Friday, November 30, 2007

Off to Belize

Amy, her parents, and our kids are all hopping aboard an airplane tomorrow morning and going to Belize for a week. We'll be staying on Ambergris Caye, and hope to spend time snorkeling, diving, fishing, and otherwise enjoying the beach. After this morning's 10 degree (F) temperature, I'm really looking forward to some warm weather.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Leaving NZ (March 14, 2002)

This is another installment in the series: 'Round the world, revisited. I sent this email on March 14, 2002 from New Zealand during our 6 month journey.

We are off to Aussie (as the Kiwis call Australia)
tomorrow so we thought we would give you an update on
the rest of our adventures in New Zealand.

Free Advice - Don't do a glacier hike in the pouring
rain. Although the waterfalls tumbling off the cliffs
are beautiful in the rain, the ice and river crossings
are treacherous. Not to mention that being soaked to
the bone isn't much fun either. Despite the rain we
did get to walk on the glacier and glimpse some of its
mysterious blue caves.

After the glacier we headed south through the lakes
region and went on a jet boat ride. Wanaka and
Queenstown are both set on huge lakes and are pretty
little towns. We then tried to go up to the Cascade
Saddle overlooking Mt. Aspiring and its glaciers. We
were again thwarted by rain (It may be rainy, but at
least it is windy) and ended up seeing the inside of
Cascade hut.

We continued south to Fiordland and the famous Milford
Sound. Before going to Milford we met up with some
friends from home, David and Heather Schutt. We also
spent a couple of days of relative luxury on an
overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound. The sound
(actually a fiord since it was carved by a glacier,
not a river) was really cool. It is much larger and
less traveled than Milford. The walls are nearly
vertical, thousands of feet tall, with more waterfalls
than I could count. Finally we got some good weather
for the cruise, a rarity on the West Coast.

After the cruise we drove over to Milford Sound which
is stunning as well. The constant drone of scenic
flights overhead only slightly diminishes the
enjoyment of the view. We hiked up Gertrude Saddle
for a better view and it was definitely one of the
highlights of the trip. Brad tried fishing on the
Eglington river and caught nothing after spotting only
a single fish on a mile of river.

We had to make sure and visit the third major island
of NZ and went over to Stewart Island for a couple of
days. We happened to be there at the opening of the
newest NZ national park, Rakiura. We got to see the
prime minister and Sir Edmund Hillary speak. The town
had all kinds of festivities for the occasion and we
had a good time. We also visited the nearby bird
sanctuary of Ulva Island. It was really amazing to
hear so many birds calling and the waves lapping and
the breeze through the leaves. We watched a Weka
(remember the Chicken-Duck) pull the moss off a 3 foot
section of log in search of food and a robin tried to
land on Amy and picked at both of our boots.

We drove through the Catlins (along the southeast
coast) where Brad finally caught a fish - a whopping 9
incher!!!. We spent a couple of nights in Dunedin.
The architecture there is really neat - mostly
Victorian. We also went on a tour where we saw
penguins, sea lions and fur seals up close - some as
close as 10 feet.

Now we are in Christchurch and will be off on the
plane in the next few hours.

Hope this email finds everyone well.

Brad and Amy

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Kiwi Update (Feb. 26, 2002)

This is another installment in the series: 'Round the world, revisited. I sent this email on Feb 26, 2002 from New Zealand during our 6 month journey.

Howdy, y'all.

Before a summary of our recent travels, here's some
things we've noted about New Zealand.

1. Highways. There's not a single road in this country
which is straight or flat for more than about half a
kilometer, and they allow passing on 2-lane roads
around blind curves and hills. They also have nice
signs like "2 fatalities this month :-(" and my
favorite, "Dangerous drivers next 24 km".

2. It should be a requirement of all developed nations
that its citizens make a valiant attempt to keep
insects out of their homes. Not here, though. There
are horrible swarms of biting sandflies everywhere,
and everyone leaves windows wide open day and night.
No screens, either! The only screens we've found were
at the most basic 4-wall huts in the backcountry --
I'm talking 2 full days' hike to get there.

3. Plumbing. We've already talked about the toilets
(and thanks to the sharp folks who told us about the
half flush and full flush buttons). But separate
spigots for the hot and cold water? Makes it hard to
get warm water.

