Wednesday, December 15, 2010

the SAGa

One of the most boring things I can think of to read about on a blog is a long tirade of complaints about an esoteric event that I can't relate to my own life. In spite of this, I feel like I owe it to you to explain where in the world I have been and what in the world is going on with our sheep.

We went to Australia with the intention of buying sheep genetic material and growing our own sheep here in Chile. But we quickly found out that buying a live animal was about the same cost and produced more return on our investment (ie we could sell its genetics to others; we had most 'doses' of the 'genetic material') and a much faster result in our flock (a live animal is ready to breed immediately whereas growing our own would take two years). We like to make sound business decisions and buying a live animal sounded like one.

Chile is a very isolated country with few diseases of animals and plants, so there is very tight import control on these. We decided to investigate the process of bringing in a live animal, but because we were in Australia already and the Chilean officials don't have information posted online, the only way we could determine the protocol was to call and enquire.

Any of you reading this from Chile are probably laughing right now because you know that "calling and enquiring" always leads to some sort of disaster. But we were lucky--our vet was with us and she knew the director of Animal Importation for SAG, the Chilean USDA, and we were able to call him directly. "Sure!" he said, "No problem. You just have ot ship the animals through a SAG-approved export and quarantine center." Excellent! thought we. There was one available to handle our animals.

At the end of September, we began the official process of getting import approval, which begins not with filling out paperwork, but with constructing a letter that includes information and answers to questions that you must pull out of the ether. If it's not just right, they basically ignore you. Naturally, they ignored us.

They ignored us for so long, in fact, that we had to make several increasingly angry calls to get any sort of response (which included, of course, "Send it again, but this time hand deliver it. And get a signature. And make copies. And....")

By the middle of October, we got an answer: "I don't know where you got your information, but the farm where you buy the animals has to be inspected and approved first." Huh. We informed them that our information came from their boss and we asked to speak with him. He wouldn't take our calls, the calls of our vet, nor the calls of several of his colleagues who tried to contact him on our behalf. We had been shunned and had nowhere to turn== there was no written mandate supporting our side or theirs, but they had the distinct advantage of being The Ones Who Make The Decisions.

What ensued was a ridiculous dance, the intricate details of which I won't bore you with. But I will tell you that it involved many more letters hand delivered to small offices deep in Santiago, emails CCed to half the universe, calls denied by more and more officials and finally my having to go directly to the Australian Embassy in Santiago to complain that Chilean officials were interfering with perfectly legal trade with their country. It was clear that SAG had no interest in approving our request.

But boy, calling the embassy sure made Chile move. In the end, we did have to send someone to Australia to approve the farm. He was meant to leave on December 9, and it was only on December 5 that they called us and said that the trip was approved and that we had to buy the plane ticket (yeah, of course we had to pay for all of this). And then we had to give them expense money for the trip, but naturally being a Federal Office of Chile, they did not accept the Official Currency of Chile. No, they wanted to be paid, mysteriously, in US dollars. In Chile, this is not a transaction that can be completed by phone or internet. You have to buy US dollars at your home bank, then physically take them to the State bank for deposit. We were at the farm when we were informed of this, and they wanted the money within 12 hours. So we had to make a special trip into Santiago to buy and transport the currency of the United States to the bank of Chile for a trip to Australia. This, my lovely readers, is an example of effective government practice.

In the end, Nick says it wasn't all bad because now we have become intimately acquainted with several national-level government officials (not all of whom are complete morons), as well as several Australian diplomatic officials. We made a name for ourselves as Those Dang People Who Wouldn't Shut Up, and of course, we get the sheep.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A house is not a home without a cat

This week we took the cats to our new casita for the very first time. It was also the first time they have been to the farm since October, when Mister escaped into the darkness and Shady pooped in the car on the way there. As you might expect, I was a tad nervous about it and so were the cats when we took the carriers out of the closet last Tuesday morning. They see those things and immediately must think, "VET!" But they were reasonably quiet on the way to the farm and even when the farm dogs came close to the car to say hi.

We have a little terrace off of our living room, so we decided this would be a great place to put the litter box (especially since our house is thimble-sized), but it needed to be screened and a door needed to be added to make it accessible for them. The screening process was surprisingly easy: We bought some chicken wire--no one here has regular bug screens right now, at least not the kind with mesh small enough to actually keep bugs out--and had it attached all around the porch in about an hour. Nick worked on the cat door while I started dinner and by the time we sat down to eat, the cats could roam in and out.

The problem is this: Our cats do not understand how to maneuver doors. That's not entirely true. They manage to get the bathroom door open whenever it's occupied without a problem. But a cat door? Perplexing! I showed them about 40 times that the flap swung in both directions, that they could push it and it would open, that it wouldn't bite them. No dice. In the end I ended up having to remove the flappy part, at which point they both ran in and out, in and out freely. As soon as I put the flap back on, they were petrified again. Sigh. So as of right now the flap remains off.

The cats LOVED the house, though. I think they loved being with us, being able to go outside again (it's been too cold at the apartment to open the balconies), the fire... Shady was content enough to just sit by the fire, but Mister kept trying to sniff the wood stove. I hope he has enough sense not to burn himself on it. The dogs came up by the house and the cats were even somewhat ok with them. There were some growling sessions, but there were just as many sniffing sessions, too.

When it was time to go back to the city this weekend, I sensed that they were disappointed to leave the house. We'll be back tomorrow, no fear (and we're getting TV tomorrow! still working on the internet problem, but how nice will it be to see the news or a movie or House or something!)... soon the cats will be able to drive themselves there and back!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Back to the grind

You'd think that winter would be more tolerable down here because it is so much warmer than in the Cleveland area. However, I am finding myself with the same level of jetlag that I'd get going back to Cleveland after a February Chile trip. Somehow when I land in summer, I have no problem, but the last two days have been a blur of sleep, headaches and clouds. Blech.

Anyway, it's back to work for us for 4 weeks. We are going to have to keep burning the candle at both ends because we have a LOT of work to fit into this time: On Aug 14, we leave again but this time for 6 weeks. We are going to Cleveland, Jackson Hole, back to Cleveland for a wedding, then to AUSTRALIA! to buy/order sheep embryos, then BACK to Cleveland and finally back here. No joke, I am going to go from being a regular old frequent flier to a gold flier just with these trips. I am excited about Australia, but it will be mostly work-- sheep farms, fairs, mucho hay and manure I imagine. I am most looking forward to Jackson because I need a few days of relaxation and zero obligations. Brian and Becky are coming so goodness knows the food will be good, too!

