Tuesday, December 07, 2010

My god, what have we done?

It has now been a few weeks since taking over an online Montessori Materials business (Montessori123.com) and as we have become more familiar with what we have purchased, the amount of potential work that we could do becomes absolutely mind boggling. And with less than a month before we depart for Colombia (where they are having record rainfall) we have a lot to do.
Just yesterday as we decided to try to inventory all the preprinted and precut inventory that we inherited in the purchase I pulled the classic "walk around in circles, unable to get anything done under the weight of so much to do" for which the only cure for me is to go for a run. This helped to calm me, but after returning to our cluttered condo, with stacks of materials and replicas strewn all about the place, I fell back into the craziness again.
Fortunately, while I was away Megan came up with a plan on how to deal with craziness. This involves putting most of what we have back into boxes and dealing with it later. I like this plan.

Allow me to explain a bit of what we got ourselves into.

When we purchased Montessori 123, we mostly purchased a) an existing website with a good strong history b) a bunch of satisfied customers that we can (and will) begin to communicate with and create a relationship and c) (most importantly) over 350 digital files of Montessori materials.
Sounds simple enough, but the complexity begins to come when you realize that these materials are from the brain of a very creative person but that only that brain actually knows what they all are. She did a good job of organizing them to the best she could, but there still is 5 years of a messy hard drive (think about your own hard drive) with different iterations of various projects. On top of this, these projects are on the website for people to buy but various naming and pricing schemes, all of which I'm sure make sense to the original creator. However, as of yet, they don't make a lot of sense to us.
Then there are the bonus materials. Some 25 boxes of preprinted, laminated, and/or cut materials. Many of these are unlabeled.
So yesterday we started going through these boxes and attempted to inventory what we have. When you have over 300 materials of which you aren't too familiar with, all boxed up in various stages of being finished and you are supposed to catalog and inventory them all, the most tempting thing in the world is just to take them to the dump and start all over again.
"What is this material with the top card being a picture of a fox and some matching cards that start with kite?" How are we supposed to inventory something like that? However, this "thing" is worth around 30 dollars at retail so it sort of worth figuring out what it is and then figuring out how to connect it with a consumer. This leaves me walking in circles around the room... and then going for a run.

In 4 days we begin a 10 day intensive First Aid course (WFR) which means we won't be able to work at all, that brings us to Dec 20. Then there is the xmas craziness, which leaves a week before we leave on Jan 2. Whoooaaa. The good news is that we have to get it all done... and we will.
Oh yeah, and did I mention that we have to have around 600 sets of materials printed, laminated, cut, and boxed in order to send to Chicago for the March montessori conference?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One month until action




Warning: this might be kind of a boring blog. Sort of a house keeping piece to catch up so I can do more interesting blogs in the future. Hopefully the pictures are pretty.

[mountain biking in Lyons, Colorado] You know, it feels like I have been blogging for the past year, but then when I look at the blog, I realize that I haven't done a darn thing since returning to Seattle in June. Whooooa. I'm not going to try to catch up on the last six months, but I feel like I should at least give a little information on what are plans are and how we prepared for it.
After returning from  Colombia, I promptly forgot all of the spanish that I had spent so much time trying to learn. It must be in there, but I don't know where.
I fell right back into my business (luxurious productions) by creating a series of training events for GORE-TEX® Products around the country. The contract this year was for a similar amount of work as last year, but I wanted to execute with a much higher quality. We made the decision to have her not take another job and help out with Luxurious Productions. We needed her considerable expertise in experiential curriculum development.

[teaching about motorcycle safety] Megan taught several classes to 3-6 year olds about motorcycling to South America and some of the cultures we visited. It was fun to see her in her element. I still have no idea how she can manage a room of 30 preschoolers all by herself for hours on end.



 We took a trip back east to visit Gore and to visit Megan's family and friends. While there, we took the mandatory trip to Shelbourne Farms in Vermont and held Henrietta the chicken. We also visited one of Megan's best friend, Erika who is a very talented artist and has two adorable kids and a fantastic husband. Her blog is here.




We climbed a little bit in Utah while by going to the Uintas for 2 days with our friends Kasi, Andreas, Jenna, and Dylan. We also went to Maple for a few days with the same crew but added Roger, Merridy, Maya, and our good friend Dan Morris who lives in Salt Lake. As usual, I am never in the physical shape that I would like to be in when arriving at Maple, but it was fun and Dan shot some good photos (psswd: maple).


