Thursday, July 28, 2011

Still Hiking?

The answer is yes.  For those of you wondering, I do still get out on the trails here in Los Alamos, despite the fact that I haven't reported any new mileage in months at the bottom of my blog posts as I used to.

As the winter came this past year, I started hitting new trails less and less because all of the trails I needed to bag were not close to my house.  Accessing them meant getting in the car and driving.  Because it was winter, the ground was muddy and snowy and that meant that the dogs were tracking all kinds of goo and nast into whatever vehicle I took.  

So for the last few months, we've stuck to the trails here in the neighborhood.  Today, I felt the urge to try a new trail and since it definitely isn't wet around here (please Lord, send rain!) we hopped in the car and shot down to pick up a short but lovely trail a couple miles away off Barranca Mesa.  It was a nice jaunt but it was HOT and provided little respite shade.  Look how worn out my pups were:

So I think I'm going to hold off a little longer yet.  It won't be long before we start getting some cooler Fall temperatures that will make some of the long hikes we have left on the list more comfortable for all of us.  

Keep It Real!

P.S. Los Alamos Trails Goal Update: 18.8 out of 29.5 miles completed.  18 trails down, 7 to go!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Fallen Hero

Last weekend, I learned of the death of a young man from the small town in Washington, Colville, where I lived during a lot of my "growing up" years (age 9-16).

Sergeant First Class Wyatt Goldsmith, age 28, was on his third tour in Afghanistan when he was killed during a rocket-propelled grenade attack on his unit a little more than a week ago.  His remains were honorably transferred to his family yesterday and the largest funeral the town has seen in quite some time will occur this coming Tuesday.

Wyatt and his family moved to Colville in the later years of our time there and we only overlapped for about 2 or 3 years.  He was one of the few kids around my age that went to our church.  We once played in a brass quartet together during a Christmas Eve service.  On a couple occasions, he was a ski buddy on the slopes in the winter.  

Though our paths crossed often during those few years, I have to admit that I don't recall having thought about him at all in the last decade of my life.  Once we moved away, he wasn't someone with whom I kept in touch and his memory seemingly faded in my mind.

That all changed last weekend when I learned of his passing on Facebook.  Upon seeing his name just once, my memory was instantly tapped and I remembered everything.  Seeing his name flash across the screen so many times in the last week in other people's statuses or in news reports has been so sad but amazing at the same time.  Witnessing how that small community (just shy of 5,000 in population) has gathered around the Goldsmith family and each other is beautiful.  In that town, small children are being taught what a true American hero is, one of the last of many priceless gifts Wyatt gave his community and his nation.

Below is a short news clip about Wyatt and his hometown that loves him so much:

Thank you, Wyatt, for your sacrifice.  Rest in peace.

Keep It Real

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Disproportionate Response

Caution: The contents of this post contain insinuation to crude, volatile language.  Read on at your own risk.

So we all know I'm a big jerk that likes to tell people what to do, right?  Right.  Keep that in mind and we'll come back to it.

I have mentioned before that I am a Craigslist fan.  Sometimes I'm searching for stuff in particular.  For example, Leni would like a good extension ladder right now and I'm keeping my eye out for one.  In addition to searching for specific items, I also just like to know what people are trying to sell in my town.  So I'll often go on and just check the ads that have "Los Alamos" in them to see what's around town.

In performing this process, I am constantly coming across the same ad.  The guy has been reposting (read: overposting) it every couple days since the winter months and I was SICK of reading it.  It was an ad for a Bluray DVD of the incredibly disturbing movie, Let Me In.  It was being sold in Albuquerque but had the name "Los Alamos" in the ad because a lot of it was filmed here exactly when we moved to Los Alamos in December of 2009.

So back to me being a jerk.  After seeing this ad for the umpteenth time, I decided that it was my nosey responsibility to tell this guy what I thought.  I knew I shouldn't do it.  But I had to.  Partially because I wanted him to hear some "truth" and perhaps mostly to see what his response would be.  

That response, as it turned out, did not disappoint in the least.  This guy had a temper that could win contests and a mouth to go with it!  Below is the transcript of the emails we bounced back and forth for a couple hours.  My text is in purple, and his is in green.  I have taken some liberties to minimize the effect of his colorful language.

If you have an ad up for several months and don't sell it, it either means that no one wants it at that price or that no one wants it at all.  Truth be told, very few people do blue ray, so that's not in your favor.  Secondly, I could get this exact movie on blue ray, brand new and not from someone who says it is brand new, for a dollar less on Amazon.  Nothing ever sells on Craigslist for anything near what it goes for in real life as a new product.

