It’s Been a Hot Minute

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted anything! Here’s a little bit of what I’ve been up to.

BIG THINGS: I started a new job at the beginning of January and I couldn’t be more pleased. I accepted a position as an adoption counselor at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, which means I am back in the non-profit world, and back to a very hands on job with all sorts of creatures. This is my preferred habitat!

My official staff photo- I just love this cross eyed kitty named Mela

I also took the longest vacation I have had since college when I traveled back home to Wisconsin for Christmas. It was a much needed break and provided so much excellent catching up with family and old friends. *Side note* I am so glad that I missed the polar vortex- Christmas was mild a pleasant when I was there!

Growing my urban jungle has been my latest hobby. Back in September I decided to further my horticultural endeavors and, after having a history of accidentally killing plants, I got serious about this greenery business. To my surprise, with some research and reading I was able to achieve success! I have grown my plant collection considerably, and have enjoyed all the benefits of living in a plant-y apartment. My pride and joy is my ficus lyrata, or fiddle leaf fig, which is about two feet tall and growing. TG and our friend Ben built me a beautiful and custom vermicompost bin for Christmas so that I could not only compost my food scraps, but also put helpful worms to work for my plants by creating nutrient rich soil for them. I love this new addition to the apartment!

The vermicomposter! It is beautiful AND functional. Here you can see the cat, Stormy, modeling it.

I am looking forward to carving out more time for writing as I settle into my new schedule, and TG and I are busy planning our upcoming trips for this year. On the table are lots of camping trips in the mountains, and hopefully a trip to Mesa Verde National Park!

My new job has many benefits, one of which is a supply of chic cat bow ties.

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From Bots to Germany: A Story of Culture and Temperature Shock

I went from summer in the Kalahari desert to winter in Europe in one 24 hour period. This is a short story about culture and temperature shock.

How did I end up on the other side of the world in two such extremes? This story had started four and half months earlier, in July, when I left my home in the United States and started my semester abroad in Gaborone, Botswana. Botswana is a peaceful country situated in Southern Africa, and much of it is dominated by the Kalahari desert. This country is famous for two main things: the Okavango Delta, and diamonds. It was about as far from my home as I could think of.

I studied communications and volunteered at a local game preserve called Mokolodi. I travelled around Southern Africa with other exchange students; I saw the beauty Africa had to offer, ate food I wouldn’t have touched back home (goat meat? Ox tails? Impala?), and I even got a tattoo just for good measure. At the end of it all I boarded a plane from Gaborone, to Düsseldorf (with a stop in Johannesburg and Frankfurt between).

Although I love to travel, and although being “different” is something I am used to, I will admit that constantly sticking out like a sore thumb began to wear on me. With my fair skin that burned easily, red checks, freckles, and boyish haircut, not to mention my visible tattoos and American accent, there was no way for me to blend it. Some of the attention was friendly and curious, but a lot of it was what I imagined zoo animals receive. I had other students try to surreptitiously take photos of me, among other things. Additionally, my closest friend was unusually tall for a woman, was Ghanaian and not a native Motswana, and had white yearn in her dreadlocks. This is to say that the pair of us attracted more notice than some of the other foreign students. I began to look forward more and more to arriving in Germany. This would be my third trip the country, and my knowledge of the language covers the basics. I feel quite at home in the culture there having grown up in a very German household. The plan was to meet up with my Dad, who had flown in from Ireland, and meet him at a train station in a different part of the city. I had started my journey at dawn in a dusty city in Southern Africa, and now it was nightfall in Germany. The plane ride in between had given me plenty of time to think about how much I was looking forward to being on home-away-from-home turf.

Bundled into my new blue peacoat (thanks for bring it all the way to Africa for me, Mom!) I stepped out of the airport onto the train platform. I breathed in the cool crisp December air. It was night and the platform was cheerfully illuminated. I felt an internal shift as my body came to some sort of a settling point. I think in some way, some part of me that I wasn’t even aware of had relaxed for the first time since July. I had loved Botswana, but I also loved that I could find my way to a ticket booth and purchase a train ticket with ease. I loved that the train platform felt friendly and familiar. I loved my new jacket. I love the anticipation of adventure in another country.