So, here's what's on our plate:

HOUSE As you all know, the farm house was destroyed in the earthquake. I haven't really updated about that situation because I have been out of my mind busy with that. Nick and I have looked at this past trip as a symbolic closure of the Earthquake Period here-- the straw house is done, and we have a temporary place to live-- we bought a mobile-home-type ditty that was delivered ready-to-go, but it's TINY (two bedrooms/450 square feet) and anyway we were going to build our own house even before the earthquake hit. So since before we moved here, Nick and I dealt with an architect to design a house. We shopped it around to various builders but unfortunately the price was just WAY too high for us (1/4-1/2 million USD! wth!). Back in February we were about to sign a contract with the company that made our casita (it's what we call the mobile house... nicer, isn't it?) to build a full-sized house for us. It was affordable and reasonably nice. Since we've had the casita, though, we've realized that we have a bit more time to think about things and also we weren't crazy about the quality of it. It's fine, but it gave us pause when we realized a whole house like that could be a pain to live in... soo.....

Nick and I have decided to build our own house... ! ..... ! We are going to continue on the straw theme, and employ the same two farm guys that helped build the one on the farm the employee. We came to the realization that in order to get the quality that we wanted (and are used to in the US) for the price that we want, this is the only way. Plus, the only people accountable to us are us. If we don't show up for work one day, we know where we are. If we go over budget, we know why. And saving so much on labor will enable us to have the best quality materials, ensuring that our house will last longer than something we'd contract out. The building project will start around November, but we are going this afternoon to discuss it with an architect, so start looking for posts about this soon. I am really excited to be able to blog about our own straw house!

BUSINESS The other big thing I have on my plate is a business that Nick and I, a friend from the US, and possibly a partner here in Chile have talked about starting for some months. I don't want to put too many details on the internet because it's a very competitive industry, but I look forward to talking about it more as we progress. But for now I have to write a business plan to get us operational as soon as possible. One thing I learned from attending a entrepreneurship seminar here is not to sit on your ideas because there are ten other people our there trying to make them work already! So we decided that in order to get things into motion, I was the least busy member of this group and I could start the heavy work on things as soon as possible. Exciting, but lots of work.

Ok gotta run to this meeting, but it feels nice to have some clarity of mind, and moreover TIME, to be back here blogging and telling everyone about life in Chile! See you soon!

Back to the USA

Wow, what a visit home. Nick and I went to the US on July 1 and came back to Chile yesterday. It was the first time we had been there since the earthquake and so coming in was extremely emotional for me. The landscape itself is so different than here in Chile, and when I saw the flat land filled with green, green, green and the lake in the distance, I can't even describe the feeling that welled up in me. It was coming home, but it was different, more powerful. It was a place I knew that was still there, unchanged, unshaken.

I won't bore you with too many details of what we did and who we saw because many of you were either there or don't know the people I am talking about! However, I would like to mention a few highlights:

GO TRIBE-- The day we got back, crazy person that I am, I arranged for us to go to an Indians game. They lost miserably and played like an AA team, but it was great to be there. The fireworks were amazing, and it was about as All-American as you can get after 6 months away. Considering all of the drama always surrounding the other teams in town, I hope the Indians can get it together in the coming years... lots more opinions here but this is not a baseball blog.... :)

ROOT CAFE-- I hadn't been here since they moved/changed from the Phoenix, aside from a quick dash in over Christmas to get coffee. I have been hooked on Phoenix coffee since Brian introduced me to it (Phoenix and Equal Exchange decaf are my signature blends!) but the old place wasn't exactly my kind of hole in the wall (and hole in the wall, it was). But the Root is the really comfortable, relaxing kind of coffee house I haven't seen around town since the Red Star was open down on Detroit & 116th. I went once just to try it and we ended up going on several consecutive days. The food, which is sourced locally when available, was great and reasonably priced. I am hooked on the beetnik muffin-- a beet & blueberry creation that is dense, moist and really tasty. I am going to have to experiment with beets in bakery now! They are much sweeter here in Chile, so it will be interesting to see how that works out... Recipes to come?

BAC-- This was the other dining discovery of the trip. Nick, Brian & Becky and I were in Tremont and wanted some interesting food for dinner, so we decided to try Bac. The family who runs it includes a friend-of-several-friends so I had seen details about it while we were here in Chile but obviously didn't have the chance to try it until this trip. The menu had me DROOLING a few months ago when I read it and it turns out that it lived up to its hype. The dumpling and rangoon appetizers we had were excellent, and the sauces flavorful (and not just soy sauce with chili in it like some places). I had Pad Thai because I can't resist trying it wherever I am. It was really different from any I have had but really good. A reviewer on another site said it was better than the one at Ty Fun, which is my favorite pad thai around... I wouldn't say it was better but it was just as good in a different way.

HILL CUMORAH-- After many years of talking about it, Sarah, Alison and I finally went to the Hill Cumorah pageant in upstate NY. For those of you not familiar with it, it's a dramatic rendition of part of the book of Mormon and how it was rediscovered. Sociologically speaking, it was fascinating to see so many mormons in one place, and with the dichotomy of the attendees with the anti-mormon protestors surrounding the place. Despite my fascination with mormon culture and my disbelief in the book of mormon, I really do not understand anti-mormon protestors. I, too, find it quite odd that there is no historical evidence of a book many people believe to be accurate (although this was explained away in the pageant by God having wiped the historical evidence off the face of the Earth), but I have never been driven to yell at believers over it. Also, Mormons? Probably the least likely people in the world to engage in any sort of dialect over their beliefs. The pageant itself was ... odd.. It was about an hour and a half long, and probably 1:15 of that was a summary of fighting between groups of people. Then it got on to what I thought was the important stuff-- the discovery by Joseph Smith of the book of Mormon at the very site we were sitting! But it spent maybe 10 minutes saying "And so Joseph Smith found the book of Mormon here on Hill Cumorah. The end, have a good night!"

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Post-wall building... go on a road trip!

What sounds like the best way to relax after building the walls to a house? How about a 1000-km road trip the next day??? No? Well, that's what we did.

On Sunday, we left the straw house project around 4pm, only to rush home, shower, put something classy on and attend Nick's grandma's 95th birthday party. Normally this would have warranted a post all of its own, but I was so wiped out and thinking of the upcoming trip that I barely have any recollection of the party (except that I FINALLY got to wear this cute strapless red dress I found at a thrift store in Cleveland for $5).

