Sunday, March 30, 2008

Adventures in Caching: Austin
(and surrounding areas)
Just got back from five days on the road, first solo for a work venture, then with the kids and occasionally the husband for playtime in Austin proper. During this time, I traveled 623 miles and found a total of 45 geocaches. I was aiming for 50 so I guess that is close enough to count.
Here are the highlights of the trip:
The work venture was successful in that I learned a lot of new information and was so well liked, or maybe my data was, that I was offered a job there. I thought the lady was joking at first but she was quite serious and also urged me to publish my paper on my work.I had downloaded about eight caches for this area that I wanted to get, but knowing my time would be short and mostly spent working, I wasn't overly optimistic. I got two in the direct vicinity of the small-town downtown area one evening and two quick ones along the side highway during a lunch break. I also spent about an hour and a half walking through Bastrop State Park after a couple of caches that I never got close enough to find. That just irked me. I was on the wrong trail or didn't drive far enough down to get close, but I did have a nice walk through a beautiful forest, and sometimes that is just the point, right?
The geocache highlight was Fireflies in the Garden, a nice park and grab in the garden of a quaint bed and breakfast in downtown Bastrop.
University of Texas campus:
After leaving Bastrop, I headed for the University of Texas in Austin because I wanted to view an exhibit there - "On the Road with the Beats" - at the Harry Ransom Center. I grabbed two quick caches along the way and got caught in some traffic and general road confusion, then had some trouble finding the best parking place on campus. When I finally parked, I was across campus and had thirty minutes until the exhibit closed. I hoofed it across the campus (and was really feeling those hills) and got to the exhibit in eleven minutes, but then the security guard closed it down with six minutes to spare, so I was only inside looking for about fifteen minutes. I wished I could have stayed longer, but I got to see what I came to see - the "Original Scroll" of On the Road by Jack Kerouac and "The Great Sex Letter" written to him by his friend Neal Cassady that inspired his particular style of writing.

After this, I took a more leisurely walk back to my car, grabbing two clever little caches along the way. Both were magnetic, and both you had to use your brain just a little to discover the location. They were right in sight of everyone yet well disguised. During this walk, I went to places on the campus I had never been to in all my years of various visits. I really enjoyed that, especially this cool water fountain and the Texas Exes Alumni Center.

After this, it was a drive north in sweaty scrubs to the little town of Hutto, new hometown of an old friend. G recently had a baby and moved up here to be with her husband, and I had yet to see her little daughter. She was just coming back from Houston as I was arriving, so I grabbed a couple quick caches while waiting for her, and then we pulled up to our meeting spot at the same time. I had been outside all day and man, the first thing I needed to do before even touching that little girl was shower. After that, it was late night talking and cuddling the baby.In the morning, I left about two hours before my scheduled renedevouz with my husband so I could grab some caches in downtown Hutto and Round Rock. There was a really cute virtual, a disgusting park and grab (LPC with a dead bird caught underneath it), a short hike in a park, another very quick virtual and a PNG.

Austin - Zilker Park and Downtown Area
Met my husband but the (freakin') hotel wouldn't let us check in yet. The children really needed to get out of the car and play, so I took them to Zilker Park. They played on the playground as I used the clues to solve the first part of a four part multi (that I actually had solved about two years ago, then lost the coords). Afterward, we headed over to the Austin Nature and Science Center. I had never noticed this place before, but there was a cache there that was right up my oldest son's alley. It was called Amatuer Paleontologist, and it is hidden in the Dino Pit, an area of hidden dinosaur "bones" underneath sand and silt that you have to shovel and brush off. He never wanted to leave this place. The center also has several animal exhibits, featuring birds of prey and a coyote.
We had spent an hour at the playground and an hour at the center, and I really wanted to get some caching in now. We hit three more (one in the parking lot of Freebirds World Burrito - of course I had to get me some) before checking into our hotel and taking a break. In the evening, we headed out to the HEB Central Market, the best grocery store ever. We had the whole Central Market dining experience, grabbing some food from the deli, eating it on the deck overlooking the playground, then taking a walk around the pond to grab a cache, and back to play on the playground. After this, we went to our very favorite book store, The Book People. I always spoil the children at the Book People, and tonight I had a gift check from a great-aunt of theirs to help. They have unique toys, books for everyone, and so many things to see and do in the children's section that the whole time we are there I hear "Look Mom! Look Mom!" Each child got a book and a toy, but then I couldn't resist a couple more toys and a puzzle to put away for the young one's upcoming birthday, and a Kerouac book for myself.

Austin Proper:
Travis Heights, Stacy Park, Spicewood Springs,Arboreteum
We had the whole day to cache on Saturday. We started the day with some caches along the west side of Mopac, and it was a mix of some park and grabs and some hiking into nature preserves and parks. The nature peserve one was a virtual, which was naturally a great choice to avoid messing up any habitats. Our favorite of the morning was It's Balcones Fault... Too ,a hike into Allen Park, a ten acre Travis County Park along the Balcones Fault Line.
We kept taking hotel room interludes and heading out again. In the early afternoon, we headed south to Stacy Park, a greenbelt area with a playground at one end in the Travis Heights area. There were four caches in a row along here, all a bit of a walk from each other. We spent a lot of time at the playground going back and forth. The last cache had me buggered. I was hot, tired, had just hiked up the hill with a toddler on my shoulders, and I just plain couldn't find it. My oldest took a peek and said it wasn't there, but just then something caught my eye and it had been right in front of me the whole time, but the camo was just that good. No wonder this cache was nominated for the 2003 Austin Cache Awards.
After this, we headed for Hillbert's Hamburgers for some overdue lunch and a cache. There is a cache at each of the two Hillbert's locations, and all weekend it seems I was driving past them. It was really making me hungry thinking about Hungry Hungry Hill-bert's. When we got there, AJ said he felt sick and was just acting very pathetic. It wasn't very hot that day, so I wasn't sure what it was, but as all of us in the house ending up with a nasty stomach virus over the next three days, I think now it the virus starting to infect him. Poor kid didn't even touch his lunch, and the little one didn't eat much, either. We ended up back at the hotel watching The Matrix and laying down on cool white sheets.
In the evening we went back out, heading for what is called The Arboreteum, which sounds like a plant zoo but is really a shopping area. I was happy because I managed to grab this cache that has been eluding me in my previous visits to Austin. If I had known it was a traditional "nano" container...anyway....yippee! We also grabbed three park and grabs and then headed towards the campus area. AJ felt better and was clamoring to do some "night caching", but I know how good I am at that, especially without a flashlight, so we did two virtuals (so we wouldn't be hunting something in the dark), one on the UT campus and one in the Auditorium Shores area. The last one was just awesome - we were walking in the dark in a field heading straight for the lake, which was sparkling in the moonlight. We came to a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughn that we had to answer a question off of, and walked along the trail next to the water and checked out the city lights. We were so relaxed and having so much fun exploring.
It was late, and we hadn't eaten dinner, and I was craving some mexican food. I totally surprised myself by remembering the way to my ALL TIME favorite mexican joint - El Arroyo, the place I wanted to take my friend Lara to in San Marcos, only this Austin location is actually still there. I had only been to this particular one one time in my life, about two years ago, with my friend Mari, but I remembered the way there. It was not as great as I remembered and the service was terrible, but I still really enjoyed myself there.
It struck me this time in Austin how many location memories I have there that are associated with my friend Mari. Usually I would be going to Austin to visit her, but she moved away last year after fourteen years of on and off Austin living. Has it really been that long Mrs Mari? She was my best friend in high school, and in '94 she moved to Austin and I to College Station, and there were visits during those four years, primarily to see her and occasionally to hang out with some other high school friends. We both moved away, but it was only a year or so she was gone, and then she was back, and I was in town for her wedding, and on visits home from Oregon, and wow, almost six years ago I moved back to my hometown, and there were five years of Austin visits to see Mari and her family. All those years of memories piled up on Austin hills, so that now when I drive by an intersection, I think "wow, that's where Mari and I..." or I would have a memory of driving that same way to get to her house, her old apartment, her old dorm room.
This really ties into another thread of thinking I have been having about how memory works, but another day, another entry.