I sat down on a bench to wait for my train. With a thrill of delight I realized that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that not only would my train actually arrive but that it would arrive on time. One thing about Bots- the country and everything in it runs on it’s own time. I had longed for German precision and now I was in it’s beating heart: the railway system. A young woman approached me and asked me something in rapid German. I didn’t follow it, so I shook my head and said, “I’m sorry”. She blinked in surprise, and then replied in English,

“Oh, no problem!”

Being mistaken for a German citizen was just about the most exciting thing that could have happened. I smiled to myself and settled into my jacket against the chill air. I was looking forward to reuniting with my Dad and celebrating with good German beer. Sometimes it is just nice to fit in again.

Hiking Boots: Xero Daylite Hikers

Okay, so there is this group of people in the world of hiking who like to be barefoot but don’t like thorns, sharp rocks, dog poop, frost bite, etc. So there are shoes that are called “minimalist” or “barefoot” so that said people can still “feel” the ground under their feet without the risk of injury. I decided to try a pair of this type of hiking boot since I have never liked wearing clunky shoes, and I don’t like the way my feet feel inside of my current boots after a few miles on the trail.

The shoes I tried are the Xero Daylite Hikers. The reviews I found were mostly from men, but the company’s costumer care philosophy and laid back nature intrigued me. PLUS they offer this system called Quad Pay where you can pay for the product in installments, but have it shipped right away. Since I’m on a tight budget this was really attractive! I would love it if more gear retailers offered a system like this since many of their costumers are similarly outdoor lovers, but without a lot to spend on quality products.

I have been on four different day hikes with these boots so far, and worn them to work (I work twelve hour shifts, much of which is spent on my feet) on multiple occasions.

I have found them to be exceptionally lightweight and flexible. There are two extra straps on each boot which can be tightened by pulling on the laces. Since the boots themselves feel a bit like skate shoes, and since the toe box is wide by design, I like that I can tighten the body of the boot to fit my narrow feet. As advertised I can feel pretty much everything I am walking on (sharp rocks in the heel included). I do like this feature, since it gives me better “grip” on ground surfaces, and even changes how I step. I step down with the ball of my foot, not the heel. I step lighter, and with more agility (since I am avoiding said sharp rocks).

There are a few cons. The shoes don’t keep you feet as warm as a more traditional hiking boot would. Not a problem in summer or fall, but in winter, with snow on the ground, I can certainly feel it. I haven’t tried taking out the extra insole for “extra ground feel” because of the warmth issue. I find that the amount of feeling I have in the boot right now is comparable to a think soled tennis shoe, but with much more support from the rest of the boot. Finally, the pull on the back of the boot, where you can tug to help get your foot in, came loose…but I’m honestly not too concerned about it.

The Daylite Hikers come in a few different colors. I am not sure that I am 100% sold on the “minimalist” shoe, but I do love the comfort and flexibility of these. On top of that I like wearing them for every day casual like- outings, work, walks around the neighborhood. In the photos you can see that I have some thick socks on with the boots, and so far that has kept me comfortable. I don’t think these boots would be good for an extended, say, backpacking trip through snowy terrain. I will definitely be taking these backpacking this summer though!

Cut Your Own Christmas Tree: Colorado Style

I have never done the “Cut your own tree” thing before. We had live trees we picked from a lot for a while when I was a kid, and then we switched to an artificial one. In college and after I was alllll about the live trees (albeit the small and inexpensive ones from the mini-golf tree lot). This year I was ready to pull out the little artificial tree I bought for my studio apartment last year AND THEN TG pointed out that he has a earth of trees on his mountain, a Forest Service permit, and years of tree cutting experience. “But what about when Christmas is over?” I asked.

“I’ll throw it in the boiler and it will heat the house,” he said.

Ok, so that’s settled.

We spent the morning hiking in Evergreen, at Alderfer/Three Sisters, which is an open space park. It was chilly, but the clean air felt great. Since Evergreen is close to TG’s mountain when we left we went to his place to begin our tree search. Hiking around was brisk, and a little snowy, but you can’t beat the views.

