Winter Hiking?

So, I did end up going out this weekend to do the last 30 miles of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. M was not feeling great, so he stayed home, but Caveman of Ohio came with me. They were calling for rain, but we mostly dodged it, making it to the Grindle Ridge Shelter about an hour before the torrential downpour started. By morning, it was clear and sunny, and warm enough for short sleeves. The trail was pretty wet, though. On Sunday, we made it to within a mile and a half of the car before we had to put on our pack covers and rain gear. A nasty cold front was blowing in, and this photo shows the wind really whipping me around as I pose for a photo on a rocky outcropping overlooking the Youghiogheny River. I did take some video footage this weekend and am in the process of splicing together the highlights.

The forest is different in every season, and even though the weather was unseasonably warm this weekend, the sun still cast long, winter shadows, and very few birds or other animals made themselves known. Every now and then, the roaring noise of miles-away wind on the next ridge reminded me that no matter how much clear cutting or strip mining is done to a place, the forest and the mountains will reclaim themselves as wild places.

M is feeling better and we are enjoying the holiday break. He noticed my mood was greatly improved as a result of a little fresh mountain air.



Yes, it's that time to reflect on another year come and gone. Here are some personal highlights from '08, the Year of the Rat, according to the Chinese Calendar.

Given my feelings at the end of 2007, I have to say that much of what happened in 2008 was not expected.

1. M and I celebrated five years of marriage and 12 years of general togetherness. We celebrated the occasion by taking a secret, last minute trip.
2. I joined Facebook, and found that a bunch of old friends are doing lots of awesome things.
3. I earned a 4.0 in my first semester of grad school.
4. I finally got my PA teaching certificate. Now, the question is, where should I try to get a job?
5. We went to Africa.
6. We bought a house.
7. We got a tv. And a Wii.
8. We made lots and lots of pierogies.


One Weekend in the Woods....

Over the summer, we foolishly attempted to hike all 70 miles of the Laurel Highlands Trail in three days. This might have been ok, if it hadn't included the time required to do a 70 mile car shuttle, not to mention all the additional miles hiked in and out of shelter areas in search of water (who puts a shelter 1.5 miles off trail???). We started off strong, but due to some unexpected footwear problems (I did not expect boots I had successfully worn the summer before for over 500 miles would suddenly not fit), we only ended up doing the first 40 miles of the trail, and went home a day early. We hope to return to the Laurel Highlands next weekend to finish the last 30 miles. This video tells the story of part 1 of this adventure.

Pittsburgh: December


Take Me to the River....

We did a little urban bushwacking today. One of the benefits of our new house is its proximity to Frick Park, with an expansive trail system. We set out today with one mission in mind....get to the river. Nine Mile Run flows through the valley, and we felt certain that if we could follow this creek, we would make it to the Monongahala, eventually. Unfortunately the park ends over by the Irish Cultural Center underneath the parkway, and the nice, wide, gravel packed trails also cease. But we were determined.

And so, for the afternoon, we were ten years old again, scrambling on a narrow, side-hill deer trail, and hopping across the stream on rocks. We saw some fish, and a lot of interesting trash.

Eventually we did make it to the river, but were forced up out of the creek bed onto a trail along a slag heap, which led to Browns Hill Road, and over across the Hi Level Bridge. We then attempted to do some Christmas shopping at the Waterfront, which is not really set up for pedestrians, by the way. Plus, we looked a bit worse for the wear, all muddy and rosy-cheeked. I even had some burrs stuck in my hair. Not sure how many miles we walked, but I definitely broke in my new hiking shoes.


Tis the Season

Once upon a time, M made a gingerbread house for Christmas. I apologize for the graininess of this photo...like I said, this was once upon a time, long before high resolution digital cameras. Anyway, this was no ordinary gingerbread house. M carefully applied individual shingles, made out of Triscuits and chimney bricks from Big Red gum, Jolly Rancher window panes, and a dusting of powdered sugar for freshly fallen snow. It was detailed and amazing and magical. During the same time, M made a crockpot full of wassail and invited all his friends over to watch Charlie Brown's Christmas. And although the tradition of wassail has carried on, there has never been a gingerbread house like that one.

We have not made any gingerbread yet this year, but we did fire up our Robert Goulet Christmas album and put up our tree this weekend. We also wrapped some tinsel around our banister, now that we have a banister. We have limited resources for the outside (i.e. one sad string of LED lights), so I think we'll just stick to a wreath on the door for this year. However, I do plan to haunt the post-Christmas sales in order to stock up on gaudy decorations and lights for next year.

In unpacking our Christmas decorations I also came across the DVD backups of all our photos from the past eight years or so. More on that later.


Rosie the Cat, as requested...




I have finished my first semester of grad school! I turned in my last paper only moments ago. I love, love, love grad school. Here are ten ways it is a thousand times better than my undergrad experience.