Austin Memorial Park Cemetary, Shoal Creek Area

I really wanted to get some caches in Zilker Park, particularly an awesome earthcache where you have to take four pictures, two of which involve taking the temperature of Barton Springs. I wanted to take the kids in the water there. However, it was raining on and off, and this day that we had planned for the four of us to go attempt the earthcache, it was pouring. So we did mostly virtuals instead, one outside Zilker Park and two at the Austin Memorial Cemetary, which apparently has several famous residents, including one author I am a big fan of and had no idea he resided here. The things virtuals teach us....
We did some quick micros around the Shoal Creek area, including the other Hillbert's hamburgers cache, which I would NOT have found except that my husband and son decided to have some kind of a snail convention there. I had looked and looked (for about the third time that weekend) and decided to leave, but they found these snails and started rounding them up together and I decided heck, I'll just keep looking, and boom, there it was.
Then it was time to head home. Our journey was coming to an end. I was sad to leave Austin so soon, but after been gone so long, I was looking forward to getting home and resting.
The following night, I went to a caching event downtown after work and snagged a few more finds. I think my week total was around 48, which means I am now only 104 awat from my 1000th find, which I am hoping will be at GeoWoodstock this year.
104 caches, 52 days (wow, check out that math - hmm, two a day should do it).

P.S. Now 102 caches, 51 days.....