My studio apartment is pretty small (shocker) so I had a set image in my head of a tree that was equal parts sturdy, slender, and bushy. I have, uh, plenty of ornaments and lights for tree decorating, so a Charlie Brown tree was not going to work.

TG was finally the one who found the tree. I had been eyeing up the Lodgepole pines we saw, even though I had been advised that those were not the traditional choice for Christmas tree. We saw some exotically shaped trees, sculpted by the sun and wind on the mountains. They would have made great statement pieces, but they didn’t have that “thing” that I was looking for. That thing that says IT’S ME, I’M YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE. TG handed me his portable saw and gave me the basic instructions for how to cut down my first tree. I have the say that this point that I felt mighty guilty about taking a tree and cutting it down. I have been assured that it is okay to do this, however, and that live tree are actually better for the environment. I am not here to argue this, so if you want to learn more, just google it for yourself.

I cut the tree, and TG hauled it off the trail and down to the truck. Yes, we had a permit. I was a little worried about all the needles being shaken off the tree on the drive down to Denver, but it made it! Once inside the apartment I realized that I *may* have underestimated how high my ceilings are..

As my Dad said, “Nothing a saw can’t fix”. Indeed, and so we sawed it, and now we get to sit back and enjoy a large tree in my small apartment.

Map My Hike

I did a lot of hiking in 2017.  I mean I was out there just about every weekend checking out new states parks, open space trails, Rocky Mountain National park- if I could find it in GPS I would load up the Yaris and go.  I brought Dog with too, because she is never picky about where to hike or how far.  As the weather grew colder and the year wound down I hiked less.  In 2018 I had other things on my mind and while I did enjoy some great camping (see my post about camping in a national park) I did not achieve the same goals I had in 2017.

I feel like changing this.  It’s time to up the motivation ante and get back on the trail.  I download and app to help keep track of my route, time, and calories burned.  It’s called Map My Hike and is free to download.  I’ve only used it once so far, but I was so curious about what the data from my little hike around Red Rocks in Morrison, CO would look like.

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One of things I love best about living in Colorado is the sun in the fall and winter months. It’s out and it’s loud and proud. The cold morning will disappear into a gorgeous day pretty fast. While this also means that night temperatures will plummet, I can hike in a long-sleeved shirt, leggings, and a hat and be quite comfy.

I have also acquired some new gear for hiking over the past year, so I will post more about that later. I don’t believe that you need to trick yourself out in the *latest* from REI in order to enjoy the outdoors, BUT there are some products on the market that are certainly helpful.

If you live in the Denver area, or are visiting, consider hiking at Red Rocks! It’s close to town, doesn’t cost anything except the gas money it takes to drive there, and has some great scenery! ** Note: The hikes are definitely more geared for family groups or for a light n’ easy workout, so if you’re looking for something more intense you will need to go farther into the mountains than Morrison.

Minnesota Road Trip Part III: How to Enjoy a Destination

Since a large portion of our trip to Minnesota from Colorado was the drive (tune in to my Part I and Part II posts if you haven’t already) our time spent in our actually destinations was limited. Our main focus was visiting with our respective families, and not necessarily the sight-seeing or adventure seeking…but that didn’t mean that we didn’t try to do it all anyway.

So how do you make sure that you can actually enjoy your destination after spending so much time in the car, and knowing that you have another long drive ahead of you? My biggest takeaway was that TG and I specifically looked for and found ways to enjoy our drive together. Instead of just “trying to get through it” we looked at it as a way to spend time together that we otherwise wouldn’t have. With busy work schedules we often don’t see each other for several days at a time. This trip was a way to slow down, catch up, and be near each other (in a small car, there is no other choice).

Our foundation was solid, so when we got into the whirlwind of family dinners, lunches with cousins, coffee with grandmas and aunties, and stolen hours of sightseeing we felt good. Even when we were exhausted. The trip was a success.

Being able to enjoy the open road, and being willing to take country roads and- shout out to TG- being able to read a good ole’ paper map when Google maps fails AGAIN definitely helps the miles to go by.