Monday morning, we hit the road in the farm truck at 7:30 am. We were trying to beat beep-o'clock but it started early that morning, so there was lots of traffic and noise trying to get out of the city. Just on the other side of the mountains that form the border of the Region Metropolitana and Region VI O'Higgins, we encountered our first earthquake-related delay. Both the bridges on Route 5, the Panamerican highway, had collapsed, so we had to take a detour through the country. The upside of this was that they didn't charge tolls, so we didn't have to stop and wait in the toll line every hundred kms or so.

The whole way down, we passed many bridges that had completely collapsed or sides of the road that disappeared. Here's one where the other lane just fell off:

Another where the bridge just snapped off:

This is the old bridge over the Rio Claro that broke as well:

I was a bit disappointed when we got to the South because it was cloudy from farmers burning off their fields. Burning stuff is one of my biggest frustrations here. No one seems to care about the environmental implications of burnings acres and acres of vegetation, let alone the quantity of garbage that is burned. I read reports from the tsunami ravaged areas that said they were dealing with the debris by burning it all in order to avoid a health crisis. Avoid a health crisis? It just changes what type of health crisis you will have! But I digress...

We got to where we were staying, outside Puerto Varas on the shores of Lago Llanquihue, late in the evening, but the skies had cleared and we were greeted with one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen in Chile. Above the grand Volcan Osorno, a full moon had risen and was wrapped in a beautiful halo.

From Straw house and Puerto Varas

I know this looks completely fake, but this is an unretouched photo (long exposure obviously) I took of the situation

Monday, March 29, 2010

Straw House Pics

There are so many photos that I took that I can even begin to tell a story around, so I thought I'd just post a bunch of photos here of the process.

The first wall developing

Within an hour or so, the walls were developing

The walls where I planned for sections to be one bale thick turned out the best.

While the walls were going up, they started planning the roof dimensions on the floor:

The house was like a beehive:

Nick and the farm guys enjoy a late afternoon beer. It was HOT that day.

This was most of the people who came, but not even everyone. I can't thank them enough.

At the end of the day, the house looked like THIS!

Here's an interior shot with the roof plate:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ongoing list...

This is sort of for myself, sort of for you. People have asked me what I need from the US and also I tend to forget these things when I'm actually there, so I thought I'd start a list of things I/We could always use and/or always want. (Note that this is not directed at the group of you coming to visit in a couple of weeks!!!)

Mr Clean Magic Erasers
Rica-rica sauce from Teahouse Noodles
Malley's hot fudge
Decaf coffee (esp Trader Joe's Mocha-Java or Phoenix anything med/dark)
Trader Joe's olive tapenade
Flip flops from Old Navy (love 'em! but the farm kills them)
Almond butter
Beer- especially
Briana's blush vinagrette dressing
Campbell's tomato soup

Straw House 1

March 27 is my and Nick’s 7-year dating anniversary. Never in my wildest dreams on that night in 2003 when Nick first told me all about his grandmother’s farm and its vastness did I imagine myself here 7 years later, building a house that was destroyed in one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded. One of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded. It’s a phrase that gives me chills and probably always will…

On this bright Saturday morning, however, here we were about to build a house. Over the past week, Nick and I have built frames for all of the windows (10 of them) and have begun laying the wood frame that goes around the base of the straw bales. We preserved the original foundation, which was not damaged, but when the remainder of the house was demolished, we discovered that all of the concrete floors were at different levels. The guys who work here releveled the foundation—60 bags of concrete and a truckload of gravel later, it’s ready to be built on.

Nick and I got to the job site very early—around 7:30—so we could finish installing all of the wood pieces before the volunteers showed up. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the day threatened to be quite hot, but at this hour, working outside was manageable. By ten o’clock, this is what the base of the house looked like:

From Straw house and Puerto Varas

Let me explain what all of the bits are. At the very bottom, of course, is the concrete foundation. On top of that, we laid the black tar paper—this seals out moisture rising up through the concrete from the straw. The wood on top of that is also to give the straw a base and to keep it up off of any potential moisture. The frames everywhere are for the windows. These give the windows added stability and also keep them square because bales don’t have a tendency to be square. Finally, the rods sticking up are something of an unorthodox touch, and maybe not one we’d repeat. They are to spear the bales as they come down, keeping them in line and adding more stability to the building in the case of an earthquake. You also find these rods in masonry buildings for the same reason. More about why we’d do it differently next time later...

Around 10am, our architect friend, his business partner and a coworker appeared to begin helping us. Since we hadn’t finished frames for the doors yet, we put them to work doing that and squaring up the joint. This is another thing that in the future I would not worry too much about at this stage. Bales coming down from every angle and being pounded into place have the potential to unsquare even the best-braced frames, plus the whole thing is adjustable until the plaster goes on. Live and learn.

I began to wonder if our volunteers were still coming when suddenly a train appeared on the horizon. A quantity of vehicles I have never before seen on our humble little fundo raced down the stony hills and into the makeshift parking area, and 10, no 15, no TWENTY young men spilled out in shorts, tennis shoes and bandanas, ripping open packs of work gloves and pulling out coolers with drinks and ice. It was as if an army of worker bees had showed up to build a hive.

I stood frozen in awe at the tableau for just a moment before it erupted into chaos. Suddenly gravel was filling the wood base, bales were being moved from the storage site to the house site, a flurry of orders were being given. In all this excitement I nearly missed the first bale being layed, but I caught it like a blink of an eye:

From Straw house and Puerto Varas

And from there it was a marathon. Bale after bale after bale was speared on the rebar, quickly stacking into a wall. I have the muscular strength approximately equal to one of their toes, so I left the lifting to the capable ones. During the course of the day, I ran around cleaning up straw (huge fire hazard), consulting our straw bale bible, and making sure people were fed and hydrated. The temperature climbed and climbed, with not a cloud in the sky or roof above to provide shade. It must’ve been in the 90s.

Suddenly it was after 6pm, and since it’s autumn, the light was beginning to wane. I informed everyone of the hour but no one wanted to move. A last surge of energy meant victory—we finished all of the walls!

Back at the main center of the farm, the complex where our house is/was, we had an asado arranged. A late birthing season led to the availability of a few lamb—a perfect thank-you for this occasion. The wife of a farm employee arranged everything, including a picnic table for 30. Nick and I ran into town to buy wine and soda—the volunteers had brought a truckload of beer.

The sun plummeted in a way it only seems to do around the equinoxes, and we celebrated under the stars with one lightbulb and the full moon to light us. Course after course of roast lamb, potatoes and kept coming, and we toasted with red wine. The house had a shape.

