in with a vengeance and I commenced with 12-14 hour work days. But one Friday night (last Friday as a matter of fact although it feels like so much longer ago), I had a dinner date with some out of town visitors. So I allowed myself to flee from work for a few hours (3 to be exact) to have pizza followed by cheesecake at Carnegie Deli with these people: 
They are the brother and sister-in-law of Tiffany and Ryan and the parents of the missionary I tried to deliver a Christmas treat in Peru. I recently learned he finally received the package a whole month later! And let me tell you what a pleasure it was to meet them. I was tired. I was irritable and I had to go back to work but they made me laugh and laugh. Especially when this happened:
There is no way for me to adequately describe the photo above without the voices and Ryan elbowing me and saying "what do we do?" and Val dropping all his change on the table as he said "I've got this many" and all of us laughing far too hard in the nearly empty back room. I didn't allow them to eat the pickles (please, never eat the pickles) but I did take the obligatory photo with the pickle.
And that brings me to last weekend's terror ride at Hunter Mountain. This is me waiting at the lift, sitting on the cold, hard ice while my friend did his first run without me. Please contrast this with the photo above where the blue sky is shining brightly and I have a wide smile permanently affixed to my face despite the early signs of a migraine settling in.
As I waited I tried to appreciate the beauty around me. All I saw was cold, dead things.
The hill. Does that look like a black diamond to you? No, wait until you are on the ice slide and then tell me what you think. That is the thing about these runs, they would never be rated black diamonds in Utah because they would never have the ice to make them so scary.
More photos as I waited. I have a pretty cool board, right? And that light skiff of snow on top? That is what they call powder. Ugh, now let us never speak of this again.
Except here is one last photo where the lift looks enticing and the blue sky looks deceptively welcoming. Do not buy into the ploy I tell you - it is cold and miserable there. Someone I work with who lives up there later told me that was quite possibly the worst day of the entire year. Great timing, right?
And that was January. Thanks for taking a look back with me. Perhaps sometime I will get around to that retrospective on 2007 I have been ruminating on or possibly even divulging my secret resolutions . . . we'll see how work goes over the next few days.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Chapter XXIII: fighting for an education

When I was six years old my parents made a decision that effected our family's future in ways we probably cannot fully comprehend. At the time, my dad was a truck driver and my mom stayed home with me and my three younger siblings, the youngest being a newborn. Years earlier, just a few credits short of a degree, my dad had dropped out of college. My mom had an associate's degree but had not pursued any further education because what she described as the three careers available - secretary, nurse and teacher - did not appeal to her. With four small children, they decided it was time for my dad to go back to school so we moved to Provo, Utah for the next three years while my dad finished his bachelor's degree and obtained and MBA - somehow not necessarily in that order - from BYU. He was an older student supporting a family and faced a different set of challenges as a result.

These challenges resulted in a common theme that was coaxed into my siblings and I throughout our formatives years: get an education and do not delay or get distracted in the pursuit of it. This was not a message that was delivered exclusively to my brothers, my sister and I heard it too. As we got older and hit financially difficult times which forced my mom into the working world, the message was repeated with greater emphasis. My mom felt limited by her lack of education which offered few job options with much financial reward and she became a secretary. Over and over my mother emphasized the power of an education to us - how it will give you options.

As a result, I always had grand career plans growing up, almost all of which included obtaining either a master's degree or PhD and many of which centered around teaching - college, of course. There was never a doubt in my mind that I would not only attend college but that I would also pursue some further degree. I never had to decide if I would go to college, just where and what to focus on.

With this upbringing, the sacrifice of dropping out of college in the middle of my junior year weighed heavily on me. Strangers I met at church, co-workers at my temporary job, my in-laws and nearly everyone I ran into from my past patronized me with ignorant comments about school no longer being important once a girl was married. With the very important exception of my parents, all the voices around me were chanting: girls don't need college. And inside I wanted to yell and scream at these people about how very important college is and that it is not just for boys. I wanted to show them - these people who meant nothing to me but whose judgment I resented - that I was different, that I needed college and I would be going back. No matter what, I was finishing college. I did not doubt myself or my determination.


Before we were married Mitch and I had agreed that since I was over half-way finished with my bachelor's degree that we would focus on getting me through school first. He knew that was of paramount importance to me and agreed to work full time and take just a few classes so that I could take a full load and only work if necessary. While he was amenable to the arrangement in theory, he resented it as it played out.

His resentment was one of the factors which forced me to adjust and compromise and drop out of school and go to work full time. As I diligently counted the months, weeks and days to when I would once more be enrolled as a full time university student, he shuffled from one job to the next and we never discussed his educational goals.

When Spring Quarter 1996 finally arrived as winter melted away, I was anxious to start my classes at the University of Utah. I was relieved to be back in school but was forced to balance my schedule with my new job at a law firm downtown. Each morning I caught a ride with my friend and neighbor, Andra, to the U where she parked in the institute parking lot and I trudged across campus to my 9 am French class in the mine building. During the brief 10 minute break between classes, I hurried down to President's Circle for a class at 10 and at 11 I had to push myself back up the hill for my final class of the day. I had morning classes 5 days a week.

Except my day was just starting. At noon I took the bus downtown and walked down Main Street to my new job in the Judge Building on 3rd South. Initially my job was just to answer phones, which allowed me time to read and study. But it wasn't long before my new employers realized I could do more than greet people as they walked in and began giving me more and more actual work, which meant less and less time to study on the job.