Sunday, March 23, 2008

This year, I decided to try something I had not experienced - compete in the annual Texas Challenge, a competitive geocaching event hosted by the Texas Geocaching Association. The Challenge is a statewide event where cachers from the different geographicial regions come compete against each other in a half day race for points earned by finding geocaches and "tokens" that are hidden specifically for the event. The caches that are hidden vary in type and can consist of regular caches, puzzles, multi-caches, and activities. Teams also can earn extra points by being the First To Find on a geocache and picking up a specific token.
This year the Sixth Annual Texas Challenge was being hosted by the North Texas team at Lake Mineral Wells State Park. I am on this mission to camp at all the state parks in Texas, so that was part of the appeal to me. I also wanted to experience a competitive caching event and see if I liked it, and I wanted to make new friends and be a part of the action. I had heard other cachers talk about the Challenge and I was curious to see what it was all about.
I decided not to take off work for this event because I am trying to hang on to my vacation days, so that meant a late start for a long drive. My family had been going back and forth on logistics and who was going to go or not as well, and finally we decided it would just be the oldest son and I. I had everything packed the night before for a quick start, and we left about a half hour after I got home from work at five pm. The park was about a five hour drive from northwest Houston where I live, and the gates to the park were closed at 10 pm, so it was a scramble to get there in time, which meant no caching along the way. We did sneak one in because it happened to be in the parking lot of our favorite pit stop on the way to Dallas (Woody's Smokehouse).
My son had been away for Spring Break with his grandparents, so we talked the whole drive about his experiences on his trip, the latest movies he had seen, books we had read, ghosts, stories from his infancy and early years, and everything in between. It was great bonding time and I am really glad we had it. He fell asleep as we entered Dallas, though, and I was a little envious because I was exhausted by this point. I was trying to make it in the park "under the wire" and I made it fifteen minutes later than the target time, but the gate was still open.
We were sharing a campsite with our region (SEtx)'s Team Leader, TexasDreamweaver, who had met us at the lake spillway and led us to the campsite. He helped us pitch our tent in the darkness and then my son and I prepared for bed and cuddled together in our little tent as the coldness of the night crept in. Before he went to bed, he says, "You're the best, Mom. I'm having so much fun with you!"
That's worth every penny of gas we spent to have our adventure.
That first night was cold, and the way I had arranged our blankets was not working out for me so much. My son was quite warm in his army sleeping bag, but my sleeping bag was underneath us and the blankets I brought were too light to keep me comfortable. I don't think I slept much at all, and then the morning started to break and it was time to meet the team for breakfast and the morning pep talk.
We drove to the base camp and the SEtx team started to filter in. I was surprised to see so many faces. We had discussed the possibility of a small turnout and it looked like more than the 18 or so people I thought were going to participate. There were some cachers whose names I had seen in logs but had never met in person, some old friends, and some I had never heard of showing up. CherokeeCachers set up a light breakfast made possible through donations of muffins, fruit, cinnamon rolls, juice, and coffee. TexasDreamweaver gave us the latest information and strategy updates. Those who had not already picked up badges and lunch meal tickets from the dining hall went to do that. Then there was the wait for the starting gun.
Four laptops had been set up in our base camp awaiting the moment where the contest started and a zip drive was handed to our team leader that contained all our waypoints. Each of the laptops (I think we were using three of the four, really) was set up with a different downloading cable to accomodate the different types of GPS receivers. Since the downloading of waypoints was part of the contest time, the idea was to decrease this as much as possible. Our team had the computers primed and ready to go, but there was a little difficulty transferring the information to the other computers and getting it ready to download once the initial information transfer was complete. The first computer was up and running, and some of the groups in our team were able to get started with their hunt, but our group had to wait for a bit because the laptop hooked up to the serial cable that I needed for my Garmin was having issues reading the drive. There were some technical hiccups, I guess you could say.
By the time our group got up to our hunting area, a half hour had gone by in the 4.5 hour contest. The hunting area we had selected was the Cross Timbers trail, which is the second most rugged trail system in the park. The most difficult trail system in the park was called Penitentary Hollow, and the cachers that were sent there mentioned something about needing to be half-goat and hiking amongst rock climbers that day. Our trail system had its moments.
Since we were so far behind the other teams that hit the same hunting ground, we decided that we should change our strategy to maximize the use of our time. Instead of hunting the first caches we came to, we were going to hustle out to the far end of the trail system and then hunt on our way back.
As it turns out, even the groups that hit the area first had the same idea. I was reading the logs from the event and this was a common strategy. CenTx sent out the marathon runners on their team to run to the farthest waypoint, but they were behind a NTx team that had a leader experienced in these trails who had also led them at a run to the far north end of the trail system. We didn't stand a chance at the FTF tokens with our late start, these runners employing our same strategy, and the sheer number of competitors from NTx out on the trail. We probably ran into about four or five different groups of Ntx cachers, one or two groups of Centex cachers, and maybe a West Texas team (competing for their first year!), although I can't be sure.
Our little foursome were the only Setx group hunting this range, unless you count Stan from Muddy Buddies hunting with Fendmar for our team's "Evil Hide". Each team had one Evil Hide (a caching term for extremely hard, deviously camoed to the environment) hidden just for them worth 500 points. Stan and Fendmar rode with us up to the parking area and found one cache with us before we headed for the hills.
We took off at a fast hiking pace, just to the point to make conversation a little difficult. Tom, from team Greatbirds, pulled out his trekking poles and began eating up some miles. I was his caching partner for the day (we all hunting in pairs or groups for safety sake) and I was quickly walking next to him, or turning around to talk with GSGuru (Diane) and Nov64 (Patti). During the course of our hunt, we all had some pretty nice conversations one on one with each other and got to know each other better.
We had decided on our strategy of heading for the furthest caches first because we knew how difficult it was for geocachers to resist the pull of the arrow. When there is a cache "just 100 feet over there", the force is so strong that only a true caching Jedi would be able to resist. We were not that strong, or maybe we were just efficient, because we did stop at a couple along the way that would be inconvenient to get on the way out. One was a redirector for a multi. As we pulled up to GZ, we all fanned out and were searching different areas. As we searched, a Ntx team came up and walked right to it. They told pirate jokes as they wrote down the coords from the redirector and otherwise completely ignored us. It was so odd the way they walked right to it, and at another cache we saw them do the same thing. Diane noticed that both caches were in cedar trees, so we decided to search the cedar trees whenever we reached a waypoint and it seemed to be an effective strategy for at least finding the caches hidden by the Ntx team....and that's all I'm gonna say about that.
For the first half of our hike, we were walking along these great open greenbelts, then veering off on to smaller side trails, some that were rocky trails up into hilly areas with great briar bushes and cactuses. At one point, we were searching for a token when I unknowingly disturbed a bed of fireants. I
looked down and saw my shoes and pants were covered up to my knees. Luckily I managed to get them all off with only one bite (to the forearm, oddly enough). We also encountered this snake, which from one of Stan's forum postings in the past on the HGCS website I recognized to be a ribbon snake. I got tangled in briars going (the wrong way) to a cache and managed to snag three holes in my pants and get two long ugly scratches right above my knee. I had a cactus bud jump on to my forearm and that hurt pulling it out, and despite my sunscreen I managed to get a bit of a burn on my face.
We had a bit of a disagreement out on the trail about the rules. Each team had hidden nine tokens, and the tokens were worth more points than caches (we think, although that was another big issue - there was no posted point values so everything was a guess, and we had no idea how much anything was worth). When we were hunting one cache, we had been very close to a waypoint for a token, but it was designated "TS", which meant it was one of our team's, and some of us understood that we were NOT supposed to hunt our own tokens. The area we were in was fairly remote and there was no reason to come out this way again, so we wanted to check with our team leader. We had these radios, but we were so far out that we had no radio comm with anyone but each other. We tried calling Gary (aka TexasDreamweaver, aka our leader), but our cell phones didn't work out here, either. I got the idea to text him and his response was "ignore the TSs", so we moved on. Meanwhile, we carried on our debate about it. It made no sense to Tom for many reasons, and as we talked, us women began to understand the confusion as well. If we had ALL the waypoints for tokens downloaded, then there should be 27 in our GPSrs, but we only had 9, so it made sense that it would only be the 9 we were supposed to hunt, except that two of them were designated "TS" and we were told to ignore those. I sent Gary a repeat text about a half hour later, "are you sure?" and with our concerns, because we were still debating, but he never answered. If we had radio comm with base camp, we would have heard the announcement around this time that the rules had been changed at the last minute and Gary was not informed, and that we DID in fact need to hunt the "TS" tokens.
We kept on trucking regardless, and did manage to find one token. We reached a sign that said "low water crossing", and had to decide whether to try to walk across on the shifting logs or wade through the water. We voted wade. I should mention that most of the time on our walk, it was Diane calling the shots. She was the first to wade and the first to reach most of the cache sites. She was the official scorecard marker and would happily catch up with us as we began walking to the next cache. Diane is a two-time cancer survivor and she has a zest for life that is unmatched. She has this spritely "can-do" attitude that makes you just want to keep up and kick up your heels while you are at it. After each find, it was Diane pushing us along, "walk and talk, people! Let's get going!" She was right. We had a time limit and it was coming up fast.
The last hour of our hike was the hardest part. The terrain was rocky and varied grades. I really wanted to take pictures but we were moving so fast and I had to watch where I was putting my feet. We kept moving a quick rate, counting down the minutes we had left and asking casual hikers if we could cut on past them. We did managed to snag one last minute cache that luckily I spotted quickly, and then Tom led us off the path to the main road to the area where we turned in our scorecards. We could hear the official countdown - "FIVE minutes!" - as we made our way out of the woods. We got there four minutes before time and were so glad to have a breather and a water break (not that we weren't drinking the whole four hours of our mega-hike). Stan showed us his Evil Hide and we shared some laughs of our adventures before heading down wearily to base camp. On the way back, we all felt that we had done a very good job with our find numbers and had fun doing it.
The rest of the day, everyone relaxed in their chairs by the four different base camps. We had a (overpriced) BBQ luncheon at two, and the rest of the time we were recuperating, resting our feet, rehydrating, and waiting for the official announcement of the results.
Finally, it was time. I thoguht we had all done so well until the North Texas team announced, "And in fourth place," pulling out a shot-up ammo can and throwing it on the ground, "and we're real sorry about this guys, " he says, as he gives the ammo can a good kick, "Southeast Texas!" Darn! West Texas came in third, Centex second, and big surprise, North Texas won the Golden Ammo Can. They had 96 hunters compared to our 26, so we were just outnumbered, and the numerous rule changes did not help. As we returned to base camp, Gary aka TDW held up our bullet-hole ammo can and said "This is their rule book - full of holes!" Then he signed a big "First to Fourth" across it with a sharpie (this is the first year four teams have competed) and we all signed it, and talk it is will end up as a travel bug.
That night, there was a disco party planned by the San Antonio cacher AnthonyV. It was a great party for the half hour or so it lasted until the park ranger showed up and shut the thing down. Diane was there in a great white afro wig, disco dress, and white go-go boots, dancing and lauging. It was hilarious. Everyone was wondering who she was.
Afterwards, our team's high point earner MT Cachers came over to our campsite (as well as some drunk guy - did anyone catch who that was?) and Gary and I talked to them for a long while while Gary's cell phone kept chirping with text messages about newly published hides (someone was busy back in Houston). We talked about hiding caches, finding caches, FTF stories, night caches, and Quantum Leap. Quantum Leap is probably Houston's only 5/5 cache, and has a watchlist of 207 people with 96 finds and 395 notes. The notes, the finds, are some of the funniest, oddest things you will ever read. It is a Snoogans brainchild, and if you know Snoogans, you understand. He is a man with connections, and he will give you the caching experience of your life. We laughed about some of the logs we read, and TDW told of his own Quantum Leap find, which was very complicated and involved a wait in a cornfield for a bus with other Quantum Leap seekers and a trip to Jamaica for coffee.
Anyway, during this, I got a call from "grandma" who was laying the pressure on thick to come home by midafternoon for a family easter egg hunt. This curtailed my caching on the way home. We left in a rush and barely had time to sneak on and grab some GeoBreakfast (where eating a pancake earns you a smiley!) before hitting the road. I had been talking to my dear friend Elisa of Georeynozos about caching together on the way home, but we were rushing now and I didn't think I would catch her. I actually called her about two hours from home, but she didn't pick up. About an hour later, we stopped at a rest stop to use the facilities, which just happened to have one of my bookmarked caches at it. We were headed down the nature trail and I was just thinking this girl looked like Elisa's daughter when I heard my name, and there she was! So we did a cache together after all.
A weekend of caching and hiking, and all I scored was 12 finds, but in the end it was good for my child to do the family easter egg hunt and the youngest missed me. This weekend, it was more about the adventure and the experiences than it was about the numbers. I did have fun, and I hope to go to more Challenges in the future. For now, though, I am taking it easy and resting up for a big caching trip this weekend!
I am so proud of the SEtx team and I think we all did really well at the Challenge. First to Fourth Flamingos, way to go!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Christmas Presents From Heaven

