Tag: archive

Leaving on a Jet Plane (Archive)

Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

(Houston, Texas) I’m sitting here in Hobby Airport waiting for my 1:00 departure, and apparently whoever is in charge of the sound system has put on a John Denver playlist. I’m not sure what is scarier: that his songs have been played continuously for the past hour, or that I have recognized all of them. Not that I have anything against John Denver. In small doses.

I’m on my way to Lincoln to see the family. Dad’s not doing too well, so I’ve made arrangements at the school to go up for a visit. I hate having to miss classes, but it’s not because of the kids. Honestly, what I hate are all the damn lesson plans. My mom pointed out it would be faster just to teach the classes myself.

So I’m feeling remarkably well considering the circumstances of this trip, that I only got four hours of sleep last night, and that I’m sitting in an airport with CNN blaring on the monitors in clear discordance with the Denver-fest. (Personally, I’m rooting for John). Part of the reason for my easiness is that the airport has done little to offend me today. Check-in and the security screening weren’t onerous today, which are usually the worst part of air travel. Here at the gate (again, with the exception of CNN) things are pretty peaceful as well. Conspicuously absent from my travel experience are the hordes of screaming children. I suppose that’s one of the benefits of mid-week travel.

One other point of note is a sign of our changing times: here in the terminal, amidst the usual rows of uncomfortable benches, I’m sitting at a courtesy laptop bar. It’s just a smallish table with built-in electrical outlets and stools, but it’s really smart. Internet access isn’t included, but it’s nice not to have to jockey for juice with the business folks looking to charge their Blackberrys and the college students with their Apples. Even the guy with the electrical banana looks happy.

Donde las calles no tienen nombres (Archivo)

Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

¡Hola Amigos!

Many words describe Costa Rica. Forced pick one, it would be “green.” The color is everywhere, in every single verdant shade from dusky olives to brilliant emeralds that shouldn’t be natural. I’ve never been to Ireland, but its reputation must be exaggerated; Costa Rica is certainly the greenest place on this planet.

I discovered this because I went to Costa Rica to learn Spanish for two weeks at the Costa Rican Language Academy in San Jose. My profesora, Maria Laura Aguilar, was incredibly patient, and the program was great, so I speak like a native. Some of the Spanish I learned:

* Quiero una cerveza por favor… I’d like to sample one of your local brews.
* Una mas… My, this is good and I’d like another (may be used repeatedly).
* Donde esta el baño… The waterfalls here are lovely and now I must make one of my own.

While I was in Costa Rica I stayed with a tico family. Ticos (or ticas, for the women) is what the Costa Ricans refer to themselves as. As a general rule, they are a warm and friendly people and my host family was no exception. If you ask a tico how he or she is, the common response is ¡Pura vida! which literally translated means “Pure life” and generally means that things are just hunky dory. Considering they have no army, it’s no wonder the Costa Ricans have such a positive outlook on life.

Costa Ricans hate war and love tourists: it’s their number one industry, ahead of both microprocessor and fruit production. Despite this, they don’t understand the concept of road signs. Streets, in fact, rarely have names except as novelty items, and if they do the names aren’t used. Ticos navigate like they dance salsa: fluidly, intuitively, and passionately. Any taxi or bus drive through San Jose will confirm this. Naturally, I found myself with about as much sense of direction on the streets as I have on a dance floor, which is to say that I had none at all. Directions are routinely given in the manner of, “Go to the blue house in barrio San Pedro which is now painted yellow, turn left, go down the hill until you see the tree that was chopped down five years ago, and travel for about 17 meters or until you feel like stopping. That is my house.” Seriously.

I did not let this deter me, however, and when I had the opportunity, I travelled about the country. What I saw was beautiful. Although much of the country is agricultural, nearly a quarter of its lands are nationally protected areas, making it a very wild place. I was able to visit both the Pacific coast and the Poas Volcano, and on my trips I got to see monkeys, crocodiles, iguanas, butterflies, toucans, and even a sloth’s butt! You wouldn’t think that a sloth derriere would be much to write home about, but I was ecstatic about this for some reason. I certainly took enough blurry pictures of it.

On my final days I got the chance to visit the Nectandra Cloud Forest, a small preserve of primary and secondary growth cloud forest just north of San Ramon. A cloud forest is like a rain forest, only, well, cloudier (and cooler due to its higher elevation). I was treated to a royal welcome at the refuge by three of the founders: Evelyne and David Lennette, and Arturo Jarquin. I stayed the night at Arturo’s beautiful mountain-top home with food provided by his friend Alan. Nectandra was magnificent, and my visit was one of the jewels of my entire trip to Costa Rica. I want very much to go back just to see Nectandra again.

