Sunday, October 9, 2011

The man, the myth, the legend!

Now where to begin?  In true form, it's been almost a month since posting but the good news is we're halfway through the semester, WOOT!  Instead of the usual whirlwind recap, I'll focus on a particularly exciting event we were able to partake in last Friday.  The MBA program I'm in is called Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise (GSSE).  It evokes many of the same reactions I got when explaining to people I was going into the Peace Corps.  "You're doing what? ...Why?" or "I hope you make as much money as that degree title sounds like."  I've gotten over the pitying looks.  As IF I could do anything to save this world caught in a downward spiral, right?  Well, turns out, some of us can.
The happy GSSE crew and speakers

The GSSE community had the opportunity to hear some pretty inspiring folks speak a few days ago. Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises (IDE) and author of Out of Poverty along with the current CEO, Al Doerkson came to share some perspectives about development and IDE's place in that world.  While Paul holds to some steadfast rules (the "Don't Bother Trilogy") I don't necessarily agree with, such as "If what you design can't pay for itself in a year, don't bother" he makes some of the most logical connections between business and the developing world I've every heard.  The way Paul and Al rattled off market numbers was astonishing.  As a wise not-so-old professor once said, "Paul is 78 and could kick all our asses".

Evolving as a professional and engaged individual, this program is pushing me to see the things I agree with and highlights some that I don't.  I think it was Obama's mom who said something to the effect of "Sooner or later you have to be for something rather than against everything".  

Giving potential venture feedback
The day started with some background on IDE and where the idea came from (Paul's head).  He's a psychiatrist by training, spent some time investing in real estate, and realized after traveling through many developing countries that a good chunk of the world has some serious needs BUT they had some disposable income to address them.  The rest is history, peppered by Somali donkey carts, drip irrigation systems, water purifiers and more.  IDE sells products to make people's lives easier in a manner that is affordable and less intrusive than traditional products.  Seriously, leave this blog now and go the sites I linked above!  They don't apply blanket answers but adapt their market strategy to each country, city, and village situation.  

Lettin' us have it!
The most exciting part of the day for me was when we were able to let fly questions we had about the projects we will be presenting at the end of this month.  Our class goal is to pick the most viable projects from a crop of ventures and carry those forward over the next 18-months and maybe beyond.  Paul and Al asked us real questions about the nitty gritty details.  What an opportunity to ask these men, who have been in the field for decades, about our ideas.  It was humbling and energizing all at once.  These were questions investors or really anyone would ask.  Our ideas are solidifying but we're still in the research phase for the most part... This is the irrigation project in India I keep mentioning.

It was a fantastic day.  Paul signed all our copies of his book, many contacts were exchanged and, I think, a good time was had by all.  I'm sure this is not the last I'll blog about these guys and IDE, their ideas and practices resonate with me in a very big way.  As Paul says, "There is much to be done."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mountains and Valleys

Hey all!  I think we've hit what the previous Cohort was referring to when they said it would be a "busy" semester.  This program has been true to its marketing and shaping up to be a very intense 18-months.  This is the first time I haven't work since I was 12 and it's totally necessary...and shocking.  As per usual, the highs are high and the lows are quickly becoming normal and less that's good.  And really the lows are not lows. They're just patches of having to focus HARD on the coolest stuff out there on sustainable business, boo-hoo, I know.

There has been some fun as well, last weekend was the Fort Collins Sustainability Fair.  The GSSE program has a booth and it was a great time!  Much larger than last year was the word on the street.  They even had free bike valet parking!  Good thing I wore my pearls. Kudos to the Sustainable Living Association for putting this on.

One of the many rows of booths

Kat and Greg selling knowledge!