In the latest move in the square dance between the Fat Cats, The Corporate Suits, the Behaviorist, and Me, I ended up being the one doing the victory dance. The Behaviorist was here doing a review of my program that I have pretty much developed from scratch in less than a year after starting work here. I gave a presentation to him, the Fat Cats and The Corporate Suits, and then I took him around and showed him what I had been doing, and then he gave a presentation to the Fat Cats, the Corporate Suits, and me.
In his presentation, he made some pretty incredible statements. He told them that the level of work that I was doing was equal to that of the best in the business, which was remarkable because they had been doing this for years and I had only just begun. He also was impressed with the results of my work and first said I could publish my data, and then changed his "could" to a "should." The Fat Cats started getting nervous, saying that they would have to talk to their legal department first, but he stopped them right then and made a comment to the effect of "I know you don't want to broadcast that you have this problem, but the fact is that everyone has this problem and no one has been able to successfully treat it before, but she has, and for the sake of our patients, I think the scientific community needs to see this information."
He talked to me privately at some point during the day and told me that publishing my data would be the golden key to unlock a door that had been closed to me. I had been trying to get somewhere academically but those doors kept getting shut in my face because nobody knew who I was. "I promise you," he told me, "you publish this paper, and they will know your name."
So it is settled (well, the Fat Cats haven't told me what the legal department said, but I am not waiting for them, I know how they roll), I am writing the paper.
However, before I could get started analyzing my data, I wanted to go back and validate and quantify it first. It was a rather tedious task and I kept asking myself if I really needed to do this, or if I was just doing this to avoid working on the paper because it was making me so anxious. I decided that I was not avoiding the paper by doing this, because it was an important step that I couldn't leave out.
As an example of why I think this is important, let me give you this scenario: Let's say you have a headache and your friend is recommending a medicine. Would you be more inclined to have faith in the medicine if they said they "kinda had a headache", or if they said "I had a pretty decent headache", or if they said "I had the worst migraine ever" and they took the medicine and it went away? In order to prove that my treatment is effective, I had to show that it worked in not only the mild cases that may or may not have resolved with no treatment, but also in the severe ones where treatment was a dubious proposition.
It took me about two weeks to get over that step, and I wrote a rough outline of my paper and was staring at the data trying to think of where to go next. I had two issues now: I had to translate my writing from layman's terms to scientific jargon, and I needed some more references. I was finding other work to do and pretty much decided that it would be best to put the paper on the backburner until June, when I am going to spend four days at a conference listening to presentations and reviewing the current data in the same field. By the end of that time, I should be able to write my paper much more easily.
I wasn't comfortable with that decision, though. I started to question again if I was just deciding that because I was trying to put off the anxiety of writing it. On the way home yesterday, I realized what part of my issue was. I needed to get my hands on some actual journals and just read them for a while to get a hang of the flow and style. I longed to find a campus library like the one we had at A&M, the Medical Library I think it was called, where there were rows and rows of scientific journals. I used to go there and read the journals all the time, which is why I thought writing this paper would be easy for me. That was ten years ago, though, and I am a little rusty in the pattern of scientific writing.
This morning when I got to work, there was a package waiting for me in my box.
This is strange, I thought. My box primarily sits empty. I opened the manilla envelope that was busting at the seams, and right there in my hands were three current scientific journals in my field.
It is like a Christmas present from Heaven. I wonder if God is watching over me right now, pushing me from behind, blowing in my ear. Write the paper, I feel he is saying, I have more work for you to do in this world. Go, now, and save my animals.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dinner and a Movie

The Dinner: Meat Ravioli in Mushroom Sauce

The Movie: No Country for Old Men

I was so happy with the way the meal turned out. Restaurant Quality, all done in under 15 minutes time including prep. I could not stop thinking about how good it was after we ate, and this remembrance lasting about 24 hours. It is really easy to make, let me guide you through it.

First you heat some oil in a skillet on the stovetop. Slice up some onion and press some garlic, and throw it in there once the oil is good and hot. Let that cook for about three minutes until it is all golden brown, then throw in a half cup of fresh mushrooms, quartered. Stir it all together until the mushrooms are lightly coated with oil, then throw in a couple tablespoons of flour and stir that until you can't see the flour anymore. Add a can of beef broth (14 oz) and a 1/3 cup of dry red wine - I didn't have any of that but I used red wine vinegar, same difference - and bring it to a boil over medium high heat. Add in some parsely, basil, and pepper. Once it is boiling, add some fresh ravioli. The recipe I was using (out of Easy Meals in Minutes) suggested a beef ravioli, but for some reason the store I was shopping in had none of that, and the only meat version I could find was a chicken and herb fresh ravioli. It was killer.

The movie...well, it won four Academy awards...and based on the content, I guess you could say it was killer, too. I was a little uncomfortable with all the bloodshed and I am not sure I like the ideas presented in the movie. It is actually quite dark. Some amusing parts of the evening, though - Tommy Lee Jones in the "extras" part stating that the movie "was a comedy really", and feeling like my mother for a a few moments. She says she always has to explain movies to my father, and sometimes it is wearisome for her. She has to choose movies for them to see that won't be over his head.
Well, first of all the end of the movie kinda snuck up on us. We had just readjusted ourselves and made a comment that it was a long movie, and then out of nowhere the credits are rolling. I was not expecting that to the be the last scene but it does make the point. Anyway my husband turns to me and says "So what happened to the dude?" I'm thinking that if he didn't catch the part where it shows "what happened to the dude", then how the heck did he make sense of the rest of it from there out? I ask him this and he says he has no idea what this movie is about. Rewind, catch up to what happened to the dude, and then there is the conversation with Tommy Lee Jones' character and his old friend he goes to visit. I tell my husband "THIS, this is what the movie is all about" and it turns out he had just tuned that all out. After all, it's just people talking, he is used to tuning out conversation. I mean, he lives with me for pete's sake! I'm trying to go back and explain to him how the conversation he has with the large cop in the coffeehouse, the old friend, and his wife are all connected to the main idea of the movie, which is just depressing really, and my husband is rewinding it all to catch the parts he didn't understand. I wasn't going to stay up all night for this, so I took a bath and read my book in the hour it took him to make sense of it all finally. The movie runs deep, with the statements about luck, life, faith, the frailty of human life, and the scenery, especially in the beginning, is interesting. Today, though, all I could think about when I thought of the movie is blood gushing from the dude's side. I did have the ravioli again for lunch, though.

Movie leftovers, not so good. Dinner leftovers....yummy.
Wind of Possibility, Wind of Change

