Monthly Archives: March 2012

Working for AmeriCorps Youth in Action

As of today I have spent two months in my new job as Program Coordinator for the AmeriCorps Youth in Action Program at Northern Arizona University.  On the road I occasionally missed work.  I know that sounds like heresy, but it’s true.  I missed the opportunity to work on a project or program with other people in order to make a difference in people’s lives.  Working in a community garden or preparing meals at SAME Cafe, Jay and I made a direct impact and it felt awesome.  Serving meals to people who are hungry is important and meaningful work.  That said, when you have the opportunity to look at the whole picture and reduce the line at the door, that is truly meaningful.  I missed that.  I missed getting around a table with other people who wanted to create lasting change and figure out creative solutions to social problems.  

In my current position I lead a team who coordinates approximately 60 AmeriCorps members, serving at 28 different organizations in Coconino County.  By designing training for our members, providing them with support to be successful at their sites, and by improving our systems to improve the experience of members in our program, I hope to have a lasting impact on the community.  Our AmeriCorps members are doing a variety of different jobs, from thinning the forest to reduce the threat of fire to educating children about the environment.  The work that they do on a daily basis has far reaching effects and the potential for lasting change.  It is my job to help them be successful.  When I hear a site representative talk about how much they have accomplished thanks to the AmeriCorps member, I am so happy to be back at work.

This week we brought eight new AmeriCorps members on board.  To officially become a member they recited the AmeriCorps pledge.  As AmeriCorps alum, I felt renewed purpose in my work as I listened to the chorus of optimistic young people taking this pledge together:

I will get things done for America -
to make our people safer,
smarter, and healthier.

I will bring Americans together 
to strengthen our communities.

Faced with apathy, 
I will take action.

Faced with conflict, 
I will seek common ground.

Faced with adversity, 
I will persevere.

I will carry this commitment 
with me this year and beyond.

I am an AmeriCorps member, 
and I will get things done.

Week 8: Here Comes Spring

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Things are about to really get busy for us.  Luckily, the increase in activity is corresponding with an increase in health for both of us.  Finally feeling 100% we are jumping into the busiest time of the year.  This past weekend we celebrated Jay’s birthday at our favorite local brewery, Mother Road and then also got to surprise our friend James’ in celebration of his birthday.  We went back to the climbing gym and Jay has been getting some biking in.  As shown in the picture above, we’ve also had the chance to spend time cooking at home and preparing healthy meals for the week.

This coming weekend will be filled with biking and trail work in Sedona as we have the opportunity to participate in an IMBA trail care crew visit there.

Volunteering:  Sharon volunteered on Sunday giving tours at Riordan Mansion (4 hours).

Beer of the Week:  Mother Road’s Twin Arrows Brown Ale

Something New:  This week Jay and I are joining the local Toastmasters Club to working on our public speaking skills.

Highlight of Being in One Place:  Planning ahead.  We have a very full calendar for the spring and lots of great local events to look forward to.

Sharing A Story: I’m Not a Robber, I Swear!

This post is part of the “Sharing a Story” series where I use a picture to reflect on a story that happened during our year on the road which I never told on the blog.  Click on the “sharing a story” tag at the bottom of the post to see more of the series.

lake in McKinney Texas

view from the Wimmer's backyard

We write a lot about the nights we spent in a tent, 113 in all, but that was only a third of the total nights on the road.  So where did we sleep the rest of the time?  Well, we were fortunate enough to connect with friends, family, friends of family, and a couple of couchsurfing hosts.  Buffy and Jack Wimmer were one of the first friends we stayed with, during our first month on the road.  They live in a suburban community north of Dallas, Texas and we arrived the weekend after the Super Bowl.  If you remember the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas, the big story was the unusual cold and icy conditions.  We were driving in those conditions through Louisiana and were relieved to have friends to stay with for a few days as the storm moved on and we finally got to enjoy some beautiful days.

The Wimmer family were neighbors when I was little.  Amazingly, our families have stayed in touch and they welcomed us in with open arms and embarrassing stories of my youth, just like real friends do.  Lucky for us, Buffy and Jack Wimmer’s daughter (who is close to my age), Kate, was in town for the weekend to do some wedding planning.  Kate was getting married in April and we were excited to be coming back through Texas for the wedding.  So after a night of great home cooked food, delicious beer, and laughing until I cried, we slept in and then planned a leisurely day of cleaning our car and biking.  Meanwhile, Jack went to work and Buffy and Kate left to go shopping, leaving us at the home alone.

