Sunday, January 14, 2007

Now that I finally got around to blogging, I can't think of what I wanted to blog about. I've gotta start scratching reminders on my arm with a pen so I can remember.

Of course, classes has last semester! (Although I still have a couple semesters' worth of thesis writing left...) I'm unofficially taking a writing class, with Brandon Sanderson as the teacher (of Elantris and Mystborn fame, neither of which I have read). It looks like it'll be a great class though, and I'm excited for an outside motivation to write.

When Brandon divided the class into groups, one of the groups he titled the "Uber" group. Since I consider myself a halfway decent writer and am looking for some quality critiquing, I attached myself to that group. The four people in our group (including a student editor of a school magazine) exchanged email addresses, so we could send each other the usernames for a LiveJournal account we were required to set up for the class.

The email from one of my fellow students had no capitalization, he used "you're" when he should have used "your," and he actually used the word "guys's." Aiee. I can see we have a long semester ahead of us...

Curses. I know I had something to in particular to blog about...wait! I just remembered!

Snow Camping

Over the weekend, I went on a snowshoeing/snowcaving trip. Now, I won't blame everything that happened on Bob (names have been changed), but let me tell you the story. As Patrick McManus would have put it, "in terms of misery, it was very fine."

We were supposed to leave around three PM on Friday, which would put us at the trailhead with just enough light to see where we were going. 3:00 rolled around, 3:30, 4:00...still no Bob. Finally, about 4:15, he calls me. "Sorry I'm late, I just finished a school project. I'll be home in 10 minutes...then I'll start packing."

I head over to his place and we finally leave. He left his sleeping bag in Idaho so he's just taking a couple army blankets, and he has no food. Rather than lose even more time stopping at the store, I tell him I have enough for both of us (I do--better safe than sorry on a snow-camping trip).

I've already told people back home what trailhead we'd be starting from, but by the time we get to the general area, it's snowing, and too dark to see anything. We drive back and forth several times, and finally give up, settling on the first pull-off we can find that doesn't say "no camping." Strapping snowshoes to our feet, we start hiking.

The hike was actually very pleasant. We were bundled up warm, and the exertion kept us warm as well. Our plan was to hike for a while, then find a good place sheltered from the wind in the trees, and dig a snowcave. We quickly realized we had a problem: there were no trees. At least, there were no trees as far as we could see, which was admittedly not far, with the blowing snow and darkness.

We kept hiking, and eventually spotted a dark patch on the hillside we were hiking beside. Leaving the trail, we started uphill, sinking knee deep in fresh, powdery snow (WITH snowshoes on*).

By the time we reached the hilltop and started down the other side, we were tired enough that we stopped at the first likely-looking patch of trees and threw our packs down. We then went immediately to our next problem: the snow was so fine and powdery that a half-hour of digging with our snowshoes produced a pile of snow that barely would have made a decent snowcave for a midget, and that only if he was missing the lower half of his body.

Abandoning that idea, we decided to make a lean-to, leaning sticks against fallen tree that was several feet off the ground. Once we had a nice framework of sticks, we laid a tarp I had brought over the top, then started covering it with snow for insulation. It took another 45 minutes to do that, but when it was completed, it was high enough to not-quite sit upright in, rickety enough that a cooling sprinkle of snow would rain down anytime we moved, and it had a gaping front door to allow any cold that got in to easily escape.

We both slid into our sleeping accoutrements, me more or less on top of Bob due to the small dimensions and bowl-shape floor plan, and I cooked us up some Cup O' Soups. After, I snacked on a few cheese crackers, while Bob disappeared completely under his blanket in an attempt to get warm.

"I'm getting cracker crumbs in my sleeping bag," I observed casually.

"Ha ha! The wolves will go for you," he laughed.

I glanced out at the dark night. It was doubtful there were wolves in our immediate vicinity...but you never knew. Carefully, I crushed a couple crackers between my finger and sprinkled them quietly onto Bob's blanket.

As it turned out, the wolves didn't have time to find us. Ears tuned to any unusual noise, I woke about 2:3o in the morning to hear Bob's voice, "Are you awake?"

"I am now," I muttered.

