28 June 2012

YWCA holds 8th annual womens triathlon

Serpentine swim at the York College pool.
Photo courtesy of
Last Sunday June 24, the YWCA in York, Pa. hosted the 8th annual women-only triathlon. Over 150 women from around York County gathered at the York College campus to swim, bike and run in competition, but more importantly, in fun.

The charm of this event was the supportive attitude expressed by the organizers and participants. It was a great way for me to start off the season and I recommend it for anyone curious to give triathlons a go.

The logistics were smooth and the atmosphere was encouraging.

Thanks York YWCA! I had a great time! For results and to get more information, click here.

26 June 2012

Weeding in the rain

Ground ivy garden
When I was in second grade, my class was assigned a different list of spelling words each week. The list was revealed on Mondays with the test on Fridays. To study, I would pen each word repeatedly down a sheet of loose-leaf lined paper 10 times, 20 times.

My theory was that the repetition would burn the correct spelling into my brain. The reality was that after 10 or so tries at a word, my brain would shut off and I would be running on muscle memory. The longer I spent spelling each word over and over, the less I was able to recognize the accuracy, or inaccuracy, of my spelling.

The word, initially a challenge to pen, was worked past the place of consistency and accuracy until I came full-circle back to a new unfamiliarity with the same term.

A few weeks ago I took a good look at my backyard vegetable garden. The majority of green-age that I saw basking in the afternoon sun was nothing I had planted. It was an infiltrator; a weed known as ground ivy. The heart-shaped leaves ringed with a serrated edge looked like miniature water lilies stretching their arms over the naked ground rather than the surface of a pond. No blooms were visible, just a web of green taking advantage of the soil I disturbed for the sake of my garden.

I got down on my hands and knees to strip away this invader and take back my garden. It was not a quick task. The ground ivy was everywhere. It curled around the corn. It crept between the potatoes. It buried the beans.

I lost track of time in my garden. While I worked, the sky changed from sunny to cloudy to raining and back again. The dirt around the roots of the ground ivy loosened with the rain. But the longer I worked, the more mistakes I made. I switched off my brain and went with muscle memory. See green, grasp and pull without mercy.

I was practicing for my spelling tests all over again. The familiarity was gone and all the plants looked the same. Ground ivy is string beans is oregano.

Eventually I worked through my brainless confusion, pulled up hundreds of handfuls of ground ivy and stood back to see my garden clearly once more.

08 June 2012

Car Talk retires!

A.T. O/B

Appalachian Trail -- somewhere in the Pennsylvania woods.
It's a rare occasion when Richard and I have the same day off, let alone two in a row. So when the schedule eclipse formed over Memorial Day weekend, we took to the woods.

Richard hiking south.
I have a history with the Appalachian Trail. In 2009, I hiked from Georgia to Maine on the spine of the Appalachian Mountains. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, and not in the ways I imagined it would be challenging. On a trail that is frequented with hikers just out for the day or following the path to its terminus at either end I never felt more alone. And Richard was the person I missed the most. He was finishing his fourth year of medical school while I hiked alone in the woods.

So hiking with Richard on the Appalachian Trail, even if only for a 10-mile stretch, felt wonderful.

Getting ready to sleep on the floor of the woods.
We got a late start, per usual. Heading south on the A.T. from Pine Grove Furnace State Park, we hiked for about 10 miles. The last mile or so was under a precipitous and thundering sky.

But we arrived at the Birch Run shelter to a happy group of future-friends. After drying off and finally getting the alcohol stove lit, we boiled some water and cooked some homemade Mexican rice concoction I made for my thru-hike three years prior. Hiking food, like most prepared meals, is capable of lasting decades if left undisturbed. It tasted just like I remember: salty, cheesy and filling. Yum!
New friends!

A small group of us kept the other hikers awake long past dark chatting and getting to know each other better. I have made lasting friends thanks to the A.T. Like I said, it is full of people for being an unassuming trail through the woods. And now I have three more.

I love the A.T. because it rejuvenates me. Never a fan of cities -- all the more now that I live in one -- I forget how much they drain from me. I love slipping under the cover of the woods where all things green hide me from the world of combustion engines, television sets and my to-do list.
The pack I took on my 2009 thru-hike packed for a weekend trip.

As we head back to our own combustion engine-powered car to transport us back to the city, my head is full of  wonderful weekend wandering memories of our Appalachian Trail out-and-back that provide a vehicle for escape no matter where I am.

24 May 2012

An eye on Everest

Everest: Source -
I have never climbed Everest. I probably never will. It's an expensive climb -- the average cost of an Everest expedition is $65,000. I'm not that good of a mountaineer... yet -- you never know. But mostly because it's getting really crowded up there on top of the world.

A record 300 climbers headed up for a summit push on May 19, according to a report by Rock and Ice magazine. As of Tuesday, there were 11 confirmed dead climbers on Everest for the 2012 season. The deadliest Everest season was 1996 with 15 fatalities.

Many are predicting a similar bottleneck event that caused eight of the 1996 deaths. A crowd of 34 climbers converged on the Hilary Step at 28,750 feet.

"Between 80 and 150 climbers are currently (Thursday on the mountain; Wednesday in the U.S.) headed up into the night for the summit in windy, rocky and crowded conditions," reports Rock and Ice. In an update today, about half of the teams decided to postpone their summit attempts for one day.

