Thursday, November 25, 2010

Road trippin'

Hi again from us, and Happy Thanksgiving (for the two minutes left of it as of writing this sentence).

Well, we just completed our first season at Rock Eagle, we're sad to be done, but looking forward to working with the same great people again next year. And now, for the first time in a decade, we have a long time before our job starts up again in February, so we want to catch up with family and friends back in Washington. So the road trip starts tomorrow. Actually, tomorrow we go to winterize our house in Kentucky and see the neighbors and maybe visit the old office, but it's a 10 hour drive there, and another 50 hours or so to the west coast. So the trip begins. And we do expect to see a few folks along the way, as we seem to now have friends scattered across the country. Wish us luck!

And one more quick story of our recent trip to Tybee Island and Savannah. We had to take advantage of our free lodging at the 4-H center on Tybee, and we're so glad we went! Tybee is beautiful, with spectacular beaches, and just a half hour from Savannah. Savannah was covered in spanish moss and gnarly live oaks and dripping in history. Here's a picture from the cemetary:

We stopped by Fort Pulaski National Monument on the way out from Tybee. It was similar construction and time period to Fort Jefferson that we saw on Dry Tortugas during our trip to the Florida Keys last year. They had some cannons set up in the fort:

And you can still see cannon holes in the wall where the Union army's firepower forced the Confederates to surrender the fort. It was an important victory in the Civil War, and also an important change in tactic, demonstrating how rifled cannons would make the brick forts obsolete.

Anyway, cool stuff on the Georgia coast. We hope to go back again next year.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tough week.

This week, we were turned down by Peace Corps.

Their reason for turning us down was that we are not willing to go anywhere in the world, and they wanted to send us to sub-Saharan Africa. It's not that we have anything against sub-Saharan Africa, it's just that our goals and desires for our two year service do not match a placement there. Their new policy (instated sometime since the last time I applied, in 2001-2002) is that all volunteers must be totally geographically flexible or are not qualified for service. This policy is in spite of the fact that one of the big questions in your application is where you want to go , and that they nominate you for a certain region (we were nominated for Latin America months ago) and expect you to fulfill certain requirements specific to that region (i.e. language credits, that turn out to be rather expensive) in order to get to the placement step. We reached the placement step at the end of last week, and the placement officer insisted that she has to go with what is open at that time. That means that once a potential volunteer reaches that placement step, they do not wait to see what will open up - so it is a crapshoot if there is something available at the exact time when your medical and legal clearances go through. Hmm.

So we are now looking for other paths to a one- to two-year, affordable term in Central or South America. Internships, volunteering, and just going down there and finding something (bartending? why not?) are all being explored. The catch is that many organizations require you to pay them to volunteer on top of paying for a place to stay, medical insurance, and your plane ticket, etc. We would love to have the experience be relevant to our future work, preferably something environmentally focused. We want to improve our Spanish, so we would like to be somewhere doing something that requires the use of Spanish. Suggestions are always welcome. We already have a few, thankfully - it makes it easier to take the Peace Corps let-down.

Another thing that helps us through our frustration is the fact that we work at an awesome job with awesome people. So here's a shout-out to the Rock Eagle crew - if I were to say you all rock, that would be just too easy of a joke and I'd have to roll my eyes.

Edit after the original posting: The really rough news this week (which I didn't feel I could write about here until it was announced by my brother and sister-in-law, which it now has been), is that they lost their twins at the 12- or 13-week mark of her pregnancy. She had been having troubles since Thursday, and today finally had to terminate. I'm so incredibly sorry for them. So yes, the tough week was not just caused by the Peace Corps let-down, but by true trajedy.
Here's to hoping next week is better, and healing is on the way.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jekyll Island

Hello again,

As seems to happen on weekends (and weekdays, and vacations...), I overestimated the time I had and underestimated the time all my chores would take. So this blog post will rely heavily on the picture's-worth-a-thousand-words principle.

