THE HUGE BAD THING

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I’m not moving to Montana anymore :(

I mean, I am. For three months. But after that I’m moving somewhere else. Where? I don’t know yet. Why? That’s a loooooong story. Here’s the short version: MSU didn’t give me any financial aid and because I’d be paying out of state tuition for my post-bacc program, the 4 semesters of classes would cost me over $30,000.

Ugh. Obviously I’ll write a real update on what the new plan is (or at least what it is for now, as I still have no idea where we’ll be in 4 months…) but I’m out of time and energy for a discussion of this today.

In the meantime…I’ll distract you with this!

Two Black Labrador Puppies

The running.

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Oh boy. Lots to report in the last few weeks.

First things first. I ran a half marathon! It was really satisfying, but mostly really hard. I could really tell that training long runs on trails helped me A TON in the first five miles. I was averaging a minute below my mile time and hardly felt tired or winded at all. The next five miles were a little harder, I definitely felt like I was working, but I was still comfortable. The last three miles were pure hell. Part of it is the way the course is set up. The first ten miles are along the Colorado River with beautiful red rock canyon walls on either side of you. This section is gently sloping downhill (you’re following the river downstream) and there’s only one real hill to speak of (at mile 9). The race planners were kind enough to put a Japanese drum group at the top of the hill to distract you from the pain of running uphill. However, right at mile 10 you break out of the canyon and onto the main highway through Moab. This part is barely uphill, but you’re running on the tilted shoulder of the highway with cars, 18-wheelers, and Jeeps flying by not 10 feet away. This part was so demoralizing. All I wanted was to be done with the race (I was running farther than I ever trained at that point) and instead hundreds of people were ogling us while they drove by. The last three miles were really hard. But the finish finally came, and I crossed the line in 2 hours and 12 minutes. My unofficial goal was to be under 2:15 (this based on absolutely nothing because I didn’t train for time AT ALL), so I was pleased with the result. After the race we sat around in the sun, drank chocolate milk and ate oranges, and tried to stretch a little. Here are some photos from the day:

The bus drop-off about 10 miles up the canyon. It was windy and overcast.

The bus drop-off about 10 miles up the canyon. It was windy and overcast.

to the start

We had to walk about 1/4 mile to the start because it’s such a narrow highway and the buses couldn’t turn around at the exact start location.

at the finish

Kyle and I at the finish. Sunny and beautiful! Notice that my shoes are already off – my blister doubled in size during the last 2 miles.

The half marathon was pretty fun, overall, minus the pain during the last 3 miles (from my blister and from my lack of sufficient training on long runs). The course was beautiful, the weather was great, and it felt like such a huge accomplishment. Seriously, I’ve been talking about running a half marathon since 2009, so it’s nice to finally cross that off the list.

Let’s see…what other good things can I talk about before I have to talk about THE HUGE BAD THING?

Wednesday was Kyle’s birthday. It was pretty great. We both had the day off, and decided to go for a nice, long (slow) trail run. I swear Kyle could run twice as far as I run when we go running together, but he’s nice and waits for me when I’m moving at the pace of a turtle. Anyway, we headed out to the Lunch Loops, an area right on the outskirts of Grand Junction that has amazing endless trails. We’ve done a lot of running there in the past, but we almost always do the same 3-7 mile runs on the same two loops. Kyle wanted to show me a whole different part of the area. The first three miles were STRAIGHT uphill. As in, I ran maybe half of it and walked (dragged myself) up the rest. But the view from the top was incredible. If you know Grand Junction well, this will mean something to you. If not, just know that you had an incredible view of every major landform within 100 miles in any direction – the Uncompahgre Plateau, the West Elks, the Mesa, the Bookcliffs, the Monument. So cool. So many different kinds of geology. So pretty!

Here's our view looking back into the Monument.

Here’s our view looking back into the Monument.