Duane Raleigh of Rock and Ice wrote:

"While accurate weather forecasts are now available to Everest climbers, warning them of impending storms, climbers now all converge at once when the forecast is most favorable, exacerbating an already crowded situation, slowing everyone and making them more likely to get caught in bad weather or run out of oxygen.

According to a recent statistical study, climbers who summit between 9 and 10 a.m. are more likely to survive than those who summit four hours later. The death of Shan Klorfine over the weekend is just one example: she topped out at 2 p.m. and died on the descent, same as most of the dead on the 1996 climb. Her last words to her Sherpa guide were "save me.""

If you are interested in following the activity on Everest, you can follow National Geographic's team on Twitter, @NatGeo. They are tweeting and blogging their progress. 

03 May 2012

Sarah Palin* wants to be a mommy

*Just to be clear: the Sarah Palin I'm referring to is my chicken. Pretty sure the human Sarah Palin is already a mommy.

Sarah Palin hunkers down.
It's spring! Want to know how I can tell? Trees are blooming, the humidity is back and my chicken, Sarah Palin, won't get off her ass.

Something inside of her has clicked and the Mommy hormones are flowing. For the past few days she has stopped scratching, has generally lost her appetite and spends all of her time hunkered down in the darkest corner of the chicken coop.

She has stopped laying eggs -- which is a shame, because her eggs were big and beautiful. She will sit on Liz Lemon's eggs (my other chicken) until I come in each day to collect them. And then Sarah will brood over...nothing.

Feathers puffed as she defends eggs that don't exist.
She's not prone to aggression in this state. But when I try to coax her off Liz Lemon's eggs everyday, Palin will puff up her feathers and give me a menacing, deep croak. I try to entice her with food or a mouse. She loves those. But I guess I can't compete with nature.

According to, Palin is brooding. This natural process will last for about a month.

Fertilized eggs take a solid 21 days of incubation before they are ready to hatch. A brooding hen will devote herself to keeping her eggs warm and protected during those three weeks and for a little while after they are born.

Sarah Palin has already proved to me her devotion to her pretend chicks when I found her crouched in a corner with chicken crap on her wing. From what I can figure, Liz Lemon was perched above Sarah Palin when she took a crap and Palin just chalked it up to one of the sacrifices of motherhood.

Sarah Palin and Liz Lemon in their normal state of curiosity.
Sarah Palin should return to her normal self in a few weeks. Until then, I will not stop finding it super cool to watch chicken nature live in my backyard. 

25 April 2012

Planting my own seed in the guerrilla gardening movement

Guerrilla gardening attempt.

A couple of weeks ago, Richard planted a tree. This isn't a new occurrence for Richard. He has planted many trees in our yard before that are all growing nicely.

This tree is a renegade. An illegal. A product of guerrilla gardening.

Across the street from our house, there is a patch of dirt where a sidewalk tile never was. The patch gets trampled everyday as students from the nearby college trudge to and from class. The row houses behind the patch are rented properties that looked very rented. Meaning, the people that live in the structure do less than inhabit it, they abuse it.

I used to be like that, so I understand the mentality: if you don't own the property or structure, there's very little incentive to care for it, maintain it or improve it. For me, that meant beer stains on the carpet, scuff marks from black-soled shoes and water damage in the bathroom that I merely shrugged my shoulders at. Not my problem, I thought. I'll be out of here in a few months.

Things have changed, though. I now own the property I live on. I have invested lots of time and money to make it look and function the way that I want. And most of my actions have been contained to within said property lines, like painting shutters, landscaping the backyard and adding raised beds to the bare, concrete slabs out front.

Until now.

Baxter checking out the tree.
This tree is not motivated by a need to provoke social change. I am pretty well convinced that young twenty-somethings are content to have trash strewn about the streets and alleys, while living in dwellings that just meet code. So I feel no need to motivate them to care for this patch of dirt that I see every time I look out my front window and that my dog waters every morning on our stroll.

Some guerrilla gardeners, like Erik Knutzen, coauthor with his wife, Kelly Coyne, of "The Urban Homestead," see the act as "a reaction to the wasteful use of land, such as vacant lots and sidewalk parkways."

I just want to mend an eyesore.

See it in there?
After a quick perusal of the Internet, I am pretty sure the dirt patch belongs to the City. Technically, if they find the tree, they have every right to tear it out by the roots. But from the look of the neighborhood, and the look of the city budget, I doubt anyone will mind, even if they notice.

Just a couple of weeks into this guerrilla gardening foray, I predict the biggest threats will be feet -- particularly the stiletto heels of drunken collegians -- or lack of rain.

14 April 2012

Chickens cat fight over mouse

A small population (I hope) of field mice took residence in the roof of my chicken coop last fall. I don't have a cat, so the chickens play the part of mouse-control. It's not as if they prowl for the mice, or go on patrols to check for recent mouse activity. (They have better ways to spend their days like scratching dirt and straw up into their water dispenser so it clogs or climbing on the roof of their coop to attempt an escape over the fence.) But if a mouse ventures across their path, or over to their food supply, the chickens act swiftly, and without mercy.

It's impressive to watch the chickens in action as they dart in and peck down on the mouse. It's pretty much over for the mouse after that first swoop. But the chicken that did the killing then proceeds into a dance-like game of keep away with the other. Either the mouse gets torn in half and they each enjoy the spoils, or one of them swallows the mouse whole.

