Saturday, March 23, 2013

Learning to Ski for Free

In early February, Carson and I had the opportunity of a lifetime - an all-expenses paid trip to Aspen, Colorado. For nine days we lived like the rich and famous. I write for a company that operates ski tours, and we went as hosts for a large (500+) group. Basically we helped check them in on the first day and then helped throw parties after that. We stayed with another couple who were there as hosts plus the owner of the company in a three bedroom condo that was literally on the slope of Snowmass mountain (the ski area of Aspen has four mountains). It was a little strange having people ski past our windows, but totally luxurious - we all had our own bathrooms for heaven's sake!

A rare sight - Carson on public transportation! (Riding
BART from Meagan's place in Oakland to SFO).
I took terrible photos of our condo, but you can see
some skiers outside the window here.
We stayed at Snowmass, one of Aspen's four mountains. Colorado is GORGEOUS, y'all! Though I was surprised there wasn't more snow. I guess there was less than average, but I still expected all the hills to be covered.
Snowmass base village
We were invited on the trip because I didn't know how to ski, and the owner decided I could write more fluently about the ski world if I had participated in it. So on our second day there, Carson and I got outfitted with rentals and rode the gondola to the beginner area of the mountain. He hit the slopes with his snowboard (my one strict rule was that we NOT INTERACT while I was skiing, knowing that boyfriends and learning a frustrating sport are not a good match), and I signed up for my first lesson.

The gondola ride to my first lesson (do I look scared?)

I wasn't particularly excited about skiing, and the first day was rough. It went considerably better once the group split into two and I got the non-condescending teacher, but I still fell down a lot and got frustrated and hated wearing the equipment and was too tired to finish out the day (a five hour lesson, holy hell!) so I stopped about 30 minutes shy of the full day and retreated to the condo to soak in the hot tub.

The next day I woke up not nearly as sore as I expected (knowing it would hit me the day after). We took a break from the mountain and headed into the town of Aspen to poke around before the Superbowl party we were helping to throw. Unlike Vail, Aspen was a town before it was a ski town, so it has a lot of personality (I didn't get any good pictures that demonstrate this, though). Unfortunately a lot of the stores were closed on Sunday, including the thrift store I wanted to check out, but we ate a good lunch at a local spot called Little Annie's. The public transportation around Aspen is incredible - free buses all over the place! That night the Superbowl party was a blast, and the game itself even turned around in the second half with San Francisco making it a less embarrassing loss to Baltimore. 

On Monday I woke up sore (as expected) and actually fell back onto the bed the first time I tried to use my legs. It took a lot of coercing on Carson's part to get met out of bed, let alone to my second lesson (which I was pretty much refusing to attend at first). But I would have felt like a schmuck passing up a free lesson on a trip that I was invited to strictly to learn to ski, so... I got my ass out of bed, put on my gear (thanks to my awesome family's thoughtful ski-based birthday presents, I fit right in), and rode the gondola to day two.

I was very lucky to get placed in a semi-private group with an incredible instructor and a middle aged Indian couple would could not have been nicer. Day two was actually pretty fun. By the end of the day I was riding the (super slow beginner's) lift with confidence, gaining speed, and turning well enough to complete a mini slalom course made up of pine branches on the ground. When Carson met me for lunch I was in a much better mood than when he'd met me on day one, and I managed to make it through the full five hours.

A happier me during lesson two.
View of the beginner hill about halfway down,
with the lift  to the right and the main building
at the bottom. Not much snow pack.
The next day we took an overnight trip to Beaver Creek and Vail so I could familiarize myself with the area. While Carson snowboarded, I took property tours - eight hours of looking at hotels and condos, some of which went for as much as 10k a night. Yikes. That night we went out for a "fancy" dinner in Vail, my one request being that we blew some money on a nice meal. Vail is like Disneyland - it's lovely, everything is in its place, and it's completely fake. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant called Campo Fiori. Carson's dish was good, but mine was something that the lowliest Italian kitchen in Philadelphia would have been embarrassed to send out - too-thick ravioli in a bowl of oil (this is not an exaggeration - the "sage brown butter" was a half inch of grease). Had I felt more comfortable in my surroundings I would have sent it back immediately, but feeling like a middle class girl out of her element, I ate it. It was an uncomfortable experience that revealed how easily my confidence can be shaken; looking back now, it's a good reminder that I am not only more comfortable in my middle class life, but unspeakably more happy.

After the disappointing meal we went for dessert at the Alpenrose. I'd read about their cheesecake and it certainly delivered. The drunk women at the bar were another reminder of what money can do to your life - they were well outfitted but fairly pathetic, wasted on a Tuesday night and giving off a desperate gold digger vibe. Yuck. I enjoyed my dessert all the more looking at my solid and wonderful country boy, remembering the great life waiting for us at the other end of this trip.