Jay was getting the bikes ready in the garage and I was tidying up inside when the doorbell rang.  At first, I considered just ignoring it.  It was probably just a solicitor anyways.  Then I realized that it was so obvious that somebody was home that I would feel rude ignoring the doorbell.  I hurried to the door and turned the handle.  But it didn’t turn!  It was locked and there was no way to unlock it without the key.  We knew where the side door key was hidden, but not the front door.  The front door had windows next to it so I could see this man outside looking at me all confused.  I motioned to him, “one second”, and then hurried to the side door I was used to using and jogged around the side of the house.

Now I was coming up behind him as he still stood facing the front door.  I suddenly realized how suspicious this seemed.  How could I have been in the house but not know how to open the front door?  Still several feet away, I shouted a cheery “Hello!”.  He was startled but immediately started explaining what he was doing there.  Turns out this man was a neighbor who was locked out of his house (ah the irony!).  Buffy and Jack kept a key to his house and he needed it.  I quickly suggested that I could call Buffy on her cell phone to find out where she keeps it (thus proving that I know Buffy and it makes sense for me to be in the house).  I reached Buffy on her cell and found the key and all was well again.  In the process I nervously yammered on all about how we knew the Wimmers and why we were staying there and he was probably relieved to get the key and leave before I told him the story of my birth and every year since.

Happy Birthday Jay

Jay turns 29 today!  I’m so glad that he was born 29 years ago and that I get to celebrate with him today.

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Week 7: Please Visit, But Check the Weather

Before the snow we had sunny warm days and I commuted by bicycle around town

The highlight of this week was getting a visit from my life long friend Rachel, who came to see us from Las Vegas with her husband and their almost 2 year old daughter, Monica.  Unfortunately, I was fighting and losing to a cold and there was a major winter storm, but other than that it was fabulous!  But seriously, when it’s 80 degrees in Las Vegas, 4 hours away, it’s really hard to believe that it can snow 18 inches in Flagstaff over the weekend.  They came into town Friday night as the wind was beginning to pick up and the temperature was dropping.  Saturday we enjoyed some time downtown and at Thorpe Park while the sky was still clear.  By that night there was a cold rain and overnight the rain turned to snow.  Snow, snow, and more snow.  The highways in all directions were closed Sunday morning.  Rachel and Luke had to wait and see, hoping for great plowing and no accidents.  Thanks to twitter we could follow the latest highway news, and were able to know when the highway had reopened.  Rachel and Luke made it safely back to the desert, where soon they will start complaining about the heat again I’m sure.  Next time we plan to visit them!

Rachel and Luke's daughter Monica

The snow cancelled my work on Monday and I stayed home to rest and recover from a cold

Volunteering:  Jay and Sharon volunteered with AmeriCorps Espirit de Corps Event at Riordan Mansion, picking up trash and raking pine needles (2 hours).  Jay also cleared snow at Riordan Mansion (3 hours).

Beer of the Week: Cosmic’s Irish Red

Something New:  I tried corned beef (which I don’t remember having had before) twice in two days!

Highlight of Being in One Place:  Having people visit you instead of the other way around!

Product of the week: 

Video of the Week:
Jay and Nate riding Black Canyon Trail north of Phoenix:

Photo Review: Winter’s Last Hurrah, Flagstaff

This weekend we were hit with a spring snow storm that shut down the interstates and canceled my work for a day.  Since I was fighting a cold I enjoyed the excuse to rest inside, but finally went out for a walk late this afternoon to capture the winter scene before it melts.

On Air: A Unique Volunteer Opportunity

This past Wednesday I had the chance to volunteer in a very unique and meaningful way at Sun Sounds of Arizona.  I read the local newspaper live on the radio.  The radio is broadcast to listeners all over northern Arizona.  People sign up as a listener because they have disability (such as vision loss) which prevents them from being able to read.  As I read the articles I thought about men and women sitting next to their radios, like in the days before television, listening intently to get the latest news.

Where the volunteer readers read at Sun Sounds

Where the volunteer readers read at Sun Sounds

Some volunteer readers struggle to remember that there is actually a person out there depending on them to read the news.  From 2006-2007 I worked as the Sun Sounds Marketing and Outreach Coordinator.  It was my job to deliver radio receivers to listeners, meet with listeners, and get feedback from listeners about the programming.  For me, I am not just talking into a microphone in a studio, I am sitting next to Mary and Joe on a couch in their living room speaking directly to them.