4. What do kiwis call a cooler (or ice chest)? A
"chilly bin".

5. What do kiwis call a small house or cottage? A
"bach". I asked if that's short for "bachelor pad" but
the guy I asked didn't know.

6. The weka bird. I like to call this thing a "chicken
duck". Looks like -- you guessed it --a cross between
a chicken and a duck. It's a native bird like the kiwi
but not as rare, and not nocturnal, either.

7. Genetic Engineering. Kiwis have taken a strong
stand against GE. It's everywhere: signs at farms
boast "GE free NZ" and much of the packaged food you
buy is clearly labeled "GE free".

And here's what we've been doing. Since our last
report, I caught a nice 18 inch rainbow trout on the
Tongariro river which we cooked for dinner. Caught a
few smaller rainbows there, too. From there, we drove
to Wellington, the nation's capital, where we toured
Parliament and watched a movie (they sell ice cream
and beer at the movies) to kill time before catching
the 1:30 am ferry to the south island. Once across, we
spent 2 days kayaking in Pelorus sound, which was
pretty remote and nice, but really windy -- we didn't
even have to paddle much for a few hours. We camped at
a bay which we had all to ourselves (except for a few
million sandflies - nasty little buggers) and even did
some paddling after dark, when the paddles cause the
"bio-luminescense" in the water to glow. Pretty cool.

Next we heard about an organization called Willing
Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF). Folks like us work a
half day on the farm in exchange for free room and
board. We needed a break from our adventure, so we
decided this would be a good way to settle down for a
few days and better meet some real kiwis. We stayed on
Tony Sparks' 10-acre farm on the west coast for 4
days. We herded cows, Amy shucked garlic, and we both
helped sand and varnish his interior walls. He's got a
4-year old daughter named Hana who was a lot of fun.
We also met his girlfriend and her 2 kids and heard
all about their soap opera lives in the small
community of a hundred or so people. We worked extra
one day so we could take a day off and go caving. We
hiked and rode inner tubes through a cave with a
stream running through it. The cave has tons of tiny
glow worms on its roof which glow like stars.

Next we went on a 5 day backcountry tramp. I attempted
to fish on the remote, upper Taipo river for 3 days,
but no luck here. Spotted a huge trout, probably 25
inches or more, but couldn't hook him, and then the
persistent rains every night made the water too murky
to spot any fish for the rest of the trip. Quite a
tough hike over unmarked trails, boulder-hopping up
and down river beds, and stream crossings. We used a
3-wire bridge, which is just that - 3 cables strung
across the river with V-shaped braces to stabilize it.
The 3-wire was probably 100 feet long. Also used a
cableway, which is a little cart hanging from a cable.
This thing was about 250 feet long and has a crank at
either side to get it across. Quite fun! At the end of
the trail, we hitched a ride back to our car (don't
worry, mom, I'm safe).

Since I had no luck fishing the river, I decided to
spend a few days at Lake Brunner and the surrounding
streams. More frustration for a day and half before I
finally landed a 22 inch brown trout from the lake at
sunset (using a woolly bugger for you flyfishers out
there). It might be the biggest fish I've ever caught.

From there, we traveled farther south on the west
coast to the tiny town of Okarito (no stores, no gas
station). We took a boat tour of the lagoon, learned
about the country's efforts to control the population
of the introduced possum and stoats, which kill kiwi
birds and destroy native forest. This is a great
little town. After we returned to the campground from
a few hours' hiking, we found a fresh-baked loaf of
bread waiting at our tent from the owner of the boat
tour company!

That's all for now. Tomorrow we do a full day of
hiking on Franz Joseph glacier.

Hope everyone is doing well back home.

--Brad and Amy

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Zealand week 2 (Feb 9, 2002)

This is another installment in the series: 'Round the world, revisited. Amy wrote this email on Feb 9, 2002 from New Zealand during our 6 month journey.

We've been here 2 weeks now and it has gone by very
fast. Brad is off fishing today leaving me to keep
you all informed.