"Good, because I'm freezing. Let's go home," he said.

Since he had the car keys and was already climbing out of the shelter, it was a persuasive argument. Besides, now that I was awake, I knew it'd take me forever to fall back asleep, especially since the foot warmers that Child had sent with me had lost their heat.
We packed up, tore down our snow shelter to retrieve my tarp (a quick tap with the foot sent it crashing down), and hit the trail at 3 AM. We got back to the car about 4:30, and were relaxing with hot chocolate in Bob's house at 6 AM.

In retrospect, the trip was good. Not only was it a fine, character-building misery, but it reminded me why I only went snow camping once a year. It takes me that long to forget why I swear every year I'll never do it again. But of course, next year I'll have forgotten, and will set off on yet another adventure. And maybe next time we'll actually stay long enough for the wolves to show up...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

No Mexico today.

Instead, I'll tell you how I almost died.

We had a boxer (dog) that was leaving a little streak of blood every time his wagging tail would hit the wall. I tried to look at it but he wouldn't sit still long enough for me to hold his tail, much less inspect it. "I know," I thought. "I'll take him outside to run around, and after he gets his energy out, he'll sit still so I can look at his tail."

Little did I know this would lead perilously close to my demise.

Once we reached the fenced-in backyard, I shut the gate and let him off the leash. Then, I hung the leash around my own neck, as I normally do. "Hmm," I thought. "It's getting cold. I should zip up my coat." The next thing I knew, I was strangling, and I quickly realized what happened. The boxer, excited to be outside, saw the dangling end of the leash and decided to play "Tug-of-war"!

This was a "noose" collar and it quickly tightened. "Stop!" I tried to shout, but it came out more like "Squrglmf!" Delighted at my frantic antics, the boxer really got into the game, tugging for all he was worth. Anytime I tried to move towards him to get some slack in the leash, he would back off, pulling as hard as he could. It was all I could do to keep a couple fingers' worth of gap between the rope and my trachea.

Everything started to go dim (being under my coat, the taut leash was making the coat ride up over my face). Finally, when the boxer let go briefly to get a better grip, and I jerked the leash free. Air! Precious air! The boxer leaped for the leash again and I quickly took it off. The moral of the story: dogs are stupid.

No, okay, I'm sure there's a better moral, but until I figure it out, I'm just going to avoid wearing leashes around my neck.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

So I promised Padre Jaime's house.

It was about the size of a mobile home, but without all the luxuriousness and ameneties, such as a bathroom door, and heat. There were eight of us, and seven beds. You do the math, then take a wild guess who slept on the park bench in the hall. I had an overwhelming urge to use newspapers as blankets, but since Tijuana was nowhere NEAR as warm as Mexico should have been, I abandoned the humorously appropriate covering for a more practical cloth one.

Since there was no shower and Child mentioned in passing that I smelled like a "sweating pig eating garlic and sunbathing on a hot day in a garbage dump," (not her exact words, but the essence of her statement) I had my hair washed over the sink with a pan of lukewarm water heated on the propane-powered stove. The only trick was keeping an eye on the bucket under the sink and emptying it before the leaky pipes caused it to overflow.

Our whole trip wasn't ALL such decadent high-living and comfort, but once we moved into an abandoned hospital, I at least got to upgrade my sleeping arrangements from the park bench to a box-spring mattress. Not only that, but most of the bathrooms had doors. The one bathroom that didn't led to the unfortunate but amusing incident of mom getting locked into one of the bedrooms.

Since the bathroom had no door, the plan was to simply lock the door of the room containing the bathroom. As soon became apparent, the handle mechanism on the bedroom door was faulty, and the door refused to open to let her out.

This was no sheetboard and aluminum foil door, it was a stern, heavy-duty wood door that knew its business and was evidently built to withstand determined Mexican banditos with a desperate need to use "el bano." Even the doorknob proved intransigent, and we had at least a half-dozen highly trained people working over it.

It wouldn't have been so bad but it was after we had gotten "home" from a long day of heavy work, and everyone was tired. The bedroom of her imprisonment was the one I had stolen my box-spring bed from so we couldn't just leave mom alone to spend the night there, even if she had let us. Fortunately, if circumstances turned out that she had to spend an extended period of time in the room, she had a baththroom, like, right there.

