Thursday, October 23, 2008
That's all you get at oneword.com. You click on the "Go" button, and you get a word. You then have 60 seconds to write anything you want. When you are done, you can save what you wrote or not and you can see what other people have written.
I visited this site for the first time the other day and got the word "bulb" which, judging by some of the other writings, is a word that gets assigned fairly often. Here is what I wrote:
"Bulb. An idea. A thought. A flower in hiding, waiting for the storm to pass, waiting for spring to arrive. Tiny, compact, full of possibilities. Illuminating. Bright light spilling forth onto the world, lighting up the darkness. Coils, Einstein, oops, Edison."
I like the fact that even though I was writing about three totally different things-a light bulb, a flower bulb, and the lightbulb symbolic of a bright idea, they all kind of go together and are all somewhat interchangeable. I had my own lightbulb moment as I was writing, and that was kind of cool!
This is a great little exercise-it's enough to get you thinking and writing, even if it's just a little bit each day, and it's fast enough that you can actually do it every day. I encourage everyone to go over and check it out.
P.S. Thanks to Kuanyin Moi and her Way Khool Sites for pointing out this site.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Until I read about it today at fivecentnickel.com I had no idea that today was Blog Action Day. The theme this year is poverty, and bloggers are encouraged to discuss this topic today to try to bring awareness. Nickel has generously agreed to match food bank donations made by his readers, so please check out his post and see if you can contribute. If not, that's ok, but maybe you will be inspired to do something else.
I have been meaning to do a post about some of the organizations that are featured in my "I think you're nifty too!" sidebar, and this seems like the perfect opportunity.
Habitat for Humanity "seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world, and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action." They help build houses for people who wouldn't be able to afford a house through traditional means. Most of the materials and labor are donated, and the houses are sold for no profit to the recipient families. The families who receive houses must invest "sweat equity" by assisting in the actual building of the house and by helping to build houses for other families. If they are physically unable to participate in the building process, they can volunteer in other ways. Habitat's program is a great example of a hand-up not a hand-out mentality and it fosters a lot of community/neighborhood support by getting local people involved in the building of a house. I've volunteered on a work site, and while there weren't many of us who knew how to build a house, there were enough people that did who could instruct the rest of us about where to pound nails, how to cut the necessary lengths of lumber, etc. The progress we made in one day was pretty impressive, and it was a great feeling to know that you were helping to give a family a home.
Heifer International is another great "hand-up not a hand-out" program. Heifer works with families and communities to educate people about animal husbandry and farming techniques that are sustainable and, very importantly, relevant to their local areas. Heifer recipients must also pass on the gift by sharing their wealth and knowledge with their community or other communities. For just $20 you could provide a family with a flock of ducks, geese, or chicks or you could purchase a share of a llama. A flock of birds can provide a family with protein for themselves as well as providing a new stream of income through the sale of eggs and fowl. Sometimes this can be the difference between a child being able to receive an education or not. The recipient family must also pass on a part of their flock to another family in need, and so forth and so on. You can purchase anything from a beehive to a water buffalo. This is a great chance to get a child interested in charitable giving!
Kiva.org facilitates microcredit loans to people in the developing world. You can lend as little as $25 and know that it is going to help somebody who is trying to build a better life for themselves and their families. Recently there was so much interest in Kiva.org that they actually ran out of loans to fund! This is amazing, but they seem to be back on track with new entrepreneurs awaiting loans. You can read a brief biography on all the loan applicants and decide to whom you want to lend money. To date I have loaned out $950, $723 of which has been paid back. Lenders don't earn interest on their loans, but then that's not really the point. The point is that you're doing something good with your money.
Lesley's Life is Sweet is founder Lesley Byrne's way of fulfilling her mission to "help end extreme hunger, poverty and diseases in the world through the sales of [her] artisan chocolates and gourmet confections." Her chocolates are amazing-you can read about how they made me cry here-and you can eat them completely guilt-free because by doing so you are helping to make the world a better place! How's that for win-win?
Women for Women International is a great organization that goes into war-torn communities and helps rebuild those communities one woman at a time. In times of war women are often the most victimized and also are the ones left to rebuild when all of their men have died in war. These women need to know that they have rights as individuals, what those right are, how to stand up for those rights, and how to exercise those rights. They also need to be able to provide food, clothing, shelter, and, hopefully, an education for their families. Women for Women International's programs help women develop literacy and vocational skills, learn about their rights and become active members in their communities. Individual women are sponsored through monthly donations, and their sponsors are encouraged to communicate with them via letters.
