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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Coffee mug IED ... aka holiday airport nightmare

Okay, so I have no one to blame but myself. I bought my ticket late, so it ended up looking like so:

December 30, 2010

CLEVELAND - OHARE 6:54 AM
OHARE - FARGO 9:45 AM
FARGO - DENVER 12:03 PM

The first sign of trouble came early in the morning when I sent my bag through the x-ray machine in Cleveland and my new stainless steel coffee mug set off the alarm. The TSA agent marched me over to the corner and ordered me to watch and "not touch anything" while he swabbed the mug with white cotton.

I remembered this test from the security checkpoints in Indonesia. After they wipe the object down, they put the gauze in a microwave-looking thing that checks it for bomb residue. It was freaking early, my caffeine blood level was dangerously low, and I was not amused. I made a point of checking my watch and scowling through the whole process.

Maybe that un-zenlike attitude turned the wheel of karma against me.

After clearing security, I flew to Chicago, where the weather was foggy. The flight to Fargo was delayed 15 minutes and sat on the ground for 20 more.

As we approached Fargo, the pilot announced that since the visibility was only 1/4 miles, we couldn't land. At 12:15, we were still circling in the air. I prayed my connecting flight was grounded. We finally landed, and as we taxied through the thick fog, snow blew past the windows in horizontal streaks.

For reasons unknown, they sent our gate-checked carry-ons to baggage claim. As I raced down the stairs, I caught sight of the DEPARTURES board. My 12:03 flight had apparently left ON TIME.

The customer service line stretched all the way back to Terre Haute. Stranded travelers grumbled about renting 4 x 4s and trying to make it to the Minneapolis airport. I noticed with rising panic that there were A) only 3 more flights out of Fargo that day and B) no food for sale in this airport.

Suddenly an announcement: UNITED PASSENGER MAURER, PLEASE COME TO GATE 4 FOR IMMEDIATELY DEPARTURE. I raced up the stairs to the security check-point where by some miracle there was no line. Pulled off my boots. Wrestled the laptop out of its case. Shoved everything through the machine.

The alarm went off.

"I have to search your bag," said the TSA guy.

I wanted to strangle him. "That person they just called is ME!"

"It's too late. They already closed the gate."

I felt like snatching my bag back and pounding him on the head with it. "So what do I do?" I shouted. I stopped short of demanding that he supply me with Subway for the entire week I was about to be stranded here.

"Well, you can check the gate. Sometimes they'll open the door again. A-ha!" He pulls out the culprit -- my coffee mug. Seriously, are coffee mug IEDs becoming a terrorist trend? For good measure, he swabs my hands for residue.

I grab my bag and run for gate 4. The woman at the podium smiles and opens the door. I tell her I want to hug her, and she laughs. "You have no idea how many people wanted your seat," she says.

The moment I get on, I recognize the flight attendant. I was never in any danger of missing my connecting flight. The plane to Denver is the same one I just landed on from Chicago.

**HEADDESK**
**WINEGLUG**


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A moving birthday guest post from my mom!


What a treat! My mom agreed to write a guest post on her personal experience with lymphoma, and right on my birthday too! Read, enjoy, laugh, cry and if you feel moved to make a personal donation to blood cancer research, just click right here. - SM

When I heard the words “you have cancer,” I reacted just like everyone else hearing the diagnosis. This can’t be true. What am I going to do? I was terrified. Then a thought entered my mind: What about Sarah?

At the time, Sarah was a young adult living on her own for a number of years. Out of nowhere these words came to me, “Sarah isn’t ready yet,” and I knew exactly what those words meant. Sarah is not ready to live without her mother. She still needed my support on her way to becoming the woman she is destined to be. She was so close to being there, but just not quite done.

This kind of makes her sound like a cake baking in the oven. Our children are like that. They bake for an allotted amount of time and eventually the timer goes off. They are done and come out light, springy and eager to get on with life. At the time of my diagnosis, Sarah was not quite done yet, and I knew I was going to dig deep and fight for more time.

I was blessed. My lymphoma responded well to chemo and monoclonal antibodies. I was given the time I needed. Sarah is out of the oven now and an extraordinary young woman.

I thank the medical community everyday for giving me those years and all the years to come with my daughter. The research done with the money raised is a gift beyond measure. It gives survivors time to spend with the people we cherish most.

Thank you to everyone supporting Sarah’s Canyonlands Half Marathon to raise money for blood cancers! Sarah is blessed with so many extraordinary friends. Thanks to all of you for being there with her on her journey.

Yours truly,

Kathie Maurer

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Team In Training Donations Map -- December 2, 2010

Thanks for all the awesome support! Let's keep coloring in the world map with donations!










Bottled Water Alternatives



Kampung Pulo neighborhood in Jakarta Indonesia -- See the water on the ground? That's drinking water.

So here's an article on Shaun Phillips (of Shaun and Julie, subjects of another post here), who is working to educate people about the stupidity and pointlessness of bottled water.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I can't hide the fact from most of you (especially if you've known me the last six years) that I have drunk a lot of bottled water in my time. Yes, evil Nestle and Coca-Cola branded water! I had it delivered to my apartment by the barrel in China, and in Thailand I (gasp) bought bottled water by the case because I was too cheap to buy a water cooler for 65 USD. So yes, I am part of the problem. But thanks to projects like Shaun's, I am waking up and changing my evil ways.

Having lived in several places where access to clean water is a huge issue (as you can see in the photos above), Shaun's cause is one close to my own heart. So if you'll indulge me for a moment, I'll hop on my soapbox -- and try not to bore you to death =).

First of all, in defense of tap water ...

I know it sounds crazy, but one of the greatest things about being home in the States is the ability to drink yummy tap water 24 hours a day. (Mmm, chlorine!) When you consider that less than half the world's population has access to improved sanitation, and that the ancient Romans had better water quality than half the people living today, the fact that we can just turn on the tap and drink clean, high-quality water is, well, rather miraculous in my mind.