Friday, March 26, 2010

House Tomorrow

I am slogging through the slowest internet connection on the planet because I have to tell you about the straw-bale house going up tomorrow. Finally! Sort of perversely, the one-month anniversary of the earthquake is tomorrow. It all at once seems like a month is way too long to have taken to get to this point, and like it can't POSSIBLY have been a month already. But, here it is, at 3:34 tomorrow morning... Incidentally, in 1985, the last big earthquake here like this one (an 8.0 near Valparaiso), they had a 7.2 aftershock over a month after the initial shock. Here's hoping that doesn't happen again.

As I have mentioned before, an amazing friend rallied his architectural and engineering coworkers to help us rebuild one of the employee houses, which we are doing with straw bales. Tomorrow we are expecting almost 20 people to show up and help us raise the walls! Somehow even though I've always tried to reach out to people in need, it's still striking to a) be the one in need and b) have people reach out to us. Not only are they showing up, but they have arranged for their own housing (seeing as how we don't have any) and food. I am floored by the generosity of all of these people.

Despite the way it sounds, a straw bale house is not just a square fort made of straw bales stacked in line. In fact, it's a rather intricate procedure. First we had to make a solid foundation. Luckily the foundation of the original house was not damaged in the earthquake, so we were about to keep it. It had to be leveled out, and yesterday the guys finished pouring that cement. In a weird twist, I was doing some measuring around the foundation when I found an inscription from the original maestros:
Ok, blogger and my ridiculous internet connection are not agreeing with me posting a photo, so here's a link--

The original foundation was laid 50 years ago to the date! So weird. It's a sign of some sort, but I can't quite figure out what... (maybe that our straw-bale house will be leveled by an earthquake in about 49 years and 11 months?)

Once the foundation is done, you have to set a wooden frame for the bales to go on. Under this frame, you must put some sort of waterproof barrier-- we used tar paper. The whole purpose of both of these is to prevent water from seeping in and ruining the core of your straw walls. A mirror of the bottom frame is made to lay on top of the straw bales once they are up. This helps compress the bales (making it more sturdy and fire retardant) and make an even surface for the roof. We finished both frames today.

Additionally, since you don't have a wood structure for the windows and doors to sit in, you have to create one for each window and door. This is what Nick and I have been up to all week, and we just finished the last frame today.

Tomorrow, at sunrise (don't cringe... the sun is rising at almost 8 now), we'll head back out to get everything started for the group that is coming. What we have to do is set all of the window and door frames on the bottom wood frame, put steel rods all around to spear the bales as they go up (thus making the house even more seismically stable), and then finally start loading up the bales. At some point during the day I have to run to the "nearby" town (35 mins) to get things for tomorrow night-- as a thank-you, we are having a lamb roast for everyone.

So that's our progress in a nutshell. I have LOTS of pictures already so as soon as we're back in Santiago, I will upload a step-by-step of the house.

Oh. Did I mention that we have to drive to Puerto Montt on Monday? For those us you not brushed-up on your Chilean geography, that's south, way south. Like, at least 12 hours south. We have to go pick up a ram... yeah, more on that later....... when does the fun stop?????

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Internet connection stinks :(

I'm back in Santiago for a day again, sadly to report that our internet connection at the farm has been AWFUL. I spend 37 minutes the other day trying to load! So obviously I gave up trying to post anything. I really need to figure out how to make things better there if we are going to manage living there full-time.

This weekend was a bust in terms of the house raising because of our inability to get supplies on time. We couldn't get the straw until Saturday because the truck driver had other obligations during the week. And the wood that we ordered right after the earthquake JUST came on Saturday, too, and it was wet. Like, cut a piece and sap pours out of it wet. So we postponed the wall-raising until THIS coming Saturday, which also means we have to miss a couple of days of my Father-in-law's visit AND the concert he's playing on Saturday night :( Who needs a social life?

The good news is that Nick and I have become expert carpenters. That's a total lie. We're mediocre carpenters who took a day to figure out how in the world to build a frame for recycled windows. We have three frames down, now, and ... 5 to go. Plus four or five door frames :-/ I am not enjoying this building stuff, although I will certainly be proud when it's done. All of this came with its usual set of Chile setbacks: blown fuses, poorly cut wood (the 2x4s were 2.1x4.3), crummy supplies. In the meantime, the farm truck blew out three tires, so we had to take it in to get a new set-- that took another whole day of our time. What I wouldn't give for something to go smoothly........

So we go back tomorrow to finish the carpentry stuff, then the guys come on Saturday to do the walls. Lots of pictures to come! I am extremely interested to see how this straw-bale building goes. As much as I read about it being a legitimate building technique, I still can't quite wrap my mind around it. We are looking into it for our own house, although having a builder do it to expedite things, but it just seems so... weird! We shall see.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Off again to the farm

Here's hoping we have an internet connection this time! It has been almost a week since the last big aftershock, so I'm thiiiiinking everything should be working ok. We are going to start the big project-- the straw bale house! I have never built ANY sort of house before, let alone one with such a radical building style, so it'll be interesting to see how this goes. Luckily I'm not in charge, I will just be there to document such a big event, and do things like measure and calculate. Apparently on Saturday and Sunday a big group of people is coming out to help us... will report back on how that is progressing because I'm not sure exactly of the details.

If we have internet tonight, I plan to do an entry about the geology of earthquakes here. You all know that I love geology to begin with but I have learned a lot since this experience, so I can't wait to share it.

Today is St. Patrick's day, so I suppose most of you in the US are going to be celebrating green today. I asked a friend of ours here several weeks ago if he knew what a leprechaun was and he said no. In fact, I think he thought I was trying to trick him by making up a bizarre name. So, needless to say, no big shamrocky things here today! I don't know why that makes me sort of sad since I'm not even a drop Irish... but I am 100% Clevelander, so I suppose today is usually sort of the kick off of Spring in Cleveland, and THAT I miss.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Another active night here... there were 6 tremors just in the time it took me to write that last post. Note to self: don't drink wine during aftershocks. ("Is it me or is the room spinning? Oh, the room is spinning.")

Aftershocks, schmaftershocks

Well the last two days sure have been exciting! Yesterday was our first day back from the farm, so I wanted to relax a bit, but at 11:40 am I was instead greeting with another big honking earthquake! A 7.2!!! Aftershock! Then a few minutes later, a 6.7, and a few minutes after that a 6.0. What in the world???