We planned and developed curriculum in August and then in September we began executing our events starting with Anchorage, then REI Corporate in Kent, WA, then Minneapolis, Denver, Salt Lake, Las Vegas. Southern California, San Francisco Bay area, Bend, and Seattle. The events went fantastically well with the new curriculum this year and we received amazing feedback.

[mailing our first order] Upon arriving in Seattle, we went and bought a business. Over the past couple of years, Megan has become disconnected from the Montessori world and has been playing with ideas to get back into it. However, given our lifestyle (of not being in one place for very long), teaching is out of the question.
[we found this little fellow on the beach in Southern California- turned out he is very invasive] An opportunity presented itself in the name of montessori123.com. This is an online retailer that sells montessori materials for teachers, parents, and home schoolers. We have hundreds and hundreds of nicely crafted nomenclature, or 3 part, cards. When someone wants some, we print them up, laminate them, and mail them out. It sounds simple and mostly is, but the magic comes come from the fact that the cards we have are very nice, that Megan will be able to make lots of new cards from our travels, and that the business has been around for quite a while and has a good reputation. The prior owner hasn't leveraged her past customers in a while, so with a little bit of marketing (which is what we essentially do now) we will be able to create a community around the brand and grow it... right?
We'll see, but in the meantime we are trying to figure out how to
a) actually buy a business. It is more technical than we thought and there is a lot to learn
b) run the day to day of the business
c) develop a system to have it keep going while we are back in South America
d) prepare for a conference in Chicago in March (we will probably fly back from Chile for it)
e) not kill each other from working together so intensely over the past 6 months.

[teaching our nephew Lucas about Gore] So there we are. With a return ticket to Colombia on January 2, we have just over a month to start planning and thinking about being on motorcycles again. Vroom Vroom.




Thursday, June 03, 2010

Election Day in Colombia

[Almuerzo with the family] We didn't end up climbing Purace as planned but I bet you can't guess the reason why. I wasn't because we didn't have time. We did. It wasn't because the weather was bad. It was fine. It wasn't because there was snow on top. There wasn't. It was because Sunday was the colombian presidential elections.
This was pretty much the equivalent of McCain vs Obama. There was a liberal candidate offering hope for a new Colombia versus a conservative candidate offering to keep Colombia on the same track that it has been on for years. But this isn't exactly why we didn't climb the mountain.
[Sofia, the Gonzales' niece and part time daughter] As it turns out, elections are a bit precarious in the countryside of Colombia. I asked if the FARC had a candidate running in this election and they sort of did, but the revolutionaries would really rather not have anyone vote in the election at all. And to accomplish this they send people out on the small roads (the main roads are completely safe) to try to intimidate locals and keep them from going to polling places.
[Mariana- one amazing 11 year old] On Saturday, Enilce (the woman who we were staying with) went out to a pueblita for one of her student's first communion. When she came back she told us that she was stopped by a FARC guerilla. Nothing at all happened to her but when I asked her what would have happened If we had been there she told us that it wouldn't have been as easy for us.
This doesn't mean that Colombia is dangerous. It just means, that like anywhere in the world (United States included), you just have to be careful at times. There is no way we would have even been allowed to go on that road. We would have been flagged down many times and told not to go there by the 99.9% of the population that are the most amiable people we have ever met.
It just means that on election weekend we needed to keep to the populated places and more relevantly that we couldn't go climbing.
Never fear, we had a great weekend hanging out with possibly the world's most gracious family. They gave us their beds to sleep in (we tried to sleep on the floor), they made us food, they took us out to lunch (which is the big meal of the day), they are allowing our bikes to take up most of their back porch, and they even drove us the two hours into Cali to get our paperwork done for the bikes and to drop us off at a hotel.
[backyard BBQ- the ladies are covered up behind us] As an aside about the bikes. The paperwork for our bikes is currently set to expire on June 16. This means the bikes technically become the property of Colombia after that date if they are still in the country after this date (which they will be). Henry went and had a police report made and got all the paperwork together to show that Megan had an accident and that it would be impossible for her to take her bike out of the country. He called the customs office (DIAN) in Cali and asked if they were able to extend the paperwork until January 2011 and they said they could. So we all drove to Cali (Henry insisted on taking us there and talking with the customs people... like I said: the world's nicest family) and went to the DIAN office. We found the right bureaucrat to talk to and after a long conversation, we were flat out denied any form of extension on the bikes. Henry asked for solutions and we were pretty much told that there weren't any beyond Megan and I leaving the country with the bikes and returning to extend the paperwork (impossible).
[at DIAN] What does this mean? It means that in January we will need to drive the bikes relatively quickly to the Ecuador border (It is about 400 km) without getting stopped by any police (impossible) or at least without being asked for our paperwork (not impossible). If we are stopped, we will have to ask if there are any "solutions" that can be created "right here and now."
At the border, we will have to hide our bikes, go to customs office pretending that we don't actually have motorcycles, get our passports stamped, then drive across the bridge into Ecuador. It all sounds rather exciting to me. Of course, I'd rather do it by the book and we certainly did try, but this should add an air of thrill to the ride.

