Monthly Archives: April 2012

Photo Review: A Three Year Old’s Birthday Extravaganza

This weekend we had the opportunity to celebrate our niece Laya’s third birthday at an amazing party that her parents threw in their backyard.

Jay’s Back and Experiencing “Post-Emphatic Wilderness Disorder”

Jay got home this afternoon from 10 days in the Grand Canyon.  The canyon is a surreal place to live.  Anytime you are in the wilderness for an extended period of time, it can be a difficult adjustment to come back to society.  One of our favorite podcasts, Dirtbag Diaries, recently had a story about exactly that issue, The “Post-Emphatic Wilderness Disorder”.  As Jay makes the adjustment, I thought I’d share that podcast with you to give you a sense of where here’s at.

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Week 12: I Miss You Like Woah

This past week Jay had the opportunity of a lifetime to go on a 10 day volunteer trip in the Grand Canyon to count native fish (humpback chub). Not only were they camping in the canyon for 10 days, but they were brought to the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers by helicopter.  He left 9 days ago and comes home tomorrow.  I miss him so much.

Meanwhile I had a busy work week and started working on the Overland Expo and Made in the Shade Beer Festival.  It was also Earth Week/Day, so there were lots of volunteer events and chances to celebrate the environment.

AmeriCorps member Lindsay leads the invasive weed pull event at Grand Canyon Trust

In addition, Jay’s mom, Cindi, flew to Virginia to do some wedding planning with my parents.  They checked out the venues, hotels, and did tastings.  It was exciting to see the wedding really take shape and made me miss Jay even more.

Volunteering:  Jay spent the entire week volunteering with Arizona Game and Fish in the Grand Canyon.  I volunteered at Riordan Mansion on Friday and then attended Trail Ambassador Training and Earth Day events on Saturday.  I have also been managing the Facebook page for the Made in the Shade Beer Festival.

Beer of the Week:  This week I’ve been drinking the Pyramid Hefeweizen since it warmed up and feels like summer.

Something New:  I went to training to become a Trail Ambassador

Highlight of Being in One Place:  Attending Trail Ambassador training made me see the benefits of living in one place and being able to make a real difference in the community.

Made in the Shade Beer Festival

Some of the folks at the 2007 Festival

In two months, the 20th Annual Made in the Shade Beer Tasting Festival will come to the Coconino County Fairgrounds.  The MITS Beer Tasting Festival is the annual fundraising event for Sun Sounds of Arizona.  When I moved to Flagstaff in 2006 I got a job as the Marketing and Outreach Coordinator for Sun Sounds.  The manage a radio station that broadcast news and information for people who can not read because of a disability (such as vision loss).  It was Sun Sounds vision statement, “the inability to read print will no longer be considered a disabling condition” that inspired me to promote their services.  I thought of a disability like vision loss as being something that would permanently close a lot of doors.  But imagine if through technology and a redesign of how we get news and information, if we could open doors and make vision loss less of a disabling condition.

Where the volunteer readers read at Sun Sounds

Where the volunteer readers read the news at Sun Sounds

All of that is to say that you can feel good about buying your ticket to the Made in the Shade Beer Tasting Festival.  I mean, I know you will feel good at the event tasting a wide variety of brews, but now you can start feeling good before the event as you purchase your ticket!  Speaking of which, tickets are available ONLINE; general admission is $40 and VIP tickets are $80.

This year I am helping out by administering the Made in the Shade Facebook Page.  I hope that you will like the page.  I will be posting updates on which breweries are coming with which beers and of course keeping everyone up to date about all the details of the event.  If you have attended the festival in the past, I encourage you to post a picture to our wall.

Sharing a Story: Life on the Road

This post is part of the “Sharing a Story” series where I use a picture to reflect on our year on the road.  Click on the “sharing a story” tag at the bottom of the post to see more of the series.

Seeing our sandwiches in a boots box reminds me of life on the road more than any other picture.  A road trip is filled with beautiful sunsets, starry skies, and breath taking vistas.  In between, you are spilling crumbs on your car seat cushions as you try to pull together a sandwich without getting out of the car because there is a downpour outside.

We developed this boot box storage system in the 2nd half of our journey.  From the passenger’s seat you could barely access the fridge and barely access the non-perishable rubbermaid food box.  After near shoulder dislocation, we stored some snacks and non-perishable lunch fixings in the boots box and had it rest on top of fridge for convenient access.

Having easy to reach snacks on hand saved us from what Brad and Sheena have termed “Hanger”.  This is the special kind of angry that arises when someone (usually a woman) has low blood sugar.  When hanger surfaces in the middle of driving when there are no restaurants for miles and no nice picnic options, a boots box full of nuts, chips, and raisins is a life saver.

Whenever possible, the boots box became a lunch box for transporting our sandwiches to a picnic table overlooking a lake or valley.  Just as often though, we sat in the car, eating silently as we restored perspective through sugar and protein.

Recently Jay met me at my work and we headed outside for a picnic lunch.  He had made sandwiches and brought out the plastic cups for juice.  It felt like a moment of normalcy in an otherwise surreal couple of months.  Maybe if we pull together a picnic lunch and take it out on the lawn in a boots box, we’ll be able to eat peacefully, gather our thoughts, and be ready for where the road is taking us.