I have to say it's really amazing here. We had all of those earthquakes, one of which was the same size that leveled a whole Caribbean country, and everyone just went, "Huh. How unusual," and went about their business. I didn't lose power, cable or internet, so I got to watch the presidential inauguration that was happening live on television. They were in Valparaiso, which at that point had a tsunami warning, and they didn't even stop. I gather that they sped up the ceremony quite a bit but still, it didn't stop. When it was over, then Pinera said, "Ok, everyone out, there might be a tsunami." Just as cool as pie.

Outside my apartment, it was like nothing happened even immediately after the earthquakes. During the first one, I ran into the kitchen because the cabinets were unsecured and I really wasn't feeling like losing any more dishes. While holding the cabinets shut, I glanced out the window and could see other buildings gently shaking but not much else was happening. The epicenter of this earthquake was much closer to the city, but much less happened. It's a testament to two things: a) how much stronger an 8.8 earthquake really is (the Richter scale isn't linear-- it's logarithmic, so a difference of 1 point in magnitude is actually hundreds of times bigger), and b) how sturdy this city and its people are.

We were out at the farm for a few days before this to get things going. That was a real experience-- still no power, which also means no running water. We had drinking water that we brought and water to wash dishes from a gas-powered well pump. Cell phones were still touch and go. When we got there, I headed up to the house and did the best thing I know how to do in these situations: Clean. Somehow when I get stressed, I clean. Those of you who knew me when I was a pre-teen may be surprised at this, but it's true! It also helps when you have a lot of stuff to clean.

During this time, an architect we know through some other farm building work came by with his father, who is a seismic engineer. How cool is that as a job? He looked at our house and determined that things were not quite as bad as we thought. The kitchen, our bedroom and our bathroom are salvageable. The livingroom and diningroom are totally goners. In fact, when we arrived, it was clear that the chimney was leaning at a much more precarious angle than it had been before. Luckily it's leaning away from the house and not towards it. But obviously if it falls, it's going to be a huge mess.

Each night around 6:30pm, the light would start to wane and we'd realize that we better start thinking about dinner. With only candles to light our way, meals would become extremely difficult to manage after dark. We were lucky enough to have the wife of one of the employees volunteer to cook for us. She wasn't able to help with the physical labor, so this was her way of contributing and she did a bang-up job! We ate barbecued beef one night from a local cow, and humitas another night-- a Chilean dish like a tamale but with no filling, just simple, delicious steamed corn flavored with onion and basil. Of course, the one topic that did come up is the difference in hygiene expectations between city people and country people. One day I walked into the storage shed and there was the rest of the aforementioned cow hanging up. I realized there was no refrigeration at that point, but I guess I thought it had been split up and cooked and eaten? It was extremely dubious to me and started to smell a little questionable, but it was still cooked and eaten (not by us). Everyone was fine, incidentally. I wonder how much we city people over-do the hygiene stuff, but on the other hand, after an incident where I wound up in the hospital after eating bad food, I don't really want to find out either........

After dinner each night, it was completely dark as far as the eye could see. I have never seen more stars at the farm. There isn't much light pollution out there to begin with, but whatever there had been was terminated by the power outage. We could see every constellation (most of which I don't know because it's the southern sky-- can anyone tell me what the little-dipper looking thing by Orion is???), a big band of the Milky Way, and the Clouds of Magellan- two "puffs" of the Milky Way that look like clouds in the sky.

None of us were willing to sleep inside, with aftershocks still happening several times a day, and they are loud there. Michelle and Johannes set up camp outside the house with two beds they found inside. Nick and I decided to sleep in the car. We have a Subaru Outback, so with the back seats flipped down, it was a little bigger than a twin sized bed. To be honest, the accommodations weren't so bad. The car moved with every little tectonic activity, but it felt safe since we were away from buildings but still with a solid roof over our heads. The most uncomfortable thing was the morning when people coming into the farm could see inside the windows! Must be strange to see the Patron sleeping in his car....

So the experience was not as horrible as I imagined. I have never gone camping before this, and I certainly didn't anticipate my first "camping" trip to be under these circumstances. I'm the kind of person that normally absolutely requires a daily shower, a flushing toilet, and a bed, but somehow I managed. You'd probably all die if you saw a picture of me unshowered, with a handkerchief on my head, doing physical labor. Somewhere there is a picture of just that though! I will try to dig it up to share...

On the way home, we stopped and had a meal at our favorite restaurant, which we were pleased to find suffered little or no damage. I felt guilty, to be honest, to be eating a delicious meal while the people at the farm still had no electricity or water. But the class thing is weird here. They would never have come with us. Restaurant dining is just not something they do. And for us, it felt important to try to have some normalcy. If we stopped doing everything, the economy would collapse. Weird dilemma to have-- to assuage guilt, or to keep the economy functioning. In the end, I think working hard to help those that we can, but still trying to do normal things like eat out sometimes, is the most appropriate compromise.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Quake Weekend 1-- I'll be MIA

Today marks a week already since the earthquake. This I cannot believe. Last night we had dinner again with Michele and Johannes and we remarked that we had done the exact same thing a week ago before the earthquake and I think it made us all slightly nervous. However, it's daylight and so far everything is still in its place, at least here in our apartment.

I'll be gone for a couple of days because we are going to the farm to start clean-up and rebuilding. We finally have a design for the house that we have to completely rebuild. Actually, it's going to be very interesting because it's an eco-design: it's going to be a straw-bale house. The advantage of straw-bale is that it's cheaper than regular wood-framing AND it has an insulation R-value of 30. THIRTY! To give you some idea of what that means, in Ohio, the US government recommends a value of 4. The house that was there before was adobe, which had an r-value of, like, 1, so I will be very interested to see how this affects them this winter. We are happy that although they are very inconvenienced right now, the new house will go up quickly and will be much warmer and more comfortable for them when it's done.

So I will be in touch next week when we return, and I promise more photos of the clean-up effort.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Please Donate to Un Techo Para Chile

This organization has been building houses for homeless people in Chile for 12 years. The goal was to help those living in "campamentos" before the bicentennial of Chile, 2010. Now they have broadened their horizon to include housing those displaced by the earthquake. The housing they have built withstood this earthquake, so I think this is a great, reliable organization to donate to.

Donation page in English:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quake, day... 4?

Today was a very bad day for aftershocks. We had several 6.0+ quakes, two of which were very close to Santiago, and we had many more quakes in the 4-5.9 range. Normally, the 6-ers would've been news, but after the other day, it's like we all think "Oh, well, ok, the power is still on and my table is still upright so I guess everything is ok." More of the plaster in the ceiling of our bedroom came down, but nothing else seemed to be damaged. We are more worried about the farm house and whether more of the structure fell. There is still a lot of furniture inside that we were hoping to save but had nowhere to put it. Tomorrow we are going there for the weekend so I guess we will figure something out. It's bad enough to lose the house, but it would be even more of a shame to lose everything in it in aftershocks.