This morning, as I stood outside on the deck to feed the dogs, I noticed the wind blowing through the yard and thought there was something familiar about it. As I loaded my toddler up in the car to leave for work, I realized what it was, remembered where I knew that wind from.
It was the same wind that blew the night of a Halloween party I hosted when I was seventeen. I was out in my yard with Kevin. There were some other folks from the party outside, but that moment will always remind me exclusively of Kevin.
As the wind blew across my face, I remembered moments, like snapshots in time.
Junior high. Kevin had been my boyfriend, and one day while we were having lunch with his friends in the cafeteria, he had slipped his hand under my skirt and rested it on my bare inner thigh. It freaked me out, and I told my friend Chris about it, after which he dubbed him "Mr Scary". I had wanted to break up with Kevin because of Chris. There was always Chris during those years, my sometimes boyfriend and best friend. One day I decided there was enough reason, and when I told Chris, he offered to go tell him. There was a bit of drama, because instead of telling Kevin, he told a female friend of Kevin's, who kept saying "Kevin doesn't accept this breakup", which eventually erupted into a screaming match between Chris and her.
Day after eighth grade graduation. Kevin and his best buddy Stephen had invited me to go swimming at their neighborhood pool. While we were swimming, Kevin was being a little handsy and I kept rebuffing his advances, because I had yet another boyfriend. Later, Kevin and I were drying off on the stairs of the clubhouse. He was still flirting and I was still rejecting him, and as we played around, a friend of my boyfriend's walked up and acted like he had busted me.
Later that afternoon, I went over to Kevin's house with him and Stephen because he wanted to show me something on his computer. It booted up, then as the programs opened, an audio clip played, saying "Kiss me Keely". He looked over to gage my reaction and I just looked at him, "stop it already!"
Later that night, I got a call from my boyfriend's friends, telling me he wanted to break up with me because "he knew I had been cheating on him". I kept telling them to put him on the phone, "let me explain," but they wouldn't. I am pretty sure it was the same guy that had seen me earlier in the day and took the whole thing out of context.
It was okay, because there was always Chris, Chris whose picture I slept with underneath my pillow every night. I would take it out and kiss it before I went to sleep, then put it back under my pillow to give me sweet dreams. My mother found it when she was changing my sheets one day and she asked me, "does this boy know you sleep with his picture under your pillow?" My answer was along the lines of "I'm sure he wouldn't be surprised." Chris and I had gone out, and he knew I wanted to get back together, but my reputation as a heartbreaker prevented it. The halls of my junior high were littered with my discarded boyfriends, and he said he didn't want to be the flavor of the week again, that he wanted me to prove to him I could stay in a relationship that lasts.
So I spent the dreary summer dating the boy next door. Three months into it, and we had gone a month without seeing each other. I had been gone for two weeks, and when I got back, he was at a friend's house for two weeks. Apparently when I was gone, he had seen a letter I sent to my best friend, and he called me one night with one question, "Who's Chris?" My response was only "I think we should break up."
After that, it was high school, and football season, and Chris and I in love. His kisses were hungry and always had the threat of sex on them. We talked about it as a possibility down the road, but we both knew we weren't ready. Our relationship was one of hot heat, of fire, a passion for each other that sometimes erupted into fierce fights, arguments over the phone, in the hallways. Months later, I was sick of fighting with him and broke it off. A month later, I met Billy and all bets were off.
Next year, football season again. Billy and I had a traumatic breakup and I had been through changes in my soul. Chris and I spent every day on the phone. One day when I came in from a run during which I had been thinking of him, the phone rang. He was on the other line and suggested that we break off our seperate dates for the night and go out together. While I was talking to him, there was a knock on my door and that night's date was there. He came in and was giving me some apologetic story for why he couldn't go out. "It's okay, " I told him, pushing him out the door so I could get back on the phone with Chris, and that night we went to dinner, went to a party that I don't even remember, because we spent our time pressed up against my car, making out, with those hungry kisses and the possibility of sex, or getting back together.
We didn't, because the next night the girl he was supposed to take out showed up at my door and wanted to talk, and it caused a big fight between Chris and I that we never really got over, though the possibility was always there.
Halloween night, my junior year. I was seventeen. I was hosting this party and had brought my latest boyfriend over to the house for my mother to meet. He was fifteen and innocent, and initially I had thought I was going to take that innocence from him, the way Billy did with me when I was fifteen and he was seventeen. I saw the situation in reverse. When I picked him up for our first date, his mom had hugged him close when he was leaving, kissed him on the top of the head, told him she loved him, told me to be careful with her baby. He was still a kid, still mommy's baby, and I saw that as part of his appeal. I didn't want to take that from him. We had gone to see the laser light show downtown, and during it, he had taken my hand and we held hands all night. After the show, we parked at the neighborhood park and sat in the car in silence, holding hands and looking at the stars. That is the closest we ever got in the three months we dated. Our relationship was like a cloud, soft and pretty but nothing you could touch. If you got too close, it would evaporate.
On this night, he was inside toasting pumpkin seeds with my mother, and a group of us had gone outside. Kevin and I were running in the yard in the wind, and suddenly he tackled me, hiking his knee up inside my skirt. I felt it then, the possibility of desire running hot in my veins. "Do it again!" I laughed, and ran through the yard, him chasing me, then tackling me again, his weight across my chest, his leg hard between my thighs. I realized then I felt an attraction for Kevin, but he had recently acquired a girlfriend, Christy. "Crusty", I dubbed her, out of a sudden jealousy, and vowed to hate her, but I met her eventually and she was pretty cool.
There was always the possibility, though, that they might break up. I held on to that night in my yard with the wind, the possibility that time was still long, that anything could happen, that someday I might actually kiss Kevin and know what that felt like, that someday Chris and I could forget our differences and work things out.
When you are young, you have this feeling that there is always time, that someday those things might really happen. The future is unknown, and in it lay a thousand possibilities. I wondered in that yard that night what might happen in my life, who I might end up with, and there were so many options, opportunities, and one day those are just gone, the future is past, you are locked in to a present that may or may not offer those golden chances.
At my high school reunion, I looked for Chris, and I looked for Kevin. Kevin was in Dallas making audio clips for video games, and Stephen was there, showing me pictures of Kevin's wedding in Scotland. Chris was nowhere to be found. I have heard he is living in my hometown again, somewhere probably within miles of my house, but I will probably never run into him. I always think about him, and the chance we had that we didn't take, and sometimes I long to talk to him and tell him about how I married "him", a man that was so much like him in so many ways.
For now, though, I have the wind that sometimes blows in and brings these memories, the memory of "what was" and "what could have been", and the winds of change that brought my husband to me and my two children and my life now.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Adventures in Caching: Memorial Park
Or: The Non-Event Event
This year, the members of the Houston Geocaching Society decided we were going to start a tradition of meeting once a month to celebrate that month's birthdays with an "event cache". An event cache is basically a gathering of geocachers in a specific location that is posted ahead of time, and it counts as part of a cacher's "find total". I didn't get a chance to attend the Birthday events in January or February, but this latest one was one I could make. However, the host of this month's event was not able to get the event cache listed in time to be approved by the local reviewer, so it was not an "official" event - we didn't get our "smiley" for attending (when you log a cache online, the website gives you a "smiley" next to the "found it" log, therefore part of the lexicon of a geocacher is to talk of earning smileys as a way of saying getting another find).
This month's event was planned for a Saturday morning in Memorial Park, both a good time and a good location for me. Memorial Park is a large urban park very close to the downtown area, and boasts 1,466 acres of recreational green space used extensively by runners and bicyclists...and geocachers. Remember in my earlier entry about Challenger Park, when I mentioned that it was cited as a good park for "numbers hounds"? Scratch that - this IS the number hounds park, with a grand total of 38 caches in the park. I've been on two caching expeditions in this park before today, and had only scratched the surface of what this park has to offer.
I was planning on taking my youngest child with me today and pulling him behind me in the wagon (the oldest is on a Spring Break trip with Grandma), but as it turns out, our truck needed to go to the shop and the wagon doesn't fit in my car. That left the stroller, but he has little patience for riding in the stroller, and my husband graciously offered to keep him at home and let me go off unencumbered. I am so glad we made that choice, because I would not have gotten to do the type of caching I was able to do today pushing that stroller around.
After some hiccups getting on my way, finally I was rolling down the freeway, blasting the Indigo Girls with the windows open and feeling pretty happy about having the chance to get out and relieve some stress. I've been having some issues lately with stress and I can feel it's effects on my body, and I've been working on solutions this week. Here is one. I can't completely escape life's stressors, though, especially in this town with Too Many Damn People. I got caught in some traffic issues on the way that put me even further behind schedule, and I finally got to the park 45 minutes after the event was supposed to start.

When I arrived, I thought it was already over until I noticed the cupcackes on the table and recognized the husband of a fellow caching mama I've met this past year. He said he was guarding the table and that everyone had gone caching, with one group going one way and another group the other way. I was itching to get out there, and instead of waiting to find someone to go with me, I struck out on my own, water bottle hanging over my right shoulder and GPSr loaded with waypoints, hints for each cache in my backpocket. I left him with my cell number with instructions for his wife to call me if her group came back.
As I walked, I starting thinking I should have gotten his number, because suddenly my battery power dropped. I had a vision of me getting lost out on a trail, out of batteries, or getting bit by a snake, and having no way to contact anyone. Luckily the way to the first few caches I was after were right off the main road, and I starting memorizing landmarks for reference points in case.
The first cache I went after nearly had me stumped. The hint was "multi-trunked tree", and there were a lot of places that hit that description. I kept zeroing out in one area and went back to search there three times during my circling of the area. I started to feel pretty dense, like maybe I should be with a group because otherwise I was not going to accomplish any finds today. I decided to be persistent, though, and widened my search area, and then I found it, 60 ft from where my GPSr told me it should be.
Each successive cache I had downloaded was between 0.2 and 0.3 mile from each other, which meant some walking. I've decided that urban caching spoils a person, because you get so used to being able to park within 0.11 of a cache that anything over that seems like a hike. Especially when there are multiple caches and it is hot outside (isn't it still winter, or spring? Why does it feel like summer already?). I could park closer to each of these first three I was hunting, but it would seem pretty ridiculous to drive to each one when I was out here to get exercise in the first place.
The second cache was a pretty easy find. It says on the cache page that GPS reception is spotty here, so the cache page directed you to look for the fallen tree. It took me all of three minutes to locate the cache. Can you see it in this picture?
As I walked to the next one, I ran into Kathy, a fellow cacher, one half of the team Muddy Buddies, #2 in our area in terms of total finds. This husband and wife team is a caching powerhouse and I dare say even have a little celebrity status in our group. Whenever they show up at an event, a little ripple of sound and applause ensues. Everyone is always glad to see them.
"Are you out here caching alone?", she asked me, concerned, and I told her everyone had already left but I had been hoping to catch up with one of the groups. She told me which cache they were heading to next, and it happened to be the one I was going for, so I felt confident I would meet up with them there. Sure enough, as I got within 150 ft of the cache, I saw them standing just inside the woods. They joked "Oh, did you want to find this? Let me put it back...hold on...where'd it go again?" Not too long after we all began walking off together, Stan, the other half of Muddy Buddies, got a call from Kathy making sure I had found them okay.
We had decided to head back north again, and on the way, there was a mass hunt for the first cache I had found, as our group converged with the other larger group and everyone hunted together. I had already found it, of course, and Stan was the one who hid it, so we kinda stood back for a second waiting for either the cry of "found it!" or "can we have a hint?" The littlest cacher in the group was the one who made the find this time, and everyone agreed about the coords being slightly off. Here are the two pictures side by side of the cache site, the one on the left from when I was hunting alone and the other with the group.