Another tip? Find a way to be active after all of that time spent sitting in the car! Our AirBnB in Duluth was near downtown, but you had to hike up and down the Hill to go anywhere, so we automatically had a workout. We also drove up the north shore to Gooseberry Falls State Park and hiked the falls. It felt so great to get out and move!

The Secret To Packing Light

I’ve found it, the Secret to Packing Light. Yes, yes, I know I’ve written about it before (see: packing only one outfit and then thrifting the rest), but this time it’s not just about packing fewer clothes. It’s about real minimalism. We’re talking extra-room-in-your-carry-on minimal.

I’m on my way to to Wisconsin (from Denver) for a friend’s wedding at Devil’s Lake. I’ll be kicking it in my home town for a few days, and then driving west to collect TG and camp out at the state park before the wedding. This means that I need clothing and gear for regular wear, a fancy day/night, and camping. I feel I have covered all my bases.

So, are you ready for the secret?

Pack when you are really tired and really not in the mood. You won’t be tempted to take “an extra outfit, just in case”. Got something to keep your face from mummifying? Toothbrush? You’re good. T-shirt and jeans? Done. There’s a few more things, but you get the picture. I must say that walking around the city and the airport with this light luggage has been a breeze.

You’re welcome.

Road Trip Part 2: Taking Turns as Tour Guides

Both TG and I had our time as tour guides for one another on this trip. I think that is a little unique for a road trip: instead of us both in uncharted territory and both of us learning/failing/discovering together, we each spent time as the “guest”. This was a unique dynamic, and one that was new to both of us, I think.

Our first stop was a picturesque little town outside of Minneapolis where TG’s family lives. This place had rows of modest houses with yards full of huge trees and plenty of garden decor. By decor I mean all manner of sports team, animals, gnomes, and family crests. Houses that didn’t feature gorgeous trees instead had a lakefront view. There were the usual fast food restaurants, car dealerships, and big box stores. Around the corner, though, was another adorable home and another handwritten sign for an upcoming rummage sale. This place was the quintessential Midwest environment.

Have you ever had an important meeting after 24 hours with almost no sleep? You know that great flat car hair, that stale smell from clothes worn too long and teeth not brushed, mixed with whatever food and old drinks have been fermenting in the forced air for too long? Yeah, that was how I met TG’s parents. I’m a red blooded human, so of course I was nervous about making a good impression, so the car hair definitely helped. Luckily they are lovely people and made us right at home. Of course TG was sorta already at home, even though this house is not actually his childhood home. Their family dog, Lucy, a shining jewel of a creature, was so happy to see her boy return that she looked like she might knock herself over with her own wagging tail. We showered (at long last), brushed our teeth (such a relief), and napped. Upon waking spent the day juggling coffee, water, and beer.

Like the rest of the trip, this was a whirlwind day. I met lots of family, and even got to kayak on the lake, which was a five minute walk from the house. TG slipped into his family routine effortlessly. It felt like taking a break from life in Hobbiton, to be honest. We got a real night’s sleep, and the next day we left for Duluth and the next leg of the journey!

Road Trip to Minnesota Part 1

A couple of weeks ago TG and I packed up my little Yaris and zoomed off for Minnesota from our respective homes in Colorado. We left around 4 pm and fought our way through evening traffic, and then drove through a long dark night, finally reaching our first destination, just outside Minneapolis, just after dawn. Our trip was compact and full. I loved so many things about that I decided to write several posts on the subject instead of trying to cram everything into one. I think really good travel deserves some meditating afterwards so that your brain has time to pick through and relive good moments. Life is so fast and there is so much stress associated with jobs and transit and expenses; those things that make up “real life”. This space is dedicated to focusing on the things that balance all that crap out.

Our trip was a glorious whirlwind. TG and I split our time between his family’s home outside of Minneapolis, and my family’s annual get-together in Duluth. We bounced from one family introduction to the next and had a gorgeous time reconnecting with everyone. Not to mention that Minnesota is a beautiful state, and a great place to get outside and stretch our legs after a long drive! I took along my little Instax Mini camera, which takes instant pictures and spits them out for you to see and enjoy.