Last weekend, we went to Jekyll Island with a friend and co-worker, Lester. (The week following was really busy with school groups, so I didn't have time to post until now.) Jekyll is a barrier island off the southern Georgia coast where another 4-H center is, and since the benefits of working for Georgia 4-H are not high monetarily, they offer current employees free housing at their other centers for vacations as part of the benefit package. We took advantage, which is good, because hotels on Jekyll are pretty pricey. It was once the exclusive vacation resort of a club of rich people including J.P. Morgan, Rockefellers, etc. The historic clubhouse still stands:

...and us poor folk get to enjoy it now - at least, it's coffee shop (no, this is not the 4-H center):

The golden orb weavers enjoy its grounds as well. This spider was larger than my palm (legs included, of course), and had a body nearly two inches long. They were everywhere on the island.

For all the planning that goes into having such a place open to the public, I do wish that they would grammar check signs:

We went for a walk on a trail on the north end of the island, trying to get to "boneyard beach," (more on that later), which we were only partially successful at. It was a pretty walk, though:

The whole island is pretty, though, so what should we expect?

That night we splurged for dinner at the "Rah Bar" on the pier. Yum!

The next day we got to boneyard beach proper. The north end of the island is being eroded away, while the south end is being added on to. (The 4-H center is at the south of the island, and when it was built decades ago, it was waterfront. Now it's a five minute walk to the water from there.) Boneyard beach is where the beach is eroding away from underneath trees:

Most of the trees down were huge!

Lester enjoyed them as well:

Finally, when we knew we really should be leaving so we could prepare for teaching the next day, we spent a little more time on the 4-H center's beach at the south end of the island. Lester birdwatched:

...and Jeff dug himself a jacuzzi:

Lester gave him a hand when the tide started getting closer:

But Lester wouldn't get into the jacuzzi when finished. The foam and dirt was kinda gross, but Jeff was really proud of his creation.

And then, we returned to Rock Eagle. The week was busy but fun, although I got a recurrence of the stomach infection I had before, so I was slowed down quite a bit. I'm on antibiotics -again-, which hopefully will knock it out finally. We're still loving our jobs, though, so life is very nearly perfect!

More another day.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Turtles, snakes, and alligators - oh my!

Evening, all!

We finally got a few more pictures taken today, so I figured I'd update the blog again quickly. We're getting run pretty hard by the kids here (it hasn't even picked up to full steam yet!) so we're both really tired, so this may be quicker than it really should be.

A few groups have come through already, so there has been some opportunity to practice teaching classes we're unfamiliar with (since we're newbies, that would be all of them) and practicing teaching methods. There is also a strange custom here called "lead staff," in which one staff member's sanity is sacrificed so all the others may thrive... I kid, of course. Each of us is assigned to be lead staff for groups, one staff member for each group, to make sure their stay here goes smoothly. We show them around, make sure they get to meals on time and together, put out fires, etc. Jeff got to practice lead staff for a group last week that were a bunch of angels - seriously. This week, we each got to be lead staff for more ... normal groups.

When you are lead staff, you teach classes only with that group. It is a bonding experience. So I spent the week with a group of 5th graders that was from a suburb of Atlanta, and was informed by several students that they had never been in the woods before. Quite the adventure for them, then, that we not only took them into the woods, we also had them wading in the lake and digging up muck from the bottom to find little creepy crawlies to study. They were freaked out for all of 30 seconds - then they were in the lake and loving it. And next, there was canoeing class.