This is a video I shot recently of my two chickens fighting over a mouse. The darker chicken is Sarah Palin. The lighter is named Liz Lemon. The small dog barking is Baxter.

Spoiler alert: If you don't like watching animals eating other animals, then don't press play.

07 April 2012

Turkey Sludge Chili: Better than it sounds

Turkey Sludge Chili
It's spring. That means, in just a few months, it will be summer. Summer means there will be lots of delicious, fresh, local produce to eat, yes, but also preserve for winter. In order to properly preserve all the delicious food, one needs an empty freezer.

My freezer is the opposite of empty. Purely in an effort to make some room in said freezer, this recipe* was born.

Take one turkey. Prepare it for Thanksgiving. Eat not enough. Strip meat off bones and save for soup. Take rest (including but not limited to what you can't get off bones, broth, etc.) and place it in large soup pot. Cook down to a thick, "sludge-like" goop. Freeze goop for at least a year. Defrost goop. Put it back in the soup pot you cooked in down in. Turn on heat.

While you're waiting for the sludge to freeze, thaw and heat, grow summer squash, string beans, tomatoes and kidney beans. Pick, wash, dry, prep, freeze and thaw those.

Add to sludge.

That's the foodie adding something.
Let the ingredients come to a boil. Oh, probably add some water and salt and stuff. Let all that mix and mingle while your nose is filled with delicious smells and your belly rumbles and keep that up until you can barely stand it anymore! Wait more.

While waiting, clear off kitchen table you slob. Put out things you will need to dine comfortably. Ex. Beverages -- including vessels to put the beverages in, napkins, delicious sides of your preference, or aesthetically-pleasing centerpiece. Don't forget spoons!

Get back to what's in the soup pot. Place some in a bowl and add a dollop of pesto (not sure how that works, but going with it). Ring the bowl with tortilla chips (okay, now we're making sense).
It should look like this right before you start eating.

EAT!!!! Get seconds!

*I don't really know the recipe, nor does one really exist. This is just a day-in-the-dinner of my life with a foodie.

04 April 2012


Get ready for a rave.

Flying to Iceland in March, I was expecting cold weather, lots of snow and hoping for some northern lights sightings. Basically, I was looking for the winter that never came to central PA, or much else of the east coast this year. Iceland did not disappoint.

Our trusty rental car -- with heated seats!
Walking out to the rental car, a benign wind was swirling light snow around the parking lot. With my gloves not easily accessible, I took to scrapping ice off the windows barehanded. But I was rewarded immediately when I plopped down on a heated seat. Maybe I just grew up cheap, but until that moment, heated seats and I had never met. It was love at first sensation. The heated seat button was pressed and lit under my butt for the rest of the trip. I still miss it.

The plane dropped us off at 6 a.m. As we drove into Reykjavik, the country was waking up. The sun must have been rising, but it was impossible to tell by looking at the sky. Snow was blowing around the car. The closer we got to the city (about a 45 minute drive), the more cars seemed to be joining us.

Once we parked and started exploring, the snow took a break, but the wind kept us company. The clouds let the sun through a couple of moments in Reykjavik that first morning. The wind hung with us the whole trip at one speed or another. The sun only made occasional visits.

Empty Icelandic roads.
Driving away from Reykjavik, map in tote, it was like we were driving away from civilization in Iceland, back to a time before cars when quiet homesteads were tucked beneath ragged, black peaks, each hint at humanity separated by miles. There may be cars now, and stretches of paved road, but people outside of Reykjavik haven't felt compelled to move closer to each other.

The island nation is home to just 300, 000 people who share a swath of inhospitable land about the size of Kentucky. It was wonderful to drive for hours and see just a few cars. Logic tells me the lack of people is a result of the season. (Tourists find summer in Iceland lovely, I hear. So much so that all of the rental cars on the island have been booked at once.) But being in an environment where humans are rare is so satisfying to me that I choose to pretend Iceland is always vacant.

Ate our first meal in Iceland while watching the falls.
We took the Ring Road counter-clockwise around the island in seven days. The first evening we stopped at a waterfall just off the main drag that was flooded by two spotlights. The waterfall has a path behind it, but we opted to appreciate the sight from the front side. It was drier. The parking lot had two heated restrooms in the corner. Don't tell Iceland, but we made dinner on our camp stove inside the handicapped bathroom. It had a table and running water so we could even do our dishes!

That took us past Vatnajokull National Park, the largest National Park in Europe. The park is basically one huge glacier and is the home of the highest point in Iceland, Hvannadalshnuker. We attempted a climb, but I got spooked by a local school marm. She let us crash in her basement, but told us a chilling bedtime story about two boys who climbed up on the glacier and never came back.

Richard and I made it back, but our poor knowledge of the glacier, and its crevasses, the horrible visibility we had and the violent wind encouraged our turn-around. We'll give it a try again in the right season and with someone who knows the way.

The next stretch of the Ring Road followed the south east coastline up and back along fjords. We stopped in Hofn, "pronounced like an unexpected hiccup" says Lonely Planet, for a meal and to taste the local beer. There's glacier water in it, apparently. The meal was seafood, duh.