I call this part the Reality of Roadtrips:

Our dive on the way out was definitely more stressful than the way back. For one thing, we were both already tired since TG had spent the day running last minute errands, and I had worked most of a shift. I’ll be honest, TG heroically did most of the driving, but sometime around 3 am I found myself on a very dark road in Iowa wondering how I had gotten myself into this whole situation. I had pretty much finished my bubbly kombucha, and so I reached for the mug of coffee TG has filled at the last gas station. I took a sip. Gak! It tasted like tar. It was all I had. Subsisting on this I continued to drive. A huge blown out tire in the middle of the road appeared and I definitely did not react in time. My poor little Yaris ran right over it and the resulting big bump jolted TG awake. So much for sleep.

Cut to a little while later and I blearily identified eyes shining back at me in the reflection of my headlights. “Oh shit,” I muttered and swerved. It was a coyote, and yes, he got away safe and sound. Not long after that, the rain started. We did end up making it the rest of the wash in one piece, but those hours in the deepest part of night are hard to forget.

There were good parts of the drive too. We listened to one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Should Know. We also have an audio book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, by Diana Gabaldon, which kept me company through some of the dullest driving. TG surprised me by stopping by our favorite food truck and getting some delicious burritos for our on-the-road dinner. Neither of us like to dilly dally much, so we were happy to be with each other and take on whatever the trip would throw at us. If a fourteen hours in a small car is a relationship test, then I think we passed with flying colors. After all, we still liked each other when we got out in Minnesota.

Rattlesnakes and Late Night Bike Parades

Yesterday TG and I got up early in order to go for a hike at Dinosaur Ridge. It’s been brutally hot for the past week or so, and we knew that if we wanted any chance of being able to enjoy the great outdoors we had to go early. Even so it was in the high 70’s and climbing when we started at 7:30 am. Dinosaur Ridge is a trail located in Morrison, Colorado, right across from the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater. This lesser known spot is home to a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils and footprints. If you are a geologist, or a geology enthusiast (like TG is) you will also loose your mind over the crazy formations and the history of this part of the Rockies.

It was a pleasantly difficult hike uphill for a short while, and then the trail leveled off. The ground was sandy and we passed clumps of big juniper bushes, aspens, and little cacti. The views were great. A woman on a bike passed us, but otherwise we had the trail to ourselves.

It was on our way back down the trail, back to the parking lots and our cars, that we heard the terrifying dry rattle coming from the side of the trail. We both froze (as I think pretty much all humans are programmed to do) and then TG tugged me backwards and away from the rattlesnake. The snake rose up and stuck it’s black tongue out and rattled it’s tail even harder. I have never come across a rattlesnake in the wild before, but it struck me how naive I had been not have been actively watching for one. TG pointed out that he had been looking out, but it caught him by surprise anyway. Pretty much no power on earth could have made me walk past that thing on the trail, but there was a pretty wide swath of land on either side of the trail, covered by small bushes, and I pointed out that we could just go around the snake. Then TG said something that sent a shiver up my spine.

“Well, they usually travel in pairs.”

I hadn’t heard any other rattling, but then we had probably passed this snake on our way up and not noticed, so there could be a second rattler lurking nearby now. We ended up throwing some rocks into the bushes along the side of the trail, thinking that if there was another snake it would give itself away by rattling in alarm. Nothing happened except that the original snake became even angrier.

So we passed cautiously and then hurried away unharmed. Talk about adrenaline rush.

The day wasn’t exciting enough, though. There’s more. I spent some time that afternoon getting a new tattoo on my arm (photos to come when it’s a little more healed and a little less red and ointment-y). Then a hot hot hot afternoon. Then the sweet relief of sunset and cool air. Then bed, right? Nope! Sometime around 9:30 there was a bicycle parade on the street in front of my building! Hundreds of people riding their bikes, decked out in lights and flag, complete with music, riding through the street. Cars did not even dare to get involved. We were witnessing the Denver Cruisers on their monthly Wednesday night ride through the city. The organization seemed pretty fascinating (check out the link) and I am kind of hoping they pass my way again next month!

Alright, so how was your Wednesday?