If you're convinced that tap water is the root of all chronic illness and won't touch it, I invite you to live in rural Kyrgyzstan for a few months. Not only is the tap water undrinkable, if you even have running water, it's rarely on. Yup, we used to leave the taps on all the time with catch buckets underneath, waiting for the water. During the wetter months, we'd have maybe two hours of running water each day. We'd have to filter or boil the water we collected, but seriously, that's not bad as far as the world water supply goes.

In the drier months, no one had running water and we had to walk a mile to the only working well in the center of town and haul water back in buckets (our neighbor eventually took pity on us and started bringing us extra water on his donkey).

While this wasn't fun, it was a vastly better water situation of many people around the world. It was mildly labor intensive, but we had water and the means to purify it. (We did have to give up luxuries like a flushing toilet.)

Contrast this with urban Jakarta, where millions of people in the so-called "informal settlements" (er, slums) drink swamp water from the reclaimed land that's contaminated by fecal matter, pesticides, and everything kind of crap that runs off from the city.

Gross, eh? OK, so now you know why I have so little patience with people who insist that our U.S. tap water is tainted and filthy. It's all a myth perpetuated by the bottled water industry.

(For more water facts, check out water.org.)

On to bottled water ...

Ever been to Bali after a winter storm and seen the miles and miles of plastic water bottles that wash up on Kuta Beach? Blech. There's so many they bring in bulldozers to clean them up. But the whole bottled water industry has other bad effects that aren't so visible.

** Puts on geology major hat **

When you sink a well anywhere and start pumping tons of H2O out of the ground in mass quantities, the entire region is affected. Levels are reduced in aquifers, rivers and lakes. Less water becomes available for farmers and for household use in areas where people rely on wells. Regions may dry up, making agriculture impossible.

Remember our Kyrgyzstani village? If Nestle, Coca-Cola or Pepsi (all big bottled water providers in Asia) ever sink a water well in the Chuy Valley, that little well could run dry, or become so low that it can't supply our village of 5,000 people. It's a situation that's becoming more and more common around the world.

Besides being expensive and bad for people and the environment, there's no guarantee that bottled water is healthier than tap water. Many popular brands including Dasani and Aquifina ARE tap water with a few extra stages of cosmetic enhancement. And tap water is much more closely regulated and goes through much more stringent quality control than most bottled water.

Consider also the amount of oil involved in mining and transporting bottled water. Not to mention making all those plastic bottles that wash up later on the beach.

Okay, so to be a more savvy water consumer:

1. If you live in the developing world (or you simply don't trust the water supply in your area), consider a water filter rather than relying on commoditized water.

Yup. One tip only. Though it takes some set up, a filter is more convenient and cheaper in the long run than taking a refillable jug to a health food coop or ordering Nestle water by the barrel for your water cooler.

And if you want to join Shaun in advocating for improved water supplies straight from the tap, here's a petition you can sign with Corporate Accountability International.

And here's another article called Illusions of Purity.

How's the water quality in your area of the U.S.? Here's Forbes on the best cities for drinking water.



Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Leukemia: Been There, Done That

Been There, Done That

Click the link above to read a fantastic essay by our TNT Team Hero Kim Fields. It appeared this summer in Coping With Cancer magazine.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Nano: It is finished. The novel? Not so much.


Yay! So today, I wrote my 50,000th word of what is probably the seventh (and hopefully final) incarnation of my novel. Sounds like a lot, but there's still such a long way to go.

The sad thing: of those 50,000 words, I'll be surprised if half of them make it into the final cut. Nano Wri Mo (National Novel Writing Month) is all about barfing words onto a page as fast as you can. And while there's something to be said for free flowing creativity, it's the editing where most people give up. I almost have a number of times!

Shouts to all the other nanos out there typing toward the homestretch. Or writing. Or keying into their palm pilot. Almost there!


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Donations Map - As of November 22, 2010

Here's a map of donations from around the world! Let's work on coloring this in ... will post again in a week.

This application is created by interactive maps.
You can also have your visited countries map on your site.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

All I want for my birthday (besides James Franco in a red ribbon)

Sarah's TNT Donation Page (Insta-link for those with short attention spans)


My mom wrote last week to ask what I want for birthday (December 5th). When I read her email, here's the picture that came immediately to mind:


What's that? It's the three-fourths of my Bangkok shipment that has never been unpacked! Yup, it's gathering dust in the basement because there's no room for all my junk in the tiny house I share with a roommate.


Frankly, the idea of adding any more material possessions to the mix over the upcoming holidays makes my head explode. In fact, I'm contemplating a serious trip to Goodwill to thin out my stuff.


The good news: there's an awesome birthday (and Christmas!) present you can give that will not only put a smile on my face, but will go to help a great cause -- a donation to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.


As many of you know, I'm running the Canyonlands Half Marathon on March 19, 2011 to honor my mom, who is a 10-year survivor of lymphoma (see post below for more details). Your gift will help me reach my goal of raising $4500 for blood cancer research and programs.


Yesterday I told a friend of mine (someone who just loves giving presents) that I only wanted a donation for my birthday. "But that's kind of boring!" she said. "Can't I get you something fun?"


My reply -- there's nothing better you could give me! Because of advances in blood cancer research and treatment made possible by donations like yours, I have the greatest thing in the world -- my mom!


I truly believe that when you donate to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, you're helping give someone back a mom, a dad, a child, a brother, sister, friend or partner. In fact, seventy-six cents of every dollar you donate goes directly to research or patient programs.


Do you know someone whose life has been touched by blood cancer? Instead of a tie or another kitchen gadget, consider making a donation to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in their honor. That's a heartwarming gift that shows how much you care.


To sum up my plea: Instead of adding to the overflow of stuff at the Maurer-Keller house, please consider clicking here and making a donation to The Leukemia Lymphoma Society.


There's a $25 minimum to donate online with a credit card. If you'd like to make a smaller donation (and every single dollar is appreciated!), or if you simply prefer to donate by check, write your check to "The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society" and mail it to:


Sarah Maurer

(Email me for Address)

To ensure I meet my fundraising deadlines, please donate TODAY. No need to wait til Christmas.