[cats in Cali] So that's it. We are now back in Seattle and ready to take a vacation from our trip. It feels a bit naughty really. Like we are doing this trip down south which feels exciting and adventurous but that we are in the US for 6 months taking a break from it. We can buy any and all motorcycle parts that we need. We can communicate with strangers without being misunderstood. We can drink tap water. We can have friends for longer that a few days. All great things. I think I would be bummed if I knew we were in the States for good, but since it is only a short time, it actually feels kind nice.

[a picture of Rhonda from two years ago] My next adventure is to fix up Megan's 1974 Honda CB 200 "Rhonda" and use that to get around. I am looking forward to diving into Rhonda and learning how to work on her. I just have to figure out how to rebuild a carburetor. Any advice?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Out of Cuenca- into Colombia


The last couple of days in Cuenca included going fishing at a trout farm up in Cajas. They have this rather large pond completely stocked to the brim with fish. The rule is such that you can't throw anything back so that meant that we caught a lot of very small trout.
[Fran with his massive catch] It goes like this:
you put your stick with a fishing line, hook, and some sort of dough into the water.
you watch as fish swarm around the hook.
after about 15 seconds from lowering the hook into the water, you tug a bit and you have a fish.
then you have to take the hook out of the fish's mouth and put fishy in the blue basket (at first, I didn't like this part).
Repeat 13 times
Pay 7 dollars for your fish
Clean said fish (in our case, Fran cleaned all the fish)

We also went to an amazing little BBQ place. They only serve one thing. In fact, we didn't even order. We waited for a bit for a free table and once we were seated they just brought out some BBQ chicken skewers sitting on top of french fries. Yummm.
[heating up the coals with a blow dryer] Restaurants that only make one thing often do it very well. It seems to me that if I were to open a restaurant, I would only want to serve one thing per night. Why not?

[check out the graphics on this sign for fruit shakes] So we arrived in Colombia this afternoon after taking a plane to Quito and then a 5.5 hour long bus ride up to the border. We are in the small town of Ipiales staying in a nice little hotel. It feels good to be back in the land of good coffee and friendly people. However, I don't think there is a vegetable to found anywhere in Colombia.
Tomorrow we take a 7 hour bus ride up to Popayan but if the bus is anything like the bus we took last time in Colombia, it will be a nice bus. The plan is to call Henry and then we will stay at his place. If weather permits this weekend, we will probably climb Purace, a 15 000 foot active volcano just outside of Popayan. I am excited to get out and see how I do at elevation. I have been running quite a bit  at 8000 feet so hopefully my oxygen carrying capacity is somewhat up there.

They are having big presidential elections this Sunday which should be interesting. There is potential for a left/ center candidate from the green party to win out over the conservative pro-military guy. It feels like being in the states right before the Obama election. You can sense the excitement. This NY times article explains it. Personally, I can see the merits of both candidates. Colombia has made major progress towards security in the last 8 years thanks in major part to the current conservative guy. However, there has been a major ass whooping which, for sure, has violated many human rights of villagers. The Green party guy has also done a lot for security in Bogota as the mayor but in a much kindler, gentler way. I can't begin to understand the complicated politics in this country nor am I allowed to have an opinion but I suppose if I had to vote, I would choose the Green party guy. One can't vote based on fear. You have to look at what the candidate stands for and make a decision on who best represents your values. 
But don't worry, we will steer very clear of any political demonstrations or events and just go fishing instead.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fun stuff in Cuenca