So please do yourself and the rest of us (who are sick of seeing the ad) a favor and either drop the price dramatically or quit running the ad altogether.

I reported you to Craigslist for abuse of the flagging feature.
My ad didnt violate any rules in craigslist. It was only 1 ad.
And who gives a sh!t how long I've had it for sale in Craigslist.
Oh wow! You can get it for $1 less? BIG DEAL You cheap piece of sh!t!
If you don't like my ad DON'T F**KING OPEN IT YOU F**KING STUPID D#####BAG!

(DANG!  I was more amused than I was offended and wanted to shoot him another simple message back, just to see how much more ridiculous he could get.)

Wow. Do you kiss your mom with that mouth?


I tried one more time to get him after this but I think he caught on because I never heard back.  It's probably for the best because I think I'd already seen his worst.  I know I shouldn't have messaged him in the first place but I was just shocked and appalled at the level of insanity to which he took it.  

I hope that he is less intense in real life to the legit people around him.  Someone should wash his mouth out with soap.

Keep It Real!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What would you take with you?

What would you take with you if your town was evacuated due to the threat of the hugest forest fire in the state's history?

Flash back 11 years.  The town of Los Alamos was evacuated in 2000 because of the Cerro Grande Fire.  The evacuation started at noon and that evening, more than 200 homes burned to the ground.  

Everyone in this town that was here back then has a story about "the fire" and the evacuation.  These tales are littered with the good deeds of people who took families in, hotels and restaurants that wouldn't accept payment from evacuees, and individuals and animal shelters taking in animals from horses right down to kittens.  The amazing stories almost make one wish they'd been present to see it all.  

Flash forward to about a month ago.  I was enjoying lunch in the home of some friends from church who had lost their home in the Cerro Grande fire.  They had been away on vacation when it happened.  Luckily, their son had been able to come to Los Alamos and rescue a few precious things before the fire swept through their neighborhood.  After telling the story, the woman asked me what I would want to take with me from my house if the same situation ever presented itself.  


Flash forward to June 27, 2011, just a couple weeks ago, and a couple weeks after this lovely lunch discussion.  We were in the exact middle of our long-time planned two-week trip to Ecuador.  During one of our occasional sittings at a computer, I read a facebook status about a fire close to Los Alamos; the Las Conchas Fire (which still burns today).  Further research on my crumby internet connection revealed that a fire had started the day before, about 12 miles from Los Alamos.  

Oh no!

There are fires during the summer all the time in the southwest.  We knew this year would be bad because of having such a dry winter, but dang....12 miles is close.  

Next, I got loads of emails from friends and family telling me about the fire, not knowing if I'd caught on to its presence yet.  My brother in Albuquerque offered to make the 4 hour round-trip journey up to Los Alamos to gather anything we might want out of the house.  Having recently been asked what we would want taken out of the house in this situation, I knew exactly what the short list would be:
  1. An original painting that my parents had commissioned my sister-in-law to paint as a wedding gift to us
  2. Some photos
  3. A quilt that Leni's mom had made us
  4. A file cabinet drawer full of important documents like taxes, insurance information, etc.
  5. The laptop computer
That's it.  We didn't need much.  Thanks to the marvels of modern day homeowner's insurance, virtually everything is replaceable.  We didn't want to be hung up on "stuff".  The only thing that would have pissed me off would have been the fact that we just spent thousands on our new roof a couple months ago.  Our biggest concern was the brave personnel fighting the fire.  I was so terrified that someone would be hurt or even killed, just for the sake of saving some insured buildings.  

So Nick and his friend Byron jumped in the car and drove up to Los Alamos to get our stuff.  Ash was falling from the sky and people were leaving.  They were actually one of the last few cars allowed into the city as the mandatory evacuation (the first since 2000) was ordered.  The guys spent 30-40 minutes grabbing the stuff from my list as well as (bless their hearts!) a BUNCH more stuff.  How wonderful of them.  Nick said that as they were packing stuff, the national guard was rolling down my street with a loud speaker telling residents to get out.  


All in all, the fire took far fewer houses this time, 63.  All of them where in the mountains and not in the city.  The fire fighters kept the fire out of the town and away from the lab, which would have constituted a potential nuclear crisis. 

My husband is a Systems Engineer and is in charge of a fire suppression system in one of the nuclear facilities.  Insert irony here.

We began our journey home from Ecuador the day the evacuation was lifted.  Just like our friends, we were away on a trip when an evacuation was ordered in the first place.  But unlike them, we came home to a smoky yet standing city, and a perfectly fine house.  We are so blessed.  

