Friday, April 29, 2005

She came in through the bathroom window...?

Flan got a little overzealous the other night in her adventures in the bathroom window... :+) (Oh, don't go calling PETA just yet, she was only stuck in there for about thirty seconds. haha)

Anyway--so yeah, you've probably noticed that things look a little different. I decided to change the blog template for two reasons: to kind of brighten it up a bit, and so that I could add links to other blogs/etc. along the side (something that the last template didn't seem to want to do). I like the orange!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

SanFran Day 3, or, "I left my peanut butter in San Francisco..."

And here's the final installment of pictures from my quick trip to San Francisco, as promised... :+) Here I am, as close to Alcatraz as one can get while still standing on dry land (or, in this case, a pier out on the water). Next time, whenever that is, I'll get out there in person.

As I mentioned the other day, in the interests of indulging my inner cheap-o, I brought a bunch of food with me from home to sustain me throughout my trip to the Big City. Nothing extravagant--bagels, crackers, apples, bananas, a jar of peanut butter, granola bars, that kind of stuff. Food that fills you up, but is light enough to be transported in a suitcase. Well, my best-laid plans were torn asunder by the sheer volume of handouts I received at the MRC conference...seriously, I sometimes wonder what the Federal government spends on paper per year. I came expecting handouts, y'know, but a few textbooks worth? Wouldn't it be easier to just post 'em electronically somewhere? Sheesh. Anyway, so as I was packing up Thursday night, I came to the sad realization that there simply wasn't enough room in my bag to fit everything back inside. So...I had to leave my jar of peanut butter behind. Poor, sweet, defenseless JIF. All alone in the sad little hotel room, with no one but the garish chandilier to talk to.

I did start to giggle, though, when I heard them playing Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" in the hotel lobby Friday morning (they had a vast selection of cheesy SanFran-related songs on a loop in there)...I have a feeling whenever I hear that song from now on, I'm going to think of that peanut butter. That delicious, delicious peanut butter.

Anyway, on with the pictures.

It's best that I stayed away from that building, otherwise I really would've had a problem closing my suitcase.

A few more pictures from the Palace of Fine Arts...these are some of the colonnades (a fancy word for "columns," I guess?) around the lagoon.

Seriously, this place was beautiful. Here's the big rotunda building, framed by some of the colonnades, reflecting in the lagoon just as the architect probably planned it...

Of course, in every tourist-y area, you run the risk of running into idiots. In San Francisco, those people were easily detected because they were wearing fluorescent vests and riding on Segways. (Anyone else suddenly thinking of Gob from Arrested Development?)

A close-up of the detailing around the rotunda...

This was taken down by the Bay Bridge, shortly before a nice lady named Susan and her dog Rainbow (who, incidently, was a black dog--I'm thinking the name was supposed to be ironic, otherwise Susan was more of a raging hippy than she let on--or hey, we were in SF, so maybe it was a clever lesbian joke or something?) approached me to ask what they were doing with the pier there. I told her what I knew--that the city's restoring some of the old pier buildings, which are all fairly old--which I'd just read on a sign a few minutes beforehand. Susan was very impressed with my knowledge, especially once she found out that I'd just flown in from Montana a few hours before. ;+) I guess I don't stick out as an ├╝ber-tourist, then.

Taken near Chinatown, looking up California Ave...see, it really isn't much different than Duluth, in terms of hilliness.

This is Union Square, a plaza area right in front of my hotel (which looms there in the background). The big screen on the bottom was there to promote the SF Film Festival, which was happening this weekend, I think...all I know is that it was pretty much showing Kevin Spacey on a loop, 24/7. ;+)

You can see the Coit Tower up on the hillside there...I can't recall the name of the church, but it was a pretty little place.

Chinatown!!! I did my best to find a mogwai to start my Gremlin army with, really I did, but no luck on that front. ;+)

"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."

(Okay, that quote has nothing to do with the picture. But after having to watch that movie twice in college for film classes--once as a T.A., mind you, where I had to read a bunch of stupid freshmen's essays on it afterward--I couldn't resist using it. Who knows when I'll get the chance again?)

The Transamerica Pyramid building, as seen from Chinatown...

Another shot of the Bay Bridge--this is looking sort of eastward, at Angel Island...