We spent the night at a lovely hotel (comped, so awesome) and drove back the next day (I may always regret passing up the chance to go to the Yampah caves on the way back). They day after that was Thursday, and I was gearing up for a day in my sweat pants on my laptop getting some work done, watching skiers scoot past the windows, and possibly taking a nap. No dice: I was informed that now that my ski lessons were over, it was time to ski on my own. Sigh.

Carson and I rode the shuttle down to the base to get outfitted with more rentals (comped, as well as our lift tickets - a real extravagance that we were really grateful for) and I rode the gondola back up to where I'd skied for two days. I was the first person of the day on the beginner lift (which I guess is something people care about?) and I skied down the hill I'd become familiar with. There hadn't been any new snowfall recently and the groomed trails were icy, but it was a gentle enough slope that I was okay. I decided it was time to rip off the band-aid and try the next easiest beginner's hill. It scared me and I fell at the bottom, which shook my confidence.

Unfortunately, at this point it was time to meet up with the others to help facilitate some races that the various participating ski clubs were having (we were hosting an annual trip attended by west coast ski clubs). For those of you who don't ski, let me tell you something: many ski resort mountains are HUGE, and Snowmass is definitely one of the big ones. Lifts, quads, and gondolas crisscross the mountain from front to back, with a cat's cradle of paths and trails connecting them together. While I tried to figure out how to get where I needed to be, several pieces of misinformation and bad advice resulted in the following series of events in which I:
  1. Rode the quad lift to the middle of the mountain, only to discover that I should have ridden it all the way.
  2. Had to ski a gentle but highly trafficked path, which I did without falling, to get to the next lift which would take me to the top.
  3. Rode the next lift to the top of the mountain, where I was instructed I would find a slope so gentle "it barely counts as a beginner run" which would take me right to the race starting point.
  4. Got on the "gentle slope" which was actually an intermediate hill jam-packed with people whizzing by me at top speed.
  5. Panicked and crashed in front of an instructor giving advanced nine-year-olds a snowboard lesson. She asked me if I needed help getting down the mountain, and I realized I did. She offered to help me down and told me to follow her closely, with the kids trailing behind me.
  6. Made a few successful turns but then crashed again, at which point the instructor told me she didn't feel she could safely get me down the mountain and was going to call ski patrol.
  7. Begged her not to. Began to cry. Sullenly gave in to her reassurances that I'd done really well for my third day of skiing, I'd gotten bad information, it wasn't my fault, this happens several times each day, etc. Weakly thanked her for her help as she and the kids rode away like the experts they were. 
  8. Trudged to the side of the mountain to await ski patrol, during which time no fewer than five people stopped to scold me (you can't stand there! you have to cross your skiis in an X! you should have known better!) and check on me (are you ok? do you need help??), all of which made my cheeks burn with the flame of a thousand fires (which turns out were just hot tears on a cold face).
  9. Provided the 20-year-old advance member of the ski patrol team with my basic information. When he tried to move on to casual conversation I managed to eek out a whispered "I don't really feel like talking" without collapsing in my own pathetic sobs, which earned me an aggressive "well FINE" response. Wished for the hundredth time that I was anywhere but there.
  10. Climbed onto the toboggan being dragged by the next ski patrol dude to arrive, mercifully older and less douchey than his coworker. Managed to make a weak joke of some nature as I got myself settled. He assured me we'd go "nice and slow." I assured HIM that I wasn't afraid, just incapable, and that he could go as fast as he wanted. "Cool!" he said.
  11. FLEW DOWN THE MOUNTAIN AT INCREDIBLE SPEEDS. Snow shot out from my savior's skis like water from a hose, covering me head to toe as he took us off-piste on what must have literally been the fastest way down. This was by far the highlight of my day.
  12. Sheepishly climbed off the toboggan, thanked him for the ride, and avoided the curious stares of the hundred people who saw him pull up with me in tow. 
  13. Caught the shuttle back to the condo. Considered turning in my two-day rental gear immediately, but didn't. Considered locking myself in our room and avoiding all human contact for as long as possible, but didn't.
  14. Summoned the will to put on my regular snow boots, find out how the "walkers" were getting to the race (mostly wives of skiers who wanted to watch the races but don't ski), and rode the correct lift to the base of the races where I managed to take some pictures for the company's website and have lunch with Carson and Jason and Monica, the other host couple. They congratulated me on having regained composure so quickly and shared their own rescue stories.
  15. Managed to feel okay about myself for the first time all day. 
I have to admit, riding the lifts was pretty fun.
You'd think after day three of skiing I'd be done, but noooo. The prevailing logic was that I couldn't let that be my last ski experience or I'd never ski again (fine by me). But I strapped on all that ridiculous gear AGAIN, taking advantage of our ski-in/ski-out location for the first and only time. Monica (an experienced snowboarder) offered to hang with me on the beginner slope, telling me it's way more fun with a buddy and assuring me it wouldn't be boring for her. She helped me down the slope outside our condo and then we rode the lift to the second easiest slope (the one I skied once and then decided I was ready to go to the top of the mountain). Of course, on my third day of skiing and my first day on my own I should have done nothing BUT that slope, over and over and over again, which is exactly what we did. I'll admit that I did have fun. I got pretty good at parallel turns and she told me I have a natural stance and excellent balance. By the end of our few hours together (I had pressing work that couldn't wait any longer) I was feeling better about myself and what I had learned, and certainly grateful to her for her time and friendship. But I still wasn't sold on skiing.