First off - a number of you wrote to tell us that the
2 buttons on the toilet are for a half and full flush.
For the life of me I can't tell the difference of one
from the other. Some others have asked if the toilet
swirl the other way. Actually they don't seem to
swirl much at all. The water pretty much just goeas
straight down. The flushing mechanism definitely is
not as good as what we are used to.

From the Bay of Islands we travelled down to Rotorua
which is a big Maori cultural area and has lots of
thermal features. We went to a hangi which is kind of
like a Hawaiian Luau, but this was much less touristy.
We saw some traditional dances and songs and ate
traditional food. It was very good. We went to one
of the thermal areas which was neat, but nothing next
to Yellowstone. The one geyser they have they have to
puor soap into to reduce the surface tension of the
water to make it erupt.

Next we went on a proper tramp, 4 days three nights.
We went on the northern circuit in Tongariro national
. It is one of the "Great Walks" which are some
of the most popular walks in NZ and are best marked and
have some of the nicer huts. We stayed in huts each
night which are basically cabins with bunks in them.
They have a gas heater and gas stoves so it is pretty
cushy for the backcountry. They are not as nice as
the winter huts in Colorado though, but better than a
tent for sure. One of the days of the hike was the
Tongariro Crossing which is supposed to be the best
one day hike in NZ. The day we crossed there were 300
people on the 10 mile stretch. It was crowded, but
not too bad. There are steaming volcanic craters,
lakes that filled old craters and lakes of various
shades due to the minerals in the soil. The rocks are
also various shades from black to red to yellow.
Really cool.

On the drive to Rotorua they were having updates of
the Super Bowl along with the news. They were calling
it the game that stops America. My condolances to
Jason Holschen.
[Editor's note: if I remember correctly, Jason's team the Saints lost that Superbowl]

Elizabeth's first day in day care

Amy started a part-time contract working on the Lawson HR/payroll system at Catholic Health Initiatives. She's excited for the chance to spend a few days a week interacting with adults, and the extra money will be nice, but we were a little worried about how Liz would react to being without mom for a full day. It turns out she hardly missed mom at all. I'm not sure if we should be relieved or concerned. I thought for sure she would go into hysterics when Amy left her at Kindercare, but she had no problems. Amy said the Liz wasn't even particularly excited to see her when she picked her up. I guess she must be having lots of fun at Kindercare.

Here's what her report said Elizabeth did on day 1:
  • Went outside and got leaves and took them inside
  • stacked soft blocks
  • painted with water colors
  • ate well @ lunch
  • cryed [sic] while laying down for nap / woke up happy
  • put foot braces on at 12:20 took off at 2:20
  • colored with markers
  • sang and danced
That's a busy day!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mao: The Unknown Story

I just finished reading Mao: The Unknown Story, a biography of Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. It is based on years of research including extensive interviews with many of Mao's inner circle. It's full of intriguing history, especially the close relationship between communist China and the Soviet Union. Ultimately, it's a story of an utterly evil megalomaniac who delighted in inflicting violence and suffering on other people and caused the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese.

Some of the book's revelations:
  • Mao was never driven by ideology. The communist party was merely a convenient vehicle by which he could gain personal power.
  • The so-called "Long March" of Mao and his band of communists in the 1930's, one of the most overblown myths of Mao's personality cult, was no heroic struggle. Rather, deals made between Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists and Stalin allowed Mao's army to proceed. Later in the march, Mao intentionally sacrificed a huge number of Red Army troops under the command of a rival for his power base, Chang Kuo-t'ao.
  • In 1946, Mao and the Red Army were on their last ropes fighting the Nationalists in northern Manchuria, where they had only one remaining strong post in the city Harbin. The Nationalist Army was advancing with much superior strength, and Mao had become resigned to abandoning the city and resorting to guerrilla warfare. He was saved at the last minute by a most unlikely ally - the United States. The US put heavy pressure on the Nationalists to call a cease fire - at the very moment Chiang Kai-shek was on the verge of victory. Mao issue an order to disperse the troops and resort to guerrilla warfare on June 3, but rescinded it on June 5 when the cease-fire was declared. According to the author, this cease fire was probably the single most important decision affecting the outcome of the civil war, which of course the communists won.
  • The Great Leap Forward, a 5 year economic plan from 1958 to 1963, caused the deaths of 38 million Chinese from starvation and overwork. As if that's not bad enough, these deaths were not the unintended consequence of failed economic policy. Mao caused the famine by selling most of the nation's crop to the Soviets and other allies in order to buy weapons, and especially nuclear weapon technology. Even when made fully aware of the mass famine across the country, Mao pushed to extract even more crops from the peasants.
  • The reason Mao launched the brutal cultural revolution in 1966 was to purge his rivals in the party and in the Army, whose influence was becoming a threat to his totalitarian power. Even his closest and most loyal supporters were subjected to torture and imprisonment. Liu Shao Chi, one of the top party members, was imprisoned and tortured for 3 years until dying in prison in 1969. Amazingly, his death was not made public until after Mao's death, because Mao was so worried that it arouse sympathy for Liu.
  • Over the course of Mao's rule, 70 million Chinese died at Mao's hands.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