6km tunnel. Richard was like a kid at Christmas.
By this point, we were three days into our trip and we made some serious miles. Richard found a 6 kilometer tunnel on the map, which was a must-do. We visited the largest forest in Iceland. There aren't too many trees in Iceland. The wind keeps them from growing too high and the occasional volcano eruption works to control population growth.

Reindeer enjoying the winter clime. Too windy for my taste.
The forest grows along the east shore of Lagarfljot, the Icelandic twin of Loch Ness. The 38km-long, 50m-deep lake is believed to harbor a monster. The Lagarfljot Worm has been sighted since Viking times, allegedly. I didn't see it, but I found the trees more exciting than trying to stare into the muddy-brown water.

Richard "standing" on the crater lip.
The next day we climbed to the top of a crater that formed about 2500 years ago. It rises 463 meters and stretches 1,040 meters across. It is a landmark of the Myvatn area. Myvatn is a pretty, blue lake circled by black lava fields. Super cool. Hverfell, the loose-graveled crater, is on the east shore. The sun was shining, the snow was deep and soft and the wind was battering. I cannot describe the speed of the wind except to say it completely altered my opinion of a swift breeze. Turning into to climb down made my chins burn and my eyes water. It was impossible to stand upright. Nor was it possible to walk without using my ice axe as a crutch. I needed two points of contact to keep from loosing balance completely.

After glissading down, we treated ourselves with a local treat. Hverabraud is a moist, cake-like rye bread that is slow-baked underground. It was delicious alone or with cheese.

Next we drove to Akureyri, the second-most populated town in Iceland. We visited on a Sunday which means EVERYTHING was closed. Therefore, I was not impressed by the town, although I'm sure it's lovely any other day of the week.

Does it get any better? There were beer holders built into the rock, so no.
After a nerve-racking stretch of road up and over a mountain pass where my visibility was impaired, sometimes completely, we dropped down to Varmahlid. We were able to stay in a cabin perched above the town. The best part, clearly, was the stone hot tub. We took two dips that evening to bookend our meal of risotto and fried fish balls found at the local grocery. And took another soak in the morning before we checked out. WONDERFUL.

Halfway up Trollskagi.
After a quick tour of the nearest fjord, and a toe-dip in the Arctic Ocean (I kept the shoes on), we climbed part-way up Trollskagi. I was just in my running shoes and we had no food or water, so we turned back after an hour or so. Nice view though.

The next part of the drive, I don't remember too well. I was napping. But Richard steered us toward Snaefellsjokull, the volcano Jules Verne sent his characters into in Journey to the Center of the Earth. The clouds hid the summit and the best road to access the glacier was impassable, so we hung out around the base. It sits right at the west end of a peninsula, so we watched the waves smash against rocks until a hail storm sent us racing back to the car.
My buddies singing for food.

That evening we made our way back to Reykjavik. We got a hotel room right in the center of the city on the top floor. After a culinary sampler of traditional Icelandic food, which included putrified shark (gross, by the way), we hit the bookstore and spent the rest of the night packing for the flight home.

On the way to the airport, we stopped at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland's premier hot bath spa. We stayed so long in the creamy, blue pools that we almost missed our flight.

Just two days into the trip, we were discussing the agenda for our return trip. So, Iceland, you'll be seeing more of me.

22 March 2012

Spring = garden prep

Parsley, green onions and Russian kale to start
Despite my best efforts to properly mourn the winter-that-never-was, I found myself genuinely happy, more than once this week, digging in my backyard garden. I've never been a fan of summer; all that inescapable heat and humidity makes my blood boil. But picking vegetables from the backyard all summer long helps reconcile my feelings.

Diving under the cool canopy of my tomato jungle. Cutting into a ripe watermelon that started as a seed I picked from the flesh of last summer's crop. Munching on skinny string beans that hang from the fence as I pick a bunch for a salad or stir fry. Cultivating the bounty of my small plot can make summer bearable, and delicious.

This week was all about preparation. Tilling up the ground that was dormant since the fall, removing weeds that have grown in the very early spring we've been having and planning the rotation of crops to utilize the nutrients absorbed or replenish those that have been sapped.

I don't use store-bought fertilizer, so a thick layer of horse manure mixed with compost boosts the soil. I collect worms and other bugs to feed and entertain my chickens.

The hearty Russian kale has survived the winter. (Seriously, this stuff is amazing. It can live to ten degrees BELOW zero. I highly recommended it.) And a few green onions have wintered over as well. The parsley is already growing in bunches, but the frost-weary basil will have to be started from seed.

There's a lot of work yet to do and it's the thought of fresh broccoli that's keeping me motivated.

27 February 2012

Susquehanna River Basin Commission tries new public hearing tactic

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission held its first public hearing for oral testimony of water withdrawal applications on Feb.16. The Commission, an interstate watershed agency that manages the resources of the central Pennsylvania basin, previously heard from applicants the day of voting by the four-Commissioner panel.

The decision to split up the testimony and voting came after a disruption at the previous meeting on Dec. 15. That interruption came from multiple people at the hearing, applicants and members of the public, speaking out of turn. The goal of the separation was to create a safe and secure environment for the public to speak, as well as get through the agenda of hearing from the applicants, said Susan Obleski, the SRBC director of communications.

Opponents to the withdrawal of water from the Susquehanna River for hydrofracking attended both the Dec.15 meeting and the public hearing on Feb. 16. Their agenda was similar at both gatherings, said Nathan Sooy, the central Pennsylvania campaign organizer for Clean Water Action.