And here are a few other scenes from Kyle’s birthday run and other runs we’ve done at the Lunch Loops.

holey bucket

This trail is called Holey Bucket and is strewn with various rusty, broken and old buckets all along it.

holy cross

Any guesses on the name of this one? You got it, holy cross! I have no idea what the history of this cross is, but the view is pretty amazing don’t you think?

kyle

Here’s Kyle at the top of Eagle’s Wing

jewell

And here’s Jewell hanging out in front of another holey bucket (or this actually might be a piece of a car – there’s another trail called Clunker…) at dusk.

This place has become our playground. We take the dogs out here a couple times a week, we did most of our half marathon training here, we ride mountain bikes here occasionally (Kyle more than me, because the trails are super technical and I get scared. And scarred.) This is one of the greatest parts of Grand Junction and is something I’m absolutely going to miss.  I mentioned some bad news. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. I don’t have the energy to go into it all now, but I’ll update again soon with our life plans. They’ve changed.

 

Running, running, running

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Remember this post? The one where I told you I was running a half marathon in March? Well, guess what? It’s March. Our run is 12 short days from now and in the past week I’ve ranged all over the spectrum from terrified to excited to terrified to slightly less terrified to resigned. The run is in 12 days and at this point, the only thing I can do about it is run. Today, tomorrow, the next day, and every day until I take a few days off right before the race itself.

And I have been running. In 2011, I took about a month and trained for a 10K. It was a lot of fun and I ran it in under an hour which I was really pleased about. And as soon as it ended, I stopped running. Not completely, I guess, but I stopped running consistently because I was tired of treadmills, I accomplished my goal and I had just met a really fun boy. But if you’ve followed my various attempts at blogging (visit here or here for past iterations of this blog, don’t be fooled by the top post being the same, they are two different blogs!) you’ve read my words “I want to run a half marathon” on and off since summer of 2010. As terrified of the prospect as I am, I’m excited that I’m finally accomplishing something I’ve thought about for so long. Ultimately, I know that just finishing will be a huge success and I don’t care AT ALL about the time that I finish with (just as long as I don’t get picked up by the sag wagon along the way).

I ran 7.5 miles yesterday. It hurt. 13 miles is going to REALLY hurt. But we’ve been training on the trails near our house, and our run yesterday had 1000 feet of vertical gain. Our race is along the Colorado River with a slight downhill trajectory the whole way. That will be nice. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to walk at all for the rest of the weekend. But I’m excited. It’s a strange mix of emotions. I’ll keep you updated.

Here's the summary of my run yesterday. Like I said, I'm not gunning for time...

Here’s the summary of my run yesterday. Like I said, I’m not gunning for time…

Also, wanna see something pretty? This was my prize after running 5.5 miles on the treadmill last Sunday. My grand plan was to run while watching the Oscars to distract myself from the pain and mind numbing boredom of running on a treadmill (we randomly got 3 inches of snow the night before) and I wanted to run 7 miles. Around mile 5 I started having some annoying pain in my right foot. If you know me, you know the right side of my body is a disaster, so this wasn’t really a huge cause for concern. But it got more and more annoying. Finally, at 5.5 miles, I stopped and pulled off my shoe. What a nice surprise! Not.

Nasty little blood blister. I guess I need to invest in some fancier socks.

Nasty little blood blister. I guess I need to invest in some fancier socks. Sorry for the gross picture of my foot…

But it’s starting to clear up and I’ve been wearing my trail running shoes on every run since then, so hopefully by race day I’ll be healed and happy!

In other news, I had my first advising appointment for Montana State University today. My adviser called to talk about my class schedule this summer and start sketching out what my 4 semester science extravaganza will look like. Yet another thing to be terrified of. Seriously, in all 4 years of college I (grudgingly) took 3 science classes (5 if you count those I did during study abroad programs – I don’t count them). And now I’m going to be taking 3/semester. My schedule is looking very packed full of lecture and lab hours, with little time to do anything other than eat, sleep, study, and play with my parents and my dog. That’s ok, there’s not much else to do in Bozeman, MT. Oh wait…

Take a look at my schedule this summer…yes, that’s right, two labs…

Ah, science classes. Whitman wouldn't recognize me!

Ah, science classes. Whitman wouldn’t recognize me!

