Friday, August 29, 2014

hot air ballooning


the winds have welcomed you with softness
the sun has blessed you with its warm hands
you have flown so high and so well 
that god joined you in your laughter and set you
gently and safely back into the arms of mother earth.
-balloonist's prayer 
said at the end of each flight, usually toasted with champagne

the first word i ever spoke was 'balloon.' or, more accurately, 'boon.' growing up on the edge of a smallish midwestern town, nestled between the urban sprawl of grocery stores and strip malls to the north and the fields of the farming community just south, my parents would spend summer evenings taking our family on drives. we'd drive everywhere- to the beach to watch the sunset, to the woods nearby, through the one-stoplight towns scattered among the crop fields.

occasionally, we'd happen upon a hot air balloon in flight and spend an hour or so following it, anticipating where it might land. when it did, we'd sit in the car and watch from the open windows the basket touch the ground, the pilot deflate the giant balloon overhead and then a scrappy crew of  helpers pack the whole thing up into a large canvas bag, toss it in the back of a pickup truck, toast some champagne in plastic cups and drive away. i don't remember the first time my parents had a conversation with the pilot, but it wasn't too long before they joined that crew and spent evenings in the passenger seat of a chase vehicle, eyes on the sky while communicating flight information into a squawking cb radio. i don't remember much about my own first trip as balloon chase crew as i think i was about 7 years old, but i do remember a phone conversation with our pilot friends one evening when my parents were unavailable for the third or fourth flight in a row. they asked if my younger brother and i were free to help if someone could come pick us up, as at the time we were both too young to drive. we both went that night, and every night we possibly could after that, quickly becoming in the words of our pilot, "far more experienced than most of the crew- before even owning drivers licenses!"

my childhood summers smelled of propane and cut hay fields, tasted of champagne toasts and post-flight pizza dinners. my mornings started several hours before sunrise, ended several hours after sunset. i ran after landing balloons through farmer's fields and along country roads, learned how to read an altimeter, to 'milk' a 12-story balloon of hot air after landing and, with lots of practice, built up enough muscle to make it all the way from one end to the other. i learned about weather patterns and wind direction and to this day still fear strong, gusty winds. i flew more times than i can count, learned to recognize a herd of deer running through the woods from above and how to pinpoint where a conversation was coming from below my feet. i made friends for life in these other crazy souls willing to chase an aircraft that literally is at the whims of the winds.

the chill in the air and the shorter days this time of year mean the end of the summer to most, and to my friends and family, also the slowing of ballooning season. nostalgia finds me sometimes fighting the urge to buy notebooks, pens and art supplies or to pack up my things in anticipation of another school-year move across half the country. it also leaves me longing to see the earth from the basket of a hot air balloon one last time. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

learning to sail, or: the anatomy of a sailboat

{image of hillview lake, where i learned to sail}

in college, i developed a love for rock climbing. me, with my "little girly arms" (thanks, dad) and fear of heights. i couldn't get enough, and would often climb until my fingers were raw and bleeding. i went to the regular gym once in my four years in college, but went to the climbing gym several times per week.

the summer after my freshman year, i knew i wanted to go home to michigan and work at the camp where i'd spent a week each summer throughout middle and high school. i also knew i'd make a terrible counselor. i wanted to use my newfound love of and experience with rock climbing and high ropes courses, but there was a problem: at the ranch, adventure staff doubled as beach staff. or, i couldn't just climb all day- i had to get a life guarding certification and actually be responsible for the lives of children swimming in our little lake among the weeds and the fishes. after one hellish week of lifeguard training i somehow earned my certification, though i was never very good at swimming to the bottom of our lake. or any lake. or swimming at all.

much to my surprise, spending two summers as adventure beach staff, or "ABS" was one of the best things i've ever done. i remember fondly the quiet summer mornings i spent in the beach house, swinging from our chair-turned-hammock, reading anything i could get my hands on. we had a collection of random stuff that lived in piles in and around our beach house- inner tubes, windsurf boards and sails, forgotten towels and swim goggles, a leach tally board, a megaphone (creating feedback provided us with hours of entertainment) and a little sunfish sailboat. one slow morning i decided it was time to put that little boat together and learn to use it.
{image from CHR summer photographer 2005}

i've always wanted to be the sort of person who sails. the wind in my hair, the sun on my shoulders, this amazing ability to pull a few ropes, point a boat in the direction i want to go and actually get there... no one on our staff that summer knew how to sail and so no one could teach me what to do. in the age before smart phones and instant internet access, i had to get a little creative. usually one for a challenge and an adventure, i set to work. i took the boat out for a bit, made some decent progress and, when i failed at sailing back into the wind, paddled the boat back home with a canoe paddle i had stashed inside.

it turns out, sailing a little sunfish isn't that tough when the wind is right. it's when you get clear across to the other side of the lake and manage to tip your boat over in water shallow enough to get the mast stuck in the mud that it gets a little tricky. anyone who sails could tell you that one of the best ways to flip your boat back is to stand on the centerboard and heave-ho.

this, of course, assumes that you're sailing a boat with a centerboard. or know what a centerboard is.