“We were calling for an immediate moratorium on water withdrawals for fracking until (the SRBC) has studied the cumulative impacts of it,” said Sooy. “By allowing these companies to pump water from the Susquehanna, the SRBC is not serving the interests of people along the river, which is part of their mandate.”

Guy Alsentzer, director of operations for Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna Inc. in York and staff attorney for the Lower Susquehanna River Keeper, attended both meetings.

“I’m glad the Commission took the opportunity to remedy the procedural decline at the Dec.15 meeting,” said Alsentzer. “All of the applications were approved off the record (on Dec.15) which was disappointing. We lost an element of public access to information to the commissioners because of the disruptions.”

The SRBC is in favor of economic development from hydrofracking, said Obleski. The Commission also benefits from application fees to withdrawal water which made up about 65 percent of the Commission’s budget in fiscal year 2011, Obleski wrote in an email.

The Commission requires an application for withdrawal “from gallon one” in an attempt to be conservative and protective of the environment in dealing with the new water use, wrote Obleski.

Sooy does not believe the SRBC is doing enough.

“The public is not involved the way it should be,” said Sooy. “There needs to be more transparency and less closed door deals.”

Obleski said the Commission is required to have a public hearing format. The minutes and webcast of the Feb. 16 hearing will be provided for the Commissioners who will vote on the applications at the March 15 meeting, but will not be available to the public, she said.

Sooy made a comparison to the Delaware River Basin Commission that recently prohibited water use for hydrofracking. The DRBC has multiple advisory committees that bring together leaders from companies, organizations, universities and the government to provide information for the commissioners, said Sooy.

“Citizens can sit on them, too,” he said. “The SRBC has no access other than the public hearings.”

York County does not have any Marcellus Shale formations, but is still affected by the impacts of hydrofracking, particularly along the Susquehanna River, said Alsentzer.

“If water levels and quality are degraded by the fracking companies while the SRBC sits in the unique position to regulate and study the impacts, they can no longer hold themselves aloof,” said Alsentzer.

There are four commissioners on the SRBC. One from N.Y., Pa. and Md., and one from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The state commissioners are appointed by the state’s governor, and the federal commissioner is designated by the President.

24 February 2012

Penn State bugs power batteries

    Researchers at Penn State University in State College say they have harnessed the power of some of nature’s smallest workers to create batteries.
    Professor Bruce Logan and his colleagues use bacteria to produce electricity. The batteries are called microbial fuel cells.
    Over the past decade, the technology slowly has been developing in engineering labs nationwide. This technology uses bacteria to extract energy from organic matter and release it as electrons.
    “It works like bacteria in our bodies,” said Logan. “Except, in humans, the electrons are sent to oxygen. In a microbial fuel cell, the bacteria are denied that easy conversion. They are forced to make electrodes.”
    The electrodes flow through the circuitry of the fuel cell, and that is electricity.
    At Penn State, Logan is involved in an ongoing project to collect bacteria from the campus’s wastewater treatment plant to run through the fuel cells.
    Logan’s research has estimated that 5 percent of the nation’s electrical demand goes to power wastewater treatment plants. If Logan’s project goes through, not only will the bacteria in the wastewater be breaking down the organic matter, it will be powering the rest of the plant — things like pumps, aerators and lights.
    Someday, Logan said, the 2.6 million gallons of wastewater that flows each day through the Penn State plant, could produce enough electricity to power 84 nearby homes.
    The recent challenge for Logan is finding the most cost effective systems for the microbial fuel cells.
    “We need to scale them up,” said Logan. “This is an emerging technology, and we need to learn how to deal with the electricity that is produced.”
    The fuel cells can only put out about half a volt, said Logan. In order to increase the voltage in a fuel-efficient way, there needs to be more research.
    “Right now, if we put more batteries together to get a higher voltage, they short each other out.”
    Logan is hoping for interest outside of the academic world. Within the electrical industry, there are few sources for alternative energy funding. Logan’s website lists various grants that he has been awarded for his microbial fuel cell research.

20 February 2012

Peace Corps Honduras alumna Sally Hoh

Sally Hoh spent two years up to her knees in mud while volunteering with the Peace Corps in Honduras from 1984 to 1986. As a freshwater fish outreach volunteer, it was her job to dig fish ponds and stock them with tilapia for the people of Jesus de Otoro to eat.

“When I went down there, no one from central Pennsylvania had ever heard of tilapia,” Hoh said, who graduated from Gettysburg College with a degree in Biology. The now popular staple in the grocery store freezer aisle was chosen for Hoh’s Honduran project for the same reasons it took off in the American diet two decades later.

“They grow fast and they’re nutritious,” said Hoh, who now works at York College in the Biology department.

Hoh remembers her years in Honduras fondly. She traveled safely throughout the country by bus and felt welcome in her village. Which is why the current turmoil ripping through the country hurts her even more.

According to the United Nations, Honduras now has the highest homicide rate in the world, four times that of Mexico. Governmental institutions are still strained from a 2009 coup. And because of this potential for danger, the Peace Corps pulled out all 158 of its volunteers from Honduras on Jan. 18.

“I called the Peace Corps and they wouldn’t tell me why they brought the volunteers home, just that ‘they have paused services while the agency reviews the safety and security of the country,’” said Hoh. “That’s the statement they sent me.”