For those of you who don’t speak Registration lingo, those classes are Intro Chemistry and Intro Physics. Two semesters of classes crammed into 2.5 months. Sounds lovely, no? Here’s the funny thing: most of the PA schools I’m looking at don’t require Physics, but because some PA schools out there do, I’m hedging my bets and taking it anyway. This is one of the most frustrating aspects to PA school: they don’t all have the same requirements. Not even close. Some schools require 16 hours of biology and 4000 hours of paid experience (ahem, University of Washington, ahem), some require 9 specific science classes with 1000 hours of paid experience, but your experience MUST BE FINISHED by the time you apply in October (to start school in June), some require the GRE, some don’t. Is your head spinning yet? Mine has been for the last 9 months. So my strategy is to take as many required classes that seem to be consistent from school to school, then add in the ones that are specific to the places I’d really like to go, and try to squeeze more in during a second summer semester at MSU. We’ll see how it goes!

An update…

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And there goes almost another month. The time is flying, and I’m not sure why. Is it because things are busy here? Is it because the days are finally starting to feel longer, so we get out and do more? Is it because I was taking a night class for all of January and had 1 hour/day that was un-planned? Probably a little of everything.

A moment of honesty: Over the course of the last 9 months of planning my new career path, I’ve had doubts. Serious, paralyzing doubts. Doubts that I wouldn’t be smart enough to finish school, be patient enough to work with people who frustrated me, enjoy a  new role in the medical world. After all, this decision, while thought out for hours and hours and hours, was based on very little concrete evidence that I would, in fact, enjoy being a physician assistant. From the day I graduated from college (except a short stint at REI) every moment of my time has been focused on providing quality educational programs to students (kids and adults) outside of the traditional classroom setting. What makes me think I’ll be good at being a student IN the traditional classroom setting? What makes me think I’ll be good at medicine at all?

For the last month and a half, I’ve been heading straight from work to the Community College to become a certified nurse’s aide. One of the most stringent requirement of all PA programs is a baseline number of patient contact hours in a health care setting. For your average pre-med student, this isn’t hard to come by. Hours working as an EMT on an ambulance, hours as a scribe in the ER, hours as a medical assistant in a clinic. For me, someone with ZERO medical background (except my Wilderness First Responder certification) it was going to be a little more challenging. For 6 months, I asked myself, “EMT or CNA?” “CNA or EMT?” By far, working as an EMT sounded much more interesting and fun than working as a CNA. Riding around in an ambulance responding to emergencies? Or working in a nursing home wiping asses? I knew what I wanted to do. However, it’s nearly impossible to get hired as an EMT with no experience. On top of that, on a 24-hour shift you may only actually see one patient for 20 minutes on the way to the hospital. Every nursing home in the world is always hiring CNAs. Weighing my preferences and the needs of my application, I decided to go with a CNA certification to start, with the possibility of getting my EMT later in the process. And so I sat through a month of evening classes learning how to change diapers, do bed to wheelchair transfers, brush dentures, and any number of other tasks that sound terrible when written in a list.

And then came our clinicals. Honestly, I was dreading these. It was the last step before being able to take the state certification exam, and the culmination of the class: spend 3 8-hour shifts at a local nursing home following Nurse Aides and learning “on-the-job.”

I loved it.

Of course, the first day was awkward. Following someone else around and watching them do their job is uncomfortable, I felt like I needed to be helping. But helping someone you don’t know go to the bathroom or change into their pajamas is awkward too, especially for them. I never felt like I was in the right place, I never felt like I was being useful, and I never felt comfortable. I did, however, learn some names. This made is SO MUCH BETTER on the second day when we had to go back and be more independent. Even if I didn’t know the residents that well, knowing their names made them feel much more comfortable with me, and thus made me feel more comfortable with them. During my three days at the facility, I changes LOTS of diapers, helped residents eat their dinner, helped get them ready and into bed, helped bathe them, and got to know them a little bit. The thing about old people, even ones that are confused or delusional, is that they’ve lived amazing lives and they love young people. They want to talk to you, they want to listen to you, and they REALLY appreciate your help. A CNA is not the most glamorous job in the world. It doesn’t pay that well, and going home with the smell of human feces in your nostrils every night isn’t the best. But the people make it worthwhile. After all, it could be your grandparents and you know you’d want them taken care of.