Sadly however, I had to return home, although I admit I was a bit homesick after two weeks abroad. The flight home was less than enjoyable due to a 20 hour flight delay, but that’s air travel these days for you. At least the airline put us into a hotel while they tried to fix the plane, and thanks to the wireless access in the airport I was able to keep Melina posted thousands of miles away. The internet sure is a nifty thing. And thanks to the Internet, you can experience a virtual tour of my trip. Check out the pictures!

¡Hasta luego!

The Color of Fall (Archive)

Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

Fall Leaves in Texas

In Texas, autumn lasts approximately forty-five minutes. In that moment, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a flash of color before everything goes brown. One of the favorite spots of Texans to catch a glimpse of nature’s palette is at Lost Maples State Park, near Kerrville. Melina and I decided to get out of El Swampo (that’s Spanish for Houston) for the weekend and head for the hills. There we found many fascinating shades of green, but not a lot of what you’d call fall color. Still, it’s quite beautiful and we hope to get back sometime.

In any event, the break was needed, as life has been quite busy. Melina’s been buried under schoolwork, as usual. Just last week the search and rescue dogs found her beneath a landslide of young adult literature. For myself, the big news is that I’m passing on my Athletic Director and IT Director roles and am now the Dean of Students for the high school here. This is, of course, what happens when you arrive late for faculty meetings and all the long straws have been picked.

In any case, Happy Halloween!

Lovely Rita, Hurricane (Archive)

Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

I-10 Eastbound

Fourteen hours. One hundred eighty-six miles. The news footage made it look crazy. It was. Truth be told, Melina and I were lucky. We didn’t run out of gas (thanks to the diesel VW). We didn’t break down (but we did loose our air conditioning). We actually made it to where we wanted to go. Lots of people ended up turning around, or were in car accidents or worse.

Fortunately for everyone, Rita didn’t do much to the Houston area. There was a lot of wind which knocked down power lines, but other damage around us is minimal. I’m glad we left though. The campus well was without power for four days, which meant that even though our house had electricity, we wouldn’t have had water. The four days we spent in Seguin with friends were restful and calm.

I do have to say that while I have no respect for the Department of Homeland Security, I think that the Texas DOT and City of Houston did the best they could. The whole situation was a mess, but the really amazing thing is that the fourth largest city in the United States was evacuated with a minimal cost of life and hardship. There was no rioting in the streets. People on the highway were friendly (something you don’t often see on Houston highways). As terrible as it was, people kept things more or less orderly.

Yes, it could have been better. But on the other hand, it could have been much, much worse.

Sweet Home Chicago (Archive)

Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

A Saturday Afternoon in Chicago

(Houston, Texas) We find ourselves back in El Swampo after a whirlwind tour of the Midwest. First to Lincoln, then to Chicago, and then home via St. Louis. Along the way we ventured through Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, and Arkansas for a total of some 3500 miles, 88 gallons of diesel, 12 White Castle hamburgers, 7 cats, 3 boomerangs, and one misplaced purse. Not bad for only a week.

Our first stop was in Nebraska, where we spent a couple of days with my family. I wish I could tell of amazing feats of daring on the prairie involving corn and large agricultural implements, but really it was a quiet if quick couple of days. Most of Melina’s effort was extended to keeping Katu (the cat) out of her nose, while I played with my brother. One surprise of the visit was the quilt my mom made for our anniversary.

Although it was wonderful to see everyone, we had places to go, so we threw the bags back into the car (along with my mom) and sped off to Chicago. We took the scenic route through Iowa to stop off in Madison County, home of the famed covered bridges. They were neat, and it was encouraging to see that we don’t tear down everything of historical note in this country. If you’re driving I-80 across Iowa, I recommend stopping off to see the bridges. It’s not as though there’s anything else to do in the state. Except check your email. (See my previous post for details.)

As fun as it was being surrounded by so much corn, we pressed on. Our arrival in Chicago was heralded by a few days of gorgeous weather. We visited with Gram Nadr and the Stradal clan, and Melina really began to understand why I am the way I am. It was really great to see everyone after so long, although I remember them being bigger.

Also while in Chicago we did a bit of sightseeing. We ventured downtown to see the Art Institute and the Museum of Science and Industry. Both were incredible and we would love to go back and spend another whole day in each, as we really only saw a smidgen of what they had to offer. We were both really excited to see first-hand some of the awesome parts of the Art Institute’s collection, including Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, and of course Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on the Grande Jatte.