The dust cloud that had settled over Santiago after the earthquake (see a satellite photo of that here) finally cleared today, and it cleared spectacularly. You could see the mountains more clearly than in months--all summer in fact. It was strange looking up at the peaks without their snow-- I've never been here this late in the summer--and thinking about all of the trouble those rocks have caused. Since we moved here, I have stared almost daily at our surrounding landscape in awe. Cliched words like grandeur and majesty come to mind. They are these giant slabs of rock poking into the sky, reading like a history of the world with their striations and slopes. I never felt anything but positive things when I looked at them, but now they scare me. I have never felt so vulnerable to the will of bigger powers, but when I see the mountains I am reminded and I feel like somehow I can relate to ancient people who prayed to them.

Today was also Nick's 31st birthday. Our plans for today were to be on the coast with Schot & Carolyn. True to the weather forecast that inspired us to plan our seaside trip for today, it was a beautiful, clear, warm day here. But Schot & Carolyn are still thousands of miles away, and aren't coming to Chile. And the coast is covered in the lost lives of the earthquake and tsunami victims. Even the town where Nick and I got engaged 2 years ago was washed away. I imagine the rock where we were sitting when he proposed is in the sea now... So instead we had a quiet dinner at Nick's grandma's house with my SIL and her friend. It waxed rowdy for a few minutes because of pisco sours and good wine, but we all sobered up quickly when another 6.0 aftershock hit. Then it was on to planning the materials we have to buy for this weekend and trying to figure out where we will sleep.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Video of the earthquake

I am too exhausted today after driving to the farm and back to write too much. So I am going to leave you this video that really captures the sound I remember during the quake, and the motion that of course I couldn't actually see in the darkness of the night. Turn your speakers all of the way up for the best effect.


We just found out that our friend in Parral is alive/house completely gone. We are also getting more information about the area around the farm and it is grim. Most of our region (Region VI, Bernardo O'Higgins) seems to be in complete collapse. Around the farm they are still without electricity, so today we a bringing a load of batteries, water, food, etc to them. I will be offline most of the day because the trip is 2 hours in normal conditions and we have to go there and back and expect bad traffic...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Quake, day 3

Today was an organizational day here in our household, and something of a day for digesting all that has been going on. I woke up with the same startled feeling as an aftershock roused me from sleep. Once again, my first thought was, "oh yeah... that really happened." All day it was one tremor after another. I continue to feel completely surreal. It's so strange to have Chile thrust so suddenly into the news, and even stranger to be an American here. Yesterday I got a call about possibly doing an interview for the Today show! (In the end I think they found other people closer to disaster.)

After having lunch at Nick's grandmother's house (which, I have to say, her employee Angelica is a godsend. She stocks so much food in that place that we could eat for weeks because of her), we went to start the Official Recovery Plan. Stop one was to buy nails and steel braces for rebuilding the farm houses. We spent $1100 on those things. $1100!!! On nails! We also spoke to the construction company for the new house we were planning on building and they don't expect to have any delays because of the earthquake. This is a huge relief, although it still means 3-4 months without a house there. We may end up building a temporary cabin of sorts to get by in.

OHHH Man, we just had a big aftershock. Not big in general, but it was really long and you sort of hold your breath during those things. I just wrote an email to someone and we had 3 or 4 just during that time.

I have a lot of random thoughts that don't really fit into a story, so I just sort of have to jot them down...

-All of the water sloshed out of our toilets during the quake. Both bathrooms were flooded!

-Somehow even though we keep the lids down, stuff wound up IN the toilet bowl. Once I determined that the water was working ok, I opened a lid to use the bathroom and there was STUFF in it. Nothing like 4:30 in the morning, after a big quake, no light, and having to reach in the toilet to pull stuff out.

-The only funny thing I have seen so far is that at the farm, the 2 bulls that live there got completely lost and wound up in the sheep corrals. When we tried to shoo them away (they break stuff!), they instead got annoyed at each other and started fighting. Eventually we broke them up but it was the most absurd thing...

-The farm kitties seem to be ok. Yesterday I saw all 4 that we normally feed and try to pet. I gave them some of the food. At the house in Santiago, the 4 kitties that live there also finally turned up today. I was very worried about them. Sneezy is very sick, and I had seen Patchyman skulking about the yard in fear the other day so I didn't know what would happen to them.

Our internet just came back, so I will be able to upload lots of pictures tomorrow. Also, an amazing work contact of ours who is an architect has offered his time to help us rebuild the farm houses, so we are going out to the farm for the day to try to develop a design plan with him. I'm sure I will have lots of news from those parts because we have to head into the towns for supplies, and we understand that things are awful there.

We are still missing our farm friend in Parrall. If anyone sees any information online about survivors or victims from Parrall or Cauquenes, please let me know.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Quake, Day 2

I finally got to sleep last night after being kept up by a series of aftershocks, but I woke up with a start this morning, a racing heart and a train of thought that went something like this: "Oh! What? Oh. No. It really happened." It's somehow the same feeling I had after September 11 where I just kept wishing we could turn back time and un-do it. Except who can you blame here? There is no one to blame.

We had the daunting task of getting to the farm this morning, so we started very early. It's the end of February, obviously, which means it's still summer here, but a very unusual dense fog had rolled in and covered the entire central valley. The visibility was no more than 1/4 mile in most spots and it even rained a bit (this is seriously unheard of here in February). So because of that we could not see the extent of damage in much of the city.

About a half-hour outside the city we encountered a closure in the highway and we had to take side roads for several dozen kms until we could get back onto the highway. We determined that the bridge was out over one of the rivers (possibly the Maipo?). Further along we found a large crack in the pavement and many rock slides onto the road. Other than the one diversion, though, we got to the farm without too much trouble. Several bridges seemed to have lifted in the quake, but were intact, and the dirt road going to the house had large cracks in it and was covered in rocks.

Coming up to the house, things didn't look too bad, but as soon as we got out of the car we were met by several farm employees who ushered us up to the house quickly. It was, in short, devastating. The corner of the house has a large hole in it. Pieces of the chimney have come down. The interior walls broke and started to crumble from the top. All of the closets collapsed. Somehow the mirror on my dresser was ok and the wine glasses survived. Nature is very strange.

Right now I have only been able to upload 3 pictures because our internet is still down. They can be found on Facebook.