Of course any of these organizations will accept cash donations and, indeed, rely on them to continue doing what they do, but if you can donate your time, even better. Please check out these organizations to see if any of them might be a good fit for you or let me know which organizations you've found that you would like to share.
**Update-10/23/08-You all know how much fun I have finding the little coincidences between what I'm reading and my everyday life. Well this time it has to do with what you're reading (in this case, my blog!) and my everyday life. Don't worry, I haven't gone totally off my rocker; I realize that there's usually going to be some tie in between what I write and what's actually going on in my life, and I'm not going to start pointing it out to you all the time-(Hey, guess what! I just wrote about going to the mall, and today, I was AT THE MALL!! Ooooooh.).
I have worked with Habitat for Humanity in the past, but I haven't been in touch with them recently, and while putting together this post, I was thinking, Hmmm, I really should get in touch with them again and see if they need any help right now. Well, 3 days later, they called me! They were trying to pull together some last-minute help for the following day's annual kitchen and bath tour and wanted to know if I could help. I could and I did! So, yay me! Ok, it would have been a much bigger and better "yay, me!" if I had called them, but still. You gotta start somewhere.
Today is the one-year anniversary of the day that we sold our Cold Stone Creamery store and got our lives back, so I figured today would be a good day for this post.
While we were in the store, I knew that I hated it and I knew that I wasn't happy and I knew that it was sucking away my will to live and making me wish for things one normally doesn't wish for like sink holes, tornadoes, and lightning strikes. That said, I still didn't really realize how unhappy I was and how much other people were perceiving it until a picture of me imitating a plant made my cousin cry.
What? The progression isn't intuitive? Let me explain.
My husband took these picture of me in Australia back in July.
(Yeah, I'm not afraid to make a fool of myself on camera.)
We were at the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain, and I saw this plant and thought I could do a funny imitation of it. Well, we took the pictures, and I'm fairly happy with them, even though you can't totally see what a really great imitation I am doing of the scrunched up leaf because I am sort of hidden behind the other leaf. Anyway, other than having some fun with these pictures, I didn't really think too much of them.
After returning from our trip, I put the pictures on line and sent out invitations for people to view them. My cousin called me later and said she got all choked up looking at the picture of me imitating the plant because it was so nice to see me looking that happy. That, of course, got me all choked up because, well, I cry at just about anything (but usually in a good way!).
I've briefly mentioned the misery that was our Cold Stone Experience a few times in this blog, and you may be wondering what, exactly, happened? Well, I'm probably never going to go into any detail for various reasons. Suffice it to say that owning a Cold Stone Creamery franchise was the worst experience we've ever had, and we learned many painful lessons along the way. It sucked away our will to live every single day for the year-and-a-half that we owned it. We're still not Done with the Cold Stone fiasco, but at least we don't have to walk into hell every morning and set a pile of money on fire.
My cousin captured our sentiments best with the Congratulations card she made for us upon the sale of our store. The front has a picture of Mel Gibson in Braveheart attire with "FREEDOM!" written underneath it. Inside it says, "Because they don't make cards that say: 'Congratulations on getting out of that stinking shithole.' Congratulations on having your lives back!"
So, apparently it took me about 10 months, but I finally made it back to Happy. And that's a good place to be.
You may be wondering if there is a silver lining to this experience. It's taken a while, but on our recent trip to California and Oregon I think I finally figured out what the silver lining is. Through our Cold Stone training and our local Cold Stone community, we have met some of the nicest people ever (I'm talking about franchisees here, not corporate folks, although some of them were very nice too). There are our friends in Oregon who had to close the doors on their store and walk away. There are our friends in California who sold their stores for roughly half what they paid for them. There are our friends in Pennsylvania who had to close the doors and walk away from their store. There's our friend in Texas who had to declare bankruptcy, and there are our friends in Georgia who have managed to keep their doors open but have never actually had to pay anything toward the purchase of their store. So, while it sucks that we're all in financial ruin or close to it, I do feel sincerely blessed to have all these people in our lives-they really are some of the nicest people I know.
(Also, I didn't realize it at the time, but the plant pictures make a pretty good "during" and "after" representation of our Cold Stone ownership experience.)
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Thanks to all these Weekly Geeks who participated in the First Lines challenge. I got a lot of my answers from visiting their sites, which are listed below. Between the 13 of us, we are a fairly well-read bunch, if I do say so myself! It seems there are still a few books out there that none of us have run across. As of this writing, I am still missing 32 titles! Click here to see if you know any of them.
I know a lot of people tried to stop by earlier, and my link was not working, so thanks for trying, and I'm SO SORRY!