Hoh acknowledges the country has likely changed and that it no longer seems to be the quiet, primitive life she experienced.

Hoh shared a house with two to four other volunteers who worked in her town. “We bought power from a generator from 6 to 9 p.m. every day,” said Hoh. “There was one phone at the police station and if the Peace Corps wanted to get a hold of us, they would send a telegram.”

There have been 5,750 volunteers in Honduras since 1962 with the Peace Corps.

“That’s a lot of good,” she said. “But the current volunteers who were in the middle of projects have had to abandon them.”

A prison fire in Comayagua, Honduras last week killed 357 people that burned and suffocated in their cells, the AP reported.

Andrew Coyle of the International Center for Prison Studies at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom told CNN that, nationwide, the Honduran prison system was overcrowded by 40 percent in 2010.

The U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs website states the high crime rate in Honduras is compounded by widespread poverty, street gang activity and drug trafficking.
 “It sounds to me like the Honduran government is trying to adjust to the high crime rates by strictly enforcing laws,” said Hoh.

That has likely taxed their prison system and led to overcrowding, which can make it hard to maintain order, said Hoh.
“What happened in Honduras isn’t that different than situations in the United States,” said Hoh, in response to the growing prison populations in the U.S. “And ignoring the differences can only make things worse.”

Students at York College interested in volunteering with the Peace Corps will approach Hoh with questions.

“Most tell me they’re apprehensive about delaying their adult lives by spending two years in the Peace Corps,” said Hoh. “What I tell them is that my adult life started with the Peace Corps.”

As a volunteer Hoh grew and enhanced her perspectives. She learned to look at the world as “less ‘us and them.’ We’re all one big ‘we’.”

“Even after 25 years, I still feel a strong connection to the people of Honduras.”

12 February 2012

Day One: Fail

Check out the bandanna. Courtesy of
For the next 40 days I will be observing myself, I guess. It's a self-indulgent and unnecessary challenge. Four hours a week I clean up my local yoga studio and in return I get free yoga. Good deal.

But the manager of the studio wanted all the teachers and volunteers to participate in a program called "40 days to a personal revolution". It follows a book written by an American yogi. His name is Baron Baptiste (I'll refer to him as BB). He wears a bandanna all the time, to ward off demons. (oh, BB). He thinks he has all the answers to cause a complete revolution in a person; a person he doesn't know and will never meet. That's pretty presumptuous of him, I think. I will take away his power by denying his "laws" of transformation (yeah, he made his owns laws, but I will get to those later).

I'm not against change. Or kicking bad habits. Or facilitating time for myself. All of those things are possible in the next 40 days. But any change I make or habit kicked or time taken, I have to share with the group. There's the real challenge, because I won't do that. I don't believe that growth is a group experience. I can become a whole new person in the privacy of my own self, thanks. 

Along with 20-or-so people, we will meet once a week and talk about our failures, our progress, blah blah blah. I don't believe it will work. But there you have it. I have already failed. By going into this process of "personal revolution" by running the other way, I hold the very potential to ruin it all.

So... Imma go for a jog.

02 February 2012

Safe Harbor open to climbing after more than a decade!

It's been a mild winter in south central PA, to say the least. A freak 10-hour storm dropped a few inches that stuck around a few days. But other than that, I would compare our January weather with the average March. Lame, as far as I'm concerned.

But, when January gives you sunny days in the 60s, it's best taken advantage of.

So my climbing friend Jen asked me to join her for a day at Safe Harbor in Conestoga Township in Lancaster County. I'd never been and was eager to learn about the new spot and get on some real rock.

Jen Smith preparing to rap off of Pro Bono (5.7)
Safe Harbor crag is a cliff line running along the Susquehanna River just to the south side of the Conestoga River confluence. (There is also a crag to the north of the confluence in Manor Township that is not yet reopened.) The cliff are not natural. According to, they were created in the early 20th century to extend the Pennsylvania Railroad. Although climbing along the railroad was probably occurring for decades, the real development of lines came in the mid-1970s by Tony Herr and Don Gallagher, two active Lancaster area climbers. 

Looking up at the line of cliffs, some sections rising 100 feet over the gravel path, I felt my fingers tingling. This was going to be a great day. The sun was shining, making the bolts of nearly a hundred routes glisten. We had the crag to ourselves. The only other climbers we could see were hundreds of feet away, enjoying another section.

Jen and I set up a rope on a slabbing 5.7 to warm up and get a feel for the style of Safe Harbor. Because the place of virtually vacant, we left the rope up some friends joining us later might want to run up it. The lack of climbers was not a lack of popularity, Jen told me. It was simply the fact of it being a Tuesday.

Eric Horst was a protege of Herr and Gallagher. Along with a few other climbers in their twenties, the group developed a handful of trad lines and toprope routes. As Horst writes on, climbers were never bothered by the landowners and were often entertainment for passing train engineers. 

Through the 1980s, the crag saw little growth in the number of climbers beyond the initial group. The rail line was deactivated in 1988 and the tracks were removed in 1989. Although most of the climbers from the 70s had moved on to different crags, Horst and Herr came back in the late-80s to take another look at Safe Harbor. With them they brought sport climbing, a new trend in vertical rock climbing that was just taking off.