So now you can cross one gift off your holiday shopping list. Unless, of course, you can catch and deliver James Franco to my doorstep. (Run James! Run far. Run fast =)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Let's Fight Blood Cancer Together

My mom and me, three years after she was diagnosed with lymphoma


Dear Friends and Family,

I'm writing to invite you to join a cause close to my heart -- the fight against leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers. As you may know, my mom Kathie was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2001. Though her cancer was quite advanced at diagnosis, she is alive today because of an amazing treatment called monoclonal antibodies. She's now been in remission for almost 10 years, and I swear she's healthier than I am!

As late as the 1950s, blood cancer was 100 percent fatal. Today, 89 percent of children with leukemia and 96 percent of people with Hodgkin's disease will live, thanks to research funded by organizations like The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Like me, you've probably experienced a friend's or loved one's cancer. Did you know that when you help to fund blood cancer research, all cancer patients benefit? Research sponsored by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has been the catalyst for the effective treatment of breast and lung cancer, among others.

While treatment has come a long way, nearly a million people are still battling blood cancer today. Every 10 minutes, an adult or child dies of blood cancer, and leukemia still causes more deaths to children under 20 than any other cancer.

With accelerated funding through generous donations like yours, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society predicts that we can make all blood cancers curable by 2015.

To raise money for blood cancer research, I've pledged to run the Canyonlands Half-Marathon (13 miles in the blazing Utah desert) through a program you may have heard of -- Team In Training.

Team In Training is a fundraising program which benefits The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Each year, they train over 40,000 runners, walkers, cyclists, triathletes, hikers and snowshoers to race at events around the world. The group has excellent coaches who provide a daily training schedule, advise on gear and nutrition, organize group runs, offer track workouts and keep our motivation level up with regular communication.

In return, I have pledged to raise money to help fund research and support for blood cancer patients and their families. My goal is $4500. It's a big challenge, but not nearly as big as the challenges these patients face every day.

I've just returned from our Team In Training kick-off party in Denver, where I met our team hero, Kimberly. She was 27 years old -- and 28 weeks pregnant -- when she was diagnosed with leukemia. After a successful course of treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., she ran her first half marathon in 2010. This season, she'll be up and training with us every Saturday morning at 7:45 a.m.


Kim was pregnant with her daughter when she was diagnosed with leukemia

I would greatly appreciate your donation to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Over 75 percent of your donation goes directly to research and patient programs.

As a thoughtful and heartwarming holiday gift, consider donating in the name of a friend or loved one.

There are two ways you can donate:

1. Credit card: Visit my personal Team in Training fundraising page. All donations are private, secure and 100 percent tax deductible.

2. Check: Make checks payable to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Mail the check with the enclosed form to Sarah Maurer at (e-mail me for address).

Please also keep in mind that many corporations have matching programs and will match any donation you provide. It's an easy way to double your contribution!

Thank you in advance for your consideration in supporting this effort. Feel free to contact me for more info, or visit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at lls.org.


Yours truly,


Sarah Maurer

TAX ID # 135644916

P.S.: While I will gladly accept donations through March, your early support will help me to meet my fundraising deadlines -- the first of which falls in December. So your donation TODAY will help raise even more money to fight blood cancer!



Our Fort Collins/Northern CO Team In Training

Monday, September 13, 2010

You might be from Bangkok if...

1. You have an irresistible urge to remove your shoes at the front door.

2. You're constantly amazed by the fearlessness of the native pedestrians.

3. You make social chit-chat about prostitutes, red light districts, lady boys and ping-pong shows. With complete strangers.

4. You scare other motorists doing the Thai-style squeeze-around. (More about this in my recent post: "Thai style driving not appreciated at the National Park").

5. Every time the cashier gives you change, you say, "Khap Khun Kha."

6. You can't believe how quiet it is in America...WHERE'D EVERYBODY GO?

7. You stand waaay too close in the check-out line. Hey, you gotta look like you're part of this queue. If your nose isn't touching the next person's head, someone might cut!

8. You barrel through the airport like a mack truck, heedless of the elderly and small children. To you, the terminal is a jungle. Only the strong survive.

9. On the subject of airports, you're salty that you have to pay a quarter for a luggage cart. Aren't those a basic human right?

10. You exit the bar at last call and immediately look around for a 7-11. Seeing none, you scan the street for a taxi or tuk tuk. Then you remember where you are. Looks like you're sleeping in the car =(

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Defeated by Long's. But we'll be back!

Here's me and Jen on our big climb. It's no accident this picture is in black and white! Our noses are total disasters--red, raw, drippy--we had to give them an extra good blowing before shooting close-ups =).

Why? Because it was snowing. The windchill was 0 degrees Farenheit. And the wind was gusting to at least sixty miles an hour! Not the best conditions for climbing to 14,259 feet.


The Mountain

Long's Peak is the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. Here's an (old) picture of Chasm Lake, just below the East Face of Long's, aka The Diamond. It's nearly 2,000 feet tall and some crazy yahoos actually free solo it!

Not Jen and me. Instead, we went through a "hikers" route called The Keyhole. It's the easiest approach, but it's no cakewalk: sixteen miles round-trip and just under 5,000 feet elevation gain. Only about 30 percent of hikers who set out along this trail actually summit.

Originally, five of us were supposed to climb, but Kel, Phil and Valerie all threw in the towel when they saw the weather report. The NWS was predicting wind gusts up to 60 mph!

But Jen and I decided to go for it. Even if it was windy on the ground, we were going a whole mile up in the air. Anything could be happening up there, we reasoned. It could be perfectly calm.

All Quiet on the Eastern slope ...

Friday at midnight, we met up at Jen's house and pounded some coffee, then drove to the Long's Peak Trailhead. We put on our headlamps and almost immediately mine died =(. No matter. There was still enough light from Jen's lamp for me to stumble along behind.

At 00:53, we stopped to sign the register. We were the first hikers of the day.