Here is a list of all the people from whom I mooched information. I appreciate all their help, and I look forward to checking out these sites in more detail sometime in the near future. I hope I didn't forget anybody, but if I did, please let me know.
Rachel (Not Another Mom)
Eva (A Striped Armchair)
Katherine (A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore...)
Maree (Just Add Books)
Icedream (Reading in Appalachia)
raidergirl3 (an adventure in reading)
Susan L (Just Books)
melydia (It Never Stops)
Jessi (casual dread)
Joanne (Book Zombie)
Tammy (Tammy's Book Nook)
belleofthebooks (Belle of the Books)
Yasmin (Apooo Bookclub)
And, last but not least, a big thanks to Dewey for hosting these Weekly Geeks events. Please stop by and visit her blog sometime.
I've read two books back-to-back which talk, in a fair amount of detail, about humans being dismembered. (Unwind and American Gods)
Also, I watched two movies today which both referenced an old man's false teeth being buried, one set in a yard, one set in an orchard. (The Fall and Meet the Robinsons)
You can watch a trailer for The Fall here. Watch it and then try to tell me that the little girl in this film, Catinca Untaru, isn't the cutest thing you've ever seen! Go ahead, try. Can't do it, can you? I didn't think so.
Monday, October 13, 2008
So, I found out today that my "Weekly Geeks #21-First Lines Answers" post is showing up in Google Reader, even though I deleted it from my blog last night. My apoloigies if this has caused confusion for anyone. Does anyone know how to remedy this? Thanks in advance for any advice!
Dewey, over at The Hidden Side of a Leaf, has posted 100 first lines from books. Our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to identify the books (and authors) from which these lines came. While I was only able to identify a few (and, sadly, some of the most obvious few I think), I thought this sounded like fun! Listed below are all the first lines that need to be identified. I will make a separate post for this challenge, and as answers come in, I will remove them from this list and post them on the "Weekly Geeks #21-First Lines Answers" post. I've never participated in a Weekly Geeks before, so I hope I am doing this right!***UPDATE-WOW, WAS THIS A BAD IDEA! LOL! Everything is now in one post, so don't go searching for my "Weekly Geeks #21-First Lines Answers" post. I went ahead and left the original text of this post in here in case anyone else was considering doing something similar or in case anyone was in the middle of reading this as I was editing. I am doing my best to avoid unnecessary WTF??s.
Bolded items are still outstanding. If you know any of the answers, please help me out! No cheating by Googling all the first lines though! If you want to double-check your answer, that's fine, but please just don't go looking for the answers. There are a few lines that I definitely recognize, but I have no idea where they come from, so this should be very educational all around.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
After our Tree Week adventure, we couldn't wait for all of our tree climbing gear from New Tribe to arrive so that we could start climbing trees in Hawaii. Well, it finally arrived, and last weekend we made it out to The Sentinal. The Sentinal is a tree that we have been admiring since we moved here, 7 years ago. As you can see from this picture, it's huge and sprawling, but it's off trail, so it's very easy to miss if you're not paying attention and looking around. We call it The Sentinal because he has such a commanding presence and seems to be standing guard in the forest, making sure everything is as it should be.
The Sentinal provides some challenges. For one thing, he's a lot taller than we thought! The lowest living branch is probably about 55' up. We each have 120' of rope, and if we climb DRT that means we can anchor to a branch that is up to...oh, about 55' high! (DRT-double rope technique-one end of the rope is on the ground, the other is thrown over a branch and fed back down to the ground, and that loose end gets tied to the rope that is going from the ground up into the tree. These knots are what you clip onto your harness and what you use to ascend and descend. This is also where you lose about 5 feet of length off your rope.) Once we are in the tree, we can throw our rope up to a higher branch, but the trick is being able to get back down. If you're not being careful, The Sentinal also has a propensity to swing you around to the opposite side of the tree, where the ground drops off and you can easily find yourself in a situation where you don't have enough rope to get all the way back down to the ground.
You can see my husband in the bottom right corner of the picture (gives you some perspective on the tree, doesn't it!)-he is anchored to the branch directly above him. We would have used the other branch that is directly across from it but the ground is lower on that side and, also, that branch that is right underneath it is completely dead, and you don't want to be climbing up under something like that. The one that looks like it is sticking straight out, toward the camera, is also dead, and it's just a nubbin, where a previous branch broke off. So, only one of us was able to climb at a time, which was a bummer, but we still had a great time getting up into the tree and checking it out. It is seriously cool! We are definitely planning a return trip, and we will try some single rope techniques which should allow us to get up into some higher branches and move around a little bit. This also looks like it will be a great place to hang some treeboats! I'll keep you updated.
