Thursday, March 31, 2011

New ways to look at our blog

Blogger (aka google) made some fun new template for looking at our blog. You have to be running a relatively new browser (like Firefox 3.5+, Internet Explorer 8+, Safari, or Chrome- but I guess if you even know what I was just talking about, then you are probably already running these browsers).

Anyway, visit to take a look.

You can change the views on the upper right. My favorite is timeslide and sidebar.

And here is a photo of us contemplating crossing a river in southern Bolivia to keep you entertained:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to run a successful online business

Actually, I have no idea how to do that. But I now know how to coordinate a conference booth, get together 10's of thousands of dollars worth of education materials and create a marketing program while riding motorcycles through south america. The good news is that future conferences will seem as easy as catching a cold from a baby. As I sit here in the Chicago airport waiting to return to our previous life of motorcycle riding (after only a week and a half I have already forgotten what it feels like) I want to take the time to reflect on what we just went through… and what better way than to do it in verse:

(if this seems like a silly gimmick to you than I have to apologize;
but sometimes writing a blog can feel like my demise;
So I have to keep my mind entertained and happy;
otherwise my writing won't feel so snappy)

8 days in chicago, oh what a dream;
it should be so fun, or so it would seem;
the art institute and a chicago dog;
a deep dish pizza and some lake michigan fog;
but when you fly back to the states for a short time;
to work a conference for our business online;
the inside of hotels is about all you see;
that and a thousand faces of teachers montessori;
 which is to say it is truly a pleasure;
montessorian hearts are something to treasure;

when we arrived in Chicago we jumped on the train;
found our hotel room with very little pain;
we tracked down all the boxes that have come from near and far;
assembled it all in our room without the use of a car;
we called our connection like our friends at Hello Wood;
to ensure our small booth would look tidy and good;
we came up with a plan on how to create a small shop;
and at 6:00 am got our boxes and ourselves to the Marriott; 

Through Megan's good taste and with my sales history;
we set up a fantastic display for all to see;
we were ready to take credit cards, cash or check;
we had our receipts and hoped the whole thing wouldn't turn into a wreck;
The doors opened and it was on;
we worked out tushies off to dusk from dawn;

And so it went for 4 days in a row;
Selling our goods at the montessori trade show;
We met administrators, teachers, and even nuns;
They all loved our stuff but teachers are perpetually short on funds;
We held our ground and kept our prices fair;
we needed to break even, so the discounts were rare;
They all loved our cards, said they were the most beautiful;
The gave us suggestions, we wrote down it all;

We sold culture bags made in ecuador;
The teachers, they loved them, the bags they adored;
All those proceeds go to school;
We are raising money for a scholarship, now that's pretty cool;
Some were nervous to spend 40 bucks;
So we didn't sell them all, being left with 15 more sucks;
Wanna buy a bag? They have fun things, you can see;
All you have to do is visit montessori123;

At the end, we had sold quite a bit;
A little shy of profitable, but so it went;
We were so very tired but needed to break down the booth;
With our minds numb, we felt our lack of youth;
We looked around and realized we were the last around;
In a stupor and a daze we tried to take it all down;
It took us two hours to load it into boxes;
Our minds were numb, like two tired foxes;

Then for two more days, we processed our orders;
We calculated our wins and our losses in our hotel quarters;
We thought about next time and what we would do;
We sent our boxes home. Fedex, we love you.

So that was it and now here we are
Flying back to Santiago which seems really really far.
We'll jump on the bikes and have time to ponder
about what we just went through over yonder
in chicago for just over a week
and that was my poem, now its your turn to speak.

Drop us a comment and let us know where you stand
Did you like the verse, or does it sound sort of canned?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why are we in the US?