Here's why: the ski culture, to me, is wasteful (i.e. all that electricity to run lifts and heat uncovered hot tubs 24 hours a day). It clear-cuts mountains and covers nature with elaborate structures, and restricts access to some of the most beautiful places in the world to only those who can afford it (I actually read an article in Aspen magazine that the millionaires were being pushed out by the billionaires - no joke). It's also just kind of silly -the equipment you have to wear is insane, both in terms of expense (high) and comfort (nonexistent). If I wanted to spend hundreds of dollars every year to get cramps in my feet and legs, I'd buy economy class tickets to remote parts of the world. But even if I could get past all that, the payoff isn't that great. Is going sort of fast down an ice chute kind of fun? Sure. But for me, it was just that - kind of fun. There are much more fun things that I can do for way less money and with way less inconvenience than skiing (gardening, for instance; reading a good book; going on the swings or down the slide at my local park). What can I say? I've never been one for adrenaline-pumping activities, even when they're free.

I feel like the opportunity was sort of squandered on me when so many people would have enjoyed it so much more, but I did get a lot out of the trip. I got to see Colorado for the first time, which is as beautiful as everyone says it is. I got to go on a vacation with my wonderful boyfriend that neither of us could have afforded, and we got to spend time with really cool people. And, in the end, I did get a very valuable sense of the ski world that will directly translate into how I write about it.

At the farewell gala, which was mardi gras themed. 
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the sport itself, I do want to mention the superior staff at Snowmass. With the exception of one slightly condescending instructor (to him, being an adult who couldn't ski was akin to having a first grader's intelligence) and the ski patrol dude who was just young and dumb, every single person I interacted with who worked in some way on the mountain was awesome. This ranges from the shuttle and bus drivers to the rental equipment employees to the ski instructors to the servers at restaurants. I was blown away by their quality of service and authentically positive attitudes, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that all of these people live and work there because they love it. They crave proximity to the snow and they form a very tight-knit community. Even though it's not my particular bag, I'm thrilled for those who can find a place to do exactly what they want to be doing. (I also want to mention that the skiers themselves on the trip were by and large down-to-earth, fun-loving folks who were very grateful for our services and didn't act like monied snobs at all.)

So that was our Colorado vacation, the third vacation in one winter (Carson might kill me if I try to get him to take any more time off this year). Anyone else want to share their "I was rescued by ski patrol" story?

Happy with my awesome new boots
on, feet firmly planted on the ground.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

It's never, EVER okay

I don't often write about "issues," but I feel compelled to share this disturbing graphic created by the organization UltraViolet. When it comes to rape and sexual violence, we need to be able to put aside our political views and ethnic/cultural backgrounds. This is NOT a partisan issue; it is NOT a cultural divide. Rape is a horrifying reality that is swept under the carpet, with rapists going unpunished (and sometimes even getting rewarded) every hour of every day. We need to change that. 

It starts with awareness.

What is rape culture? From UltraViolet: It's a set of attitudes that excuse or tolerate rape. Rape culture is when the media sympathizes with the attackers instead of lifting up the courage of the survivor. Rape culture is when we ask "Why did she drink so much?" or "What was she wearing?" instead of stating clearly that rape is never, ever okay.

I'm not on Facebook, but a lot of you are. Share this infographic on Facebook. Click the image below to enlarge.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

One Day, Two Parties

This past Saturday I pulled the ultimate in over-achiever hosting by throwing two parties in the same day.