Unwind by Neal Shusterman-I don't read much science fiction, but this story line intrigued me. For the life of me, I can 't remember where I first heard about it though. I thought for sure that a fellow blogger had reviewed it, but I can't seem to find a reference to it on any of the sites that I frequent, so perhaps Amazon.com thought I might enjoy it based on some of my other choices. I don't know. I would like to credit someone with my reading of this book, but I guess I will just have to take the credit myself for now!
Unwind is set in the semi-near future from what I could gather. At one point several of the main characters find themselves in an antique shop where there are items like iPods from their grandfathers' era and plasma screen TVs. Yeah, like those would still be working! I was thinking about this yesterday as I was shopping for a new digital camera. Ours finally went out after 6 years and approximately 8,000 pictures. That's not so bad, I guess, but wouldn't it be nice if ANYTHING were made to last anymore? There are still phonographs and Brownie cameras out there in use, items that have been handed down through the generations and cherished (or at least not abused) by their owners all these years. What is our generation going to have to hand down to future generations, our iPod playlists? But I digress.
After the Heartland War, which basically pitted the Pro-Lifers against the Pro-Choicers, a compromise was reached which, true to real life, seems to have been in nobody's best interest. The Bill of Life was passed and the gist of it is: Abortions are no longer legal. If you are pregnant, you must have the child and raise it until age 13. If, by the time the child reaches age 13, you still are not interested in raising him, you can have him unwound. Unwinding is sort of the biological equivalent of selling a car for parts except that the children just get taken, you don't have to sell them. Anyway, they are taken apart, piece by piece, and all of their parts must be given to others in need, so it's organ donation on a large scale. In this way, the child is not killed-all of him is still alive in some form or fashion (the Pro-lifers are happy) and the child's parents no longer have to raise an unwanted child (the Pro-choicers are happy). See? Everybody wins! Oh, um, except the kids. It kind of sucks to be them. They have lost both the right to life and the right to choose what happens to their bodies. Kids between 13 and 18 are subject to unwinding. Once you reach 18, you are considered an adult and can no longer be unwound.
Of course, the well-intended Bill of Life resulted in a lot of babies in dumpsters because there were still plenty of mothers out there who just did not have the desire or perhaps the means to raise a baby. In response to this "Storking" laws were put into place. If you had a baby that you didn't want, you could leave it on someone else's doorstep. Whoever finds the baby is legally responsible for it's upbringing. If you get caught in the act, however, you have to take the baby back. Most of the time this works out ok, but there is an ugly underbelly to this as well, which we find out about as the book goes on.
Most of the time, kids don't know that they are about to be unwound. The cops just show up at their door one day and no one ever hears from them again. This isn't always the case-there are special circumstances in which some kids know from the get go that they are destined to be unwound. The book follows 3 main characters who have found out through various means that they are going to be unwound and their subsequent attempts to avoid this fate. The reasons for their unwinding and their reasons for not wanting (or wanting) to be unwound are diverse, as are the stories of all the characters they meet on their journey.
Unwind falls into the Young Adult category, and the story kept my interest and was a pretty easy read, but it brought up some fairly heavy issues, issues which are certainly translatable and pertinent today like:
What constitutes being alive? If you have a soul and you are unwound, what happens to your soul? Does it get chopped up and doled out in various amounts to the recipients of your body parts, does it reside in a single body part, or is it stretched like a web around the globe when your body parts get distributed to others? If everyone has a soul, when do we get them-conception, birth, when somebody loves you? Does God give souls to unwinds? It also introduces some tough issues like murder, terrorism, and attempted rape.
This is one of those books that you read and think, boy that's crazy stuff! I'm glad this is just fiction! If I had read this book any other time, I think that would have been my reaction as well, but I've got to tell you, I don't see this as being that far out there right now. The thing that puts this out of the realm of possibility for me right now is the technology, not the moral climate of our country. I'm not much on politics, but the fact that Sarah Palin is thisclose to being in the White House scares the crap out of me. The fact that women are willing to vote for her just because she is a woman scares the crap out of me. That's like people with moustaches voting for Hitler because he has a moustache. Hey, I've got a moustache, he's got a moustache, he must have the same values I do! Gaaaaah! Come on people! Don't vote for Obama because he's black. Don't vote for Palin because she's a woman. Don't vote for McCain or Biden because they are old white dudes. Find out at least a teeny little bit about your candidates and make somewhat of an informed decision. You don't have to be able to recite their entire voting record, but pick SOMETHING, anything upon which you can take a stand and say this is why I support or don't support this candidate.