1. It was a very sober semester, not much in the way of hangovers, which generally put me in a much better mood.
2. I was not attempting to work full-time and go to school full-time. Twenty hours of work a week gave me enough work to stay busy, while still having time to complete my school work in thoughtful and intelligent ways. Ok, ok, I admit that I wrote a few papers while watching football, but I still got As on them.
3. No all-nighters...the only time in recent history that I've seen 3:00am was the night we closed on our house, and that was totally an accident. And it was a Saturday, so I had time to recover before Monday.
4. I was interested in all the classes I took.
5. I don't drink 27 cups of coffee a day anymore.
6. I see a deep and meaningful connection between work that I've done and the material I'm learning.
7. I live in a nice, calm house with people I like.
8. I have an office (no wait, two offices!) on campus so I don't have to use the computer labs.
9. As a GSA I have lots more interaction with professors.
10.It was free.


Maybe YOU'RE Not Ready to Learn

I'm writing my directed study paper for this term, which is basically just a write-up of a survey that my professors gave to a bunch of principals and reading coaches. In case you are not hip to post-NCLB literacy lingo, a reading coach is an instructional leader who is supposed to help classroom teachers by observing, modeling, providing resources and professional development and helping to manage the copious amounts of data that schools now collect on their students. Coaching can be very effective, when done right, because it essentially embeds ongoing professional development right into the daily rhythm of planning that goes on at school. And since elementary teachers, in particular, are inclined to plan lessons based on the current season, instead of setting specific, measurable goals and teaching them in a sequential fashion, having someone around to remind them of the data while they are planning their lessons is a good thing.

But a coach might also be a really terrible, yet tenured, teacher that the principal just wants to get out of the classroom. Or it could be a teacher that decides now is the time to have a baby, and gosh, wouldn't it be hard to come back from maternity leave to a regular classroom full of kids, so I'll just take on the position of coach, even though I have no real interest in doing this job. I'm not saying teachers with babies can't be be good coaches, just that they shouldn't take on that job because they think it will be less work.

In any case, I'm doing qualitative analysis on the survey question in which they were asked to describe the biggest challenges. And one response that popped up here, and in fact, has popped up in many conversations I've had with teachers is that kids show up to school "not ready to learn."

What the %$#@ does that mean? Have you ever met a kid without at least a glimmer of curiosity about how the world works? Maybe they don't give two hoots about what the teacher has to say to them, but that doesn't mean they're not ready to learn.

More on this later...I'm only 11 pages written and I have a ways to go.


Home Sweet Home

One room down, seven (?) to go. We have more or less furnished our living room and it is up to having-people-over-to-watch-football standard. Yes, that's right, we have a television. And cable. It is a bit of a lifestyle change, but we have already saved beaucoup dollars by not going to the bar to watch football. And hockey. And political debates. M and I have basically moved into this room, first of all, because we are used to eating, sleeping and entertaining ourselves in one room, and second of all, because we purchased one of these, which is a thousand times more comfortable than our bed.

The rest of the house is a bit empty, so we invited Pete and Meg to move in with us, to help fill it up. They should be arriving in the next week or so, and hopefully helping us to refinish all the miscellaneous discarded furniture we've been collecting in our basement. And painting. And for that matter, cleaning up all the cobwebs I keep finding around the house. For now, the house echoes a bit.


Butler Outdoor Club

In all the confusion of moving, I lost my camera cable, and was unable to upload new pictures. But today, I found it, so now I can tell you all about the Butler Outdoor Club annual dinner, where M and I spoke about the Appalachian Trail. First of all, it was a terrific opportunity to invite thru-hikers to Pittsburgh, and Caveman of Ohio and Flick came to the dinner. Flick hiked with us for a few hundred miles at the beginning and Caveman hiked with us for the last few hundred miles, so it was appropriate that they should be there with us.

The Butler Outdoor Club is a great organization, that not only organizes hikes and bike trips and boating trips, but also is involved in a lot of volunteer work in the outdoor community in Western Pennsylvania. At their annual dinner, they honored four organizations who do incredible work in our region. We are very lucky to have, right in our region, things like the Butler Freeport Trail, the Audubon Society, and the the Armstrong Trail, as well as the organizations who promote water activities in Butler County. The event included a silent auction and a delicious dinner, as well as our slide show presentation about our 2007 thru-hike of the AT. The event was a great success, and we thoroughly enjoyed meeting everybody. We plan to keep this organization on our radar.

FYI, anybody can join this club, you don't have to live in Butler. Check out their website for upcoming events.


Welcome to the Neighborhood

I have to admit, I've been waiting all week for the Welcome Wagon Lady, but she never came. Maybe it's not very twenty-first century. Maybe it only happens on TV.

But I did see flyers for the neighborhood association potluck holiday party. I whipped up a batch of my famous peanut noodle salad, and off we went.

Since our prior experience with neighbors consisted of listening to our downstairs crack addict neighbor shouting "Pow!" at 3 o'clock in the morning, we didn't really know what to expect. Would the neighbors like us? Would we like them? Would we now feel guilty about playing our drums really loud, once we met them face to face?

However, it was an enjoyable party and a very efficient way to meet everybody in the neighborhood. It was oddly warming to hear people introduce us as the "couple who bought Ms. Lucy's house." We were also pleasantly surprised to discover that our neighborhood is filled with excellent cooks. There is even a neighborhood supper club! We both walked out of the party feeling even happier that we moved here than we did before.