Swap It Out

I was establishing myself as a clothes-swapping maven among a group of Seattleites who really loved the event, so I decided to carry on the tradition in Mendocino. On Saturday it finally came together in an unexpectedly successful afternoon. Considering I've been here less than a year and I can count my girlfriends on one hand, I was delighted that a baker's dozen of local women appeared on my doorstep with baskets and bags and bins of quality clothes to get rid of. I was hopping with glee when I saw the enthusiasm take hold immediately, with women ripping off their shirts to try things on that hadn't even been taken out of someone else's bag yet (modesty is not a virtue at these events).

The room buzzed with "new to me" clothes energy.
Mimosas are the only comestible guaranteed at my swaps,
but there's always lots of good food too.
There were some really quality items that appeared and everyone got at least one major score, with a few gals walking away with entirely new wardrobes. I got three dresses (two with pockets!) and a few tops. Of course, every swap has at least one comedic item, and this time it was Susan's hilarious... what is this, a muumuu? An Afghan? Basically it was a sheet sewn together with a hole cut out for the head:

Hilariously enough, when Susan saw me wearing it with my Diana Ross wig, she actually took it back. Swap-backs are not uncommon but they usually don't extend to the ridiculous. I let her have it on the grounds that we be co-owners if I ever feel the need to wear it.

Once people were focusing more on eating and drinking than trying things on, we relocated to the back yard (it was a sunny 75 degree day) for show and tell. Everyone holds up what they got, and the woman who brought it shares any interesting back story. It's always interesting to see who takes whose clothes, and there's usually a pair of women who ended up taking mostly from each other's items.

We took a vote on where to donate all the unclaimed items. We sorted out clothing appropriate for young professionals to donate to the CCCs where Sara used to work (and which is currently experiencing its 15 minutes of fame thanks to this video), and the rest of it went to the local Hospice thrift store.

I think everyone was surprised by how much fun it was and there's already demand for the next one. Whether I host it or someone else does, I think it's safe to say that quarterly clothing swaps are back in my life.

Barbecue and Sara's "Gone to Alaska" Party

My friend Sara is spending the next six months in Alaska, first WWOOFing on a farm in Skagway and then leading a youth crew to build trails in the remote wilderness. She's pretty hard core. Anyway, as my friend and one-time roommate I felt it only appropriate to throw her a little party before sending her on her way, so the same day as the swap (during which I stole a dress from her, citing her inability to use it in Alaska) we had a barbecue. Unfortunately it was still winter (happy first day of spring!) so the warm afternoon turned into a windy, chilly evening, but the party wasn't any less fun inside and we still got to eat barbecued hamburgers thanks to Carson braving the elements.

Here's our backyard beforehand - we've been doing quite a bit of weeding and prep for the upcoming growing season, including an extension to the existing strawberry patch, and even got a few seeds and starts in the ground. Note the cute barbecue that our friend Drew picked up on the side of the road and generously donated to us.

Some of our friends from Fort Bragg drove over, Timin came down from the mountains, some girls that I met at the swap came with their boyfriends, and Carson's old neighbors came as well - an interesting collection of folks from around the North Coast. We ate potato chips and sour cream dill dip, grass-fed beef burgers, homemade veggie burgers, and this random wild rice pesto salad I made. We drank beer and wine and fruit-infused vodka that Carson made. Then we played "Celebrity" (sort of like Taboo and charades combined) with full bellies, some of us semi-drunk, followed by the "drawing game" which is quickly becoming mandatory any time there are four or more of us in a room (I have never laughed so hard I cried before last Saturday's game). Basically it's telephone, but instead of whispering the phrase you write it down on a piece of paper, and then on the back of that piece of paper the next person has to draw it, and then the next person has to write a phrase based on that drawing, and so on. I've never met someone whose stomach didn't hurt from laughing after playing, even those who were skeptical at first.

I didn't take many pictures of the party, but this one shows a lot of the people who were there:

The most important thing for me was that Sara had fun, which she did. I know she's going to love Alaska but she'll keep Mendo in her heart - see you in the fall, Sara!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Winter in Pictures

This winter in inland Mendocino county was probably too good to be true. I'm sure next winter will give me a real kick in the pants, and I do wish we'd gotten more rain, but I have to tell you - this mild, sunny winter was a delight from start to finish.  Here are some pictures to illustrate it, in no specific order. 

Unexpected snow storm while visiting friends in Trinity
county. It all melted by that afternoon (this was a 7 am
"holy crap it's snowing I better get a picture!" shot).
Glass beach in Fort Bragg (site of an old dump, the only
remnants of which are smooth glass and strange
odds and ends buried under the sand). 
Melissa and Joe walk ahead
Typical Fort Bragg weather - sunny one minute, foggy the next.
Despite the weather, Fort Bragg is one of my favorite places in
Mendocino and I could easily see myself living there at some
point (if Ukiah's sheen ever starts to dull). 