(Okay, unscheduled mini political rant over.)
If you've been reading regularly, A)thank you! and B) you know that I have become mildly obsessed with finding coincidences between what I'm reading and what's going on in my real life, and this book is no exception! So, in that vein, I am claiming the Heartland War/crazy political climate coincidence and the Banned Books Week coincidence which I explain thusly: I didn't actively "celebrate" Banned Books Week by going out of my way to read any banned books, but I may have participated without really meaning to. I will be shocked and amazed if this doesn't make it onto next year's list of banned or challenged books. There are plenty of issues for people who don't have anything better to do to freak out about in this book. On that note, I hope lots and lots of people read this book, and I hope that parents and children are actually able to have some meaningful conversations as a result of it.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I saw a Rolls Royce yesterday. In the parking lot. At Walmart.
I can't quite decide if this makes me a little happy or a little sad. It was an older model, like the one pictured here, and it had a WWII Disabled Veteran's plate on it. That sort of made me happy because, hey, WWII disabled vet-good on him for being able to enjoy his golden years in style. It also made me laugh a little because, well, it was a Rolls Royce. At Walmart. This is the part I can't decide about. Maybe this person has just always been frugal and that's how he was able to buy himself a Rolls Royce, in which case, we could all take a lesson. On the other hand, maybe this is just a sign of the times, that the Rolls Royce owners of the world have to shop at Walmart now, in which case, man, are we screwed!
What unusual things have you been seeing lately that might be a good sign of the times?
Sunday, October 5, 2008
If you have overdraft protection on your checking account which is provided by a credit card, please be sure to check your credit card statements to make sure that overdraft protection hasn't been invoked and charged to your credit card when your checking account has not, in fact, been in an overdraft situation.
This has happened to us twice recently-a $150 charge has shown up on our credit card statement as a cash advance with the description "Overdraft Protection" even though our checking account was never even anywhere near being overdrawn. We eventually got them fixed, but it was a pain both times. You have to get the credit-card-division people on the phone with the bank-division people, otherwise they just run you in circles telling you that it's a problem on the other side of the house.
I'm going to assume that this is an innocent mistake, but innocent or not, it's a good way for a bank to quietly build up some cash (well, good might not be exactly the right word, but you know what I mean). This is a large bank I'm talking about here, a bank that claims to have "added more than two million net new retail checking accounts for the second year in a row" in 2007. You might be thinking, "What's $150 to a bank this size?" Well, not much all by itself, but for the sake of argument, let's assume that they had no existing checking accounts prior to 2006 (even though the bank has been around in some form or another for over a century, under its current moniker since about 1929, and operates in over 20 countries world-wide) and that a mere 10% of those checking accounts have overdraft protection via a credit account. That's 400,000 checking accounts, and if each one of those accounts was accidentally charged a one-time fee of $150 for overdraft protection, that's $60,000,000 right there. $120,000,000 if they all got charged twice like we did.
Now granted, a lot of people will catch an error like that and work to get it resolved, but a lot of people out there never even look at their statements, don't keep good enough records to know whether or not this is a legitimate charge, or are too busy worrying about other things to call up the credit card company and fight over $150. Let's face it, for some people $150 isn't worth fighting over. So, how many of these $150 charges go unnoticed? I have no idea. Again, let's be conservative and say 5%. That brings the total dollar amount that the bank gets to keep down to a mere $3,000,000. Ok, so that's still chump change to a bank this size, but remember we only counted 2 years' worth of new customers. Let's expand that now to include all existing customers. I don't know what that number is, but I guarantee it's a lot more than $3,000,000. That's a lot of free money that the bank didn't have a right to and that should be in their customers' pockets.
Again, I'm not saying that this was intentional on the bank's part, I'm just saying that little things add up, and this has the potential to be a huge benefit for an already huge corporation at the expense of its customers. With all the craziness that's been going on in the banking world lately, I'm sure there are bound to be some technical glitches as banks close, merge, purchase, sell off assets, etc., so check your bank and credit cards carefully to make sure you aren't being charged incorrectly. Just because something appears on your official bank statement does not mean it's legitimate!
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Ok, here it is, finally! I've been mentioning this since April, and we've been back now for about 3 weeks. What's been the hold up, you ask? I think I've been putting this off because I've been worried that I might not do it justice. I'm still worried, but I figure if I never write it, then I'll definitely never do it justice, so here goes. This is a long post, but I will try to make it more fun with lots of pictures!