A few hours into day, Jen and I met a fellow named Jerry who seemed to know his way around Safe Harbor. He told us about the progression of the crag from trad to sport. We found many rusted bolts throughout the day placed there a decade ago, but most of the lines were already sporting solid protection, an effort by Horst and his friends when the crag finally reopened.

In 1990, a few dozen bolted routes went up and with it came the climbers. Horst writes on that the number of climbers visiting Safe Harbor grew by the weekend. By 1991 more climbers (with drills) came and about 60 new sport routes. As Safe Harbor was the only sport crag within a six-hour drive of the major Mid-Atlantic cities, it saw a lot of traffic. That year also saw the early development of Safe Harbor North, the cliff lines just north along the river of original crag. About the same time, local municipalities and Amtrak -- the landowner -- started to get nervous.

Jen Smith setting her rack to lead Pro Bono.
This is a common problem for landowners in many states. The liability laws of our litigious society mean that even trespassers can sue for injury. It's not a risk many people are willing to take. But fortunately for all climbers in the area, the efforts of the locals who would not forget about Safe Harbor have brought this little gem back to life.

By 1992, the crag was famous. A feature article ran in Rock & Ice magazine in the fall. The newly formed Access Fund recommended Horst and his fellow climbers get the land designated for climbing as a recreational activity as soon as possible. 

It did not happen soon enough, however. In the mid-1990s, the local police made frequent stops at Safe Harbor and removed anyone found climbing, giving them fines for trespassing. That went on until 2004. 

When I asked Jerry about those forbidden years, he wouldn't say much. He admitted that many climbers were caught and told to leave. And that it wasn't a good idea back then to climb here. But when I asked if that really prevented locals from sending their favorite lines, all I got from Jerry was a expression trying not to smile.

In summer 2004, Lancaster County Parks acquired the land through eminent domain and allowed recreational climbing. That was extremely short-lived. By fall 2004, a state court overturned the eminent domain acquisition and gave the land back to Amtrak. Climbing was again off limits.

In 2009, the land was given to the surrounding townships, but climbing was still forbidden because of a concern of electrocution from the overhanging power lines. The lines have since been replaced by higher utility poles and moved about 15 feet away from the cliff lines. 

In early fall 2011, Conestoga Township voted to allow climbing once more at Safe Harbor. 

And thankfully they did, because my friends and I had a wonderful day.

** All historical information about Safe Harbor came from

18 January 2012

Pennsylvania Farm Show 2012

Bailey Kasbee and her pig Oreo.

Every Monday I spend a few hours hanging out with the news team at WITF radio in Harrisburg. Last week I got to hang out with reporter Mary Wilson as she toured the Pennsylvania Farm Show looking for a cool story. She manned the microphone and I snapped photos along the way.

Mary put together a great piece on the show and my photos are featured in a slide show below the transcript (it is radio, you know).

We started out in the food aisles talking to vendors about the politics of free samples. Then we moved on to the art of showing pigs, purchasing Longhorn cattle, raising alpaca and finally grooming heifers for judging.

Check out Mary's piece and my photos at

09 January 2012

This is the boost my brain power

Courtesy of hawkexpress on Flickr
Sometimes, in line at the grocery store, when I’ve run out of tabloid covers to read, I glance at those booklets on brain training. From the look of them, they’re geared toward people who are older, maybe retired, who no longer have kids or a job to stimulate their brains.
    But I never really thought about things I could do to sharpen my memory or hone the connections between reason and emotion. I’m young. My brain is young. I think a lot. I’m even doing it right now. Maybe if I try to exercise my brain too much, I’ll pull a mental muscle or something?
    But if the alternative is my brain going to mush inside my skull, some cranial fatigue is worth the risk.
    So here’s my list of ten ways to do ol’ Brain Train:
Courtesy of Richard Trierweiler
    1. Sleep. This one’s my favorite so I put it first. I love sleep. I never feel like I’ve had enough. But just sleeping a lot is not always the solution. You have to make sure that the quality of the sleep you’re getting is top shelf. That means eliminating noise and light. I use double blackout curtains. They shut out the sun, cut down on street noise and even keep out the cold, saving money on my heating bill.
    2. Be contradicted. There’s nothing more stimulating than a healthy debate. It gives you an excuse to practice expressing your opinion and exposes you to new ideas. I’m lucky on this one. My partner never lets me get away with any statement without citing my sources.
    3. Eat tumeric. This common spice is used in pretty much every Indian, and most Thai, dishes. It’s a staple in my kitchen. Similar to ginger root, it contains curcumin, which may reduce the risk of dementia. One down side — it stains, so be tidy.
Courtesy of chocolate express on Flickr
    4. Eat dark chocolate — and drink red wine. Both are delicious sources of memory-improving flavonoids. And tell your parents to rock this one too. Studies have shown that after age 50, one serving of red wine a day will benefit the heart as well.
    5. Hydrate. I remember commercials from high school prompting eight glasses a day. It always seemed like a lot. But dehydration forces the brain to work harder and may prohibit planning abilities. Plus, you’ll be less likely to develop kidney stones. And I hear those are no fun.
Courtesy of jjpacres
    6. Write by hand. This is one that challenges me. I used to do it all the time. Essay tests in class were part of the curriculum and I never gave it much thought. Now, writing by hand for more than a couple hundred words and I’m cramping up. My new goal is to write the first draft by hand, second draft on the computer. Brain scans show that handwriting engages more sections of the brain than typing. And, it’s easier to remember something once you’ve written it down.
    7. Zone out. Take your brain off the leash and let it wander about. One professor I had in college gave the class permission to stop listening to her if we started to feel sleepy. The break, she said, made us more focused when we came back. And studies have shown that zoning out allows the brain to work on the ‘big picture’.
    8. Delay gratification. It encourages focus, and when exercised at the dinner table, makes that dessert take so much better. This is something I was much better at as a kid. Once I figured out the whole time-management thing, I realized that deadlines are good motivators, too.
    9. Master the Pomodoro Technique. This has nothing to do with pasta, but is a great tool for time-management. You stay focused and work in 25-minute blocks, taking a short break after each. The frequent rests aid mental agility, and you know you want to take it anyway.
Courtesy of WarzauWynn on Flickr
    10. Get out of town. City living is distracting. Just a few minutes on a crowded street impairs memory and self-control (like the urge to pull your hair out). So plan a weekend getaway. Pennsylvania is full of wonderful state and local parks, so this doesn’t mean you have to go far. This is also my favorite.