I never liked the house at the farm but never in my WILDEST dreams did I think I would see its destruction, and certainly not now. On a logical level I am very worried because now we have nowhere to stay at the farm which makes thing extremely complicated. On an emotional level, I am crushed by all of the work I had put into making that house feel more like home for us, and by the loss of such an iconic family memory for Nick and his family. I imagined us showing that house to our children, to our family, to our friends and explaining how it came about and showing the treasures in it like antique books, awards for the sheep and photographs. I don't know what will happen to the house itself but it will be condemned and eventually it will probably have to be destroyed.

We spent the morning salvaging what we could from the house. Because there were so many plates in the first place, many survived, along with artwork, linens, even unopened food. The furniture is still in the house because we have nowhere else to put it (including our brand new king-sized bed!!! I am so mad about that. It's ok, but we have nowhere to take it). Aftershocks are still hitting every few minutes and several were on the larger side, so in the midst of trying to save things, suddenly the earth would rumble and one or more people would yell "Out! out! out!" and we'd scramble into the front. No injuries, thankfully, although I keep twisting my knee trying to move too quickly.

With no house, water, electricity or food, we were left with only the option of going back to Santiago. It was an exhausting drive, but this time the highway was open through to the city. We discovered that the bridge that was apparently out was not seriously damaged but the roadway was rippled. We saw a few houses along the road that had collapsed, and many people camping outside.

I came home and made eggs and potatoes because that's all I have in the house and we hadn't eaten all day. The problem now is that the city seems to be running out of food. There are hardly any grocery stores open and those that are are out of most things. Luckily we have enough food to sustain us for several days, but it won't be pretty (potatoes, rice, oatmeal... and the pounds and pounds of celery and carrots I have). Nick's grandma's house has a freezer full of lamb, too, thankfully. We will be ok.

Now I am thinking about going to bed but it's so hard. It sounds childish but I am in some way afraid of the dark and my bedroom now. I only want to be out in the living room with the DVR playing something on the television to distract me. I dread waking up tomorrow again having forgotten for a split second that this happened and then having the realization that it really did...

Importantly, I really want to thank you all SO MUCH for your good wishes and thoughts and prayers. We really need them now. Our task in coming down here to take over the farm was daunting when we began but we have now taken many many steps backwards. My light at the end of the tunnel is the thought that we will be in the US in July and can see you all again. We miss everyone intensely right now. Please stay in touch with us.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Quake, day 1

At 3:34 this morning, Nick and I were asleep in bed when we awoke to a slight swaying of the building. We immediately thought it was just a normal tremor, but when it didn't stop, we became worried and got out of bed. We started to walk out to our living room to make sure the big things were ok (we did not realize the magnitude of it yet) and at some point it became clear that we wouldn't be able to walk any farther. It was probably the most terrifying moment in my life. For 90 seconds, our 10th-floor apartment swayed back and forth , the ground emitted a loud, pulsating noise, and glass and dishes fell throughout our apartment, shattering immediately. The electricity flickered on and off and eventually faltered completely. I was screaming for it to stop, because it felt like it never would. 90 seconds is an amazing amount of time. An Armageddon-style movie in a theatre with the volume turned all of the way up would not do justice to the terror at that moment. I will never forget it.

When the shaking stopped, we were left in our apartment without lights and with broken glass covering most of the floor. We had to make do with the light from our cell phones and one small headlamp. I lit one candle but had to keep it with me in case of another strong quake to prevent a fire. We heard helicopters flying all over above and sirens in the street below. We couldn't find the cats, but there was so much stuff everywhere that they could have been anywhere. Eventually they turned up-- Mister crouched under the bed and Shady inexplicably standing on top of the TV stand, behind the screen.

Aftershocks continued to rattle us while we were in the dark, but we stabilized everything we could to prevent more damage. We tied the cupboards in the kitchen shut and laid the computer on its side so it wouldn't fall. Somehow both the flat-screen TV and the kitchen cart with pottery special to us were ok-- both were on wheels and just sauntered themselves across the livingroom, meeting in the middle. We took many photos of the damage and began to clean up, since we had nothing else we could do at that time. I will post pictures of the damage as soon as I have a stable internet connection (right now I am working off a slow cell signal).

Unfortunately, we had two friends on an airplane at that exact moment coming to visit with us. We had a week of fun and relaxation planned after several months of non-stop work. I tried calling the airline when we reached Nick's grandmother's house and a working phone line, but no one seemed to know anything. We called family members in the US to inform them of the quake and let them know we were ok, and also to enlist their help in locating our friends.

Somehow in the midst of catastrophe it can be hard to really gauge the magnitude. We thought the plane might be landing. We thought everything was more or less ok in Santiago. We thought by daylight that things would start to return to normal.

Many hours later, we finally located our friends. Unfortunately they were unable to land and eventually were sent home. We are extremely sad that they are not here for a variety of reasons.

We spent the day cleaning up and trying to get some rest because we had only a couple of hours of sleep before the quake. I found it impossible to sleep, though, because every time I would start to drift off, there would be an aftershock and I would wake with a jolt, terrified that it was happening again.

At this moment we are gathered at Nick's grandmother's house along with his sister, who has been in town and is now stuck here for the foreseeable future. We are trying to figure out how to get to the farm, where we hear the damage is considerable. However, many roads and bridges are impassable and we are unsure when or how we will get there....

...this is all so, so surreal...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Big Step!

I just got home from the farm and, big news, I drove myself back! All alone! And I went to the grocery store! This sounds ridiculous because most of you know me as terribly independent and fully capable of driving and shopping alone, but what you may not know is that I have ZERO sense of direction, and also no driver's license here in Chile. So technically I'm not supposed to be driving anyway, and if I did get lost, which was likely, I wouldn't really be able to ask for help. All that said, I felt confident enough to undertake the endeavor.

The first part of the trip was pretty easy. There was almost no traffic out by the farm, which is not entirely surprising for a Saturday in February. Saturdays are normally fairly quiet out there, but February is the traditional vacation month here, so it was especially vacant. I got a little bit of a sunburn on my left arm.

I managed to get on the right highway toward Santiago and entered the city without incident. There is a complicated series of highway turns to undertake that involve getting off and on about 4 different freeways because no one here has apparently heard of interchanges. I made the first 3 just well. It was the last one that tricked me. Somehow I ended up getting off of the highway in the wrong spot and being unable to get back on. I was on the southwest side of the city and we live on the northeast, so I was completely unfamiliar with the area. I didn't recognize any of the street names, and they all seemed to only go one way and not northeast, of course. I drove straight for a while hoping that the street would magically start going northeast (to be honest, I actually have no idea what direction I was going... I was trying to use the sun to approximate it but it seemed like every time I turned, it was still slightly above my and to the left). They didn't, so I turned a couple of times and became utterly lost. I had not a clue where I was...