And right about here's where I stopped my seemingly endless trek to the Golden Gate Bridge...close enough, I say. :+) Plus, the sun was starting to set, and I had to walk back from whence I came back downtown...not sure exactly how far it was, but dang, it sure felt far. (haha) All in all, a good hike--it was nice to be somewhere that had already greened up for the spring, and as always, neat to be in a new place with new stuff to see.

Union Square at night, as I was returning from my walk to (almost) the Golden Gate Bridge.

And one last picture, taken from the plane as we flew into Salt Lake City. Sand, salt, I don't know what the heck it is, but doesn't look much better from the ground. ;+)

Friday, April 22, 2005

San Francisco--Day Two...

The San Francisco skyline, from the pier closest to Alcatraz...which is still quite a ways away.

Today, I did a lot of hoofin' across town, even more than I did yesterday. Yesterday, I went kind of east/northeast, by the Bay Bridge and that general area. Today, I went from my hotel (by Union Square, which is in the middle of downtown) almost to the Golden Gate Bridge. I have no idea how much distance I covered--none of the maps I've perused have much detail on them--but judging by the way my feet are feeling, it was quite a ways. :+) I wish I had more time here, but alas, the Medical Reserve Corps conference has eaten up a lot of my time...maybe someday I'll come here when I don't have any pesky work commitments eating up all my free moments.

This is a beautiful city--and, while I know I say this a lot, this time it's probably more apt than reminds me of Duluth. The big hills, the water all around, the cool wind coming off the bay...other than the population density here being much thicker, and their public transportation system putting the DTA to shame, this almost feels like Duluth's big sister city or something like that. Is it possible for cities to share DNA metaphorically? Well, if so, that's what it feels like here, I guess.

I fly back to Helena tomorrow, so I'll update more then--I've got a few more pictures besides the following that might be of interest. (I'm pilfering a wireless signal from somewhere in the hotel--shh, don't tell anyone at the Westin Saint Francis, okay?--but it's a little dodgy and wiggily.)

P.S. Today I saw a dead bird in a gutter, a seagull chased me (hey, again, it's like Duluth!), and I almost (accidently) got whacked with a fish. If that much can go on in one day in San Francisco, then boy, am I excited/terrified of what's going to go on in Europe...

At the Palace of Fine Arts, which was built for some exposition in the 1910s (I might be getting the date wrong). Very beautiful. If I ever get married, this would be a good place to do it. (Sorry, Mom, that rest stop in North Dakota is really pretty, but it's kind of remote...)

The more I looked at the Palace, the more it reminded me of that scene in So I Married An Ax Murderer (when they're eating hot dogs and bump into the Russian sailors). this the right time to "dance like children of the night"?

This is the hotel I'm staying in--Gerald Ford was shot at here, Fatty Arbuckle may have killed a woman here, and Al Jolson ("the Jazz Singer") died here. Good times!!!

The hotel lobby...yes, I know, I'm way out of my league here.

I finally get to leave my apartment's teensy-tiny bathroom behind for a few days...only to discover that my hotel bathroom may, in fact, be smaller. And with no bathtub, either. Ay, there's the rub.

My hotel room is also kind of small--nice, mind you, but smaller than the average room at the Ramada. The chandilier in here's a nice touch, but maybe a little bit of an overkill.

One of the oddly-located, really-old little stairwells in the hotel...good for emergency preparedness, I suppose. Maybe that's why the MRC higher-ups decided to have the conference here?

The hallway to my room...anyone else getting a little bit of a Shining? (Or, a "Shinning," if you're familiar with the Simpsons...) Whenever I go to the ice machine, I half expect to see those two little twin girls staring me down...eek. (And, for you Disneyworld fans, yes, the elevator also shakes like "The Tower of Terror." Spooooooky!)

And for you fans of my little brother Nick/Whitey/Nikko--BEHOLD!!! Oh, how I wish they sold postcards or t-shirts, but they was one o' them fancy establishments...

A little Korean boy built this sandcastle on a beach near Fisherman's'll note Alcatraz way back there on the horizon (between the two piers, just left of the ship). I was trying to take an artsy photograph, but this damn seagull kept swooping down at my this is what I settled for. ;+) (Chronologically, this was after I was almost hit with a fish--so maybe I'd inadvertently gotten some fishy smell on my head or something that the gull was after? Who knows. It probably isn't worth it to try to psychoanalyze a sky rat.)