Where the readers prepare the paper

Where the readers prepare the paper

There are radio reading services in every state, and reading for them as a volunteer is a really great way to serve your community.  The ideal reader has a clear speaking voice, a great grasp of vocabulary, and is comfortable speaking for up to two hours with short breaks.  Most of the Sun Sounds programs are done live, but there are a few that are recorded which takes a bit of the pressure off if you make a mistake or need to cough.  The other woman I was reading the news with had been a volunteer reader for 20 years!

view from the board operator's booth

view from the board operator's booth

I appreciated this opportunity to share my reading talents and hope to do so again soon.

A Year Later: How Jay’s Accident Shaped Our Year

Yesterday morning we made the call that finally closed the chapter on the accident that helped shape the last year.  In paying the final bill for Jay’s burn care, I hope we can finally move past all the pain associated with the accident and appreciate how much we learned from what happened.

Let me preface this by saying that I strongly dislike the phrase “Everything happens for a reason”.  I do not believe that Jay was burned and suffered great pain for a larger purpose.  That said, I do believe that you always have the opportunity to see the positive in a negative situation and to learn from and grow through overcoming pain and struggle.  I am not grateful for Jay having been burned, but I am proud of how we handled the emergency and amazed by all of the ways this negative turned positive.

In the immediate aftermath of the accident we saw an outpouring of support from family and friends and even acquaintances.  The Grostick’s who hosted us in Henderson, Nevada when we left the hotel deserve a special shout out!  Thank you so much to everyone who sent a kind word or showed your support.  It really meant a lot to us, especially to me as I sat with Jay (who was zonked out on pain meds) in the Arizona Charlie’s Hotel and Casino in Vegas overwhelmed at times by the situation.

During Jay’s recovery in Phoenix we had the opportunity to learn about the Overland Expo.  After winning tickets, we attended the 2011 Expo (while Jay was still in burn dressings) and told our story to the event organizers.  Because of that, this year we are attending the 2012 Expo as presenters, sharing our story and hoping to convince other couples of the importance of having both partners know first aid and four wheel driving.  We also made so many great connections at the Expo that led us to volunteer with the Muskoka Foundation and be featured on Drive the Americas.

That evacuation was one of my first times driving on a four wheel drive road.  No pressure!  When we got back on the road, we realized the importance of teaching me how to drive off road.  Over the course of the year I had lots of opportunities to practice and I became more comfortable at primitive camping.  This really opened up our options and saved us money on campground fees.  I can’t wait to take a driving course this spring!

Through enduring this emergency, Jay and I were forced to discuss serious issues about what we need to know about each other’s wishes for major medical decisions.  We are more prepared for marriage by having had these conversations.  Since we are not married yet, we also went through the processes of adding one another as someone who has permission to speak to our insurance companies.

Now that all the bills are paid and Jay has only a faint scar, we are able to joke about what happened and celebrate the accomplishment we made in overcoming this challenge.  Last night we celebrated with a bomber of Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp Ale.  Cheers!

10 Tips for Wedding Dress Shopping

This post is part of our almost weekly How To Series.  Since I spent most of last weekend on a marathon wedding dress shopping adventure, I decided to share what I learned.