It all started last September. Megan went to a meeting of Montessori teachers and learned through the grapevine that an online Montessori Materials business was up for sale.
For the past 3 years we have worked pretty much exclusively with W.L. Gore teaching people who sell GORE-TEX® products how to sell said products. It is fantastic work and takes us all over the country meeting fantastic people and we can just barely squeak by a living by working this job for 6 months and then traveling for the other 6.
However, we will need a little more stability and perhaps a little more income in the future and besides, the outdoor industry is my passion, not Megan's.
So when the opportunity to plug back into the Montessori community but not having to be in the classroom full time presented itself, Megan became very excited.
We hemmed and hawed over the wisdom of owning an online business since neither of us know too much about it and for sure it would be much more work than we could anticipate.
But in late November we bucked up and bought the business. This post talks a bit more about it.
Starting tomorrow, the annual AMS Montessori conference starts in Chicago. 2600 Montessori teachers from around the US will converge at the Marriott for 4 days of Montessori Mayhem. Part of this conference includes an area for vendors to hawk their goods. We can't pass up this opportunity so for the past 4 months we have been prepping for this conference while in Seattle and on the road. During the evenings of the moto trip, we would both hunker down in front of our computers and work on things like a catalog, pricelist, figuring a way around the $100/ day internet convenience fee that Marriott charges... things like that.
So here we are in Chicago for the next week. We had 18 boxes of goodies sent to Chicago and they are now spread out all around our hotel room. Tomorrow at 6 am we will jump into a taxi with everything and roll down to the Marriott. We will have 5 hours to set up our booth (hopefully the display materials show up at the Marriott- that vendor actually has a booth at the show and he said he will bring them to us) before settling down for 4 days of selling.
We have no idea how this will go. We could be out a lot of money, we could break even, or we could actually profit somehow. I'm at least hoping for the middle choice.
Either way, we will learn a lot. We will learn how to be more efficient at future conferences. We will learn how to sell to Montessorians. We will get to meet our customers face to face. We will see where we can grow, and places where we can cut back.
Then, in a week, we will be back in Santiago.

Here we go!

Reconnecting with my high school nerd self

You can tell from the intermittence of posts that we are in the midst of the trip. At the beginning of the trip, I am excited because all is new and I want to post a lot. I anticipate that at the end of the trip I will depressed and will want to write lots of posts so that I can remember the trip, but right now? Well, I should probably be writing more.
So here is the summary:
We stayed a week in Mendoza, Argentina with a childhood friend of mine. Kevin and I were quite tight from 7th grade up to 12th grade. In 1984, when I returned from a year abroad in 6th grade in Holland, I had missed the key social group formation that happens in the first year of middle school. That, and living in Holland had changed my perspective on things a little bit. For whatever reason, Kevin was kind enough to show me the ropes of middle school and we became very close friends. We both excelled in computers and we were drawn to the Commodore Pet 32 computers that they had at school.
As you can probably guess, this accelerated us into the cool group at school and we couldn't keep the ladies off of us. That, and being good at wood shop really had us running the school. We pretty much stayed nerds for the rest of our school careers. I remained sub 100 pounds until my junior year in high school which didn't help any either.
Even though High School kind of sucked for me, I do believe that being somewhat of an outsider has made me who I today and Kevin was a big part of forming that person.
I hadn't seen him in about ten years and was looking forward to hanging out with his family (Belen and his 2 year old daughter Chloe) in the wine capital of Argentina.
Upon arriving at Kevin's he showed us to our room and then we quickly adjusted to the Argentinian way of life. This involves drinking beer and wine, eating dinner at midnight and sleeping in quite late the next day. Not so bad, really.
We BBQ'd, we toured the area a bit, and we got reacquainted. When they had to work, Megan and I visited wineries and went up into the mountains to explore. The mountains in the area are enormous and come straight out of the valley. They form a 15000 foot wall and the canyons that go into them are amazing. It is a nice area and one I could see going back to for sure.
It was a pleasure to hang out with the family and somewhat scary and exciting to hang out with a two year old for so long. She is incredibly cute and fun to watch, but she is also a lot of work and needs constant attention. Kevin and Belen do a fantastic job juggling their personal lives with Chloe and it makes me nervous to consider having one of these of our own. But it'll be ok, right?
Having a deadline to be in Santiago by friday afternoon, we packed up our bikes on Thursday "morning" (which was really 1 o'clock) and headed for Chile.
The road climbed up through an incredible deep and dry canyon which can only be the Andes. We experienced some serious wind and passed 100's of Harley Davidson Motorcycles coming the other direction from Chile. From what I can gather, there was a rally in Mendoza and people in Chile own a lot of Harley's. It might have been fun to go, but we needed to be in Santiago.