Flagstaff Ale Trail

This weekend I had the chance to meet Geoff, one of the creators of the Flagstaff Ale Trail.  As we have written about before, Flagstaff is a craft beer hot spot and there are several breweries and tap houses within an easy walk of each other.  Get a hotel room downtown, acclimate to the high altitude, and you’ll be set for a weekend of tastings!  Well, Jeff capitalized on this unique drinking scene by creating a signature pint glass and paper passport that are sold as a package and then get you discounts at each of the breweries.

I had the chance to hold one of the “silipints” that comes in the passport package.  They are flexible, made of silicon, and unbreakable.  Unbreakable is cool, but it’s even more novel that they bounce (without beer of course)!

The Flagstaff Ale Trail has been hugely successful already.  It feels like it’s always been here.  I think that must be the measure of a great business idea, that people quickly come to recognize the product or service as something that belongs.  How long will it be before Flagstaff can’t imagine itself without an Ale Trail!

When Jay gets home we will have to hit the trail and get our passport stamped.

Earth Day

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Dorothy (who we met last fall on a volunteer trip) was the invasive weed expert for the Earth Day volunteer project at Grand Canyon Trust

Some days I just love living in Flagstaff.  Flagstaff is a town where people are passionate about the environment and about coming together to do good work.  Today is Earth Day, which meant that for Flagstaff, it is the culmination of Earth Week.  All week long there were events to celebrate the environment, including an alternative transportation parade, blackout on campus, stream clean up, invasive weed pull, and a fair downtown (just to name a few).

CREC (another AmeriCorps program) hosted a table at the Earth Day fair that Gideon organized

Especially exciting for me was seeing how many of these efforts were led by AmeriCorps members.

AmeriCorps member Katie coordinated two Espirit de Corps events for Earth Day

The big, city sponsored fair yesterday was organized by an AmeriCorps member, Gideon.  He literally worked until he dropped, having rolled his ankle during the fair set up.  Luckily he’ll be ok, and was able to sit down for the fair and be wowed by how successful the event was.  It was a beautiful day and it seemed like all of Flagstaff was out celebrating the land we live in.

AmeriCorps member Lindsay leads the invasive weed pull event at Grand Canyon Trust

Before visiting the fair I had a chance to participate in the invasive weed pull event organized by Lindsay and Katie.  It was such a fun group of people to work with and I enjoyed being outside getting my hands dirty as I got to know the other volunteers.

Happy Earth Day!

FBO’s Trail Ambassador Program

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Sean talks to a trail runner who is reporting evidence of a large campfire near a main trail

Today I had the opportunity to attend Trail Ambassador Training with Kip Moyer, Flagstaff Biking Organization’s Trail Ambassador Program Coordinator, and Sean Murphy, Trails and Wilderness Coordinator for the Flagstaff Ranger District.  The Trail Ambassador Program is a volunteer effort to train and support responsible trail users in promoting responsible trail use.  As a Trail Ambassador, I would put on a special volunteer jersey that identifies me as a trail ambassador, and then go out for my normal ride being friendly and available.  Trail Ambassadors help users by answering questions, assisting with basic bike maintenance, and calling for help if necessary.  They also help the Ranger District by noting any maintenance issues or potential violations and reporting those.

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Trail Ambassadors out of uniform

This Trail Ambassador program is very similar to IMBA’s Mountain Bike Patrol (which has 50 patrol groups around the country), except that in the Flagstaff Ranger District it is a collaborative effort by different user types (hikers and bikers and soon trail runners).  Since all of the trails are multi-use it is great to have all trail users involved as ambassadors.   Having a visible volunteer ambassador presence will hopefully prevent user conflict and improve the response time for trail maintenance concerns.  I look forward to getting involved with this unique opportunity.

Week 11: Playing with a Little Princess

Laya has an amazing stomach for spinning and it's a favorite game that she plays with her Uncle Jay

This week we had the opportunity to go down to Phoenix for the weekend.  We were both able to work on Friday as I had a meeting in Phoenix and Jay welded a gate.   Meanwhile it was snowing all day on Saturday in Flagstaff.  Some parts of town had a foot of snow accumulate.  As we played tee-ball with our niece in the yard I was very grateful for the diverse climates of Arizona and our opportunity to skip the snow.

Laya was incredibly excited to receive some dress up clothes from her great grandma Millie

I was glad we had the chance to spend the weekend together, because yesterday Jay left for a 10 day volunteer trip into the Grand Canyon with Arizona Fish and Game.  This is an amazing opportunity for him and he is so excited to be able to go on this trip.  That said, we always miss one another when we are apart and this is the longest separation we have had in a few years.

The snow had already mostly melted by the time we drove back to town, but you can see the evidence on the peaks.

Volunteering:  Sharon volunteered as a board operator at Sun Sounds of Arizona (2.5 hours).  Jay left for a 10 day volunteer trip with AZ Fish and Game to count the native Humpback Chub fish in the Little Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

Friday after work I got to ride at a new-to-me park in Phoenix

Beer of the Week:  New Belgium’s Abbey Ale – we rediscovered this old favorite of ours.  Jay also enjoyed Phoenix Ale’s Camelback IPA when we were in Phoenix.