While I'm not certified yet, I'm almost there!

While I’m not certified yet, I’m almost there!

A slightly different flavor…

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Last weekend was all about snow and winter and being chilly, and it was great! However, coming home to Grand Junction where it hasn’t been above 32 degrees since December 15 and where the inversion is trapping the cold and creating terrible air quality, was not quite as great. Another cold weekend was not in the cards for me. Luckily, Kyle was agreeable and we planned to drive over to the Front Range to bask in some beautiful sunshine and 40-plus weather!

When you hear “Front Range” most folks think Boulder or Fort Collins, Denver or Golden. Not us. We wanted warm sunny weather and lots of fun places to play. We headed to Colorado Springs. The forecast was calling for 50s and sunny, and Kyle found some great places to play. When we arrived, we immediately went to Red Rock Canyon Open Space, a city owned park that allows biking, running and dogs. Perfect!

This crazy rock formation was right outside town, and there were great running trails all around it.

This crazy rock formation was right outside town, and there were great running trails all around it.

This site used to be a sandstone quarry, look at the crazy shelves cut into the hogback. I’m not sure why the stairs were there…

It's the site of an old quarry. See the stairs carved into the rock?

It’s the site of an old quarry. See the stairs carved into the rock?

But Kyle figured it out. He did a couple laps during the run.

stairs

Kyle did some stairs during the run.

The area looked out over western Colorado Springs. See that huge rock fin in the distance behind me? That’s Garden of the Gods. Pretty cool.

I was excited to be wearing shorts!

I was excited to be wearing shorts!

After the run, we were both super hungry. We (almost unsuccessfully) navigated busy downtown Colorado Springs parking scene and found Phantom Canyon Brewing Company. We both had delicious salads, a cup of the most amazing green chili stew I’ve ever had, and some tasty beers.

We treated ourselves to dinner and delicious beer at the Phantom Canyon Brew Co.

We treated ourselves to dinner and delicious beer at the Phantom Canyon Brew Co.

That night we “camped” in the Walmart parking lot. We had grand plans of finding a nice spot up in the forest somewhere, but it got COLD, we got tired, and since we were planning to ride through Garden of the Gods in the morning, it didn’t make a lot of sense to go too far out of town.

The next morning we got up, ate some bananas and peanut butter, and drove to Garden of the Gods. I didn’t take enough picture of the park itself, but it’s a pretty great thing. In the early 1900′s, a man donated the whole park to the city and now it’s open to hiking, running, horseback riding, mountain biking and road biking. All for FREE! Amazing. However, Bailey was not stoked that she didn’t get to come.

Bailey's reaction to hearing she had to stay in the truck during our bike ride.

Bailey’s reaction to hearing she had to stay in the truck during our bike ride.

We started our ride from the Trading Post. There were these crazy/cool welded saguaros in the parking lot. Here’s my attempt to be artistic.

The cool decorative Saguaro's in front of the trading post.

The cool decorative Saguaro’s in front of the trading post.

The ride through the park only lasted a few miles, but it was scenic! These huge red rock fins jutted up from the ground, and there are whole networks of trails winding around, through and over them.

Gorgeous views in Garden of the Gods.

Gorgeous views in Garden of the Gods.

From there we continued riding through the city. Colorado Springs has a great network of bike paths, so not much of the ride was on roads. We finally popped out near Colorado College (my #2 choice after Whitman!) and it was fun to meander through campus and imagine being a student there.

CC has this crazy schedule where they take 1 class at a time for 3 1/2 weeks, then get 4 days off, then start the next class. As a budding anthropology major, I had visions of field trips and off-campus classes in places like northern Mexico or southern Utah. While I think CC would have been great, I’m so happy I went to Whitman. I got my fair share of field trips, and met some amazing people.