Ah, canoeing class. Most of the kids don't know how to swim, and no matter how many times you tell them that the personal flotation vest will keep them up, and that they'd better not end up in the lake anyway, some of them were still freaked out. Including the teacher. Fortunately for me, Jeff had that class period off from teaching, and since it was my first time teaching canoeing, he had asked if he could help me out. Thank goodness. I had boats drifting all over the lake, two of them with a kid inside totally frozen from fear. He tracked them down and got the scared ones on land while I tried to teach a class - but no matter how much you scream on the lake, kids in a canoe are not necessarily going to listen. So after hollering for them to come over and "gunny up" (get side-by-side to make a raft-like thing for discussion), after about 15 minutes I tried to teach turns to those who were there. It was far more fun for them to watch Jeff take in the scared kids, or look straight down at the water, or talk about Miley Cyrus, or whatever, though. No one really got the turns. So we tried to do some races... hah! One kid figured out paddling pretty well, and had his boat going the way he wanted, but if another boat got in the way, he'd just yell, "Oh, no, we're going to hit them!" and paddle harder in the same direction. Stopping paddling never occurred to him, to speak nothing of paddling backwards. It was quite the class. But everyone got in a canoe, and everyone got back to shore and out of the canoe, and no one tipped, so I guess it was a success of a kind.

Another part of the weekly routine here is "lab," where you and a partner are assigned to keep track of a set of animals or an area of campus or whatever to take care of. Jeff is in the aquatics lab, so he keeps track of a building that we use for lake ecology classes, and feeds the fish and turtles there. I'm in the museum lab, so I keep up exhibits for the museum and take care of the animals on display there. One of my favorites is our baby musk turtle:

It was feeding day today, so I got my favorite grumpy-old-man look from our snapping turtle, who was waiting for his food:

I've also been working on making water molecule and ice crystal models for the museum. Even though chemistry is not my favorite subject, I've been having fun because I've gotten to use a drill press and fuss around with painting and constructing models. Yay!

My big challenge for the term is to learn to teach the herpetology class. It's not so much the science part that I'm worried about, it's more the handling part. We have several snakes and turtles, a couple alligators, and a couple salamanders that we teach with, and part of the class is to take them out of their cages, carry them to the classroom, and pass them around to kids (if the kids can handle it - but then, part of the job is also to make it so the kids can handle it). I'm not afraid of snakes in a phobia kind of way, I just have never been exposed to them, so I don't really know what I'm doing. And they're creepy. But it's a big goal of mine to teach that class - it's part of why I took this job.

Jeff got to teach a modified version of the class, just on snakes, a couple days ago. He's more comfortable with the snakes - here's him and Fezzic the king snake checking each other out:

I, on the other hand, just held my first snake today. Actually, I held five snakes today. One at a time! Me and Winston the grey rat snake get along fairly well:

I wanted to start with slower-moving snakes, who tend to be the bigger ones, like Winston. But I agreed to hold Hugh the corn snake because Jeff told me Hugh was a nice guy. Turns out, while Jeff was teaching his snakes class, we had a big storm. The big storm dropped a tree on a power line, which gave us a two hour blackout. Jeff was holding Hugh at the time of the blackout, and Hugh was cool with it. So Jeff is cool with Hugh, and so am I:

Hugh is the slowest moving of the corn snakes, though, so I still have some work to do with some of the others. Today, though, I took it slower and went back to the rat snakes - here's JJ the black rat snake:

JJ, as it turns out, is a wiggler. He likes to explore. All over. He kept going back and forth from Jeff to me to Jeff to me, too:

After all those pictures, he started wondering what the heck the camera was, so he came up to sniff it:

After my success holding snakes, we decided to check out a few of the other animals in the herp lab. Jeff wanted practice with the alligators - I'm still working my way up to these guys. You have to flip them over just after you pick them up to calm them down, or they'll fight you:

Then, because turtles are awesome, we decided to get some pictures of them, too. Here's a bigger snapper than the one that I feed in the museum:

... and an even bigger one - an albino, Apollo:

... hee hee! I love the looks on their faces!

Next was the softshell (I think) who is really, really quick in the water, so was tough to catch:

And the yellow bellied pond slider, who's not as quick and really not very bright, so somewhat easier to catch - but he's good at getting into his shell:

This guy is a musk turtle, so the little dude I feed in the museum will someday look like this. He's cuter now, but I guess you can't stop them from growing...