We needed to compete for love with our neighbor's dog so we borrowed a puppy for a bit.  5 months and 50 pounds...
In other news, we've had two students drop from the program for different reasons.  22 of us remain and we're a pretty cohesive bunch.  Ranging from former corporates to sci-fi actors, it's an eclectic mix.  Looking forward to being assigned a venture to work towards in November.   For now, it's researching small plot irrigation for rural farmers in India.  Smells of a former Peace Corps project...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Happy Place

Water skiing on Horsetooth Reservoir
Well, I think it's safe to say I've landed for a spell.  After three weeks of non-stop "settling" Fort Collins is certainly treating me well.  I feel like I've landed in a foreign village for the first time and with no expectations, the surprises have been pleasant to say the least.

Those who know me well...or really anyone whom I've talk with for 5 minutes knows that "settle" is a 4-letter word in my book.  So much to do and so many places to go always meant perpetual motion.  After the purchases of a chest freezer and folding end table,  I must say, this whole moving-in thing is great!  Coffee in the morning hasn't been this great since french-pressing in Benin...well AND porch coffee in Alaska.  But this time my bathroom is INSIDE!!!!

Since Lizzy, Tara and myself hadn't been in the same room for two years (!) we got together on Labor day to celebrate friendships and a new addition to our group of ladies, Olivia!  The little nugget was great and Daddy was even better, giving us girls some talk time.

The real reason for a gathering was to start working on emptying the chest freezer.  Master chef Tara concocted something with cilantro and cardamon for the salmon.  Super tasty and she followed with a homemade blueberry pie. I swear, I am the best-fed grad student in history.

School is moving along swimmingly.  Every day brings new thoughts and twists on some pre-conceived notion I had about working in the developing world.  If this program is doing anything for me, it's certainly broadening my employment search awareness and making me more confused than a very good way.  Interesting that accounting is quickly becoming a favorite as it's the only class with REAL objective answers.  If assets don't equal liabilities and stock. equity then you're wrong!  Every other class is extremely subjective and I'm finding comfort in concrete solutions.

In other news, I've joined the Fort Collins women's rugby team. A great group of women who show up to have a good time.  Felt nice to tackle again and found I even missed wearing a mouthguard.  More to come on game updates but seems as though we'll have a "building" season.

Hope everyone has finally cooled off, it's 70 degrees and sunny here, always.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Three Months Later...

And my brain is exploding!  Since our last meeting readers, there have been some serious changes.  So here's the run down; the sad, the happy and the mind-melting future...

I had big, huge even, intentions of hiking every trail I've missed in the last two years.  Knowing it would be my last summer for a bit, I had some ground to cover!  Then the sockeye run came in.  Fishing started great for me this year, caught a 122 lb. halibut and finally acquired a fly rod and reel.  A few knot lessons later and my little 5ft chest freezer is FULL to the brim for the winter.

Slaying the mighty sockeye 
Rocky and I even bought our season licenses ($145 for outta-staters such as ourselves) and they paid for themselves a million times over.  I'm pretty sure that he was just ecstatic not to be dragged on every trail on the Kenai.  Friends Tara and Jason came up and we fished the heck out of the middle part of the river, 5 fish per person, at a conservative 4 lbs of meat per fish...that's an 80 lb haul in one day.  Now make no mistake, it was an extra large run this year so I didn't feel quite so bad about hauling them out and we certainly thanked every fish for its life and flesh.  It's tasty, tasty flesh...
Surprise Glacier 
With one weekend to spare, we were awarded extra days off for good behavior and it was off to the magical land of the Kenai Fjords National Park and our very own Glacier Lodge.  We had absolutely     a-maz-ing weather, and if I was feeling spiritual, I'd even say we were blessed a little.  Heard they were having a great summer and getting to see friends made it the perfect finale to my stint in our northern frontier.
Getting a tan in the Kenai Fjords National Park!
 I took many photos, made more great friends, and hope to continue my love affair with Alaska long into the future. It has certainly wrapped itself around my heart and brain with a fierce grip!

Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, doesn't get much better than this.
I said farewell to some of the greatest people I've ever met and hopped a red eye to Denver.  Bittersweet but it sure did feel good to hit Fort Collins and know I'd be unpacking the majority of my stuff for an extended stay.  While I'm pretty sure a backpack lifestyle will always be my mantra, I wrote a rent check and bought a crock pot.  For the next 18 months I'll be MBA-ing at Colorado State, riding my bike, and drinking a plethora of microbrews.  More to come on that but it feels good to be connected again, eating fresh produce, and working towards goals that have been floating around my head for quite some time.  Onward and upward friends!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Safari Rides Again!

view from the beach at Kenai Backcountry Lodge

For the first time in my three years at Alaska Wildland Adventures, I was able to participate in a full guide training.  If our guests thought they were exhausted at the end of a journey, we put that to shame.  Running all over the state and trying to absorb as much natural history as possible, we hit all three AWA lodges and then some. It began with a 6-hour raft down the Kenai to our backcountry lodge, a three mile hike to the tundra the next day and back to camp for a dance party.  

saw-whet owl, 2nd smallest and CUTE!
Pausing only briefly between the Kenai and north training, we danced our safari hats off and headed to Anchorage the next day, seeing the Portage Visitor's Center, Girdwood, and pointing out the all-important R.E.I.  On the way to Talkeetna, we were treated to a visit from the Alaska Wild Bird Rehab Center.   They give great talks to our guests about the rescue and rehabilitation of the raptors and other winged friends that are brought in.
7 sisters flying around Denali

Made it North and flew up to the Ruth Glacier, what a GREAT day!

one of the best Dall sheep pictures I've taken
Denali Park stole my heart as usual. We were able to fly around the mountain, land on the Ruth glacier, enjoy the nightlife of Talkeetna, and share delicious food and priceless stories with friend while camping in the park.  The weather was glorious, the mountain was out the entire time, (that must put us in the .001% club) and animals were all over.  As a fellow guide put it, "It was just pissing nature!"

Friday, May 13, 2011

Just an update

And the ball has stopped rolling…for another few months anyways.  Made it to Alaska and breathed a sigh of content as we landed on a fabulously sunny day in Anchorage.  Another season, my third, and I’m still psyched to be here!  The landing marked the end of living 3 weeks on the road and out of my backpack.  While I’m definitely not done with being transient, it’s always nice to be able to stand still.

view from Sunset Point
After the state park post, Rocky and I headed to Bryce Canyon National Park for some sunshine and hiking.  Found lots of both and picked up some giant blisters at the bottom of the hoo-doos.  Loved the park, mostly because it was such a different landscape than I’d gotten used to over the winter.  Wish we’d have made it to Zion but sometimes it’s nice not to squeeze too much in.

Natural Windows

After Bryce, we marathon-ed for a few days, bless the red bandit, and made it to Three Island Crossing State Park, in Glenn’s Ferry, Idaho… to stay for a total of 9-hours.  Great showers and tons of cushy grass, highly recommended for an overnight.

Onward to the Oregon coast to see Minto, a fellow guide from Alaska.  We split that stay with a trip into Portland to see one of Rocky’s friends from his city days.  Yakuza is where he works and we ate.  A-MAZING!  Best sushi I’ve ever put in my face and certainly the best sake.  It was a seriously incredible dinner with some insight from the chef himself, with duck wontons in a consommé as a grande finale.  Good thing the sushi was healthy.

Rocky wasn't too stoked to be on Vertigo Point
Returning to our weekend at Minto’s, we received a tour de coast with more stellar weather.  Minimal hiking due to the time crunch, which was fine with my still-raw blisters.  Also during this time, I found out I got into grad school at Colorado State in Fort Collins for the MBA-Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise program, starting this fall.  Felt the load of anxiety I’d been schlepping around all winter dissipate instantly.  This was quickly replaced by the concern of finances for a master’s program, but it’s a nice thing to have to worry about.

As a final stop, we parted ways in Seattle so Rocky could head home and I could get some time in for "favorite cousin of the year" with two of the best little nuggets under 5, Nora and Lucille.  It's nice to have family stretched across the country.  One sunny afternoon we went to the Japanese Garden, part of the Botanical Gardens in the city.  Exactly what I'd seen back in Japan, so peaceful!
watched these guys for awhile

playing with shutter speed

 This summer is looking busier than ever, which means it will go even faster than the last few.  Cheers to endless daylight, campfires, and one more season in a tent…for a while anyways.