As I mentioned before, the fire still burns today, but mostly within the contained control of the fire fighters, still working to keep us all safe.  As of current, the fire is 50% contained.  Here are some photos I've taken over the last few days:

Not a cloud friends but a huge column of smoke.  Nasty.

Taken from White Rock, about 10 miles away

As you can see, this isn't just overcast.  Here's blue sky to compare to.

I see these suckers fly all day long

Another very smoke-filled day

Always overhead

The flames could be seen at night.  Shot this from half a block away from my house
It begs the question, what is important in your life?  What possessions are you tied to?  What is irreplaceable versus just "stuff"?

Just remember: in the end, you can't take ANY of it with you :)

Keep It Real! (and insured!)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Republica del Ecuador: Out of the Beach and into the Jungle

Upon our return to Quito from Papallacta, there was some business in order.  Laundry to be done, repacking to do, church to attend...even a movie to watch (insert shameless plug for "Mama Mia" here).  Most importantly, we were eagerly awaiting the joyous arrival of more family from the States.  Leni's aunt Carol, her two sons (Patrick and Adrian), and daugher-in-law (Carol Ann) - all from the Dallas area - would be joining us for the second of our two weeks in Ecuador.  


A couple months ago when I found out these yahoos were coming on the trip, I was psyched.  These were each people I very much but, unfortunately, not people I got to see often anymore.  

Carol and crew arrived in the evening on Sunday and on Monday, we were ready to make the 6ish hour journey to the coast for a few days on the beach.  For this trip, we hired a driver and a van to haul us and our stuff everywhere.  There were 9 of us and we had asked for a 16 passenger van, thinking it was one step up from what we technically needed but that with bags for that many people, it would be much more comfortable.  What showed up that morning to pick us up was monstrous!  

All of us from shortest to tallest, including our awesome driver
There was so much room, it was ridiculous.  There must have been seats for 25 people!  Quite comfy.  And our driver, Germel was awesome too!  That was good because the deal was that, since it was such a distant desination, he was going to drive us and then stay with us for the week.  He was a great guy and I think he really enjoyed being with us.  He even stuck up for us and helped us out when the van company tried to overcharge us!

So off to the beach we went!  

Hours and hours later, we rolled into Playa Escondida (translation: hidden beach).  Playa Escondida is an "ecological retreat" facility which means that a lot of their policies and buildings are very "green".  For example, we used composting toilets, took cool showers (hardly a problem when it is so warm out!), slept in open air rooms, etc.  

This off-the-beaten-path hideaway has room for only 30 people but we were the only people there!  It was great being so well-served and staying in the best rooms.  Here's a picture of the part of the property where we spent most of our time:

The place on the left is the restaurant where we ate and our rooms are in the building on the right.  I was standing ankle deep in the ocean to take this photo :)
The rooms themselves were simple but completely adequate.  Since we only really slept there, we didn't need them to be overly fancy.

Open air, comfy bed, hammocks :)

The view from our window
There was a handful of staff who all worked to keep us fed and happy.  They seemed to like us and even baked us a special cake one night!  When we weren't sleeping or in the water or exploring, we were hanging out on the covered patio where we were served meals.

We spent lots of time down by and in the water, both at Playa Escondida as well as another beach a short drive away.  We swam, we skipped rocks, we searched tide pools......

One day, we went into a nearby town for a little wondering around, shopping, etc.  We found a beachside bar that had swings as seats and couldn't help but sit down and partake!

On a different day, we heard about a place to go to see whales in the afternoon.  Mostly we saw water spouts but we saw a couple whales briefly come up.

On Thursday morning, we enjoyed our last wonderful meal at Playa Escondida, said our good-byes to the staff, and piled back on the van bus.  We were headed back towards Quito but would be stopping for the night in Santo Domingo.

On the drive back out to the highway, we ran into these guys:

Many of you have heard me say that Leni's parents served as missionaries in Ecuador for some time when Leni was a child.  The larger picture is that Leni's paternal grandparents were missionaries in Ecuador for decades!  

Long story short: the Moores moved to the jungle back in the 1950's (I think) to live with the Tsafiki (or Colorado) people who lived close to Santo Domingo.  This mission was to live with them and learn their language (as well as how to write was not a written language yet!) so that a bible could be translated for them.  Crazy!  The Moores lived there close to 35 years I believe and brought Christianity to this culture, which still mostly honors it today!

We got to Santo Domingo, had some dinner, and then crashed for the night in the home of some missionaries that the Moores knew from back in the day.  The next morning, we made the 30 minute drive into the jungle to a place called Congoma to visit the place where the Tsafiki people live.  I was so thankful for these 30 minutes because I knew that when Paul was a young boy, his dad would have to do this trip in two days on a donkey or horse because there was no road back then!  