The Museum of Science and Industry offered a different fare. First we visited the U-505 Submarine exhibit, followed by the Game On video games exhibit. That was a blast. We spent a couple hours playing some of the 100+ games they had on exhibition. It was amazing to see how video games have evolved–and scary to think that I’ve grown up while it happened. I felt a bit odd when I realized that some of those Atari 2600 games are still etched into my brain. Ah, the happiness of a joystick with a big red button…

Of course, all of that worked up an appetite, so Melina got to try her first White Castle hamburger. Mmm… tasty!

Though we wanted to stay longer, our two days in Chicago flew by and we had to leave, as we had two days of travel just to get back to Texas before our tourist visas expired. We detoured slightly through St. Louis to see the Arch. Although we didn’t get to ride the tram to the top, we were taught how to throw a boomerang by a guy we met in the park, so it was well worthwhile. If you missed it the first time, you can check out the shortmovie of our parabolic adventure.

We didn’t see Graceland, but traveled on to Memphis where we stayed the night. We lost a purse in Little Rock, but found it again thanks to the guys and gals at Quiznos. Texarkana threw us for a loop, but we made it home safely. That’s our trip.

It’s good to be home.

Somewhere in Middle America… (Archive)

Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

St. Louis Arch

(Arkansas, USA) Reporting to you LIVE from an undisclosed location west of Memphis. This is the return leg of our journey which took us through Nebraska and to Chicago. We’ve been living out of a suitcase now for seven days and I think both Melina and I are out of clean underwear. Yum.

I like that Internet access is becoming commonplace. Even the rest stops in Iowa have it. I mean, come on, Iowa, the state that “ranks first in the nation with corn and soybean production as well as in hog production from its 93,000 farms.” Gotta go check out the prices of my pork futures on e*trade.

Anyhow, since we’ve got this access, I might as well use it for those of you who like the instant gratification which the Internet provides. We are alive and well. On our trek today we took a bit of a detour to stop by the Arch in Saint Louis. It was a good break from the road and we even got to throw around a boomerang. More on the trip will be posted later, but here’s a taste of the wackiness we endured.


Reunion and Desert Communion (Archive)

Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

Big Bend National Park

Melina and I just returned from our week-long journey to west Texas. First we stopped off in Del Rio (which I believe is Spanish for Cow Town) to attend Melina’s 10-year reunion. I got to meet lots of people whose names I don’t remember and whose faces I’ll hopefully forget, but Melina had fun being the social butterfly, which was the important thing. She was surprised at how fat everyone had become, but I guess that’s what 10 years do to people.

The real excitement began when we left the River City and headed to Big Bend National Park. Melina had never been, and I’d only been once, on a canoe trip with the Houston ICO down Boquillas Canyon some 5 years ago. We stayed in the Chisos Basin Campground for four nights. During the day we alternated between adventure and laziness. The two highlights of the trip (other than lots of napping) were our canoe trip into Santa Elena Canyon and our hike up Emory Peak.

We decided to take a canoe trip (Melina’s first!) offered by Big Bend River Tours. It was a guided trip, which was nice because it meant we (read Jarrett) could enjoy the trip and experience a bit more than if we were doing it all ourselves. We put in at the bottom of Santa Elena Canyon and paddled upstream to Fern Canyon. There we had lunch and made a little side hike up Fern Canyon to the springs and pools in the canyon. It’s really one of the best side hikes I’ve ever been on. That, and the fact that our guide, James, was a great guy made it a really fun trip for both Melina and me. In fact, now she wants to get a canoe! Yesss! (fist punched into air) After we explored the side canyon and took a little nap, we paddled back down to the takeout. Melina even got to have a go at piloting her own canoe, which she did rather well considering it was her first time.

The other trip highlight was our hike up Emory Peak, the highest point in the Park at 7825 feet. Yeah, it’s not a real mountain, but it’s a great hike through some really varied and lovely terrain. The last little bit is a 30 foot scramble up a rock face, and we were rewarded with some awesome views and lots of ladybugs. It was also a plus that we had the peak to ourselves while we were up there. After we got back to the car we started our trip back home, which included an overnight stay in Del Rio.

One other point of note was the Starlight Theater Restaurant in Terlingua. We went on our guide’s recommendation, and had a really great meal there. In fact, we tried to come back for lunch, but they’re only open for dinner.

Sadly, we saw no bears on this trip, despite the fact that I called to them both in English and Spanish (they are Mexican black bears after all).

Check out some other Big Bend pictures.