Alcatraz! Oh, how I wanted to visit Alcatraz...but there just wasn't enough time on this trip. Then I could test and see if my morbid fascination with cemetaries extends to abandoned prisons, too. (Somehow, I think it would.)

A neato sign across the street from my's so 1950s-fabulous!

Yes, this merited a photo. :+) It's a free public toilet! SWEEEEEEET!!! We need these in Helena--they would totally revitalize the Walking Mall, I think.

That's all for tonight--wireless signal is getting sketchier, and dang, I need to eat! (Did I mention yet that I brought a bunch of food from home, bagels & fruit & granola bars, so I could live on the cheap here rather than paying $20+ per meal? Well, yes. Yes, I did. What can I say, I'm my mother's daughter...and my father's, too. Have I ever told stories about how we'd take coolers of sandwiches with us everywhere--and I do mean EVERYWHERE--when I was a kid?)

Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

San Francisco!

I made it to San Francisco--and I'll try to update more, if I can find a better wireless signal later...

P.S. That's the Bay Bridge in back, not the Golden Gate Bridge. Although they look pretty much the same to me. :+)

Monday, April 18, 2005

Georgia (the person) in Montana (the state)!

This past weekend, my friend Georgia came out for a quick Montana immersion experience--she was only here from Friday evening through this morning, but we managed to fit quite a bit in. For those of you who don't know Georgia, she lived in dear old Ashland for a while in high school (where she regularly rocked the auditorium stage's light controls!), then jetted off for a year of studies in Brazil, then back to Milwaukee, and now she lives & works near she's something of a world-traveler.

We took a ride out by Canyon Ferry on Saturday--our mission was to find one of the local sapphire mines, most of which will let you dig around in their piles of rock to find raw sapphires mixed in, as they're pretty common in these foothills of the Rockies. Alas, the signage we spotted led to...another sign at the opposite end of the road. With nothing spotted in-between. But, we had a nice little jaunt out to the lake, and later to the fabulous Gem & Mineral Show at the Civic Center. It brought back a lot of memories from my college geology classes...rock hounds are such enjoyable nerds to be around.

Yesterday, we took a drive over to Missoula for the afternoon, where we yelled "Damn hippies!" (okay, so that was mostly me yelling...), wasted lots of money at Rockin' Rudy's, and dropped off a big ol' load of plastics to be recycled. Wouldn't be a trip to Missoula without any of that stuff. And, we also had a lovely dinner out with Emily/Kevin/Owen on Saturday night, and we enjoyed a wealth of delicious reality TV ("Cheaters," "Mr. Romance"...oh, so much beautiful garbage!). Good times, good times. Busy, but not overwhelmingly so.

Anyway, I'll throw a couple more pictures from Canyon Ferry up here, too, to commemorate our wanderings and how lovely it was out there the other day...

Waves crashing on the beach at Canyon Ferry--even more like Duluth than usual. :+)

A close-up of the holes in the cliffside that the swallows occasionally burst out of...didn't see any the other day, but it's pretty cool to watch them navigate their way in & out of those little things.

The water was startlingly blue that afternoon...and Georgia could nary resist snapping some photos of it, too.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Digging in the vault...

(Me at Flathead Lake, Spring 2002.)

I'm in the midst of what can only be described as a full-out, knock-down, no-holds-barred cleaning FRENZY. I first started to show symptoms early last week, when I innocently decided hey, maybe it's time to clean out the living room closet, it's been a while. Things have escalated from there. I'm sorting out paper clips, I'm dusting individual plant fronds, I'm separating yarn into different categories based on color/texture...tonight, I crawled around on the floors applying lemon oil to the woody veneers. And I liked it. Clearly--CLEARLY--I have a problem.