From there, we wound our way back up to Garden of the Gods and hopped off our bikes. We had lunch at the Marigold Cafe and Bakery, a delicious restaurant on the west side of town that I absolutely recommend if you’re in the area. I had a crab cake salad (what is better than that, seriously?) and Kyle had a spinach salmon salad with bacon and goat cheese. It was tasty! Then we headed up north to the Jared’s to pick up my engagement ring (we’d dropped it off to get sized the day before – now I don’t have to have that silly spacer in there!), and went back to Red Rock Canyon for an afternoon run. From there, we decided to hit the road to meet some friends in Avon for the evening/morning and make our drive the next day a little shorter. Bad decision.

We got caught in a NASTY snowstorm in the mountains. It took us 4+ hours to do a 2 1/2 hour drive, and Kyle was literally crawling around some of the corners on the passes. It was scary, but I was really glad he was driving. We finally got in at about 9:30 pm and got to spend some nice, relaxing time with our friends. The next morning we went to a fancy brunch at the Westin.

The decor and bar at the Westin.

The decor and bar at the Westin.

Our friends are about as laid-back and unpretentious as you can get, so it was funny to be in this incredibly fancy/expensive hotel with them eating brunch with the people who were spending $400+/night to stay there. But the food was amazing…eggs benedict with habanero hollandaise, huevos rancheros with avacado in little individual sized cast iron ramikins, goat cheese, zucchini and spinach frittata, french toast stuffed with marscapone and fruit preserves and on and on and on. It was amazing.

After a short walk around the golf course to let the dogs burn some energy, we headed home to Grand Junction where, miraculously, it was above 40 degrees and the snow had started to melt. What a great weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backcountry skiing and pond hockey and football, and more!

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This weekend I went up to the mountains with some friends. My dear friend Season, from Whitman, has a cabin in the mountains near Creede, Colorado, and invited us up to spend the long weekend with her family. It was lovely. The first morning we were there, we went up to Wolf Creek Pass to backcountry ski with Season’s dad who has been skiing in these mountains for 30 years. Here are some photos from our weekend:

The view from the parking lot.

The view from the parking lot.

Panorama from the top of the hike.

Panorama from the top of the hike.

Our lovely turns in the pretty snow!

Our lovely turns in the pretty snow!

My lovely friend Season in all her ski gear.

My lovely friend Season in all her ski gear.

This is the lovely cabin in the mountains where we spent our weekend. Season’s parents built this from the ground up during the winter of 2004. It’s an incredibly homey, welcoming place and was such a fun home base for the weekend.

This is the wonderful cabin that we spent our weekend in. Talk about rustic!

This is the wonderful cabin that we spent our weekend in. Talk about rustic!

We spent the next day in downtown Creede enjoying pond hockey, small town bars, and the incredible scenery. They filmed parts of Lone Ranger up this canyon.

Downtown Creede, the town nearest to the cabin.

Downtown Creede, the town nearest to the cabin.

We got to watch the annual pond hockey tournament!

We got to watch the annual pond hockey tournament!

Hilarious 4-wheel drive zamboni.

Hilarious 4-wheel drive zamboni.

This dog wanted to play hockey so bad!

This dog wanted to play hockey so bad!

The winning team. We drank margaritas with these guys later. They were large.

The winning team. We drank margaritas with these guys later. They were large.

After pond hockey, we went over to both bars in Creede and watched the playoffs. Pretty excited that the 49er’s are going to the playoffs and I’m pretty excited to watch two brothers face off on national TV.

Season’s cabin is near the banks of the Rio Grande. It’s so beautiful there, especially this time of year when there aren’t loads of people everywhere.

The view from the front yard.

The view from the front yard.

What a wonderful way to spend the weekend!

What a wonderful way to spend the weekend!

This guy was hanging out by the side of the road on the way home. A perfect parting gift!

This guy was hanging out by the side of the road on the way home. A perfect parting gift!

Tamales!

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First, can I just say that I love my engagement ring? I never thought I’d be that person, and really never thought I’d be excited about wearing a diamond, but this ring is beautiful, it’s Kyle’s great grandmother’s ring, and it’s so unique! I also love being engaged. In all reality, it’s not really that different, but it’s fun to think about the future with some degree of certainty (at least in one category)!

So pretty!

So pretty!