Monday, April 18, 2011

State Park Love

Grass!!!!!!! Though the virgin sprouts were just beginning to peek their heads through the snow and muck we left in Leadville, it is in Utah something fierce!  Actually, it appeared as soon as we dropped 2,000 feet in elevation.  And then, oh heart of my hearts, there were flowers!  “PURPLE!”  I exclaimed madly as we tore west on I-70.  As I glanced right, my darling travel companion didn’t even flinch in his slumber….too many last minute goodbyes.  My eyes drank in the color, and I felt my face turning the same shade.  “Oh gawd, it’s HOT!”  Now he was awake… perky as always.  We’re estimating it was 67 F.

Changed to sandals in the City Market parking lot and ran inside for potties and provisions for the next week and half of exploring the desert and making our way back to Washington.  Air conditioning? Felt great.  With ice for our new cooler, Aleve for those rough mornings, and plenty of goodies to snack on (we may be poor but we certainly won’t tell our stomachs that), it was back on the open road.  I’m shocked to see that gas is as or more expensive than it was in Leadville.  We’re on the flat open road here people!

After a quick assessment of daylight and motivation, it was decided we stop in Green River and camp at the state “park”.  Now, I realize these don’t always hold the glory our National Parks do but after mom and I had such luck in northern po-dunk Nebraska I thought it could be a jewel in the rough.  And really Utah is such a beautiful state, there couldn’t be a bad view.  After asking directions from the Texting Tammys behind the gas station counter and a little coaxing, we found it a mile down the road.  Pulled in well before dark, paid our $16 for a spigot, grass, view of a golf course and RVs, showers, and, my favorite, BIRDS!  Reminiscent of the campgrounds Rocky and I both grew up on, this was a perfect stopping point, I even heard an owl hooting last night!  …Unless it was the same guy who was shining the light in the tree seeking out said “owl”

The robins are intense here, as are the other songbirds who are adamant they will not be out done by their friskier friends.  And one other bird of prey I haven’t experienced in a long time - mosquitoes.  I’ll hold tight to my belief that they’re relatively harmless here as there is no malaria.  So, I offered my arms out for a feast and was thankful for such different climates in such close proximity.

Charged batteries in the bathroom, used water from the tap, and settled in to a comfortable camp nest. 

As I sit here, enjoying the morning in a t-shirt and sandals, eating granola and drinking coffee, I take stock of my surroundings.  The Bulldozers are dozing, someone is definitely mowing over a cow pasture, a truck has been backing up with that BEEP for what seems like hours, children are finding it a true delight to speak in outdoor voices, and car camping really is wondrous.  We have everything we owned piled to the roof and room for a few bags of slightly more than simple food to prepare every night. 

A heron flew over this morning as I was French pressing and everything was quiet for a minute.  Ahhh, wilderness.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hut Hut!

As a last hurrah for work (because we all made it through another seasonal stint and still genuinely like each other) we headed to the Continental Divide cabin, privately owned and rented through the 10th Mtn Division Huts.  I was prepared with water and toilet paper as the public use cabins in Alaska, while amazing, are nothing in amenities compared to these babies.  The circuit boasts 29 back country huts on a "suggested" trail system. 
Schlepping our booze and solid food in the kiddie sleds.  At least 50 lbs each.
  We single track skied in and was sticky going up, but all I could think about was the icy ski back in the didn't disappoint.  Being as this was my third time on x-country skis, in at least a decade, I'm pretty sure the group got a few good laughs.

This cabin, being about a mile ski in, is stocked to the max with TP, dishes, dish SOAP, clean bed sheets, and is fully powered on sloar and propane with a grill at the ready.  Heaven.  Walked in the door and was reaffirmed that this is the type of living I need to do.  Super clean outhouse, water pump for the sink and stove featured in the middle of the common room to heat and cook on.  Simply perfect.  If your biggest concern is a dead marmot in the cistern, life is pretty sweet.