Complicating things, we were on the second story of the hospital, with a low neighboring shed blocking access to anything beneath the window in her room. Putting our heads together (a tired and hungry mom can produce remarkable levels of inspiration), we came up with the idea of tying a hammer to the end of an extension cord, then swinging it from a neighboring room's window to mom's window. The hammer, combined with a screw bit slipped under the door, allowed her to pound out the pins of the door's hinges. A final shoulder check from dad sent the door flying in (and causing the previously-removed and discarded doorknob to become amusingly embedded in the door when it landed on the floor).

Tune in next time for...roads and dogs.

Friday, January 05, 2007

After Christmas and a week in Tijuana, Mexico, I'm going to try getting slowly caught up in my blog.

First things first, today. I went in to the animal shelter for the first time since getting home from Mexico--they have new hours. 9 - 6 every day, instead of their funky 11-7 M & Th, 9:30-5:30 Tu, W, & F schedule.

Our donkey had her feet trimmed, which was interesting to watch. Her hooves were so overgrown that she was starting to walk way back on her heels, which had to be uncomfortable. It'll still take her a while to start walking normally again, but she will eventually. We get animals into the shelter in about every condition, but these were the worst feet I've seen.

On a funnier note, we were having a BBQ lunch to celebrate one of the inmates being released, and we were talking about pets we had and have. The inmate in question was already in a good mood because of his imminent release, and the general mood at the table was jovial, so the stage was set for one of the ladies reminiscing to be mis-interpreted. She started talking.

"I had a little chihuahua once. I lived in an apartment with no yard or fence, so I usually kept it inside." She took a bite of potato salad. "I decided to take it out for a walk one day, but when I walked outside, the wind was so strong..."

She couldn't finish. The whole table burst into laughter at the immediate mental image we each got of a chihuahua bouncing down the road in a strong breeze, with the inmate practically falling off his chair he was laughing so hard.

Course, it turned out that she had been about to say that the wind was so strong her chihuahua got scared and ran off and got hit by a car, but it was too late, our own mental completion of her story was just too funny and we chose to go with that. For the rest of the day, whenever this lady was doing something or looking for something, the inmate would suggest, "Maybe the wind blew it away," then crack up laughing again.

The shelter director also called me into his office right before I left. Turns out he wants me to attend some conference down in the southern part of the state, somewhere around January 17 or 18. Something to do with animal control and shelter management. Sounds intrigiuing.

So my plan is/was to slowly put up reminisces of Mexico as I have time, but we'll see how good my memory is. First off, we (me, Child, my family, and a few other random people) went down to Mexico as a part of "Charities Anywhere" to work on various service projects: digging trenches, pouring cement, and lots of dry-walling.

The one incident that comes to mind first was attending New Year's Mass in a small Catholic church. A lot of our service had been directed by the local Catholic Padre, since he knew who needed help, so we thought it would be nice if we attended one of his services on Sunday. It was a tiny, quaint church, decked out with Christmas lights and various statues and pictures, with the large double doors open to the cool night air the entire service.

The opening song was Jingle Bells (in Spanish of course), which I thought was rather funny. It's not what I usually consider a church hymn, but they had a guitar player leading the way and belting it out. During the service, a cat wandered through, enjoying the warmth, and a dog took up a position under one of the pews. It really was a lot of fun. I wish OUR church had dogs walking through it...

The Gully

The Gully was one of the poorest area I've ever seen. The houses were built out of scraps of plywood, pallets, and pieces of billboard, with old tires doing everything from serving as stairs to shoring up the almost vertical hillside.

The Trench de Muerte

When we weren't working in the gully, we were working on one of Padre Jaime's projects, in this case, digging a trench (de muerte) for power lines. It was back-breaking work with picks and shovels. It was hard, especially when we started getting close to the required three-foot depth. Hard to lift the dirt out, hard to get leverage to dig any dirt up. And I don't think the soil had seen any rain in years.

Tune in next time for...Padre Jaime's house