An hour later, when we emerged above the treeline, we stopped to look for signs of the Four-Mile Canyon wildfire. It was a gorgeous night--new moon, puddles of Milky Way and stars upon stars. Through the shimmery air, the summit looked close enough to touch. We could hear the wind howling somewhere in the distance, but the air around us was calm.

Maybe a mile past Chasm Lake, the first big gust sent us scrambling. We could hear it bearing down, roaring. Whoosh! The impact was like a wave breaking on my head--a wash of turbulence that spun me clear around. We listened in disbelief as it roared away down into the valley. And all was still again.

A bad sign, to be sure. But being optimists (hypoxic ones), we pressed on. We still a long way to go to the Keyhole where the real danger would begin...

Terror on the Home Stretch

To date, 57 people have perished on the slopes of Long's. Some were climbers who knew the risks. But a good number were hikers who ran into bad weather on the exposed upper reaches. A week before I first climbed the mountain in 1999, a Japanese hiker had been overcome by fog, wandered off the Narrows, and fallen a thousand feet to his death.

The route's straightforward, requiring nothing more technical than vigorous walking, until you reach the Boulder Field at 12,800 feet. There the trail ends abruptly and you switch to scrambling up a talus slope.

See the weird little notch above my head and a little to the right? That's the notorious Keyhole. Once you pass through this little Gate of Doom at 13,200 feet, it's a mile-and-a-half or mincing along exposed ledges and semi-technical scrambling to reach the summit.

I've done it twice, and it's tough--even under perfect conditions. But the real wild card is always the weather. Storms tend to roll in after noon, so you need to summit before 8 am to have a prayer of making it back to the tree line before bad weather hits. Wait much longer and you'll end up lost in a cloud like the Japanese hiker. Or you'll find yourself where I once did--caught in an electrical storm, running for my life down the trail with my zippers sparking and my hair standing on end!

The Huddle

By the time we got to the Boulder Field at 5 am, things were really sucking.

Every few minutes, the wind would blast us with hurricane force. We'd hear it coming and brace ourselves. And if you could believe my nose, which was hemorrhaging snot, it was freaking COLD-- near 0, we later learned. The stream along the trail was frozen solid and slippery, and a rime of ice was forming in our water bottles. We'd put on every scrap of clothing available (I'd even put my spare socks on my hands) and tied our bandanas around our faces to prevent frostbite.

As we made our final approach to the Keyhole, the sky began to lighten. The wind was better here, swirling, but not packing so much punch. But behind the ridge, we could here it shrieking. Sounded like someone was flapping a tarp the size of Wal-Mart back there.

If you look closely just below the Keyhole, you can see the Agnes Vai Shelter, named for a hiker who perished here in a storm in 1925 (shocking, right?). To reach it, we had to cross in front of the Keyhole itself. As I did, the coldest wind I've ever felt slammed into me like a runaway semi! I bent close to the ground and slithered my way into the hut.


Jen, whose heart pumps diesel (I'm pretty certain), was already waiting. She pulled out a bag and said, "Want some cold chicken?"

HELL YEAH I WANTED SOME COLD CHICKEN! As we ate, we watched the sun come up over the Boulder Field. Sorry, no pictures--I was so cold and dizzy by that point, Christ himself could have appeared to us and I wouldn't have bothered to get a photo. I was more worried about my fingers--they weren't working so well. By the time I got to the last bite of chicken, it was ice cold, on the verge of developing freezer burn.

As we ate, a tiny mouse crawled out of the wall. I have no idea how any living creature could survive in such a place. He was about the size of a quarter, so maybe the conditions had stunted his growth. Though you aren't supposed to feed the animals in the National Park, we left him some crumbs.

After about 30 minutes, three young lads joined us in the hut. They paused for a snack, then announced they were "going for it." After they fought their way through the Keyhole and disappeared, all was silent for a moment. Then a scream cut the air (WOOOOOO-HEEEE!!!!!!), the nervous-exhilerated kind you might make while clinging to a bucking bronco. More shouting followed, and within minutes, the frozen lads limped back into the hut. Seems the wind had pinned them against the side of the mountain, and they'd lost interest in going further!

More and more hikers began to arrive. Some were so frozen on arrival their joints were practically creaking. They mostly sat around in shock--no one seemed eager to press on. Finally, Jen and I resolved to fight our way up to the Keyhole and see for ourselves.

The fifteen foot climb to the lip was like fighting my way up a class V rapid. Finally, I reached the hole and forced myself to my feet. For just a millisecond, I caught the breathtaking sight of the Never-Summer Range and snowcapped peaks on the far side of the ridge. Then the wind slammed into me like a raging wall of water. It ripped off my hood and snatched my hat off my head. I thought for a second it was going to rip my clothes to shreds! Even if I'd wanted to step into the hurricane's maw and onto the nearest ledge, I don't think my 130-pound self could have done it!

The mountain had defeated us. I didn't want to turn around, but I also didn't want to be pitched off the ledge like a human kite, and end my days with a jackknife into Chasm Lake 2000 feet below. We turned and headed down.


The Dream Killers

As descended, we met scores of starry-eyed hikers coming up. "Did you make it?" they asked.

"Nope," we said.

"How was it?"

I told them they'd love it--if they liked the idea of being stripped naked by a hurricane. Then I felt bad. "You're still half-an-hour away," I said. "Maybe when you get up there things will be better."

Just then, snow began to fall.

And so we fought our way down through the icy wind. We managed a side trip to Chasm Lake, but the wind was so fierce, we only stayed a few minutes. Back at the trailhead, we checked the register.

No one else had made the summit that day.

The Afterglow

Altogether, we hiked close to 14 miles and gained over 4000 feet elevation. Naturally, this entitled us to all the Rock Inn beers and sandwiches we could eat! We went to bed at eight that night and slept like the dead for 10 hours while the wind whipped through the pines outside.

It was a bummer, but a funny bummer. One thing's for sure: we'll be back next year. Vengeance will be ours!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm in the unpacking phase. It's very emotional.