Luckily, here in Santiago, if you drive long enough, you run into a highway. Eventually, I did. It turned out to be the first highway I was on when I got into town! So I had to do all of the crazy turns again, but this time I did it right, and I got all of the way back to the right side of town.

I had to go to the grocery store after that because there was no food in the house, and that turned out to be the most frustrating part of the day, but only because shopping on a Saturday afternoon is mayhem, as it probably is anywhere. However, I made it out in one piece and here I am back at home with the car and food and everything!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day 2: Deep into the Andes

AM: Our night at Dona Pola was just fine. The weather changed rather drastically overnight, from hot and sunny to cool and cloudy. The clouds have broken up a bit since we awoke, but it's still cool. Breakfast here was better than expected: bread, ham, cheese, a dish of eggs, yogurt, cereal, coffee and tea. Considering the average Chilean breakfast is a piece of bread and tea or coffee, this made my morning. I always wind up grumpy here from lack of enough breakfast food.

Right now we are stopped along the side of the road next to a poll marked "9" because it's the one place in town where you can find a cell phone signal.

Nick has to make some phone calls for the farm, so we're camped out here for a while. Attractive place, right?

PM: Once again, trying to cross into Argentina was a giant failure for me. We took a very long dirt road into the Alto Bio-Bio. The deeper we went, the more it was like going back in time. The population ceased to be Hispanic and became entirely Native American-- Pehuenche (Peh-wen-chay) to be exact. Most people traveled here by foot or by horse. We encountered only a few cars the whole time into the forest. I thought the trip would be more searching for a volcano, but we couldn't see it most of the time. However, the experience of seeing a native population set outside of the modern world was worth the sacrifice of the volcano.

At one point, we actually stumbled upon a group of Pehuenche people gathered in what looked at first like a festival. As we drove slowly by, we realized that in fact we were witnessing a religious ceremony, possibly a rain dance. They approached our car and spoke to Nick's uncle, and we only stayed a minute. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos as they asked us not to take any and we obliged. But the ceremony looked and sounded exactly how you might expect. Around a fire, there were men in elaborate costumes and headdresses dancing to accompany a beating drum along with the occasional blast of a horn. There was chanting and a group gathered around the edges. We felt that we were intruding in this intimate ceremony, so we drove on, but it was thrilling to stumble upon a completely authentic and foreign atmosphere.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Day 1: to the Bio-Bio

Today we left Santiago around 10:30am. It took us a few hours to reach our lunch destination in Maule--just south of the city of Talca. We dined at Los Ganaderos and had a HUGE lunch of steaks and salads. The rest of the drive was a bit of a blur as I fell asleep quite a lot in the car. We found our hotel, deep in the Bio-Bio valley located between Santa Barbara and Ralco: Dona Pola was the name (I don't know who Dona Pola is). It was rather like a state park cabin/camp site with small but clean rooms, a pool, lots of river access, and quite a few animals around-- when we pulled in, there was a pair of llamas chomping on the grass. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of them because when I came out with the camera, they were gone.

After settling our things in the room, we had a quick dinner in the hotel dining room. Lionel wanted to see the Volcano Collaqui at sunset, so we ate fast and jumped into the car to drive up. The road became dubious after a short time, though, so we turned around.

We stopped in the small town of Ralco to ask a police officer about road conditions. To my surprise, although we had committed no infraction and were just asking a question, he asked for the vehicle registration and driver information. He took the materials into the station for several minutes to check them! I found this very intrusive and uncomfortable. In any event, we did get our information which we will use tomorrow to drive up the volcano.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Heading out again...

Well, we're absolutely crazy. We got home from the US on Wednesday morning. Thursday, Nick and his dad went to the farm until yesterday. Tomorrow (Sunday) we are leaving for another week to go on a road trip to the semi-south. I'm still jetlagged from the last trip! I realized a few minutes ago that I had to pack yet and pack for 7 days on top of that! Ahhhh. If I come back in one piece, I will be impressed. Anyhow, if I come back in one piece, I'll probably be shredded by the cats who wonder if I've run away already considering how little they've seen of me in the past month.

We are headed to the Bio-Bio valley, which is the beginning of the volcano & lakes district in Chile. We are staying in a variety of places around several volcanoes, visiting glacier lakes, and hopefully taking a dip in some hot springs. We'll even be in Los Angeles (er, Chile). Trips with Nick's dad are always adventurous, so I'm looking forward to having some stories.

The computer is not coming with us because we don't want to leave it in a hotel room or the car, so look for limited blog posts from internet cafes or possibly my phone. I will also post pictures to my Facebook account (and if you're not friends with me on Facebook yet, look me up at ). Well, off to bed... have to be on the road in 10 hours...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Back from the US

Unfortunately, this post isn't going to have a good story or a moral at the end, or even be very interesting to read. I just want to post what a great time I had back home with everyone. My policy was to say "Yes" to every invitation that I could and as a result, I pretty much did not sleep for 2.5 weeks. Helping that along was the fantastic coffee that I got to drink-- what an awesome cup that very first one after getting home was.

Christmas was a great time being surrounded by family. It was fantastic to see my parents, brothers, SIL, niece and nephew who are growing so fast, grandpa, aunts and uncles. I am especially grateful to my awesome friends.... I could make a list that would make the Academy start playing music to shuffle me offstage. But really it was great to be in a totally comfortable environment for the first time in months. Although I am still completely sleep deprived, I feel entirely recharged by all the time I spent with everyone I love and somewhere I understand. I feel ready to take on Chile again and come back knowing more Spanish than I did when I first came, and understanding more of the city in which I live.

So what's coming up in 2010 for the Rural World? Next week Nick and I are going with his dad and uncle on a trip to the "Sort-of-South"-- about 6 or 8 hours south of Santiago but not anywhere near Patagonia. We are going to visit some hot springs and volcanos. Yay geology! In February, my sister-in-law will be in town for a few weeks. I look forward to harvest season this fall, and even Chilean winter (it will be nice to have a cozy, cool, rainy day!). I will be in the US in July and again for part of Aug and Sept. The Australia trip to buy sheep embryos is still on the books but I have a LOT of work ahead of me to make it happen--ie lots of planning and trying to get financing.

The thing I wonder is, who of you will be the first to come visit? I am ready and waiting!