As I mentioned in my April post, this all began when I read The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. He writes about scientists spending hours, days even, hanging out in the coastal redwoods measuring trees, documenting the flora and fauna that they were discovering up there, that sort of thing. Also, sometimes they would sleep in the trees. This is the part where I would announce loudly to an empty room, "THAT WOULD BE SO COOL!" I didn't care that nobody was around, I just needed to say it out loud. Because it's that exciting! My husband read the book too and agreed that it would, indeed, be cool to hang out in the redwoods. I don't think it made him holler like a crazy person though.
How do you sleep in a tree? Wouldn't you just roll right off the branches? Do you just strap yourself to the trunk and hope you don't slide down to the ground in the middle of the night?
Since neither of those options seems very appealing, the folks in the book used these things called treeboat hammocks, which are made by a company in Grant's Pass, Oregon, called New Tribe. (How many can you find in this picture? I'll give you a hint...it's 3). The whole time I was reading the book, I couldn't quite envision how this all worked, so one day I decided to go visit the New Tribe web site, which is where I found out that not only do they sell treeboats along with all kinds of other tree gear, but they also offer a whole bunch of tree climbing adventures and courses through Tree Climbing Northwest, some of which involve SLEEPING IN TREES!! "OH MY GOD! THAT WOULD BE SO MUCH FUN!!" (Again, to an empty room).
One of the activities offered is the Tree Week course, which runs a full week and combines the Basic Tree Climbing Course, the Rigging Course, and the Introduction to Single Rope Technique. After the Rigging Course, about half-way through the week, you get to set up treeboats and sleep in a tree. Yay! Sign me up!
We signed up for the August 31-September 6 class. I felt like a little kid waiting for summer vacation-it was NEVER going to get here! The day finally did arrive, and we left Honolulu for Vegas, where we spent a couple of long hot days wishing we hadn't tacked the Vegas portion on to our trip. After that we drove over to L.A. because we have friends who live there, and we don't make it over to that neck of the woods very often, so we figured we would stop in and see them. After that, it was on to Oregon! Driving through the redwoods helped put us in the right frame of mind for this trip. (You can read some more about that here.) They are so amazing, and we kept thinking about how cool it would be to be moving around in the canopy of one of these giants. We knew we wouldn't be climbing redwoods, but it was still cool to think about.
On our way, we stopped in Grant's Pass to visit the New Tribe store. When we walked in and explained that we were enrolled in the Tree Week course and just wanted to stop by and check out the store, Barbara, who had been our sole contact up to this point said, "You must be the people from Hawaii!" and ran over to give us both big hugs! What a great reception!
The main thing we wanted to buy was a book called The Tree Climber's Companion by Jeff Jepson. This is recommended reading for the course, and if you try to find it on Amazon.com, you will find people trying to sell it for upwards of $70. Do not pay $70 for this book! For one thing, it is only about 1/4" thick. For another, New Tribe sells it for around $20. Also, I have an extra copy if anyone needs it.
Our "classroom" was located in Oregon City, outside of Portland, on 150 acres of privately-owned pasture land surrounded by forest, and consisted mostly of an oak tree named Pagoda. Our first day, Sunday, was a half day, sort of an orientation day consisting of some general tree climbing info, familiarizing ourselves with the gear that we would be using and then actually getting up into a tree. When we arrived, our instructor, Tim, already had ropes in the tree, and all we had to do was hook ourselves up and climb. This was a great way to get everyone excited about what we were going to be learning.
Monday we tied a lot of knots. I am not even kidding. Double rope technique (DRT), which is what we would be using during our first 4 days of class, consists of tying a bunch of knots on which to hang your life, and then hooking yourself confidently into those knots for all of your tree climbing activities. You have to be able to tie all the knots with your eyes closed, literally, and Tim makes sure that you can do it. We also learned how to choose a good, safe tree to climb, how to get our ropes up into the trees, how to ascend the rope, how to move around once you are in the tree, how to safely get back down out of the tree, and proper rope inspection and storage. You can see the complete Tree Week syllabus here. Even now, having gone through and successfully completed all of this stuff, it looks intimidating! I can't quite believe we got through all the stuff that we did each day, but Tim was a fabulous teacher and covered everything thoroughly.
The thing that I found to be most anxiety-inducing was switching over from one anchor to another. This is how you move around in a tree, either laterally or vertically, from one branch to another. You have to set your rope on the new branch, tie all your knots again on that rope, and then clip onto your new set of knots. When you are convinced that your new anchor is secure and not going to release you to an untimely death, then you can unclip from your old anchor. This is the part that is nerve-wracking! Tim teaches you all the things to check before you do this, and he is always right there watching you to make sure that you are not going to do something stupid and plummet to your death, but it's still scary.