This past week we have been up to some fun stuff:
About 20 minutes out of town is a national park called Cajas. It is up around 12 000 feet elevation which makes hiking/ running a bit difficult but we managed to walk around up there for about 6 hours.
It actually looks like there might be some decent alpine climbing up there as the rock is solid granitic gneiss that does form some cracks. However, without climbing gear we had to chase Alpacas around. Not too bad.
We went to an Argentinian dance show. There was ballet, folk dancing, and tango. I thought the dancers were around 18-25 years old, but Megan thought they were much younger. It wasn't super professional but it was fun to see. These guys worked their asses off to put this show together.
On Saturday we adopted a kid. Look at this little Tiger. What a great one. Oh wait. We just borrowed him for a few minutes from Megan's super good friend from college, Kathleen. This is Sam and for me it has been very interesting hanging out with a 5 month old on an almost daily basis. This is maybe the third time in my life that I have held a kid and it isn't quite as hard as I thought it would be. They squirm a bit and sometimes poo, but when they aren't hungry they can be pretty fun.
As many know, I am terrified of kids but since there may be one in our future (not anytime real soon) I have to get used to the idea. Being around a kid has been both good and bad for me. Good: I am now more familiar with what it takes to rear a baby which makes it easier to accept. Bad: It is a full on commitment. 24 hours a day. Yikes! When will there be time for motorcycle riding?
Then, after a walk around the city with Kathleen and Sam, we went out to a delicious meal and then not quite wanting to go home we walked around the city a bit more. As we passed by the football (soccer) stadium we noticed that there was a game going on. We bought 6 dollar general admission tickets and watched Cuenca play Manta.
We arrived at the end of the first half and this being Cuenca, there was no score board to figure out what was going on. Not knowing the word for "score," and after the first five minutes feeling too shy to ask what the score was (shouldn't we have just known?) we had to use sociological techniques to realize what was going on. We figured out that Cuenca wasn't winning, but they had control of the ball almost the entire time, so they probably weren't losing either. The game ended with no goals witnessed by us so we figured it had to be a draw. Sure enough, after we got home, we learned it was 0-0. I probably shouldn't have been such a chicken and just asked someone, but I was feeling shy of the yellow zone and didn't go there. Bad tourist.
We only have a few days left here until we are reunited with the bikes for the weekend. The plan is to climb a Volcano with Henry, the guy who will be looking after our bikes. I'm pretty excited about that. I have been running every day here so hopefully I won't be sucking too much wind up at 13 000 feet on the mountain.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Water goes down the toilet the other way

The plan was such: Go to Cuenca, Hang out with Megan's friend Kathleen, Find an apartment, Take spanish classes, Let megan heal. And that is pretty much how it has gone.
Cuenca is a city of 300,000 people situated amongst rushing rivers at 8000 feet elevation. There are lovely churches, cobbled roads, aggressive taxi drivers, and lots of green spaces. We wake from our 6th floor apartment every morning to either the sounds of church bells (they start at 7 am) playing lovely rhythms or to rockets (they also start at 7 am) with very loud firecrackers attached. I'm still not sure why people fire off rockets at 6 am and why they are always in pairs but apparently monday at 7 am is good time for fireworks. Why not?
So we are learning Spanish at a good clip in order to forget it again when we go back to the States on June 2nd. Hopefully we can find a place to speak a little Spanish this summer. We do, however, have return tickets to Colombia on January 3rd which is apparently in the middle of a big holiday for them. Lots of water splashing and rejoicing.

Life in Cuenca

[view from out apartment] So what is life like in Cuenca? Well… generally speaking, We get up around 7:00, make some coffee, read a little news on the internet and do our Spanish homework. Then we go to class at 10:30. For the sake of our marriange, we have separate classes in the morning. For two hours, we are crammed full of grammar rules and new words that we would quickly forget if it weren't for the two hours of conversation class that we take together in the afternoon. During the lunch break, we head out to the market and I eat from the entire roasted pig that is so mouth wateringly displayed. Yumm. (Megan doesn't enjoy the pig so much).
After the afternoon classes, I might put on my running shoes and head out for a nice run along the river. At first, going for a run at 8000 feet proved difficult, but my heart is warming up a bit and I can run 10k in a little under an hour. Maybe my lack of any upper body muscle mass helps me to run, but I doubt it since beer is so cheap here and I have countered the muscles with a little panzita. Never fear, one of the things I really look forward to when we return to Seattle is hitting the Vertical World climbing gym with ferocity in order to get back into shape for the summer climbing season.
I digress… For dinner we cook up a lovely meal in our 1980's Miami Beach decorated apartment and then maybe go out for a stroll through the town to let the food settle in. The markets here have amazing produce, meats, and the pastas are locally made and quite yummy.