Anyway, as I was cleaning, I found my old day planner from about 1999-2002...I used it for a few years in college, I recall, and during my first VISTA year as well. Tucked away in a pocket, I found the following note scrawled on yellow legal pad paper, dated July 25, 2001. This would have been very shortly after I moved to Montana--about two weeks after I was sworn in as a VISTA, in fact--and I was apparently at a reading/literacy conference for work. Bear in mind that at this point, I'd already been through a lot of training, and there was a lot more of it on the horizon...added to the burnout I was feeling after finishing college, I guess my patience levels were already kind of zapped out.
"The world of conferences is pretty freaking strange. You're in a room with mostly strangers, listening to strangers, hearing stuff that would seem strange if you hadn't already heard it at three other conferences in the past two weeks. Such is the case today, as I sit in a hallway at the Holiday Inn in Billings, listening to ____ prattle on and on about reading scores. Just as I have sat in conference rooms at OPI and in the Salt Lake City Sheraton City Center Hotel, listening to other 'important' people talk about reading and sundry other things which, just maybe, we should spend less time talking about and more time doing something about. I shouldn't complain, though--at least the muffins they're serving today are good. That's something. This morning on the news, there was a weatherman cooking chickens on a spit. With beer. Beer in the chicken, beer in the 7 A.M. Yet somehow, gross as grilled beer-chicken sounds, it might provide a good pre-conference buzz."
Two weeks in, and I was already jaded...

If you're ever looking for a cheap thrill, by the way, try polishing the floors and then watching the cat try to negotiate her usual manic scurrying paths throughout the apartment...comic gold!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Last call!

All I have to say about this is, it's about freaking time. (And that first part that they say is a joke, well...I've never done it, but uh, it's not really a joke.)
No more drinking and driving in Mont.
Governor to sign law outlawing a cold one behind the wheel

The Associated Press
Updated: 4:50 p.m. ET April 8, 2005

HELENA, Mont. - Some Montana motorists, the joke goes, measure distances driven by how many beers they can down along the way. But the long-cherished right to have a cold one behind the wheel is about to end.

State lawmakers passed an open-container ban Friday that makes Montana one of the last states to outlaw drinking while driving.

The Montana House approved the bill 76-21 and sent it to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who has said he will sign it. It takes effect Oct. 1.

Getting used to prohibition
The delay is designed to let Montanans get used to the prohibition, which until now had been found only in cities and towns, not out on the open highway.

Only Mississippi now lacks a state law against open containers, though many cities and counties there also prohibit open containers locally.

While Montana had stood to lose $5 million a year in federal highway funds if it failed to pass the law, the debate focused on balancing safety and personal freedom.

Montana has the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Cultural change
“This is one of those laws that will start the cultural change that we need on the highways of Montana. We hope that just the existence of the law will make a difference,” said Lt. Col. Mike Tooley, deputy chief of the Montana Highway Patrol.

University of Montana sociologist Jim Burfeind said the state’s holdout status was understandable, given the long, lonely drives often required when only 927,000 people live in a state the size of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio combined.

“We think we’re a very different place than other places and that we don’t have to run by the rules that other people have to in more congested areas,” Burfeind said.

To muster enough support for the bill, supporters accepted what some consider weak penalties for violations. A driver caught with an open container faces a $100 fine, and the offense does not show up on a person’s driving record.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The aforementioned big announcement!

Now that it's a sure thing--the plane tickets purchased, the plans coming together--I feel I won't jinx anything by saying that I'll be going to Europe with my old VISTA chum Josh & his brother Adam for about two weeks in May. :+) HUZZAH!!! Break out the tea & crumpets, and the lederhosen, and the waffles, and any other cheesy stereotypical Euro-items that spring to mind! (Should I pack my terribly-fake-sounding British accent, or might that be a bad idea?)

A lot of the plans are still coming together, but I'll definitely be flying down to meet up with those guys in Kansas City on May 9th, we'll be flying out from there to London on May 10th, and we'll be flying back to Kansas City on May 26th. Much of our itinerary is still congealing, but there are pit stops in London, Amsterdam, Germany, and points in-between on the list so far.

Obviously, this is wickedly exciting--I've never been out of the U.S. before, despite the fact that I've lived within 4-5 hours of Canada my entire life--and I'm all a-flutter getting ready. My top priority--getting the time off approved at work! (haha) I have enough vacation days lined up to cover it, but I might try to work some extra hours up-front or something so I don't burn it all off at once. We'll see...I kind of like to hoard my vacation days. I don't know why. I mean, vacations are what they're for, right?