[You can see the wind in this video blowing me over] We drove past Aconcagua national park (the highest peak in the Americas) but the snow clouds obscured our view of the giant. We did see some glaciers and some beautiful countryside. All the limitless valleys and peaks kept me looking around and wondering what it might be like to explore all of these places.
[at the border] The border crossing was pretty easy since both the Argentine and the Chilean border officials were in the same building. We dropped down to Los Andes and found an (expensive) room for the night. There was a rodeo in town so everything was booked and besides, Chile is just expensive.
We made the final 100km to Santiago and located the mechanic that I had read about on
[the human rights museum in Santiago] We dropped of the bikes at this Chilean born, german motorcycle enthusiast and hoped for the best (for both our bikes and our pocket books). My steering head bearing went out again and megan's are starting to go. Because we need parking for the bikes for the next week, we also had him change the oil.
We enjoyed 2 days in Santiago, a very clean and modern city with US like prices on everything. I went for runs in the morning and then we walked around seeing the sites.\
Then, on Sunday afternoon, we took a taxi to the airport and boarded a plane for Chicago.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Some pictures of Argentina and Chile

I don't know where to fit these in. I could write a big story, but I'll let the photos tell the story.
High up on the Altiplano. If you look carefully you can see Flamingos in the lake.
The border between Bolivia and Chile. Apparently, the place to check the bikes out of the country was 20km back on a sandy road. However... the guy accepted a couple of dollars to run the paperwork back for us later in the day. Money well spent.

Ice cream is so good down here.

Salt Mines in Valle de Luna. In places the walls were clear.

Out for a tour in Valle de Luna, Chile.
Watching the sunset with all the tourists. There must have been 500 people up here enjoying the sunset. Pretty fun.
18000 foot Volcanos everywhere

Looking for a campsite somewhere south of Susques. This spot didn't work out too well.
I love our stove, but without the high altitude jet, it was very difficult to get started at 14000 feet
I couldn't quite climb it, but at least I had my helmet on in case I fell. There were amazing, solid boulders all through this valley.
Argentine wine from Salta. Happiness for Megan.
The group of BMW riders from Cordova that we ran into. We stayed at this place with all of them. A great group of people with strong Argentine accents. 
Even the cats get good food here
The wine aisle. Heaven for Megan, again.
Lush Valleys outside of Salta. The rivers were flooded which for interesting riding, but it was beautiful.
Parrots everywhere
Here we are in a front loader crossing one of the many rivers of Argentina's route 40
It is Megan's dream to throw a cute dog on the back of her motorcycle and ride the rest of the trip with it. This little guy almost made the cut.
Megan's front fender broke when she had the accident in Colombia. We had it repaired in Columbia, but when I dropped the bike the previous day it started to break again. I figured out a way to keep it together for a while using a compression strap.
Our camping picnic dinner with one of the many delicious wines from down here
Washing ourselves and our moto clothing in this perfect little stream. It was very hot here so it felt nice to have wet clothes.
This woman died of thirst on the side of the road but her son survived by drinking her breast milk. Now she is a saint in Argentina and everyone goes to visit here. The Difunta Correa is good luck and if you leave her something you will get what you want.
A proper BBQ with my high school friend Kevin Coryell.
More happiness
Marshall's happiness
That's right, I played the pan flutes.
Wine Cellars. Wow. 
Wine grapes. Yummy.