'Round the World Trip - Revisited

Back in 2002, Amy and I took 6 months off from work and traveled around the world. It was a life-changing experience, not to mention a lot of fun. During our travels we sent emails to friends and family, since this was before I had a blog - before just about anybody had a blog, I suppose. I decided it would be fun to dig up those old emails and post them here. Be looking for them over the coming days. Here is the first one we sent, on February 1, 2002.

New Zealand: week one

We arrived in Auckland on Saturday morning and spent 3
days in the city. Had a bit of trouble finding a room
since it's summer here, but it worked out ok after
some help from the tourist info center. The museum had
some great exhibits on Maori (indigenous people)
culture and history. On Sunday we took a ferry to
Ronitoto island, a 600-year old volcano, and hiked to
the top. Monday we took a cruise out in the harbor to
spot dolphins, and were able to follow a pod of about
20 dolphins as they rode the bow wave of our boat. We
had dinner in an English pub where everyone was
watching Cricket. Can't figure that sport out -- I'll
have to get a book and figure out the basics. We'd
like to catch a rugby match too, but the season
doesn't start til Feb 22, apparently.

Anyone know why NZ toilets have 2 buttons on the tank
to flush? We haven't figured it out yet either. Both
of them seem to do the same thing. Also, they call
bell peppers "capsicum" down here. Took us a while to
figure that out.

We decided to rent a car -- should be about the same
price as taking buses everywhere -- for NZ$28 per day
(about US$12). We drove norht on Tuesday, stopping in
one of the few remaining Kauri tree forests. These
huge trees are thousands of years old, and one
particular tree was 5.2 meters in diameter (that's 16
feet across). The forests here look really ancient,
like something out of Jurassic park -- probably all
the giant ferns. Next, we spent 2 days tramping
(that's Kiwi for "hiking") the coast. Didn't pass a
single person the first day. Had about 6 miles of
beautiful beach all to ourselves.

Now we're at the Bay of Islands, leaving tomorrow
morning for a 2-day sea kayak trip. Having a great
time!! Starting to develop a Kiwi accent of my own,
but that should wear off soon.

5:49 mile

I shaved 6 seconds off last weeks' pace and ran a mile in 5:49 this morning. It was the same course - 4 laps around the track at Green Mountain. If I improve by 6 seconds each week, that would get me to five minutes within a few months.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Grandpa's birthday

Amy and I are lucky to have all of our parents living within a short drive from home. My dad's 68th birthday was this week, and we got them all together at our house to celebrate with a steak dinner. We got a photo of them with the kids, too.

Happy birthday, Dean!

1 mile

How fast can I run 1 mile? I've been wondering that for a while now. After running a marathon at a pace of 7:35 per mile, surely I could run a single mile in 5 minutes, right? Wrong. I ran 4 laps around the track at Green Mountain High School this morning in 5:55. I'll be working on my mile speed in the coming months and see if I can break the 5 minute barrier.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Andrew's oddball ear trick

Andrew does this odd thing with his ears. He's done it for quite a while, but he's discovered that the other kids at preschool get a kick out of it, so now he's doing it more than ever.

It looks painful to me, but doesn't seem to bother him at all. Crazy kids these days.

Halloween 2007

Elizabeth enjoyed her first Halloween celebration yesterday. I don't know if she was real keen on the costume, but she loved the candy!