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This past weekend, we took a 3 hour bus ride south to √Ďamarin, a little Indigenous community that our fried Kathleen has connections to. We stayed in a very small guest house, had meals cooked for us by the family that runs it, went for a long hike through the countryside, were treated to a little dance performance by the local kids, and ate Cuy.
Cuy is a very nutritious, delicious tasting, and easy to grow meat. We, of course, know it as our beloved Guinea Pig, but here they are merely livestock. It tasted a lot like rabbit but maybe a bit smoother. My first impression was that it was very oily, but when I ask around about Cuy, they say it is very low in Cholesterol and has only the good kind of fat... whatever that is. Anyway. It was good.
Incidentally, I usually feel very uncomfortable doing ethnic things like watching dance performances that are put on for us because we are tourists. It goes into the category of "culture as a zoo" where one watches cultures as if one were at a zoo rather than just participate in culture. The latter takes a bit more time and can put one deep into the yellow zone. However, when half the town came by the little guest house/ community center to watch the performance I felt a bit better. These kids were doing this because they have been practicing and wanted to show off what they knew rather than dancing for the tourists because it is what the we requested (we didn't request it). It was even requested by Jose, the proprietor of the guest house (it is owned by the community) and the first University trained indigenous doctor in the region, that we could make a donation to the dancers so that they could buy more uniforms and necessities for dancing.
It was refreshing to see an indigenous community that is thriving in modern times but not at the sacrifice of their culture and family. They live in a fantastic area in small family units, grow their own food and share responsibilities as a community. And... the men all wear Man-pris which if anyone knows me, knows I like to wear capris.
This coming weekend, we plan to go up to Cajas which is a national park up at 12,000 feet. I will try to do a long trail run up there, but the elevation may get the best of me.

About the Bikes

[Megan with her good friend Kathleen and her new baby: Samuel] Since this is a motorcycle blog and not a travel blog I should probably write a bit about the bikes. I MISS THEM A LOT. Every time I walk by a tire store or a bike parts store I feel like part of me is missing. I used to always register the last parts store that I saw just in case we would have to go back and visit. Now it doesn't matter.
I miss the freedom that having the bikes gives us. It is hard to get out of town without them.
I miss the celebrity status that bikes sometimes bestow upon us. The bikes are always a great conversation starter with random people and I enjoy that.
I miss riding. It is just so stinking fun. I still feel a rush of excitement every time I sit on Irmtraube and start her up.
This doesn't mean that I'm not grateful for what we do have, which is a healthy Megan and a great experience in Cuenca. Things could be a lot worse. It feels so very un-zenful of me to have attachments to things like the bikes and I try to reposition my thoughts towards what I do have rather than what I don't have, but sometimes...
In 10 days or so, we will be temporarily reunited with the ladies. Megan still can't ride, but perhaps I can go out for a little tour of the area. I will need to find someone to ride with because I don't feel comfortable riding the back roads of Colombia without a Colombian nearby. No need to end the trip with a kidnapping (Mom, that one is for you).

About Megan's Health

This post certainly wouldn't be complete without a little update about Megan's condition. Her hip and knee bruises have all but healed up.
She can now write with her right hand without pain and besides the bruise that is slowly making its way down her chest it might be hard to tell that she even had an accident. We will keep her in the figure eight brace for a full 6 weeks (it has been 3) and keep the movement down to a minimum but when we went and got xrays and chatted with a doctor (for 50 dollars) about it all, he said that it's doing fine.
This x-ray shows where her bones are now.
Thank you everyone for your concern and your comments after the accident. It really means a lot to us to hear from you all and know that you are concerned.

Toilets

This video shows why I titled this post as such. Go look at your toilet and see the difference. Pretty cool, huh?



Walking home with Pero the Plant which we bought off a little guy on the street for 50 cents.


Megan in the garden of the Modern Art Museum.


I got up early one Sunday and walked around the town before the fireworks and taxis got crazy.


Getting some meat from the meat guy.


Our favorite grain- Quinoa- grows like crazy here.

Lambs are incredibly cute.