By 530 pm I was on another bus heading home to my husband and dog. Sometimes Mitch would pick me up but more often than not I had to ride the fairly creepy 300 East bus to avoid the extremely creepy State Street bus despite the fact that both stops were actually a longer walk from both my office and my apartment. When I started this routine it was still dark when I got off the bus before 3900 South and walked down Helm Avenue to 200 East past the dilapidated homes with dead lawns fenced in with half-height chain link. Dogs rushed the fences as I nervously walked past and an extremely obsese man sat in the window and stared. The walk made me sick every day I had to do it.

Meanwhile, Mitch had the car. My car. And he was driving it to its fast approaching death. And he complained about it constantly, spitting out accusations at me for its shortcomings. The mystery Mazda was no longer able to accelerate past about 35 to 40 mph. And its exterior was not holding up much better. One morning while backing out of the carport, Mitch pulled off half the front bumper. He reattached it with some rope and probably some duct tape. He would curse that car up and down each time he drove it and treated it with deep disdain and resentment. The poor thing couldn't help but give up and act in a manner consistent with the way it was treated. Mitch pressured me about buying a new car even as he skipped from job to job and money mysteriously vanished from our account.

We needed money to buy a car, to pay rent, to buy food and I needed to pay tuition and buy books. My credit card had reached maximum capacity.

For the first time in my educational career (but not the last), I broke down and applied for a student loan. By leaving SUU I not only gave up a half-tuition scholarship but also the extremely low tuition, the remaining half of which was covered by federal grant money. The University of Utah was almost twice as much in tuition and I no longer had a scholarship and I believe my grant money either dried up or dwindled as well. For reasons I will never understand and always resent, my federal loan did not issue on the first day of classes. Nor was it issued in the first few weeks of classes. Since books were also more expensive at the U, I decided I could hold off buying the less essential ones until my loan check came through. That was mid-March. Over the next few weeks I returned to the financial aid office multiple times and each time I was given another form to complete or asked to sign something or told about some new delay. I was never given an overall timeline and after completing each step I thought I was about to get my check. Waiting in line at the financial aid window meant being late for work. While my employers were flexible and understanding, it ultimately resulted in me either working fewer hours and earning a smaller paycheck or working later into the evening. And the line at the financial aid window was always long, especially at the beginning of the quarter.

Weeks went by and mid-term exams drew closer and I was still missing books. I was copying workbook pages from someone for French and I think I bought one of the novels I needed to read for a history class used but without copies of the text books in the library or any friends to speak of in any of my classes (my tight schedule did not leave a lot of time for pre- or post-class chatting), I was growing desperate.

Despite the paperwork I had been sent from the Federal government indicating my loans had been approved and the money had been sent to my school, the University refused to release the funds. I was panicking over how behind I was in all of my classes and growing more and more afraid to go home each night as Mitch's rage increased over the lack of money. He was in full press mode over our need for a new car - which was real. The car died frequently at inopportune times and places and required jump-starts with some amount of regularity. Mitch would not be able to take a bus to his job given the lack of bus routes available which meant, if our car died, he would have to look for yet another job. And we needed to pay rent.

Anticipating the check would come through any day now, we often spent the weekends looking at used cars and excitedly discussing what we would buy. But we needed my student loan check in order to make the purchase.

I also needed to pay tuition. I believe I was required to pay some portion of the tuition up front in order to commence with classes. I paid for some of it in the little bit of cash I had saved up and the rest I reluctantly put on my credit card and vowed to pay it off as soon as the financial aid check came through. But I still owed tuition and before long I was receiving letters in the mail threatening to withdraw me from classes if I did not pay my past due balance.

By April 26th, I was frantic. I do not think Mitch believed my long drawn out stories about all the time I had spent standing in line in the administration building begging for my money. I did not dare head into another weekend without the check with rent due the following week. Mitch's birthday was in two days and I wanted to be able to buy a car for his birthday, before the Mazda died for good. And I needed those books.

So, on that particular sunny Friday in late April, I went to the administration building with all the evidence in my hands that I felt entitled me to walking out with a check. I vowed to myself to remain calm but refuse to leave without the money. After waiting in one line with no result I was sent to a second window with no line at the other end of the building - the check line. I walked across the shiny brown tile that echoed my footsteps as sun streamed in disjointed beams across the floor and unoccupied line dividers that stood before closed windows hopeful - I was going to the check issuance window. I had outlasted the rush. No one else had complaints on Friday afternoon mid-quarter. When I stepped up to the very last window situated under the exposed stairway, the student on the other side took my ID and punched my information into a computer.

I waited for her to hand over a check.

She then shook her head and told me no, they do not have a check for me and told me to come back on Monday.

I nearly boiled over with rage and crumpled in defeat all at once. I asked her to check again and when she said there was nothing she could do I spilled out all the hoops I had jumped through and the timelines I had been given in a frustrated rush. I spread out papers in front of her that promised me the money and I asked for a manager or anyone who could help me. My voice started shaking as I confessed to my lack of books and how I agonized over how I would pay rent and other bills that were piling up. I showed her the insulting letters from the University which explained I would soon be withdrawn from my classes if I did not pay my tuition . . . and inside I feared explaining it all to Mitch and I cried. I don't mean that a few tears escaped, I mean I cried. A knot grew in my stomach and pushed its way up and out until my hands were shaking and my vision was blurred and I gasped for breath. My entire world felt as if it was crumpling down on top of me as I stood at that window begging and pleading for a different answer.

All I could see in that moment was a future in which I was forced to withdraw from school and will the car to keep running so Mitch would not blame me for its death. I did not want that future. At that moment, the ability to get that check that day felt like a predictor of the direction of my future.
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