Saturday, May 31, 2008

returning "home"

I'm back in the U.S. after about two weeks in Honduras. Much, much more to come about all of that, including some about a much ignored topic on this blog of late: knitting! The strangest thing about returning to my "home" was that it did not at all feel like home. Having only lived in State College for less than a month before departing for Honduras, it was really strange riding in the car from the airport to the only semi-familiar hills of Happy Valley. I got back to my apartment and was surprised to find that I had left it fairly clean and that I really liked the way I had set up the furniture. It didn't feel like my home at all!

I got back to the apartment about 3:00a.m. on Friday morning, then went to sleep for a few hours before heading in to work. When my alarm went off, I found myself incredibly confused about where I was. The bed was comfortable, and it was warm. Was I in La Acequia? Was I in Roatan, an island I had visited off of the east coast of Honduras? Was I in the airport? No, I was in my bed at the place that is now my home. After some work, where my boss told me I should go home and get some sleep (it's never good when you LOOK like you need sleep...), I took a nap on the couch and then was even more confused. It's definitely going to take some adjustment to get into the swing of things back here in my place.

In a lot of senses, "home" seems to me to be more about people than about places. IN that vein, the following might be a good representation of home for me.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Many people take a break after they finish their PhD. They travel the world, relax on a sunny beach, or hunker down in their favorite local coffee shop. I, on the other hand, went to work. Apparently that is my favorite thing to do.

However, now that I've been at my new job for three weeks, I'm headed off for as close to a vacation as I get: a mission trip to Honduras for 10 days. It occurs to me that I think I haven't written about this much/at all on the blog, but I've been planning it since last September. A group of 10 of us are headed down to a rural village where we'll be doing a lot of stuff like getting kids excited about learning, helping the community get a vision for the development of their area, sharing the love of Jesus with the community when possible, and encouraging the churches in the town. I will also be doing two things I absolutely love: checking out the situation of the water and teaching women (or men, I guess...whoever shows up) to knit and/or crochet. I have one suitcase that is half-filled with YARN and NEEDLES and HOOKS. I am so excited about this part. We will also have a day or two of "fun" in Roatan, which I'm told has lovely beaches and snorkeling. My suitcase is too full of knitting stuff to fit my snorkel gear. Ah well. I'll support the local economy with my payment for rental gear.

So...I'll be gone. We return to the US on May 29. Don't count on me until after then.

Monday, May 12, 2008

being social makes me sick

As alluded to in my previous post, everyone I've met here in State College seems to know at least one other person I have already met. It's sort of getting old. At first it was really funny, now it's just annoying. People tell me, "Oh, you should meet So-and-so, you'd really like him/her." And all I can say is, "I already have..." No fun.

I can't really complain, though, because what with all the Knowing People, I've been a regular social butterfly. This has been greatly helped by two particular people, E who is a gal I met through church and who knows my old roommate/dearest friend, and Dr (NOT Doctor, NOT D, I'm abbreviating him Dr) who is a guy I actually knew back in Pittsburgh but haven't talked to in years and randomly ran into at a different church. (Yes, and of course E and Dr know each other, too. When I asked Dr if I could invite E to a party he was having, he told me she was already coming. ...Also no fun!) Together, E and Dr have led to my Being With People 5 of the 7 most recent days, and that is a lot for me, who really enjoys quiet evenings at home (and also really needs to be at home unpacking...). I really, really appreciate the welcome I've received and have very much enjoyed getting to know both of them and all the other folks to whom they've introduced me.

However, I think that has all backfired on me, because all of a sudden, I have gotten a cold. It's better than the flu, but it's struck full-force with achy muscles, sore throat, runny eyes, pounding headache, croaky voice, and it left me wading through the rainy Monday at still-quite-new work feeling like I could fall asleep at any given moment. The network guy who grinds the coffee...he wasn't in today. :-( No help there. But I made it somehow.

Now, what is the lesson to be learned from this experience? Ought I stop spending time with people?? Maybe I need to set up a curfew for myself? Wow, I never knew that being friendly could be so complicated!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

back on the wall

Three years ago now, I took a rock climbing class and had a blast. I'm not sure that I was ever very good at it, but I enjoyed rock climbing because it's an activity that is both physically and mentally demanding and has a set endpoint. You're not trying to beat another person or team, you're not trying to be the fastest or most graceful - you're just trying to get to the top of a wall any way you possibly can.

But after the class, I climbed once more (on an actual rock outdoors - very sweet!) and then didn't any more. I don't know why. I guess it was mostly because I didn't have anyone to go with me to belay (a.k.a. hold the rope at the ground so I don't die if I fall), and I while bouldering (basically climbing horizontally across a wall instead of vertically up it) is's not the same. And I think I was also discouraged to continue climbing because it cost money (although it was at the gym at the University, it was not included in regular gym privileges) and because getting to the wall required first climbing a very large Pittsburgh hill.
i've posted this before, but since it's such a glamourous picture of me climbing, i'll show it again. look - it's me climbing a real, live rock!
And now I'm in State College. Strangely enough, Penn State does not have a rock wall. I heard that there was a push to get one within the past few years, but apparently nothing has come to fruition. Nevertheless, my interest in rock climbing somehow got retriggered in the process of me moving here (the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour helped a bit), and I actually utilized Facebook to locate someone in State College who listed rock climbing as an interest...and then it turned out that the guy works in one of the labs I'm doing my project in. However, he was not in fact the person who finally got me back onto a wall.

I have been meeting a lot of new people over the past two weeks living here, and it's amazing to me how every one of them strangely fits into some other aspect of my life. Many of the new folks know the few people I already knew here. One of the people I work with knows all the natural food store secrets of the area. The network administrator I met to get access to the chemical engineering computer system loves to grind his own coffee and has a pot available for anyone who would like it any time of the day (yes, please). And a gal I met at a Bible study on Tuesday (who, also strangely enough, hails from Pittsburgh) loves rock climbing and goes to the one and only wall anyone seems to know of in State College, which is at the YMCA...which just happens to be about a quarter mile away from my apartment! Sick.

And that is how I ended up on a wall this evening. (...And if you'd like to know the whole story, is how I met another researcher at Penn State who has ties with my current boss...and an undergrad who is working in a lab I've been really interested in and gave me the scoop on the funding and job-opening situation... I'm getting used to the fact that everyone pretty much just knows everyone here...) Back on the wall. I was astounded by how...awful I was. I know I haven't been working out in a loooong time, but I didn't realize just how incredibly negatively that has affected my upper body strength. I also have forgotten a lot of the basic technique tips that I learned in my climbing class and which are really quite useful. I wasn't entirely bad - I did get up the wall several times and bouldered a bit. But I wasn't going up the wall on any marked routes (i.e. I was doing it the easy way and not the challenging way), and I wasn't nearly as "good" as I was three years ago.

Boo. I was expecting that a three year lapse would have not affected my performance capacity in the least. Hee.

I'm looking forward to going back again soon, hopefully next week. Although the gal who originally invited me along will be gone for the summer, some of her pals will be around and can go with. Plus there are lots of instructors there whose job it is to belay - woo hoo! No need to worry about that!

Hooray! A resurrected hobby. Very nice.