Sharon enjoying a mimosa after finding the perfect dress

  1. Do some research online beforehand, but only to get an idea of the different styles that are out there.  I spent so much time looking online that I narrowed in on a certain style and then when I actually got to try on a dress exactly like what I had picked out online I didn’t like it.  There’s nothing quite like trying on the dresses in person so allow yourself time to do that.
  2. Know your budget ahead of time.  You need a very clear budget range BEFORE you start shopping.  This probably means you should wait to go dress shopping until after you have figured out some of the big budget items: venue, catering, photography.  Assuming that the dress is coming out of an overall budget, it needs to be dependent on the cost of other large ticket items.
  3. Bring your shape wear and heels, but realize that you might not actually need them.  Depending on the shop and what types of dresses you are trying on you may end up trying on dresses that have built in corsets in which case you don’t need shape wear.  If the dresses are new and you are trying on samples you also won’t need heels because they are made extra long and hemmed to fit you during alterations.
  4. Most sales people will ask you standard questions, “What silhouette do you like?”, “Straps or strapless?”, “What fabrics do you like?”.  I had trouble answering these questions and I was finally able to get to what I wanted when I started describing how I wanted to feel and what the wedding was going to be like.  For example, I wanted to feel feminine and romantic, so I ended up liking the silks and chiffons rather than the satin.  A good salesperson can help put your ideas about your wedding into an actual style.
  5. Try different types of shops to see the range of what’s available.  We went to everything from department store, thrift shop, David’s Bridal, off the rack discount wedding shop, and couture boutique.  I had initially shied away from the fancy couture boutique assuming everything would be out of my price range, but it turned out that the dress I ended up buying there was less expensive than some of the dresses I liked at the consignment shop and David’s Bridal.  
  6. Don’t bring your entire bridal party.  Dress shopping is tiring and the more people the longer it will take and the more drama may ensue.  For me, two guests was an ideal number.  This was very helpful because one would take notes while the other one took pictures.  
  7. Make an appointment (preferably not on a Saturday since they’ll be super busy).  Our appointments lasted between 90 minutes and 150 minutes.  Ask ahead of time how long you have for your appointment.
  8. Other things to bring: tissues and a hair tie.  You may cry, your mom might cry, or perhaps it will be the salesperson!  We saw a lot of people crying, but I only teared up a little bit.  Even if you normally wear your hair down it’s helpful to tie it back for trying on veils or hair accessories.  
  9. Ask about alterations and factor that into the overall cost of the dress.  Alterations generally run $200-500.  Some dress shops require that you use their alterations department.  Some places have a set cost and others are specific to your dress and what needs to be done.  Gowns with corset backs usually require less alteration where as a dress with a lace overlay or lace appliques may have expensive alteration costs.
  10. Bring a camera.  Most shops will let you take photos.  I found it very helpful to see myself in the dress in the photos and to compare photos from one shop to the next.  Especially if you are doing a dress shopping marathon, you may need a reminder of what you tried on and how it looked.

Sharing a Story: When We Won the Battle but Lost the War

This is the 2nd post in a new reflective “Sharing a Story” series, where I tell the stories we never told about our year on the road tied to a picture.

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Jay and I both got our start camping through backpacking.  We learned to pack light and be self sufficient.  Forgot your fork on a trip?  Just whittle a new one from a nearby stick.  Hail or high winds?  Huddle in the tent and play cards until it passes or until your tent is carried away.

Before our year on the road I had not done a lot of car camping (where you drive to a campsite and put up your tent near the car).  It took a period of adjustment for it to feel ok and not shameful to retreat to the car to get ready in the morning or read a book in safety and silence. The first time that we really took advantage of the car was at this campsite pictured above.

It was actually our second time staying in the primitive campground at Leasburg Dam State Park in New Mexico.  Our experience was so positive on the first try that we were relieved to be passing through the same area and able to camp in the same spot.  We set up our tent on a nice sandy flat spot and then went about setting up the kitchen and preparing for dinner.  Just as Jay was putting the fajitas on the cast iron, the sun was starting to set and our peaceful new home was invaded.

Out of these tall bushes swarmed millions of little flying bugs.  They didn’t bite, but they were so thick that you couldn’t see through the middle of the swarm and if they flew past you, you would get a mouthful of bugs.  I was grossed out and we were shouting over the swarm, trying to decide what to do.  Dinner was almost done but it was getting dark and Jay needed to use a headlamp, which meant that the bugs were swarming under his headlamp and getting into our food.  Jay covered the cast iron with foil to let it finish cooking bug free and I gathered up some plates and forks and retreated to the car.  I turned off the interior lights so that when he opened the door the bugs wouldn’t follow him into our car.  There were already several lost bugs that had rode in on me and were now wandering the cab as I tried to swat them.

That’s when Jay got a genius idea.  He took our Goby Flashlight with magnetic feet (pictured below) and attached it to the rear of the car pointed away from the kitchen area.  A diversion!  The swarm fell for it and  hovered around the light, giving him just enough time to pull the cast iron and jump into the front seat of the car to safety.  Even still, a few bugs got in, but we were able to swat them pretty quickly.  

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Once we were in the safety and comfort of the front seat, Jay served our dinner (with the cast iron resting on a hot mitt on the dashboard).  We ate in silence, trying not to notice the extra bits of protein in our fajitas.  To us it felt like a small victory – we escaped the swarm – but only by retreating to the car.  Which meant the next battle lie right outside, between us and a nice night’s sleep.