And in the meantime, there's two other rousing events on the horizon! My friend Georgia's coming out for a quick visit next weekend (4/15), and then right after that (4/20), I'm flying out to San Francisco for three days of wild Medical Reserve Corps national conference ACTION!!!! (haha) I swear, it's either feast or famine around here--nothing goes on for six months, and them WHAM! Everything at once! :+) But in a good way.

P.S. And for the sake of closure from my last post--Emily & Kevin are getting me a bigass backpack for the trip. ROCK!!!

P.P.S. And, just to refresh everyone's memory as to how big a dork I am (as if that needs refreshing!), today's the 25th anniversary of R.E.M.'s first performance--go listen to "Man on the Moon" or something. :+)

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Big 2-6

The big 2-6...well, okay, if we want to be really technical about it, not for another 20 minutes (almost an April 4th person, I was). But "close enough" works with birthdays and hand grenades. And horseshoes, too, or so I'm told. To be honest, like most anything resembling a sport of any kind, I was never very good at horseshoes.

A good birthday, albeit a quiet one--I finished some spring cleaning around the house (but I like cleaning, so that's a fine thing), got a big pile of stuff ready for Goodwill/the trash, and finally got to open some boxes of mischief that arrived earlier in the week. First, the giant duck...courtesy of my college chum Ann, who must still remember the rubber-duck festooned bathrooms of my apartment at 316 Oakland quite clearly. It's gargantuan! Hell, it almost outweighs the cat!

The second box contained the bulk of what's pictured above--another collection of family heirlooms gathered together by my mother, the illustrious Jane. Last year's collection, you may recall, contained a scary-ass picture of a monk that used to hang in my parents' bedroom (WHY???), two paintings of Jesus & the Virgin Mary on velvet, and a giant picture of one of my great aunts (one of the Marys I'm named after) in an ancient oval frame the likes of which is no longer made. This year, she managed to kick it up a notch--was there ever any doubt? There's a bunch of rosaries from countless great aunts/uncles/grandmothers/etc., sundry prayer medallions, venerable prayer certificates that belonged to my great-great grandparents, a holy water bottle from circa 1900, and my great-grandmother's rosary/holy water font that probably came over with her from Czechoslovakia. All in all, pretty awesome...okay, maybe not what the average 20-something requests from their parents, but dang, now I have all the makings for a gnarly religious altar. (And, lest we forget, I've also been reunited with my boxing nun puppet and hideous seashell-crucifix from college...oh, the memories.)

To wrap up, I spent the evening with Emily/Kevin/Owen--we went out for Chinese, where we were seated in the way-back of the restaurant (the restaurant equivilent of the way-back seat in a station wagon), amongst the other loud people. It should be pointed out that Owen probably isn't much louder than any of the adults he's around, but I guess restaurants have some preconceptions about what most nearly two year-olds are up to. Later, we adjourned to the Cleary house for cake, minty ice cream, and The Best of Will Ferrell. The Robert Goulet parody alone is worth the rental price on that one.

So, a good day...I'm going to wait to talk about the lovely item Emily & Kevin are procuring for me, though, as I'd like to keep at least one secret for sometime later this week. (Hey, I've gotta ration my material, or I'll have to start updating this thing every day! haha) So, expect a relatively big announcement sometime later this week...

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Field trip!

I took a little drive out to Canyon Ferry Lake the other night after work, just to see how it looks around this time of year. Here's a few pictures...

A broad view of the beach...

Some tracks in the sand...I think they're from a bird, but then again, they kind of resembled deer hooves in spots, too.

The water level's pretty low right now--during the summer, I've floated around those big rocks on inner tubes.

My favorite picture from this little excursion--ice cracking up and scraping up onto the beach & rocks. Reminds me of Lake Superior, albeit on a smaller scale.

A view from a little further upstream, not too far from the dam...that's a big ol' crack in the ice!

The dam--the lake's on the other side of it. Montana has dams aplenty. But not so many lakes. Not natural ones, anyway.

And one last shot of the Missouri River...I don't think it showed up in this shot, but there were these two Canada geese flying around that evening, always just far enough away from me that I couldn't zoom in to get a nice picture of them...clever birds. ;+)