{image via the google. centerboard in the center.}

the morning of the mast-in-mud incident, i was fortunate to have a buddy with me to commiserate and attempt to tip the boat upright, a feat ultimately unsuccessful without our handy little centerboard. it was  also nice to have an extra voice to shout and set of arms to wave at our staff across the water to get their attention and ultimately get a "rescue" from our little rowboat with a motor attached super official waterfront rescue boat. four of us together managed to upright the sailboat and tie it to the boat with a motor, which then promptly died. 

we were then at the mercy of a friendly passing watersporter, who so kindly tied the whole mess to the back of his jet ski and towed us into shore in a parade of incompetence and faulty motors. we arrived just in time for monday morning swim tests with our new campers, all of whom had watched this debacle from shore with, i'm sure, full confidence in our abilities as lifeguards (we actually never lost a swimmer!)

we never did find a centerboard in the recesses of our beach house. 

and that, my friends, is how i learned to sail. 

{image from CHR summer staff photographer, 2004. maybe i should stick to canoeing.}

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

that time a bear broke into my car

this is another of my little stories i've been telling a bit lately, so i again figured it was high time to write it down. 8 years later and this story still makes me laugh and cringe at the same time!

a few weeks after moving to colorado, my college boyfriend and i took a weekend trip out to aspen to visit some of his friends. we stayed in a big, beautiful house on the golf course, had dinner in town, walked through fiery yellow aspen trees in the chill of the late september air. we left my car parked on the driveway mostly untouched, riding around instead with his friends in theirs.

when we went out to pack my car sunday afternoon to head back to denver, the ol' bf beat me outside. he came back in looking shaken and informed me that he didn't think we'd be leaving that day. i confusedly asked why, and he told me that someone broke into my car through the driver's side window. i couldn't figure out why anyone would want to do such a thing given that we were in aspen (think dollar bills, y'all) and i drive a 94 honda accord with a standard-issue tape deck.

upon further inspection we noticed a paw print on the outside of the driver's side door, as though someone something had used the molding to climb in the window, or the gaping hole where the window used to be. there were claw marks in the seats, mud swiped all over the windshield and ceiling, fur and broken glass shards everywhere. and the smell. oh, the smell. it seemed very much like the little bear cozied up, made himself at home and took a long nap in the back seat. perhaps most insulting part about this little encounter is that of five cherry fruit snacks in my cup holder, presumably what lured him inside in the first place, two of them sat uneaten among the shredded remains of the bag where a friend had left them. without opposable thumbs, this creature managed to force open the lid of the cup holder in the console, forever rendering it slightly dysfunctional, and then didn't even fully enjoy the fruits of his labor. wtf.

this was, needless to say, one of the most interesting conversations i've ever had with my new job (yes, my car was attacked by a bear. yes, in aspen. no, i won't be coming in tomorrow. no, this is not a ploy to pretend i'm fancy  and stay in aspen for one more day.) my parents (remember that car you gave me a month ago? ...) and my car insurance company.

in case you're wondering, liability insurance does not cover bear break-ins. 

also, we made the 4+ hour drive back to denver with a cardboard window with flames drawn on it and a sign reading 'my other car has cardboard tires', so there's that.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

punuswamy


while living in india, hubs and i walked everywhere (save for that one time i drove a rickshaw.) we walked to school where we worked, to the grocery store, to dinner with friends. when we first moved to coimbatore, one night we walked for at least an hour down dirt lanes with giant ditches dug through them, asking any uncle who may know a word or two of english where we might find a gift shop run by the friend of a friend, hoping to make her our first friend in town.

we got to know our stretch of racecourse road pretty well: the café coffee day that opened whenever the first shift employee managed to make it out of bed, the towering apartment buildings washed in yellow and teal, the papayawalla, laxmi the dog always occupying the same spot on the sidewalk, the bus stop at thomas park where the 7c bus would come barreling through every 30 minutes.

just about every morning we'd also walk past an older man in a checked lungi and white button-down shirt selling candies and cigarettes out of the little red trunk fastened to the back of his hero bicycle. we'd smile, namaste each other and exchange greetings in our own language, somehow understanding the other. uncle would then light incense sticks in front of his hindu icon stickers, dust off his goods and we'd continue on our way. it sounds silly to say, but our daily small, small exchange with this uncle was a highlight of our walk, certainly, but also of living somewhere over just visiting.

one day on our way home we stopped, learned uncle's name- punuswamy- and made conversation. he told us in tamil that his family lived in a nearby village and he worked along race course to make more money than he would near his home. he then invited hubs to his village temple, apologizing that i wasn't invited because i'm a woman. i'm a little sad that trip happened because it would have made a fantastic story, but even so, punuswamy and his smiley namaste each morning made our sleepy indian backwater town (of 3 million...) seem a little more like home. i'm sure he'd laugh to know this, too. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

rishikesh: or, some ukrainains, a baba and their hash pipe at the beatles ashram

well, hello old friend.