Something New:  Yesterday Jay had the opportunity to ride in a helicopter for the first time.  The helicopter went from Cameron, Arizona and then landed in the Grand Canyon near the confluence of the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River to drop him off for a volunteer project.

Highlight of Being in One Place: We really enjoy being close to family (it’s so challenging that our families live 2,000 miles apart so we can’t be close to both at once!).  We were able to celebrate Jay’s brother’s first wedding anniversary with his family.

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The hummingbirds were very active in the desert and I had a chance to photograph several of them.

National Volunteer Week and the Value of Volunteers

This week is always a busy one for me because it is National Volunteer Week.  It is a week to talk about volunteers and to celebrate all that volunteers do for our programs.

trail work on Pima Wash Trail

Trail work with VOAZ on the Pima Wash Trail in South Mountain Park

Recently, my own volunteer efforts were celebrated, along with hundreds of other volunteers at the annual Volunteer Venture for Arizona State Parks.  During the opening speech by the interim Director of Arizona State Parks, he referenced the dollar value of volunteer time and gave an overall figure of how much the volunteers were worth to the organization.  It was of course a huge number of dollars and he stated how the volunteers were so valuable because without them they would never be able to get everything done; they would never be able to get that kind of money.

Riordan Mansion volunteer potluck

Riordan Mansion volunteers and staff gather regularly for potlucks, enjoying each other's company and sharing ideas for how to keep Riordan open

So here is where putting a dollar figure on volunteer time falls apart.  Almost any time I have heard a speech about the value of volunteers, the organization’s leader giving the speech references that dollar value and then almost always talks about how they could not afford to pay staff to do what volunteers do.  I think this misses the point about the value of volunteers.  Volunteers do not just give time and manpower, but they bring their unique talents and connections.

Here are some examples to illustrate my point:

  1. I met a volunteer who served at the local charity thrift shop.  She was put in charge of intake and pricing for new pieces of jewelry that were donated.  She had been recruited for that role because she had some specific knowledge of appraising and could separate the cheap costume jewelry from the expensive stuff so that it could all be priced accordingly and make more money for the thrift shop.  After taking the position however, she came up with a new idea.  The price of gold had been going up and up and some of the jewelry pieces would be worth more if they could be held onto and the scrapped to a gold seller instead of sold at the shop.  She was able to find a lucrative new way for the charity to make money from their donated items.  Her volunteer time was worth more to the organization because she was able to use her talent and was given responsibility.
  2. My mom volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House answering phones and giving tours and generally helping out around the house.  This is a standard position and they could hire someone to do it if they had the money. What they couldn’t hire is my mom’s network and the connections of the volunteers to one another.  Whenever there is something special needed for the house, my mom knows who to call.  Need the bushes trimmed?  Call my dad.  Need the new quiet room painted?  She calls her sister’s ex-husband who is a professional house painter.  In addition, the volunteers take care of each other.  My mom carpools with another volunteer and they all check in with each other on shift change to see how everyone is doing.  Sometimes they even arrange vacation coverage for each other on their own.  My mom was “hired” for her position because she has excellent customer service skills, but because she is passionate about the mission of the Ronald McDonald House, she brings her entire network with her, an enormous value to the organization.
  3. As regular readers know, I give tours at Riordan Mansion State Historic Park.  This is a situation where volunteers do the same thing that paid staff members do.  So hypothetically, if the park ever had a surplus of money they could hire staff to do what volunteers do now.  However, one thing we all love to tell visitors is that they should come back and go on the tour again, because we have at least 30 different tour guides (3 paid and the rest are volunteers) and every person tells a different story about the house and the family that lived there.  This diversity is a true asset to the park and one that they wouldn’t be able to replicate without their passionate diverse volunteer workforce.
Tewksbury/Blooms at Ronald McDonald House

Mom, sister (Nora), and Sharon at Ronald McDonald House at Christmas

As I have explained to many volunteer managers, human resources in a volunteer-based organization is backwards from a factory.  In a factory you want to increase efficiency by getting the greatest possible output out of the smallest possible number of staff.  In a volunteer-based organization, since every involved volunteer represents a potential wealth of experience, talent, connections, and passion, you actually want to figure out how to have the most volunteer staff possible.  If you have a task that needs to get done, think about whether it can be broken down or expanded to create two volunteer opportunities instead of one.  Too many volunteers working on tasks without supervision?  Look for a volunteer with the talent and drive to become a volunteer leader!
volunteer at az sonoran desert museum

A volunteer interpreter at the AZ Sonoran Desert Museum

These examples don’t even get into the fact that volunteerism is not only a boon to non-profit and government organizations, but is also of great value to the volunteers themselves.  Excellent volunteer opportunities are always a win-win-win.  The organization wins, the volunteer wins, and the community or cause wins!  So don’t shortchange the experience when talking about the value of volunteers.  Volunteers may be measured on a budget line at $21.79 / hour, but their contributions are truly priceless.