Six years ago, I left for Shanghai with two suitcases.

Yesterday, I arrived at Anne's garage to pick up my sea shipment. Thirty freakin' boxes! Maybe I have one of those hoarding complexes. Watch out, in a few years I will have ninety-six cats and won't be able to throw out a ball of tin foil without crying =).

Unpacking my stuff was bittersweet. There are so many memories in those boxes--the good times, the bad times and the s*it times, as Borat would say.


Well hello there, Thailand-for-Obama 2008 T-shirt! It was so much fun watching the debates and the inauguration at the Road House.

And for all the Joe Plumbers playing a drinking game at home -- MAVERICK!





Oh, look! I found my hiking boots just in time for the big climb up Long's Peak tomorrow. Bet they still have dust on from Kilimanjaro!











And there's my bike Jersey, horribly stained by the red earth of Thailand. I'm glad I ran out of Shout before that trip.


Well isn't this a treat. Three KOTEKAS from New Guinea! I'll show you how to wear one later. On second thought, here's a link to the eHow article. Er, nope, they don't have that. Oh well, you'll just have to google it. AFTER you get home from work.


And here's my fav Bangkok Hash shirt! Racy, racy. Wonder if I'll get arrested if I wear it in Colorado? Oh, well, I gave up my dream of a Senate seat long ago =).


Now this one has definitely come full circle! My old sweatshirt from my CSU days. Lord of the Rings was all the rage back at the time, and I loved putting the hood up and doing my elf impression. Dear Hoodie: welcome back to the hood!

While I was unpacking, Duri was going crackers! He's probably terrified we're moving. AGAIN. He felt better once I opened up a box of kitchen stuff and found Mr. Blue, Blue Mouse!

Whew! That felt like I just unpacked a whole container ship! Know how much it was? FIVE BOXES! Feeling a bit emotional--and also wondering if I might need to tunnel into the next-door neighbor's basement and conquer it in the name of storage capacity.

It's definitely wine-o-clock.

Have any of you guys ever had to do this? Did you manage to unpack the whole thing without a nervous break down? Therapeutic comments needed ...



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hundreds Riot in Fort Collins

I could see this happening after, say, a Metallica concert. But Earth, Wind and Fire? Words fail me.

Bear kills man in Columbia Station

When I heard about this, I congratulated myself yet again on living far, far from Columbia.

Dear Rednecks: Remember, if you wrestle a bear, you're going to LOSE!

Thai-style driving NOT appreciated at National Park

I got in trouble at the park today. Sort of.

At the the main gate of Rocky, I tried to drive up to the card reader and swipe my annual pass. But I couldn't get through because a big white Park Service truck was sitting in the lane, doing nothing. The driver had his hand dangling out the window, and I think I mistook a twitch as an invitation to do a Thailand-style squeeze-around.

So I did what any Thai driver would. I eased my CRV into the crack between the truck and the gatehouse. There was maybe an inch on each side--plenty of room, right? I could see I was going to have to reach over and pull in my mirror, so I slowed down. Then I heard the ranger at the next booth shout, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?"

Apparently, some mornings, before coffee, I still forget what country I'm in.

As the truck pulled away to let me through, the ranger made a joke about fining me 100 USD. Then he watched me swipe my pass over and over. "Turn it around!" he groaned. Which worked and the gate went up.

As they watched me go, the rangers were probably convinced I was going into the mountains to die. I wouldn't be surprised if they put out an all-points bulletin: bonehead at large, armed with Honda CRV. And dangerous!


When Hummingbirds Attack


If you like hiking or running with a brightly colored Buff on your head, beware! I was wearing this one when a hummingbird flew straight into my face! They buzz, so at first I thought it was some kind of giant killer bee. He pecked my head, realized it wasn't a flower, and zoomed off.

Got to stay bear safe, moose safe, elk safe, and now hummingbird safe out here in Colorado. Next time I go to Rocky, I'll wear my black buff with skulls on.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Body Snatchin'

R. I. P.

So for the first time since high school, I killed something with my car today. So depressing. Some wood grouse were loitering beside the road near Pipestone, Minnesota. I don't know why one picked that exact moment to make a break for the far side of the street!

One consolation, I hit it so hard, there was no question it was dead. Stone cold dead. Not lying there suffering. When I looked in the rear view mirror, there was a cloud of feathers fluttering in the air.

The sad thing--I was probably the first car to drive by in about three days. Bad luck, little fella.

This isn't the first animal I've hit with the Honda. Just the first kill. I was driving to a baby shower with my mom last month and I ran over a dead, bloated skunk corpse. The splattering sound--and the smell-- were horrible. My mom and I both screamed, it was so gross! Sometimes my car still reeks like skunk.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How to help your repat friend

"So. What did you do over there?"

Though I know most people mean well, I dread this question. Don't get me wrong. I love talking about my overseas experiences--with a listener who's genuinely interested. After watching a few people glaze over, repats get good at sussing out when to be real and when say, "Oh, you know. Lotsa stuff."

Some examples from my own life of people who were clearly sorry they'd asked:

Relative: So. What did you do over there?

Me: Well, one of the best trips I took was to Banda Aceh, to see the destruction from the tsunami.

Relative: The what?

Me: The big tsunami from 2004. It destroyed half the city and killed 40,000 people. There's this huge electrical ship, big as a mall, that got washed seven kilometers inland and squashed a whole neighborhood.

Relative: Uh, yeah. Did I tell you Derek got a new car?

Uh-huh. Glad I had your undivided attention for all of 15 seconds.

Here's one from a baby shower:

Total Stranger (at a table of total strangers): So. Tell us the craziest thing about Thailand.

Me: Well, I lived in the red light district. I'd be walking to the grocery store and passing all these prostitutes. Maybe half of them were trans-gendered. You know, men who were living as women.

(Silence, sound of chirping crickets)

Total Stranger: Well, it must have been a fantastic experience. Anyone see American Idol last night?