I also had a difficult time with this because you are doing this all on one rope-you do not have two separate ropes in the tree with you. You are using the end of the rope that you just climbed up on and throwing it over the new branch and then tying all of your knots in that end of the rope. When you hook into your new anchor, you undo most of the knots on your old anchor, and that now becomes the "end" of your rope. Confused? So was I. I just couldn't get it in my head how all the pieces fit together, and so I was having a hard time convincing myself that I knew what the heck I was doing. That night for homework, Tim told us to write down, step by step, the process of switching over from one anchor to another. That, accompanied with a lot of diagrams of stick figures climbing trees, helped me a lot. Once I got over my mental block of not understanding all the moving parts, I was able to move the parts a lot better.
On Tuesday we talked about the different gear that is available for tree climbing-the pros and cons of various options-and spent a lot more time moving around in the trees. This time we got to practice throwing our ropes directly onto a branch vs. using a throw line to get our rope set, like we had been doing previously. This is much more expedient if you just have a short distance to throw. All this tree time made me much more comfortable with my switch-over techniques as well.
Wednesday found us learning about more gear and tying new knots. We learned how to haul gear up into a tree and how to set up a treeboat. We had been working in Pagoda most of the time, and we decided to try to set our treeboats in a different tree, another oak which Hubby ended up naming Kokopelli.Tim had never set treeboats in this tree before and was game to give it a shot. Kokopelli turned out to be a fitting name! She (He?) had quite a few tricks up her sleeve-for me moving around turned out to be a lot trickier than it looked, and finding a good treeboat spot was also tricky. You need about 8-10 feet between the two ends where your treeboat is tied off, and the first location we tried had about 7', 11"! It just wasn't going to work. So close! We eventually got all our treeboats up, and then we went into town to buy supplies to barbecue that night.
We returned to the campsite that night, barbecued some burgers and watched the moon set behind Kokopelli. (Incidentally, Kokopelli was also located right on the edge of the pasture, almost as if it were watching over the field and its animals, so in that sense the name seemed appropriate too). Around 9:00 we all headed up into our tree, sleeping bags in tow, ready to spend the night in a tree!
Important note: If you plan on sleeping in a tree, I would advise you to do everything within your power to avoid having to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Nothing interrupts a nice peaceful sleep in the trees like having to get up for a "quick" bathroom trip. Believe me, there is nothing quick about getting out of a tree to go to the bathroom. I hardly ever wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, except when I'm 40' up in a tree, apparently.
There was something kind of cool that came out of this though. When I was coming back up, I was dreading this one part of the tree where I had gotten absolutely stuck earlier in the day, I mean I really had to fight to get past this one spot. This time, as I was ascending in the dark, I was like, "Oh, look, there's a nice branch that I can stand on while I hook up my lanyard." ( I was hooked into my main rope, which is the red one in the picture below, the whole time, but my treeboat was off to the side about 4 or 5 feet away from where I was ascending so I needed the lanyard-the green line-to maneuver over to where my treeboat was.) Turns out that branch that I was standing on made it totally easy to get past my problem spot, and I hadn't even been aware of it earlier in the day. Just sort of letting go and looking around me and using what made itself available turned out to be a much better strategy than thinking my way up the tree.
(Yeah, I know, I'm sexy in a helmet!) Anyway, back to the tree sleeping. After we got ourselves and all of our gear tucked into our sleeping bags, we all chatted for a while and eventually everyone calmed down to experience being in the tree and started drifting off to sleep. As I was studying the tree and the sky I noticed a group of leaves that made a perfect square, just like a picture frame, and right in the middle was a single star. I watched the star move through the frame, and as I lay there I was finally able to start taking everything in, and then I started to smile; and eventually, I was lying there with a huge smile on my face, laughing quietly with tears running down my face. For me, this is what it was all about. I did it. I was sleeping in a tree! This is what I had wanted. The fact that I had to learn how to do all the other stuff to get to this point was just a bonus.
The next morning, we came down out of the tree around 9:00. We left our treeboats up in case we wanted to hang out in them later, but we never really got to. We spent part of the day just hanging out, relaxing, giving our brains a rest from all the stuff we'd been learning all week. Tim also took us around Portland to visit a couple of places that had some tree climbing gear available. We knew we would be buying most of our gear through New Tribe, but we wanted to buy some of the heavier, bulkier items like rope and helmets while we were there so we could just carry them back on the plane with us and not have to pay to ship them later. All the traveling Hubby does pays off-we can carry on 70 lbs. of luggage instead of 50!