Looking at those two pictures now, it doesn't even look like the same place, but that is because the one without people is the area the cache actually is, and the one with the people is the area I searched three times, because they were zeroing out there, too.
After this, we all went back and had cupcakes and conversation sitting on the shady pcinic benches. I was excited to get to know another female cacher today who had posted a note in our forums saying she was looking for a caching buddy. I wanted to make some new friends myself, so I took the time to talk to her and get to know her better. Snoogans (our top travel bug mover in this area) had shown up by this point with his wife and new baby, and there were some dogs there with travel bug tags hanging from their collars for a fun discovery. This is what I love about events: the chance to talk to other people, to be a part of a community who understand the obsession, who share a common pursuit. Fellowship is an important feature of human life, and it enriches and develops us.
After our snack, a group of us headed out ostensibly to go after one particular cache, but on the way a few of us made small side trips to get two caches that were along this trail, the purple trail, on the way to the ultimate goal. Our walk became a sort of surrealistic adventure, as we walked around the roadblock fencing off a part of the trail from bikers, due to the erosion and a washed-out trail. One person remarked "well, didn't realize they had these kind of hills in Houston", as we found ourselves walking downhill along a narrow ledge in a ravine, and climbing up large uneven places bordered with steep sides. I am so glad I didn't have my kids, because I never would have been able to make this trek, but as it was, I was happily trucking along the trail with some really neat people. A couple of us checked out this cool fort you could see across the bayou as a couple of the others went on ahead and found the cache just ahead of us. The cache was named for Camp Logan, an army camp that existed here in the 1910s, and we talked about the history as we signed the log and discovered some coins and travel bugs people were holding.
After this, we headed back, and I walked alongside Whippettx, or Janet (funny thing about cachers - we go by these "handles" online, and it sometimes takes a while to learn someone's real name, or come to know them as that rather than their online identity) and we talked about her upcoming move to CA, my upcoming trip to that same area for GW6, and dog shows. Janet shows whippets and she watched me show my Aussie last summer at Reliant, and I would say she is a friend of mine, and I will miss her when she moves. I feel glad I had the chance to meet her.
That is what these events are all about - the chance to meet people face to face, and form relationships with people who share your interest. Funny thing about this one is that I still don't know whose birthday we were celebrating or if any of them made it out to the event (I think I heard a rumor that Houston Control was one and was there, but I only briefly saw him). All in all, I got a total of six finds for the day and was hiking for two and a half hours, minus the cupcake break. I had drank all my water and got more on the way home, but between that and the festival I took my little one to when I got home, I felt a bit dehydrated in the afternoon and wiped out. Emotionally, though, I feel wiped clean. I am happy that I found this community of people that I belong to, and I have pride in them.
Next week, our group is competing against other Texas regional groups for bragging rights at the Texas Challenge 08 at Lake Mineral Wells State Park. I'll be there with my oldest son, and I will post a story of how our group does. Go SEtx cachers (the "Mean Flamingos" - that's our mascot - isn't that hilarious?).
I love my caching friends and I can't wait to meet more and have more adventures with them!
Sylvia, The Movie

Last night I watched this movie on the Ovation channel, where Gwyneth Paltrow plays the famous poetess Sylvia Plath in the story of her life. I kept thinking I was going to turn it off because it was past my bedtime, but between the story of her life and the book I was reading on the commercial breaks, I was completely sucked in.

At first what was intriguing me about the movie was her courtship with fellow poet Ted Hughes, the story of how they fell in love. It was making me think about a blog I read regularly, and a piece this week on whether or not women should settle. In my comment response to the entry, a point I was trying to make is that sometimes it doesn't seem like settling initially, but over time in a relationship people evolve, and a woman might find herself trying to make a decision whether to accept or not certain things that maybe were not present early on but became present during the years.

I had been discussing that idea further over lunch today with a female co-worker. I asked her if when she was walking down the aisle, did she have full belief that she had found Mr Right? Conversely, at this point, I am guessing about twenty years into the marriage, does she still think she has found Mr Right? I am curious about other married women's perspective on this. From my own experience, I know that when I walked down the aisle, I felt like the luckiest woman to be marrying that man. I had never loved someone so completely. Yet at this point in my life, although I still love my husband, I know and have known for years that he is not the best romantic partner I could have chosen.

In that respect, I really related to Sylvia's story. In the early phase of her relationship with Ted Hughes, it was great and golden. The movie shows them cavorting on the beach in the sunshine, taking boat rides, sharing a passion for poetry, supporting each other. Then she has a baby. She struggles with finding time to pursue her dreams in the face of motherhood and household responsibilities. She makes sacrifices for her husband's career. They begin growing apart, there is another child, and then there is an affair, and she kicks him out. I'm not saying I share exactly the same situation she did, but I do understand the disappointment of her relationship.

Gwyneth does an incredible job in this movie portraying the subleties of mental instability on Plath's part. My opinion is that Plath probably suffered from depression or bipolar disorder. She certainly felt things emotionally at a deeper level than most people, which I believe was responsible for her ability as a poet. This undercurrent that drove her literary success probably drove her to make the choice she makes to end her life. I know I am giving a lot of movie spoilers; however, if you know or read at all about Plath's life, you can't avoid learning of her death as well, and that is the part that really impacted me about this movie.

I was really bothered by the fact that her husband had gone to live with his mistress and she was left responsible for the two little children, despite the fact that he was quite aware she was not emotionally stable. I also got upset when I saw her making buttered bread and leaving that and little cups of milk in the room with her sleeping children, then seal the door. I knew what was coming, and I felt for those little kids, who would wake up in the morning with their mother gone from their lives forever. I could not relate. I would never make a decision that would take me away from my children who need me. I've been that depressed, but no matter how unhappy I have been with my life, my children are my anchors that keep me on the shore. I would never leave them, and their happiness, their desires, their needs will always come before mine.

When I finally came to bed, I was sobbing. My heart was breaking for Sylvia, for her children, for the fame she acquired after death, when the her husband published her last manuscript. My husband woke up and I talked with him of all the things I felt about the movie, and finally about my anger in the betrayal I saw in Ted Hughes, how he left her with those little kids knowing how she was, and my anger in general that love never stays golden and true, that most of my married friends struggle with the decision to stay married when love doesn't always match their expectations. Why is there so much sadness in the world? I lamented. Why can't men live up to our dreams? Why why why I asked, as tears streamed down my cheeks.