Ok, onto the real post :) When I was a senior in college, I spent the fall semester traveling around the western US with 20 other Whitman students on a program called Semester In the West. I’ve previously written about this here. In addition to being incredibly instructive about life outside our small college bubble, it was also a great opportunity to learn how to cook! We were separated into 5 cook crews and took turns cooking dinner, lunch and breakfast every 5 days. Our food manager, (and my dear friend) Season, made a big effort to buy food from farmer’s markets, local butchers, and farmers whenever possible, so we were cooking with fresh, happy (our word for free range, grass fed, etc meat) food almost all the time. We made meals that could be easily produced in large numbers because, in addition to the 21 students and 3 staff, we often had visitors, instructors and family eating with us. Cooking and eating was very communal, and one of my favorite instances of this was making tamales. Because they’re so time consuming, we only made them on Thanksgiving, the day we had set aside entirely for cooking, but it was such a fun, family-style process that I remember it as one of the highlights of the time we spent cooking on SITW.

When I moved to Lee Vining, the tradition of making tamales continued. I had several friends (one who was vegetarian and one who was gluten and lactose intolerant, so tamales were the perfect solution!) who loved making them too. We’d set aside entire afternoons or evenings to making tamales, usually with beans, chiles, carrots and onions. Then we’d throw them in the freeze and have lunch for weeks!

This weekend I decided to embark on the tamales making adventure alone. I mentioned last week how I’m pretty busy these days and don’t have a lot of time to cook. Tamales seemed like the perfect solution to have delicious food on-the-go. So I went to the butcher and the local Mexican grocery and headed back to the house. I used this recipe which, overall, was pretty great. Also, I found these at the grocery store.

dried fish

 

Yes, I bought them – mostly because I forgot to bring my phone in and really wanted a picture, but also because I thought they’d be a fun treat for the dogs. Jewell was pretty grossed out at first, but when she Bailey devouring them she quickly hopped on board.

I started with 3 1/2 lbs of pork shoulder. Mine was tied with string, so I cut that before I threw it in a 5 qt sauce pan with 10 cups of water, a quartered onion and 5 cloves of minced garlic.

raw pork

 

After simmering on the stove for 2 1/2 hours, I pulled the pork out, strained the onions and garlic out, and set the broth outside to cool (it didn’t get above 15 degrees on Saturday). I pulled the pork apart with two forks and discarded the fat.

pulled pork

 

I made this chile sauce recipe with dried chiles from our garden last summer. Then, I added the pork to it and put this, covered, on the stove to simmer for 10 minutes. I was actually a little disappointed with the way the pork turned out. It didn’t have quite enough flavor for me. If I were to do this again, I’d add more garlic and more chiles (and I’m not one of those people that loves spicy foods, this just needed an extra kick).

I made up for that by sauteing carrots, onions and jalepeno slivers on the stove top for a few minutes to add to the mix. Before I started making the dough, I took a handfull (about 50) corn husks and soaked them in warm water.

Once the broth was cool, I was able to skim the fat off the top (there was A TON so I would definitely recommend that you do this!) Mix 6 cups of masa (corn flour), a couple teaspoons of salt and baking powder together and in a large bowl alternately add a little broth and a little masa mix, stirring as you go. Your final mixture should be a smooth paste.

assembly line

Finally, I set up my assembly line. The corn husks are unpictured, but everything else is in order. The masa mixture is at the top, then pork, then slivered carrots and jalepenos, then the steamer. Here’s one mid-contsruction.

construction

Sorry the picture is a little blurry, but you get the idea. You want the dough wide enough to meet at it’s edges when you roll the corn husk over itself, and short enough that you can fold the bottom of the husk up before it goes in the steamer. You can see why this is a great family activity – either make an assembly line or let everyone add what they want and give them different colored yarn to tie the ends. Since I was only making one kind – with everything on it – I just folded the ends. Pile them in the steamer and steam for 40 minutes, adding water occasionally. This batch made three steamer-fulls, and ended up being about 50 tamales. I anticipate that I’ll eat 2 and Kyle will eat 3-4 for a meal. Should last a couple weeks for dinner during class! What do you think? Ever made tamales? Anyone have unique ingredient ideas?

tamales