Friday it was back to work on our Introduction to Single Rope Technique (SRT)! This technique utilizes a lot of gadgets, which makes it quicker and easier to ascend and descend...unless you're me and you keep getting yourself stuck on the descent. This was the part of the class that we were all looking forward to because we thought it would be so much easier than the DRT stuff that we had been doing. While it was easier in some ways, I think we all agreed that we were much more comfortable putting our faith in our knots than in these little metal devices that could (theoretically) break or melt your rope or be threaded wrong and send you plummeting to your death in an uncontrolled descent. Part of it was our lack of familiarity with the devices, and part of it was the fact that we had a lot of information thrown at us that day. The course is just meant to be introductory, and that's exactly what it was, just enough to give you an idea of what it's all about and what your options are if you want to explore it further. I have to say, even though Thursday was basically a down day, by Friday I was pretty done, mentally and physically. I didn't have much left when it came time to learn about the 83 new ways of getting into and out of a tree!
Saturday was a fun day. We could pick any tree we wanted to (preferably a wild tree, meaning one that hadn't been climbed before) and climb it. We were responsible for inspecting our tree to make sure it was safe, and then it was all up to us, whatever we wanted to do. Tim was there to make sure everything was safe or in case we had any questions, but other than that we were on our own. Hubby picked another oak, which he named Esmerelda, and I picked a maple because I wanted to try something different, and this tree had a really cool feel to it as soon as you walked under its umbrella, like walking into a whole separate world. I semi-named her Mabel, but I'm not sure if that's because she really felt like a Mabel or if it's just because it sounded like maple...so, if the name sticks, fine, but if someone else comes up with something better, that's fine too. I found a route up and moved around a little bit from one anchor to another and then I found a good spot where I could just lie across 3 of her branches and watch the sky. Sounds uncomfortable, but if you get just the right spot, it's actually quite comfortable.
And that, my friends, was the official end of our Tree Week class! Since we were in town for a few more days, we actually got a chance to go climbing outside of class with Tim and his girlfriend later in the week. Hubby hung out with them in a Douglas fir where they were about 130 feet up and got to experience some tree surfing, which is when the wind blows and the tree starts swaying from side to side-very exciting! I climbed Esmerelda, and after some difficulties, we finally came to an understanding and I was able to find another very comfortable place to just lie down and hang out in a tree.
Tim's girlfriend is a journalist (you can check out her blog here(it's in Portuguese)), and after our climb, she was asking us about our experience. I was trying to find a good, eloquent way of expressing how much fun we had and why tree climbing isn't just for kids. I failed miserably. The best I could come up with was to tell her that it makes you go, "Heehee!" This was a little easier to do in person because I could insert the appropriate inflection and make the accompanying happy face and hands-covering-my-mouth movements, but it's still not a lot for a journalist to work with. Yeah, I'm a great interview. Katie Couric, call me!
So, in case it still needs saying, I loved our Tree Week! I seriously can't say enough good things about this experience. I would recommend this to anyone! I think it would be a great family vacation or an executive retreat/teambuilding exercise. If a week is too large of a commitment, there are several other shorter courses or one-day activities that might suit your needs. There are many organizations world-wide that also facilitate tree climbing activities, so check this link to see if you can find something that is closer to your neck of the woods. Also, don't rule this out if you have some sort of physical disability or any other issue that you think might prevent you from getting into a tree. Tim and others have found many ways to get many people with special needs up into trees-these guys truly believe where there's a will there's a way.
The Tree Week class is limited to 4 people, so everyone has plenty of attention and Tim can keep an eye on everyone. (If you have a group larger than 4, contact Tim or New Tribe and talk to them. They may be able to bring somebody else in to help facilitate a class.) As I mentioned earlier, Tim is a wonderful teacher. He is very good at reading the mood of the class and being able to tell if people are ready to move on or if they need more time with something, whether it's practicing knots or downtime in the tree. He also has the rare ability to inspire complete confidence in his knowledge-the man knows his stuff!-without being intimidating or making you feel dumb. While the syllabus is intimidating, Tim does a great job of breaking it down into manageable pieces and teaching it in an order that is logical, so that you are constantly building on your skills. Also, he is one of the nicest people I have ever met! He is a rare example of somebody who clearly loves what he is doing, and that is so uncommon these days. To actually see someone who has found that is very cool!
Thanks for staying with me so long! I hope you liked the pictures. If you want to see more from our Tree Week class, you can check out my album, here. Thanks to Tim for all the photography there (and most of it here)-as if he wasn't doing enough already!
(When I was looking up some information on the redwoods the other day, I came across this blog, which I thought was kind of cool: Ten Thousand Trees )