My husband said I should stop watching those movies because I know they get me worked up, and can't we just go to bed already? I went to sleep dreaming of Sylvia, and poetry, and the dream of the perfect man.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Travel Bug Feature Story #3

Now, I am currently working on an entry about the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, but I am waiting to develop the pictures I want to put on here before I post it. I am a girl who really needs a digital camera! Meanwhile, though, I wanted to bring you this week's travel bug feature story. I am alternating between my personal TBs and my favorites I have found "in the wild". This week it is one of my own.
I had trouble deciding which one to talk about, and the sad part about going through my TBs is that I realized just how many of them are AWOL through doing this. I don't want to focus on those, though (yet). This is for the happy stories.
After I released the first TB I made (see earlier entry), I started buying TB tags in groups of 3-5 at a time. I had picked up two keychains at the Museum of Natural History for about a buck each, and made them both into TBs, Sha-man Over Here and Astarte.

"Sha-Man Over Here", if pronounced slowly, almost sounds like "Ja, Man, over here", like a Jamaician calling you over to enjoy the island. It just sounds inviting to me. The keychain to me looked like a shaman, or some kind of magical totem with a mystical appeal. I was just thinking, "magic man" and "island" when I looked at it. I gave it the goal to go to "exotic locations, lush and beautiful locales, and near beaches, mountains, or deserts. My dream is to go to South America." So far it has traveled 3270.8 miles in about 20 months. It's been to New Mexico, Colorado, Ohio, and is currently in Georgia.
I especially love it when people post pictures of my travel bugs. I try to do this myself often (have you seen my gallery? I don't know if you can see it if you don't have an account on but I have 259 pictures on there! I am a mad woman). Only one picture has been posted, but it is a really cool one. Since Blogger is being weird right now, you'll have to click on the TB's name above to go to the page to check it out.
The other TB I mentioned, Astarte, was released at the same time. I named this one after a goddess of fertility. I was interested in studying ancient goddesses at one point in my life and had gotten very into the mystical aspects of Astarte. I even wrote poems for her! Long ago, people often made artwork as a tribute to Astarte, thinking that it would help bring them children. Usually these were clay statues of a womanlike figure with a large belly and breasts, signifying her fertility. I assigned pretty much the same goals to this TB as the other one, the difference being I asked people to post pictures of the TB with women and children.

Astarte has traveled 2356 miles in the same amount of time, but the TB got stuck about a year after traveling. The last log has it entered into a cache that was archived not long after, with a note posted from the owner stating they were moving the cache to another location. I am not sure if my TB is still in the cache or with the cache owner or missing. I wrote them a note many months later and haven't heard back. However, I did get some cool pictures out of the deal so far, one really neat one of the TB in Puerto Vallarto that is at the top of this entry and one with children and their mother.
I would love to see these TBs again. Who knows what might happen from here?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Rodeo Time!

Every year in Houston, there is a certain three week window where the city as a whole lets their inner cowpoke out. That would be the three weeks of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the world's "richest rodeo" in terms of purses handed out to the winning cowboys and cowgirls. Each night, there are musical performers (usually country stars, although they do try to sneak in a few pop acts) who take the big stage following the real rodeo show, full of bucking broncs and bulls gone wild, racing chariots and cowboys tackling steers.
When I was a child, I loved the rodeo. I loved the smells, the sounds, the entire animal atmosphere. We went every year, as my father's employer frequently gave him four-packs of tickets. When I was in college, I worked the rodeo for an internship program one year and realized how much my interest in animal welfare had changed my perception. I went to the rodeo show one night the whole time I was there and left in disgust. When I watched the cowboys slam the calves down to tie their feet, I could feel their ribs hit the ground and had only ears for their bawling and fear. I remember going to the coffeehouse and writing about that sensation, and how I felt about the rodeo when I was a child compared to that moment.
However, my perceptions have changed again. Call it desensitization, or perhaps just acceptance of a certain amount of pain in life, but my oldest son and I got a kick out of going to the big bull and bronc competitions at the fairgrounds in the little town in Oregon where we lived. We loved it, and it was a bonding experience for us. Since we have moved back to Texas, I have taken him to the HLSR every year. It is something special that we do together.
It is through my son that I am able to see the rodeo through the eyes of a child again, instead of through the eyes of an "animal welfarist" (next time I see Temple Grandin, I'm gonna have to ask her about the cortisol levels in those calves before and after hitting the floor). Through his perceptions, I am able to recapture the magic that the rodeo held for me at that age.
Sunday, we made our annual pilgrimage. Each year, we mix it up and do things a different way. Last year when we went, we just did the carnival rides together and checked out the vendors. The year before, we sat through the rodeo part but left before the performers, and instead went out to the carnival. This year, I mostly wanted to watch the livestock - no performances, no rides. I wanted the low-budget, more authentic experience, "take me back to my roots and what I loved about it" kind of experience.
I had to stand by my guns to even get there in the first place, because he was dragging his heels and my husband was questioning my decision. Once we left, we were slowed down a bit by my desire to hit some of the local geocaches. We found one right across the highway from Reliant, but then as I made it to the stadium, I got a PAF (phone-a-friend) from another cacher and it distracted me, and I ended up getting in the wrong parking line. The actual line for where I needed to park was horrendous. By the time we got in the gates, almost two hours had passed from the time we had left our house.
It struck me as we moved in a group of people from the parking to the tram to the lines and gates how far we've come in civilization. Over a hundred years ago, drovers on horseback pushed the cattle across the plains to the railroad and markets, to places like Kansas and California. We cross a road on the way to the rodeo named Old Spanish Trail after one of these such routes. Today, a "trail boss" in city blue directs us, the bawling herd, through the passages and into the correct chutes. We are pushed and prodded and forced along, head to butt, with the mass of herd. Think I am wrong? Try moving quickly in a different direction than the rest of the herd and see how quickly you are pushed back in line. As soon as you think you are free from the constraints of the herd, a baby stroller comes along, or large group of teenagers holding hands, and back you go, assimiliated into the Borg Herd. Moo to you, too.

I had spent some time researching what times the various events I wanted to see this year were showing, but I never stopped to look at who the performer was this day. Oh boy, was I excited when I figured it out - Hannah Montana, aka Miley Cyrus. This explains the terrible wait for parking. Thousands of young girls dressed in their cute pink boots, leggings, bling belts, and cowboy hats were all over the place. Attendance at the show this day would reach about 73,000 and here they all were, all over the carnival grounds before the show. It was sheer madness and the number of people around me was making me claustrophobic.

This day, I wished for the "olden days", for the way it used to be. I'm talking about the Astrodome and Astrohall. Before Reliant Stadium was built, we had our rodeo at the Astrodome complex, and even though it is roughly the same place, I swear these buildings are spread out more AND they changed the layout of the different sections of the livestock show. I used to know exactly where everything was, and there was an area you could go see all the animals competing around that time in their stalls and tethered to the fence. Where the heck are the animals now? I see where the map tells me they are supposed to be, but we are walking in crazy circles around the vendors and AGventure kids area and no animals are to be found. We watch the Santa Gertrudis youth show for awhile, but then both of us decide we want to go see the horses. I am so glad my son suggested this because it was my desire as well.

Getting to the Reliant Arena where the horse show was held was a huge pain, across and behind the carnival grounds and the sea of people. To top off my irritation, my son had been dressed by Grandma that day in shorts that were too big for him, and he had to keep stopping to hitch up his pants and eventually decided he could not keep doing that and hold his lasso he bought, and now he wanted me to carry it.

We were both so glad to finally reach our destination, and slide into cool seats in the dark of a small audience to watch the cutting horse competition. My son tells me, "Now this is exactly where I want to be," and I agree. It seemed that the audience that was there was intimately involved in the competition, and I was getting a kick out of listening to them. They hooted and hollered and encouraged their favorite competitors. The women in front of us were making notes on the calves and plotting which ones they would choose to cut when it was their turn. A man behind us spoke in a southern drawl to his female companion about the herd, and which calves were better than others. We stayed there for quite a while, listening and learning.