 There was sun! SUN!  Not the bone shattering breeze made tolerable by some UV rays, but actual take your boots off warmth!  Ty said everyone looks like matchsticks in the spring, red faced and glowing white body.  This held true and forgoing the sunscreen, my happily pink flesh will be peeling in a few days.

People packed their various stringed instruments in and we had ourselves a little jam session.  The only song they actually made it all the way through was Wagon Wheel but hey, at least we all knew the words in our post-feast  comas.  John cooked up a serious buffet of bacon-wrapped, feta stuffed figs, grass-fed ribeye steaks, salad, and grilled veggies.

Andy, Jason, and Monty picking their little hearts out

Breakfast left something to be desired.  After a delicious Irish Coffee and Bloody Mary's all around, folks got distracted and we vulcanized our meal.
That what you get for cooking casually on wood I guess... but we sure did eat it.  
It's a sad day when the bacon actually melts to the baking sheet.

Defeat in the crust!  Rotten snow took on a new meaning for me and I tossed the skis the last 10 yards or so...and promptly post holed to my hip.  Looking forward to the desert in a few days.
After biting it HARD 3 times, I conceded for the final downhill.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Peace Corps Turns 50!

Greetings All!

It's been almost two months since a post yet I'm on my computer every day.  Spring has sprung here...sort of.  Sounds like we've entered what's called mud season in the mountains.  Lots of exposed ice and well, mud.  That's not to say the snow is done but the winds are significantly warmer.  Much has been happening which is why I haven't been blogging.  I've been DOing :)

PC Prop at Colorado Mtn College talk
 Peace Corps turned 50 this year and in my near obsessive need to "spread the good word" I tried to get some PC love where I could.  Turns out there is quite a community, mostly at Colorado Mtn Collage where I tutor.  No one from West Africa, lots from Central and South America, and one incredible woman who served 5 years in Botswana and then a year as staff in Bulgaria!  She's now an entrepreneurship professor and is interested in the company Dlight Designs, started by the first volunteer in my village in Benin.  Love the less than 6-levels of separation!

delicious PC Potluck

Peace Corps has been sending out copious amounts of emails saying returned volunteers need to get together, especially in its 50th year, and celebrate what we've done and talk about what remains to do (a TON!)  I mostly needed these get togethers for some solidarity.  Haven't had a fix in a while and I finally felt like I had enough oxygen once I realized how many of us were in the community.  A few more faces to say hello to at the coffee shop is always a nice thing.  After a small presentation at the local college, we got together for a potluck.  Enchiladas, fruit salad (b/c that's what I always craved in Benin), empanadas and good drink for all.  It was a great way to meet some friends and learn about their experiences.  I must say, I felt a bit like a weeney when a few folks recounted tales of drug lords bursting into their homes because they were taking over that village, or of going on a 10 day excursion in the Amazon, with nothing but booze and a few roots to chew on.  It's clear there have been many changes to PC over the years, and many more that need to happen but I think the spirit of volunteers has remained.  As a finale to these events, I received a call on my cell yesterday from a friend back in Guinarourou.  We haven't spoken since I got in the taxi to close my service but it was like we never skipped a beat.  He is shocked we don't have any African yams (ignames) over here and I can't imagine I ever lived in the equatorial heat as I gazed out the window on a white white landscape and blustery 20-degree (F) winds.  Who knows how much that will cost on my phone but with lots of laughter and some Bariba exchanged, it's good to know there's still a little bit of me over there and a lot of "over there" left in my heart...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Food Corn!

Ahhh yes, I remember it fondly. My sister dangling her little feet from the car booster seat, gazing out the window on Mentor Avenue and honing in on the righteous porn picketers on a sunny afternoon.  Sometimes grocery shopping can invoke one of life's lessons.  "Mom, why are they holding signs about corn?"  That afternoon, mom and I learned 2 things:
1 - phonics doesn't always work
2 - Abby has been a diva since birth, lusting after the shiny green, sparkly outfits dangling in the "corn" storefront.