i often feel as though i have to have something both current and thoughtful to say in this space, but today i want to take a leaf out of abby's book and share a little story. it is, i think, one of my best recent little stories.

one of the perks of living in india, as opposed to just traveling through, is having time to explore those far flung places you often hear about but don't really have time to just swing by. maharishi mahesh yogi ashram, or "the beatles ashram," is one of those places for me. while i'm not a huge beatles fan now (don't get me wrong- i like them just fine, i just don't spend lots of time listening to them for fun anymore), i remember playing the beatles' abbey road album all the time on my parents' turntable before moving away from home. the fab four are iconic, talented and spent some time at a yoga ashram in a town we spent a few weeks bumming around. how could we not visit?

the thing about the ashram is, it's off the beaten path. rishikesh itself is a off the beaten path (though definitely worth the visit- i honestly can't sing its praises enough). the ashram is on the far bank of the river quite a bit outside rishikesh town, and it's not super well marked. after wandering for hours the riverside lanes and alleys of ram jhula, fending off monkeys and dodging cows, we found it- locked and inaccessible. not ones to give up easily, we asked around and found an aged, rice-bellied uncle who introduced us to a security guard who charged us a few hundred rupees to show us around. the ashram itself is expansive and was self-sustaining at a time, containing yoga halls, dining commons, meditation pods, dorms and even a post office. in the early to mid 90s the ashram was abandoned to the surrounding forest and is slowly being taken over by trees, bushes, and wildlife (including an occasional elephant and far too common cobra). we took some time to explore the place, photograph the ruins and beatles themed murals and imagine what it must have been like in the maharishi's heyday.

part of our tour included climbing some crumbling, janky stairs (seriously, i love india) to the roof of one of the main buildings to look out over the town, the surrounding forest and the nearby piercingly green ganges. i posed for token yoga photos, we wandered and then in a surreal sort of alice in wonderland moment, happened upon a baba and two ukrainian nouveau- hippies, complete with dhotis and om symbols (ॐ) tattooed on their foreheads, kicked back in the shade sharing a hash pipe. they invited us to sit and join them for conversations in a hybrid of ukranian/ hindi/ english and passed the hash.

i declined (and i'm not just saying this because my mom is one of the only people who reads my blog. i actually declined!). as i did so, i smiled to myself and realized i could die now that these ukrainians, the baba and their hash made a little story so perfect for telling- much more than any i could have crafted myself.
{all photos mine except the first which is me and was taken by my talented friend julie. the second to the last came from her camera, but i think i was the one clicking the shutter button.}

Monday, July 7, 2014

lake como and blanca peak, colorado


this weekend we went with some adventurous friends out to backpack lake como in the spanish peaks of southern colorado. we packed up our cars and headed out friday morning, july 4th, for an adventure none of us really quite expected. after some minor transmission trouble around colorado springs and a stop in the tiny town of walsenberg for some subway subs, we drove out to the lake como/ blanca peak trailhead and set off. 
we climbed for about 6 miles and gained almost 4,000 feet in elevation, and camped at just about tree line. for those of you less familiar with this elevation over distance thing, let me just state for the record that i was pretty sure i was going to die on the way up this hill. every time we'd hit a switchback, or round a bend, we expected the ground to level out. it never really did. 

i think it took somewhere around 5 ish hours to climb this brutal trail. the lake at the top is most certainly gorgeous, and i have never slept better in my life than i did approximately 8 seconds after my head hit my pillow stuff sack full of spare clothes.

saturday, the boys climbed blanca peak at 14,344 feet while hannah and i sat on the shores of lake como in the sun, chatting about being married to graduate students and what life is supposed to look like at age 30. i like to think that though she and i didn't stand on top of the world, we definitely had a more enjoyable morning than the boys did. their photos from the summit are gorgeous, but on their way down, they also accidentally discovered the natural laxative properties of dried apricots eaten in large quantities. 

we were fortunate enough to round out this trip- after a steep, slippery climb down from about 12,000 feet at the lake back to the lesley's jeep- with a stay at a campground nearby. our new friends met us there with beer, delicious food (that we didn't have to cook ourselves!) and laughter. they were even kind enough to endure our endless stories of the treacherous trail up and back down this rocky mountain. in all, a weekend well spent. tiring, for sure, but well spent nonetheless!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

changachanga quilt: it's finished!

i finally finished the little african wax print quilt that's been sitting on my rocking chair for weeks, waiting on binding. i sat and sewed the grey border on by hand today while hubs read aloud to me from return of the king. as much as i'm sad to see this one go, it's both nice that it's finished and is a gift i'm rather excited to give.

as an aside, i also re-learned the word for patchwork in swahili (actually, i think it's 'mixed' as in, mixed up, but i was assured it was also used for quilts): changachanga.

please let me introduce the finished product, stitched for two recently married friends whose stateside ceremony in september i'm already pumped for. i hope you both like it as much as i do!
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