When we arrived, we pulled up to a school where kids were playing outside.  I learned that this school was a bi-lingual school where they spoke both Spanish and Tsafiki.  How crazy to think that these kids would not have Tsafiki text books if it hadn't been for Leni's grandfather.  It was cool to walk around and see what was going on:

Paul kicking the soccer ball around while Adrian guards the goal

Karisse with some younger kids in the classroom
Not too long after our arrival, a man came walking down the road on his way to do some work.  He saw Paul and they started talking.  I soon learned that this man had known the Moores back in the day.  To him, Paul's father, Bruce, was like a father figure and Paul even taught him to type and to play guitar.  We shot a video of him sending a message to Bruce and it was incredibly moving...tears in lots of eyes.

Friend (can't remember name!), Paul and Carol
We were waiting for Paul's longtime childhood (and now adulthood) friend, Primitivo to show up to visit with us.  While we were waiting, we played in the banana trees a bit.
Finally, Primitivo came onto the scene.  As he grew up, he spent a lot of time assisting Bruce Moore.  In adulthood, he is a community leader as well as the current pastor in their church.  He had a chance to also make a video greeting for Bruce.

Adrian filming Primativo with Paul watching
You may be wondering what is on Primitivo's head.  It's his hair, just dyed with a paste.  Back when the Moores lived in Congoma, the Tsafiki had some pretty awesome ceremonial dress.  I have even seen pictures of people dressed this way in the 1970s at Leni's aunt Becky's wedding.

Photo found online
Today, as you can tell from the photo of Primitivo, the look is quite toned down and reserved for special events.  On this day, Primitivo was on his way to a community meeting.  

After a few minutes of visiting, Primitivo jumped with us in the van bus and we drove a few minutes to see the church where they worship and some other friends.

After some more visiting with old friends, we departed for the final leg of the trip back to Quito.  

It was surreal to visit Congoma and realize all the history the Moores have there and how much Bruce is still remembered and loved.  Watching Leni's aunt Carol, who hadn't visited her home in almost 30 years was priceless.  But in the mean time, I was being eaten alive by bugs and was already tired from the beach trip.  The prospect of returning to Quito and then soon boarding our return flights was a welcomed one.

I know this particular post has been long and probably should have been split up into two posts.  But thanks for hanging in with me.  I'm happy to be home but will never forget my trip to Ecuador.  We hope to save money and one day return again to visit the Galapagos Islands, which are part of Ecuador.  But that will be many, many years in the future.  It is a very unique but extremely expensive place to visit.  Another part of Ecuador that I would like to visit is the Amazon River.  

There's always something to look forward to!

Keep It Real!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Republica del Ecuador: Thermal Hot Springs

Roughly two hours east from Quito, up at 10,800 feet in the Andes, lies the town of Papallacta.  The bumpy dirt road just skirted by the town and minutes north was a gorgeous hot springs resort and spa called Thermas Papallacta.

I'd never seen a place like this before.  Pools fed by fresh thermal water were EVERYWHERE.  The mountains around were so close and seemed to just shoot straight up from the little high valley where the resort rested.

Our room with the closest pool being...oh...10 feet away?
View from our room.  Check out those Andean mountain tops!
We checked in and then the boys took off.  Leni, his dad, and his brother were decked out for a 3 day backpacking trip.  It was Tuesday and they were going to drive back out on the road we came in on and then hike back through the mountains to Thermas Papallacta, returning some time on Thursday.

Staying at the resort, Leni's mom, Karisse, and I lived it up!  We'd wake up around 8 or 8:30 and meander down to the restaurant for breakfast around 9ish.  After breakfast, we'd sit in the thermal pools and solve the world's problems for about two hours.  No need to really shower after sitting in the's the same water coming out of the showerhead!  After lunch, it would be time to rest.  Sometimes a book, sometimes a nap, sometimes both.  On Wednesday, we wondered down to the spa and hooked ourselves up with massages.  It was the most luxurious thing I have ever afforded myself.  Words cannot describe how wonderful we felt after that hour was over.  The afternoon brought another couple hours in the water and then we'd wonder back down to the restaurant at about 6pm.  They actually didn't serve dinner until 7 so we'd order a glass of wine and sit by a fireplace and watch whatever was on the huge flatscreen TV at the bar.

Speaking of food, we definitely ate DECADENTLY at that restaurant!

In the afternoon on Thursday, the boys came sloshing into town.  They were soaking wet.  The place where they were hiking, the paramo, is basically a rain forest at 14,000 feet and higher.  It gets 400+ inches of rain a year and there is NO way to stay dry.  But don't feel sorry for these guys!  They've done it many times before and knew 100% what they were getting into.