In honor of the perpetual relationship food and pornography now holds in my mind, here are some money shots taken this winter at our house.  A great example of what cold temperatures, good friends and a functioning kitchen can produce :)

basil focaccia by Rocky

cornish game hens, pumpkin soup steamed veggies and stuffing, impromptu thanksgiving!

butternut squash, porkchops, asparagus. and cheesecake!

herb bread rising in the morning light

and the final product

pizza bar...brought on discussions of opening a local pizzeria...

this was pretty impressive

juevos rancheros

crepes?  c'est tres bon!

swiss chard pie

my very first turkey! 

eggs benedict, how much butter?????

washington berries, boulder sausage, and yes folks, we have a waffle iron

SPRING ROLLS!  freshest app ever!
especially good with smoked halibut inside

mozzarella and sun-dried tomato stuffed chicken breast, roasted red peppers, and oven roasted asparagus

Special thanks to Mother Earth News, Joy of Cooking, Martha Stewart, Rocky's Bread Book, the Peace Corps Cookbook, Julia Child, and our very own brains for delivering these concoctions.  
Happy Chef-ing and thanks for checking out our food corn!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hey Friends!

It's been a while and you wouldn't believe how much elk I have schlepped in the last month! The 30-foot yurt fits 45 people when it's max-ed out. The holidays came and went, mostly at work, punctuated by a few get togethers and gift-exchanging. Practical mum sent food, a non-electric chopper, and a tool kit...for that impending day when my bumper actually fall off. Most touching was a donation of $100 to Camp GLOW in my name from partner-in-crime, Rocky. Rarely do I get true surprises and this one blew me away. Glad the girls in Benin are still keepin' on.
It's been gorgeous here though we've been hit by some cold snaps. At 20 below, it's hard to start a car, snowmobile the mile to work, or just be outside in general. My house is old, slightly drafty and I've been spotted sleeping in a full fleece suit, hood and all. I believe they call that backcountry beautiful. As long as the sun keeps shining, we're all in good spirits. Though I must say the monochromatic color scheme has been getting to me. Haven't been taking as many photos as hoped and while I'm on the hunt for a tripod and photo software to experiment with, brown, white, and evergreen are wearing on my eyes. Suppose I should sound a little more thankful to live in such a fabulous location ( I am, I LOVE it here), but as I've said before, even chocolate and elk for every meal can get a little tiresome.

In an awesome show of family solidarity, my parents sent Abby out to the mountains for some apres-new year's fun filled days. I picked her up on a Wednesday from Denver and we didn't stop moving until putting her on a plane shortly thereafter, on Sunday. Most of our photos are on the facebook but wow, I don't think I've laughed that hard in a long time. She'd never been on skis, a snowboard, or a snowmobile. We covered it all and then some. After watching her hurl herself down a small slope on x-country skis, catch serious air after a major fall (on the bunny slope) while snowboarding, and scream "Born to Be Wild" at the top of her lungs while tearing it up on a snowmobile at 40 mph, I realized I needed her visit just as much as she did. Mixing it up is necessary to stay fresh and alive. It was awesome to have a visitor from home! It occurred to me that Abby hadn't really experienced being in the mountains before, and though I don't think she'll ever call Leadville home (too small), this was one more notch in the journey belt. Made me reflect a little on past travels and my encounters with nature's grandeur. It was nice to see my surroundings in a fresh light.
On the last day, guide-extrodinaire, Rocky, took us for a fast and furious few hours snowmobiling near the Gore range. These mountains are touted as being the model for the Coors cans. That delicious banquet beer. It really does look like it!
We ended in Denver that same night to catch dinner and a movie before handing her over to security at the airport for a red-eye back to Kent for spring semester. Ate burritos and saw Black Swan. A self-destructive ballerina isn't my usual cinematic topic of choice but certainly gave us conversational fodder for the ride to Denver International.
In true Miller form, it was whirlwind adventure but oh so fun and needed.