Okay, okay, I admit that's a clear case of wrong message, wrong audience. But I honestly forget that everyone doesn't sit around talking about prostitution, ping-pong shows, sexpats and lady-boys like people here talk about, well, American Idol. In the world I'm coming from, it's all pleasant social chit-chat.

Another thing I dislike about the "So what did you do over there" query: it's not like I've been away on a two-week holiday. I've been gone for six years! Quick, tell me everything you've done in six years before I get bored and change the subject to American Idol.

Okay /rant.

So what can you do to help a repat friend who's struggling? Simple. Let them talk. Be present. Really listen.

That's why my friend Julie and her husband Shaun are chicken soup for my repat soul. Here's a picture of all of us at their wedding in Australia in 2006:


Julie and I worked together at the International House at Colorado State from 2003-2004. Then we both moved to China about a year apart. Julie met Shaun, who's from Australia, in Shenzhen. They moved to Korea for awhile, went to Australia to get married and now live in tiny St. Joseph, Minnesota.

The first thing they did was take me out for yummy Thai food (not easy to find in St. Joseph). Then, over beers, they said they'd followed the Bangkok riots in the news. What was really going on over there? Would I please explain?

Well, I could barely contain my excitement. We talked about Thaksin, the Red Shirts, and the bloodless coup. I opened my laptop and showed them all the videos and pictures I'd collected on my East is Red blog. For awhile, I worried I was boring them to death, but they kept asking for more! They wanted to know what I thought of the media coverage (Answer: CNN and BBC botched it, Al-Jazeera was right on the nose). They sat at full attention through my Khattiya assassination story and the saga of my eleventh-hour evacuation from the kill zone. And when I tried to change the subject, they changed it back.

If felt sooo good. In fact, when I woke up the next morning, I'd swear my cheeks were sore from smiling.

Granted, we have some common ground, having all lived abroad. And Shaun's getting his degree in international social justice (we also talked in depth about his work with communities in Chiapas, Mexico). But if there's a repat in your life, showing interest and really listening will mean so much to them. You don't have to let them go on all night. Give them 15 minutes to share and they'll be grateful for your generosity.

By the way, if you know Jewls and Shaun and haven't been to visit them, it's time! They said I was their first non-family visitor in three years. Guys, maybe you and Kevin need to get attached townhouses somewhere kewl-er? Australia? Colorado?

Also, after listening to the AM talk radio in your 'hood, I don't know how you survive. As I was driving away toward the South Dakota border, the lady was talking about how all good Christians need to stand together against "The Green Dragon." Yup, we all need to do our part to silence the environmentalist wackos. Quick, hand me a lighter. I wanna set my hair on fire.



Thursday, August 5, 2010

WISCONSIN: Here, you're never too old to club


Here's two things I missed in Asia: PBR and my old I-House friend, Kevin. He lives in Whitewater, Wisconsin. Sounds like an awesome place to kayak, right? Well, no.

Kevin wanted me to have a real Wisconsin cultural experience, so he made reservations at the Buckhorn Supper Club. I got excited, because the only other "supper club" I know is Bed Supper Club in Bangkok, a restaurant-slash-uber-chic dance club (Boy George was the guest DJ last May). In central Wisconsin, Kev says, supper club is usually the most happening spot in town.

I told Kev my clubbing clothes were in the shipment. He said it was fine, and that I didn't even have to take a shower! Here's me in front of Buckhorn Supper Club (yes, I know those shorts don't do a thing for me).

So here's what Wisconsin supper club's all about: it's a place where OLD PEOPLE hang out! They meet up, drink beer and hork down massive amounts of meat and potatoes. En serio, we were about the youngest people there by 30 years.

Here's a shot of the inside. Sorry, no Boy George.

Supper club, as it turns out, is GREAT for people watching. Let's face it. Once you hit a certain age, you probably lose most of your hang-ups. So if you feel like busting out your bugle right on the patio and playing a craptastic rendition of Taps as the sun goes down, you just do it! We had got several free bugle performances, and a capella show tunes too.

Here's the beautiful sunset over Lake Koshkonong (sans bugle audio):

By the way, Wisconsin (and lots of the upper Midwest) was still recovering from a massive flood when I visited. In Whitewater, they actually had seven inches of rain in an hour! You rarely get that much in a bonafide tropical rain forest. Here's what's left of the boat slip outside the Buckhorn. According to our waitress, the water is still "a foot or two" above normal.


Supper Club is such a tradition in Wisconsin, that Capital Brewery in Whitewater makes Supper Club Beer. Yup, we tried it and it was light and refreshing, perfect for summer!


And the food? Two words: big and cheap! For about 13 USD each, Kev got a humongous steak and I got a four-piece chicken dinner--plenty for lunch on the road the next day.

So that's your crash course in Wisconsin's supper club scene. Kevin says he's hoping to get to the supper club more often, as there's not much happening in Whitewater. Kev, buddy, I'm thinking maybe it's time for you to move soon =) Though I'll visit you anywhere, especially now that I've eaten your ragingly good, homemade, CHOCOLATE-CHILI ICE CREAM.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Things I Learned Today From AM Talk Radio

I've gotten super hooked on talk radio since I came home. Maybe it's because I don't know any of the songs anymore on the FM channel. Also, I think when you are driving this far, your brain just needs a work out.

A sampling of my learnings for August 4, 2010:

* If you freeze any genetic material (eggs, sperm), make sure you make provisions for it in your will. Otherwise, when you have another heir born twenty years after your death, your kids will be really salty over having to split the trust fund again.

* The Gulf oil spill is a wondrous feat of nature. Seriously. There are bacteria living in the ocean that EAT oil, and they are all happy and fat now because while oil constantly seeps out of the ocean floor, this latest gusher is like ten Four Seasons Jakarta buffets to them. If the bacteria are happy, we should be happy for them. Maybe we should even have MORE oil spills (Words fail me).

* Pray about everything. Pray about money. Pray for America's deliverance. Even pray for dead people.

* While we're on a religious note, environmentalism is the enemy. All good Christians must resist The Green Dragon (snerk).