Helping Whitney and some teens she works
with make crab cakes for a festival in Ft Bragg.
They were muy delicioso (we made 500 of them!)
View from my bedroom desk.
A pillow cover I made with soft flannel. Considering my
general lifelong crafting failure, it will come as no surprise
to those of you who know me well that I was REALLY 

EXCITED and, I’ll admit it, very proud of myself.
The front is a gorgeous mola that Mary Anne brought
back from Panama - "early bird gets the worm." It's made
from layers and layers of fabric that are cut out to reveal
each fabric's color in the broader design.

Bowling with Melissa, Timin, and Carson at Yokayo
bowl. We had a little wager...
...the losing team had to affix a temporary tattoo...
...and Melissa and Timin lost twice, ending up with
two fake tattoos each. 
Getting ready for the Farmers Convergence at Barra winery.
It was perfect weather for a perfect day! 
Chinese New Year celebration in downtown Ukiah.
Sara enjoys a rad slide at Todd Grove Park.
Carson makes himself at home. (I never
thought that two futons would work in our
small living room, but magically, they do!)
Shawna stopped by for a few days on a road trip. This was
one of several delicious meals we shared, not to mention
the good walks and conversation we had.

Enjoying a lavender latte at Black Oak coffee
while live music plays on a Saturday. (Not
pictured - Meagan, who I never manage to
capture via photo when she's here.)
Carson tries Thai food for the first time. I was impressed
by Ukiah's Ruen Thong. (Carson liked it, too!)
Susan and I enjoy a sushi feast at Walter cafe. 
Everything started to bloom in late February.
So many beautiful trees in bloom!
Even the rain is beautiful when it comes.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Where work and play blend together

Well, I have pretty much been a blog-writing bum this past two months. Here's a weak series of excuses for my absence. 



I’ve continued my volunteer work with The Gardens Project and North Coast Opportunities. For months I helped plan the first annual Farmers Convergence, which was an incredible success. It was last Friday (March 1), which ended up being a gorgeous 75 degree day (really can't complain about the NorCal winters), and it was a hit. Lots of people came, met, connected, shared ideas, and went home feeling inspired. We're already talking about doing it again next year.

I'm a mentor!

I also joined an exciting mentorship program which exists in just a few schools in California. Students apply in seventh grade. To qualify they must be high academic achievers from low-income families. If accepted they are assigned a mentor (who ideally sticks with them for all six years until they graduate) and a generous sum of money distributed throughout those 6 years with which to have experiences and buy items that will ready them for college.

What’s the point? Many low-income students who go to college and even receive scholarships often end up dropping out anyway because they feel ostracized, having never been out of their hometown or not knowing how to use chopsticks, for instance. Together, the student and mentor decide how best to spend that money to get them ready for college and beyond. It starts with local things like eating out at restaurants and going to see movies and plays. As the years progress it gets upped: a weekend in San Francisco, a weeklong summer camp, visits to college campuses, even international trips. Mentors also help students prep and apply for college (think SAT classes and entrance essay edits).

I have two girls, one in seventh and one in eighth grade whose mentor couldn’t continue, and I couldn’t be more excited about being part of their lives and helping them achieve their goals. It really is a blessing.

Oh right, work

March 3 was my one-year anniversary of being funemployed. I'm going to keep calling self-employment that since it's essentially like being unemployed; I spend most of my days in sweatpants in my cozy house, drinking tea, baking gluten free muffins, and taking long walks through my neighborhood. (Did I mention how nice the winter weather is here?) 

This probably doesn't convince you that I've been too busy to blog, but I swear I have real work. My baking schedule has been interrupted by a string of new clients - February was a month of new work and March and April will be just as busy. I'm approximating a 30 hour work week and feeling quite professional (despite the sweatpants). 


As part of my new lifestyle I seem to get to spend more time playing than working (if you want to hate me because I'm a lady of leisure, just remember I'm poor). Despite my financial restrictions, I'm still doing ridiculously cool things. Carson and I had the extraordinary opportunity to go to Colorado for 9 days in February, almost entirely paid for in exchange for our work as “hosts” for a ski trip operated by one of my clients. 

More on Colorado in its own dedicated blog. I'm also going to do a photo-only blog soon (with, let's face it, probably some long captions). Because I know how much people love to read long rambling written works with no real direction or purpose...

Is anyone else really looking forward to daylight savings kicking in on Sunday? (I'm not looking at you, Indiana - I know how much you hate it.)