After that, we meandered to the mutton bustin' competition. My son has been bugging me for years to sign him up for mutton busting, because he decided long ago that he wanted to be a bull rider when he grew up, and one of my husband's bull riding friends told us that is how he needed to get started. I am not entirely comfortable with either him doing it or the idea in general, so I kinda ignored his requests and hope he'd forget. Now he is too old and would have to do calf riding, and he was next to me today bragging loudly about "soon I'm gonna do calf riding, right Mom?"
Soon after this we left. He suggested it and I was never so glad to leave the rodeo grounds before. We wandered through the vendors on the way out, but honestly everything seemed so overpriced and nothing that we really needed or wanted. It was great eye candy, but window shopping is all I really do at the rodeo anyway. By the time we got home, I was wiped out and worthless for the rest of the day. I think this about killed the urge for me to want to go again any time soon. I just don't think it is like it used to be, and the commercialism and the sheer number of people there just zap the fun out of it for me. I'll see if my attitude is different next year, and as far as taking my youngest to see some farm animals, I think I'll stick to the local ag fairs for a few years. I can't find 'em here anyway!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Caching Dirty

They see me rollin
They hatin
Patrolling they tryin to catch me caching dirty

Isn't it just like me to throw in some obscure rap lyric? (Jen, if you're reading, remember that time I scared those guys when I busted out the NWA lyrics? Good times...)
For some reason Chamillionaire's "Ridin Dirty" was in my head today when I was caching and I couldn't get it out. It started when I took off in the morning with my kids to catch a few close ones that popped up during the night. The song hit my head when I was thinking about how these finds felt "dirty" to me, felt illicit. I was pondering this thought, like why couldn't I just feel good about finding these ones, and why not all caches are created equal.
There is some talk in the Groundspeak forums about a rating system for caches. I think it is a good idea. I wish there was some kind of system in place, but until then, we have to go with what we know. I don't want to get into the reasons why, but I have issues with a particular cacher in this area. There's been talk in various places of offenses done. My issues with him are not huge, and honestly he hasn't been really active this year so I thought he had dropped out of the game. He has not been on my radar, I guess is what I am saying, but when he was, I was sort of ignoring his caches. It was hard to ignore them for long, though, because he hides really close to me, and eventually I would get sick of seeing those unfound caches sitting there on my map and go get them.
Last night I was by my computer when I heard the new email alert, and saw three new caches pop up within 2 miles of my house. One was a park and grab, and if my husband had been home I would have gone for the FTF on it just to get another on my profile. I love First-To-Finds but caches around here get published late at night, and I hate night caching as much as I love FTFs, so it doesn't really go hand in hand. We have some vigilant FTF hounds around here, too, so if I wait until morning light, the moment is probably gone for me.
Anyway I was up early with the children and in a bad mood (due to some sleep disturbances the night before) so I decided to head out, thinking that caching would help me calm down. I had skipped my morning shower, or postponed really, on the off chance I would get dirty out on the trail, as well as opportunity. My husband was in bed sleeping off a hangover and my youngest was extra whiny this morning, so that combination really means no shower for me anyhow.
So here I am, dirty, and feeling dirty inside for going after these finds that I usually would wait on. It was almost like I felt that I was betraying my caching ethics, my code of honor in terms of going after caches that I knew would just bug me. And wouldn't you know, they did.
The PNG (park and grab) wasn't that bad. I was still doing okay. I had sent my oldest boy out to find it, though, while I finished manually entering the coords for the others (I didn't want to use the computer to download waypoints b/c it was right next to hubby) and he was not looking where I told him to, but all over everywhere else. I had to get the young one out and go help, and as soon as I walked up, I saw it right where I had told him to look in the first place. That was fine, though, and we set out for the next one.
Okay, so the next one has listed on the cache page as having the following attributes that I keyed into: stroller friendly, and kid friendly. I look for those attributes when I cache with my kids. Well, it was really neither of those, and I realized this as I saw where the GPS was leading me - into and across a gully. There were three options for crossing: jumping from the drainpipe, going through the knee high water, or stepping on a rock in the middle, none of which I wanted to do with the littlest one. This is where the irritation sets in. Of course, my oldest one had already made the jump from the pipe and now the youngest wanted to follow, so I had to hurry him out of there and urge the older one to get back where we were so we could walk down the trail aways to a bridge to make the crossing. Then we ended up having to come back down on the other side, and as the older son was making like a goat and jumping back and forth over the gully, I found the cache right next to me.
The next one was again in a gully, this time down an incline with rocks and briars and now I have a briar thorn stuck in my finger from the retrieve and...I'm still irritated. I had to pull five thorns out of my hand on the way back to the car (and apparently missed one). My biggest complaint of the three is that none of them had proper logs, just a torn piece of paper inside, no stash note, owner info, nothing. Cachin dirty....
So now my bad mood has gotten worse, and I am starting to turn into the Mommy Monster. Nobody likes the Mommy Monster, who starts telling one to "start listening!" and the other to "stop whining!", and directing the dogs to "go lay down already!" Luckily, my husband heard the signs of the Mommy Monster when I came home and took over so I could transition back.
A cool bath, a change of clothes, a whole new attitude. Was I done caching dirty? Was I done caching?
No! The young one fell asleep and the older one wanted to watch TV, and no one was interested in our original plans to go fishing/caching at the Peckinpaugh Reserve, but no one minded either if I left to do a little solo caching. So I took the dogs and headed out to get some nearest off my list.
First stop: Dixieland. I'd been out to this cache before six months ago and logged one of the few Did-Not-Finds on it. I had approached from the wrong direction and there were thorns everywhere, and other posts mention having to search through the briars, so I brought my handy-dandy hiking stick (aka "geo-stick) for poking. I was prepared. My dogs and I hiked the 0.12 mile down the gully and I walked right up to the cache, no poking necessary. I swear I looked there before! Anyway, I started walking back to the car and realized I was missing my geo-stick, and went back to the cache to retrieve it - I must have set it down to sign the log. When I was leaving the cache site this time, a briar brush came flying out of nowhere and smacked me on the ass! I think it was the caching karma sneaking up on me, maybe trying to catch me for caching dirty, or for feeling smug that I had managed to find and replace the cache without getting briar stuck or thorn poked. At any rate, the whole way back to the car I am trying to pull the bitty briar prickles out of my pants and wondering how the heck I am going to sit down now without getting stabbed. Luckily this was not an issue.
Second stop: Jackson's cache. Yes, I am cache-backwards. I want to use another term but we have to be PC. I don't know why I can't find this one, but sometimes caching makes me feel really obtuse. But this was my only DNF for the day, that counts for something right?

Third stop: Pappy's Pants. Yes, I have posted the only DNF on this cache in the 4+ months it has been out, 20 finds. But not today! The funniest parts of my day happened here. One was on the approach with my dogs. There was a barbed wire fence partially lowered by a falling tree that we had to cross over. My young dog just jumped right over it, but my old one, he wouldn't budge. He was scared of the jump. So I had to pick him up, all seventy pounds, and LIFT him over, silly thing. The second funny part was the cache itself. You will just have to see it to understand, but my friend Rhonda really outdid herself on this one. Oh, and on the way back to the car? The dog jumped.
Fourth stop: Faulkey Gully's Forgotten Freedmen. I almost didn't stop here. I was almost thirsty and running out of time. I am so glad I did. Ironically, I drove around and around trying to find the best place to park, and ended up parking in the worst possible place in terms of distance and geography. I realized after walking about 0.12 mile down the gully that I was on the wrong side, and had to do a water crossing. Off went the shoes, but down went the jean legs, and I ended up from then on wearing pants wet halfway to my knees. Found the cache, though! Got a TB out of the deal, too! Walked the long way back to my car to avoid another water crossing.
About an hour later, I am sitting on the couch with my toddler eating cheese and crackers, and he keeps dropping cheese on my pants, and it strikes me how absolutely filthy they are. I have a painful pointer finger with a briar stuck in it and several new scratches on my right forearm.

And that's what you get for caching dirty.