* 8/28 should be a day of fasting to honor Glenn Beck.

* Rush Limbaugh has a new Facebook page where he'll post pictures of his Old English sheepdogs. And his new wife. Yes, in that order.

* Speaking of Rush, guess who performed at his wedding? Elton John! Either Elton's hard up for cash or has a wicked sense of humor.

Really. You can't make-up stuff this craptastic.

East Chicago's Galactic Shite Hole

I've driven to Chicago a few times, and every time I eagerly await Gary, Indiana's appearance on the horizon. Just in case you missed it, Gary is the biggest piece of jaw dropping, industrial urban squalor in the known universe. Miles and miles of belching, flaming smoke stacks, rusty factories, snarls of pipes that tower four stories high ... seriously, worse then ten Jakartas and worse than Beijing on a white-out smog day. if there were an evil Gargamel of global warming and carbon emissions, the Pilsbury factory in Gary would be his castle.

Gary seems like the kind of place you could find Mad Max, The Terminator and Oliver Twist all living on the same street, but in reality, Gary's most famous native son is Michael Jackson. When I stopped at the Indiana Welcome Center, I looked around for brochures about The Michael Jackson Historic Homestead or, failing that, the Haunted Gary Toxic Waste Cruise. I really wanted an excuse, I realized, to commune with this city that had so captured my imagination. Alas, there were no tourist attractions at the Gary exit, and I can only conclude that it's the type of place where, like East Cleveland, you can't slow down or you'll die.

True to form, Gary was plagued with construction and traffic, which finally bogged down in the giant morass of Chicago. The sun was shining for once, turning the air a shimmery green. I bet Gary has great sunsets, but after driving through it a time or two, you couldn't pay me to eat a single fish from Lake Michigan. Hell, you couldn't pay me to eat a single particle of plankton.

Seat-of-the-Arse Road Trip 2010

OK, so now that have seen six years looking at cheese-ball tourist traps in foreign lands, it's time to see some in my own country! Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, Corn Palace, Wall Drug, etc.,here I come!

I should mention that this is possibly the most half assed piece of travel I have ever executed, right up there with getting bored and going to Jakarta airport with a duffle bag to see if they had tickets left to anywhere kewl. (Repeat after me: the airport is not a bus station). Anyhoo, I have waited until the last possible moment to nail down my departure dates, and I'm still not sure the owner of one of the couches I plan to crash on knows I'm coming. The temporary plates on my new Honda are due to expire en route and when I arrive in Estes Park (on Saturday, Sunday or possibly Tuesday), I will crash with Kelly and Phil for somewhere between one and three weeks.

But I must say, after six years of highly regimented living, it feels kinda neat. And since my friends haven't seen me for years, hopefully they'll have mercy when I show up unannounced (or three days later than announced) at their door. Being the flaky friend from far off lands does have its moments, though I promise I really do not milk them. Too much.

A very loose itinerary (almost laugh as that word):

Thursday -- Get up, do laundry, pack and load card (as procrastinating too much to do it tonight). Attempt to depart at 10:00 am. Drive through Chicago madness to Whitewater, WI and stay with I-House friend Kevin, who is study abroad advisor at the college.

Friday -- Drive to St. Cloud, Minnesota to stay with Julie and new husband Shaun. Actually, he is 2-year old husband, but still new to me, kind of like the Honda, as I've only met him once. I hope they got the email that says I'm coming to see them. Fortunately, they live on a tiny college campus, so confident I can locate using elementary stalking techniques.

Saturday -- Going to South Dakota! Not sure why this is so exciting, as by all indications is another vast, empty state like Nebraska or Kansas. Relatives of mine were Lakota Sioux, so bet I will just feel at home there, like I'm in a biergaarten in Munich chugging Hefeweizen with all the other Maurers and Schwartzes. No friends in SD, so will probably just check in to a No-Tell Motel and attempt to sneak the cat in.

Sunday -- Inshallah, Estes Park, CO. Seems close to the Dakotas. Easy peasy driving day.

Still amazed at how little prep required to travel in the States. No visa, no passport. Every state is like visa on arrival, only don't need to stand in line for it or leave every six months to keep it. Brilliant concept.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Back from the parallel universe

To everyone else, it's the year 2010 in America. To me, American time stops abruptly on August 1, 2004 when I boarded a plane for Shanghai and passed into a parallel universe for six years. This time warp is one of a million things that makes moving back home so bewildering. When I came back here, I subconsciously expected everything to be the same, but alas time marches on (even if does march a bit slower here in Cleveland).

If I seem a bit out-of-it, consider that in 2004:

- Bush was still sitting on his stolen throne, searching high and low for his weapons of mass-destruction. For me, there's been no temporarily-validating second term.

- Al Gore and John Edwards were worshipped as men of the highest character. I was crushing severely on both of them. Oh, how the mighty do fall.

- The only cell phone I used back then was an ancient Nokia roughly the size of a footlong Subway sandwich, and only then when on call for work. The iPhone was still three years away.

- We were all still waiting impatiently for the fifth Harry Potter book. Twilight and its ilk were yet unborn.

- A relative of mine whose car had been recently repossessed wowed the family when she obtained a mortgage to buy a house--sans downpayment.

- No one had ever heard of Sarah Palin or Barack O'Bama or Miley Cyrus.

- There had never been a Hurricane Katrina, a Boxing Day Tsunami, a Virginia Tech Massacre or a Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

- Gas prices in Cleveland were $1.69 per gallon.

- Saddam Hussain, Yasser Arafat, Christopher Reeve, Steve Irwin, Kenneth Lay, Peter Jennings, Anna Nicole Smith, Boris Yeltsin, Jerry Falwell, Benazir Bhutto, Charlton Heston, Dith Pran (of The Killing Fields fame), Heath Ledger, Sir Edmund Hillary, Patrick Swayze, Michael Jackson and Dennis Hopper were alive and well.

- Pluto was still a planet.