And lastly, our gopher tortoise, Digger. He's heavy.

Hope you all enjoy our pictures! I probably won't be posting pictures of us with kids, since that might not be kosher, but we kind of consider our animals our kids, so good enough.

Nighty night!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Georgia on my mind, and under my feet

We had a couple requests to continue this blog after getting home from South America, so here it is...

We made it to Georgia! For those of you who didn't already know, we accepted jobs at the Rock Eagle 4-H Center near Eatonton, GA (between Atlanta and Augusta, south of Athens), for the fall term. We're teaching environmental education and teambuilding to groups, mostly school groups, who come to the center. Rock Eagle is the largest of the five 4-H centers in Georgia, and can hold up to 1000 people overnight. Most of our groups stay two or three days, but we occasionally have a day group or a full-week group.

Some of the classes that Jeff and I teach are lake ecology (we make sure the kids are filthy by the end of that class), forest ecology, watershed studies, herpetology (it will take me a while to be comfortable enough with the snakes and alligators to teach that one, but that's my big goal for the term), Native American skills, Native American games, pioneer tools, campfires, orienteering, challenge course, and teambuilding. We've only had one group so far, so we've only taught lake ecology and teambuilding, and next week is fairly slow. But soon enough, we'll be in full swing.

We live on campus in a house with four bedrooms (we get two) and shared kitchen/living space. There are four houses with three to four people living in each, all right next to each other, so it's one big block party several times a week :-) Actually, there isn't a huge amount of partying going on, but we're hanging out at each others' houses a lot. The team is awesome, and we're both learning a lot from our coworkers.

The commute is 10 to 20 minutes walking, complete with trails through the woods and a foot bridge over the lake.

Staff training was two and a half weeks, although we missed almost the entire first week because we were getting back from Peru and then moving from Kentucky. A couple days were "all-staff training," when the rest of the 4-H centers' staff came to Rock Eagle so we could party- uh, train together. After the first day of all-staff training, we had a pool party in the pool with the waterslide (there are two pools, so that's how we specify).

We're meeting other friends, too:

Jeff and I are at a slight disadvantage because of the four days of training we missed, so we don't know how to teach some of the classes. Fortunately, everyone is very friendly and helpful, so we're catching up, class-by-class. We took over a full Saturday of Lester's time for a canoe class.

We got the how-to-right-a-swamped-canoe training, for which another staff member and neighbor, Brian, joined in:

Lester took no pity on us and made us do every exercise the rest of the class had done, including having two people tip two canoes and right them without help:

Jeff didn't need a whole lot of help. He's that good. So I hung out quite a bit while he did the heavy lifting.

We did manage to right both canoes, and were happy about our accomplishment...

... and then Lester told us they both had to be dry in the bottom. We had to tip one again, but we got it.

After our private canoeing class, we took advantage of our access to the pool with the waterslide, and a few others joined us. Jeff -loves- waterslides.

We were asked if we wanted to be available for assisting the high ropes course, which mostly consists of safety checks and belaying climbers. I went through most of the training, but couldn't get myself psyched enough to finish (more on my energy level in a bit). Jeff, however, was the first to finish the training, and became everyone else's practice monkey, climbing the wall several times so others could practice belaying him.

This from the guy who's afraid of heights.

The only thing not going swimmingly is that I brought a friend home from Peru, in my belly. The stomach troubles that made it so I couldn't do the Choquequirao hike haven't totally gone away. It's not as bad as it was when it started in Peru, but I'm definitely slowed down some, and my stomach sometimes decides to be grumpy. We're trying to figure out what's up, so hopefully I'll soon be better. The worst part is actually fighting with the insurance companies. Wish me luck!

I hope all is well with all of you, and sorry for taking so long to write this up. We've been a little busy :-) Cheers!