After the return of the guys, we stayed one more full day so that they could enjoy the resort as well.  A few hours before they arrived, Karisse and I had taken a hike on a loop trail behind Thermas Papallacta, so we just had to show it to the guys.  It was so green and lush.

The entrance to the trail

One of many waterfalls.  I desperately wanted a vine to swing on across the scene.

Found some llamas
Thermas Papallacta was a gorgeous place and I'm so glad we got to go up and see it and spend so much time there.  It was nice to be pampered in so many ways.  But Saturday came quickly and it was time to pack up and leave to prepare for the next destination: the coast!

Check back from the last installment of the 3-blog series coming soon.

Keep It Real!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Republica del Ecuador: In and Around Quito

Aaaaand we're back!

Welcome to the first in a three part series of blogs about our freshly completed 16 day trek to and through Ecuador.  I didn't want to overload anyone with too much information so it is being broken up into the three main parts of the trip.  Part one below is in regards to the times we spent around the capital, Quito.

Quito was somewhat of a home base where we would start and finish our couple side trips.  Most of the time we were there, we stayed at a great, family-run hostal.

Doesn't look like much but it's clean, serves breakfast, and is very secure!

Couldn't complain about the view from our room!
On our first full day in Ecuador, we headed out to a little town called Otavalo.  It is known for having an ENORMOUS open air market.  The biggest day is, of course, Saturday but we were there on Sunday.  It was still a sight to behold.  It probably would have been completely overwhelming to be there on the peak day.  It was a great place to see some local crafts and buy things for ourselves as well as gifts for family.

After visiting the market, we headed just outside of town to a place called Parque Condor.  It is a facility for large birds which functions as a rehabilitation center as well as an educational center for the public.  My father-in-law and brother-in-law, both being falconers, have been involved in different ways with rescuing and working with birds there in the past.  No good pictures of birds unfortunately because it rained pretty hard and I did not want to have my camera out.  But trust me that they were some incredible creatures.  Below is a picture of the legit wingspan of an Andean Condor in relation to my own wingspan.

On both the first and last nights of our trip, we bebopped down to an old, restored part of Quito called, "La Ronda".  As it turns out, it used to be a real seedy part of town but in the last couple years, they have cleaned it up and it has become quite the quaint, lively, cobblestoned destination.

Taken at dusk
Funny mime
Talented spray paint artist
Almost worthy of its own blog post is Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World).  Just north of Quito lies the equator and several monuments and museums in its honor.  Please note that, despite what the staff at these varies places would have you think, none of them really have the true equator.  At the time of the creation of the touristy lines in the ground, the general area was known, but not necessarily the exact spot (until, of course, GPS technology).  But the important thing is to recognize the significance and let those establishments have their fun.

Leni, me and Landon at the big monument.  I'm on the line :)
Partaking in the cheesy gimmick
Restaurants at Mitad del Mundo are known for a couple things but one of the most important is Cuy.  Cuy (known to you as guinea pig) is delicious.  If you have ever watched the show, "Bizzare Foods with Andrew Zimmern", you might remember the episode where he went to a restaurant near Mitad del Mundo and ate several Ecuadorian treats, including cuy.  We went to the very same restaurant where Andrew enjoyed his cuy and even got to watch the episode while we waited for our meal.  While we enjoyed each others' company and some refreshing drinks inside, the cuy was slow roasting by a hot fire outside.

Also close to Mitad del Mundo is an incredibly gorgeous caldera called Pululahau.  It was just a five minute taxi ride away and SO worth it.  The views were incredibly stunning.  The land down in the bottom is so lush and there are even some species down there that only grow in that place.

The "mountain" in the middle is in the center of the caldera so you are only seeing half of the caldera in this photo
The last thing we did on "Mitad del Mundo" day was to visit an ancient Incan ruin.  It was the remnants of an old fort they once occupied.  It was very cool to be on the old stomping grounds of a culture I'd studied as a child.

So there you have it - the cliff notes version of our interspersed days in Quito.  There are, unfortunately, no photographs of Leni's aunt Becky and uncle German who are long-time Quito residents.  But seeing them and getting to know them better was such a blessing and much credit goes to German for doing a lot of logistical work for us ahead of time as far as reservations and playing taxi driver for us while we were there.  They are such amazing people and I look forward to the next time we get to see them.

Stay tuned for the part two blog post coming.  Subject matter: the trip to the thermal hot springs, which were mentioned in a previous post.  Until then....

Keep It Real!