So you can see that's a load of cognitive dissonance to deal with. Don't worry, I'll get around to processing it all one of these days. Except for Pluto, which will always be a planet to me.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

TSA gives warm welcome to returning expats ... and their pets

"Take your cat out of the carrier."

I blink at the large woman on the far side of baggage x-ray as if she's just spoken Kyrgyz. The cat in question is not, to put it mildly, a happy camper. He hasn't eaten, drunk, or peed since we left Bangkok nearly twenty-four hours ago. He's just spent the transpacific flight from Narita to O'Hare wedged under a "B" seat, watching my Crocs fight a losing battle with the invading sneakers of the snoring Japanese teenager in the "C" seat (as if the greedy bugger didn't have a whole damn aisle to flop around in). We've spent the past forty-five minutes shuffling through a security line that bears a more-than-passing resemblance to a Soviet-style bread line, but without even the dim satisfaction of a treat at the end. The cat is teetering on the tweaking point--and so am I.

The thick redhead in her khaki TSA uniform (JANELLE shouts her name tag) repeats her command, this time louder. JANELLE has no way of knowing the truth: she's dealing with a cat that even under far less-trying circumstances often manifests what my friend Lindy has dubbed "feline autism." I cringed when she first blurted that out; I've met plenty of brilliant, intriguing and assuredly nonviolent people with autism. If I had to make a diagnosis in this case, I'd go with something that puts people in prison, like antisocial personality disorder. This cat is plain psycho.

"Can't I just take the carrier through?" I ask. JANELLE answers me with a grunt. People behind us are starting to grumble. Unclaimed laptops and diaper bags are piling themselves into an unstable Mt. Everest at the far end of the x-ray machine.

With a sigh, I reach to unzip the carrier. At the two Asian airports I've passed through, BKK and Narita, security let me carry the cat through the metal detector carrier and all. Buddhist airport personnel are in fact refreshingly pet friendly, meowing at the little menace and making kissy faces at him through the mesh. At Thai immigration, a smiling security guard appeared with a wheelchair to push the cat and and his unwieldy carrier to the gate. Antisocial cat valet. Now fed up JANELLE is whispering to the lanky youth behind the x-ray machine (DEZMOND) while casting a toxic glare in my direction. If she's ever made a kissy face, I'm kind of glad I missed it.

As I reach inside the carrier, I can almost hear the metallic ping of the cat's claws whizzing out of his toes like switchblades. "Here kitty, kitty," I say, as if about to lift one of those sweet, golden balls of purring love that some people are lucky enough to end up with when they rescue an orphaned kitten from a truck stop, just like I did. The cat's name, I should mention, is Durian. For those who haven't had the pleasure of walking into a Southeast Asian supermarket, a durian is a giant citrus fruit that resembles a spiky, green bowling ball and smells like rotting flesh. I actually know a woman who knocked a durian on her flip-flop-clad foot in one such grocery store and had to get stitches. The cat's name ain't Durian for nothing.

I grasp Durian the Terrible in both hands, grit my teeth and tug. His claws are sunk so deep in the carrier that it rises off the belt with him still inside. JANELLE and DEZMOND lean in to watch the action, but don't bother holding the carrier to assist me. Part of me resents this, and another part thinks, they aren't stupid. Wrestling the beast into a one-armed sleeper hold, I pick his claws out of the mesh with my free hand. The whinging behind me intensifies. One insensitive gorilla shoves past and helps himself to a trip through the metal detector.

When I finally manage to separate psycho cat from the carrier, he immediately claws his way up my arm as if I'm a human tree. In a stunning feat of flexibility, I swing one arm over my shoulder and the other behind my back and manage to pin the little prison breaker to the back of my head with both hands. I stand there contorted like the liquid metal Terminator after Linda Hamilton blasted through its torso at point blank range. Duri hisses. His claws are deep enough in me to puncture a kidney, possibly a lung.

JANELLE regards me straining, practically tied in a knot, without a glimmer of empathy. She wears the look of someone who has seen worse. Much worse. "Go back and send the carrier through," she snaps.

Panic mounting, I ease the less twisted of my arms down to conveyor belt level and snag the carrier with my pinky. The crowd has given up waiting; people are now streaming past, bumping me as they break for the metal detector. The best thing I can imagine would be for Durian to jump off of my back and land on one of them. Although then I'd probably get sued. This is America, after all. A place I've been gone from for six-years and to which I am today making my first visit of indefinite length since our ill-fated hunt for Iraqi weapons of mass-destruction.

I hate it here already.

I sling the carrier on the belt and somehow manage to manhandle Duri back onto the front of me. He huddles there with every muscle tensed and his front claws sunk in the exposed base of my throat. I must be going into shock, as I no longer feel the pain. We've now officially lost our place in the line. People march past, willfully ignoring bloody girl and psycho cat. Finally, a woman is kind enough to stop and let us go next through the metal detector. Duri thanks her by laying his ears flat and hissing.

"Oops," says the man in front of us, as the machine lets out an unholy beep. "Forgot my keys." He walks back, hands the keys to GEORGE, tries again. Beep. He shambles back for a third try. I ponder America and its aggravating individualism while this bonehead digs unhurriedly in his pockets for change and Durian fights his way onto my shoulder. If the damn thing beeps when I go through, I swear I'm doing a runner.

Finally, I clear the detector. On the far side of the conveyor belt, Duri's carrier hits the mountain of laptops and diaper bags and slides to the floor. I sink beside it and dump him in, then hold his thrusting head as I zip. Then I sling the carrier over my shoulder and stand there nearly crying with relief as the cloud of cat hair settles around me and blood beads on my throat and shoulder. Somehow I doubt anyone is coming with a wheelchair this time.

As I head for my gate, a man (clearly less individualized than these other wretched Americans) approaches. If this were Asia, he'd ask "Are you OK?" and walk beside me to the first aid station. He'd even offer to lug the cat carrier.

"I gotta tell ya," he says grinning. "That was the funniest thing I've seen all week."

Send me home to Bangkok. Send me home NOW.