06 January 2012

Real cold. Fake snow.

Negative wind chills + faux snow makers = the ice beard
Moving from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania I was anticipating a change in the winter clime. Temperatures rising into the 30s everyday rather than peaking in the teens. Less snow and ice, more flurries and slush. Roads salted with abandon instead of a more car- and earth-friendly sand dusting. But driving yesterday up the nearest ski hill (notice I don’t use the descriptor mountain), the wind was fighting me for control over the car, but there was no snow. Bear trees, yes. TK something else wintery. Even the occasional pond sporting a very thin sheet of ice. But no snow.

Until we got to the parking lot of Roundtop ski resort. All of a sudden, it was winter. Just on the north slope and only where the snow-making machines were roaring, but if I chose to put on my frost-colored glasses, I could see the best season of them all (in my opinion).

Not that New Hampshire is immune to green winters - this year is a good example - but I don’t remember popping out of my skis, walking 2 feet to the right and stepping back into Fall.

The snow in October was nice. I guess I should just take it as it comes. Winter in fall and fall in winter.

Faux winter it is.

03 January 2012

Exploring Governor Stable

Thanks to the hard work of the Friends of Governor Stable, a slice of the Susquehanna River valley teeming with boulders is available to climbers. I learned about the Governor Stable boulderfield from a member of the FoGS board last spring. A pass for the climbing season, January through August, is $60. Since I didn't yet have a job and it was part way through the season, I found other places to boulder around York, Pa (like my basement gym).

But I knew the 2012 season was starting January 1, so for Christmas, I bought a pair of passes for Richard and me.

This afternoon, in the 28 degree weather, we drove over the Susquehanna to check out Governor Stable. We parked at the nearby public park and walked up the road to the trail head. Clouds were out in patches. When the sun peaked through I could feel it being absorbed by my black down vest. The wind was minimal, blocked by the boulders, but my toes were cold after 10 minutes.

I soon forgot my toes, distracted by the hundreds of climbs to explore. It's an impressive space and I'm happy to have access to it and to support the people working hard to get that access.

No photos today. My hands soon lost feeling like my toes. But I'm going back so another idle afternoon will be spent crawling over the boulders and hopefully sending some sweet problems.

02 January 2012

My perfect Sunday

I grew up spending most of my Sunday mornings asleep and entirely aware that most of my peers were in church. Now I work Thursday through Monday so this New Year’s Day 2012, was the first Sunday I’ve had off since Labor Day.

The day started at midnight, lounging around a bonfire behind my friend Chris’ parents’ house. We rang in the New Year with a few cheers and the echoes of fireworks and dynamite bouncing off the valley slopes from nearby celebrations. Walking back to the house after a couple more hours of chatting with friends I hadn’t seen for six months, I looked up at the stars. They shined through a hole in the low cloud cover and I realized I hadn’t seen stars for as many months. (A sacrifice of city living, I suppose.)

Rusting "stairs" to Pulpit Rock
Reclaimed coal mine
Woods walking, also known as hiking
After a few hours’ sleep, Chris, Norah, Richard and I woke up to a clear, brisk morning. A hike was on the agenda and since Chris spent grew up in the surrounding woods, we were given a guided tour of his childhood haunts.

The highlight for me was a look into a seemingly bottomless tunnel that was built from 1891 to 1934 under a coalmine for drainage. The tunnel itself was bizarre. Thick rebar lengths that crisscrossed to prevent people from climbing down blocked the 10-foot diameter entrance. It stuck out of the ground at a 45-degree angle like a giant worm from Dune. Looking down we saw rocks and trash that people had thrown but that hadn’t made it very far. About 50 feet down the lower half of the tunnel was caving in and a pile of dirt made seeing any further impossible.
Down the Jeddo

But even more compelling than a giant tunnel was the backstory. Chris told us that he had heard of people taking kayaks down into the tunnel. About three miles away there was an exit, but to get there the kayakers had to make it through pH 0 drainage water with no light and multiple rapids speculated at class 5. And depending on the recent weather the exit could be completely blocked with water rushing into the Nescopeak Creek. For those who make it out alive, the cops are usually waiting at the exit with handcuffs. And, Chris said, the Jeddo Mine Tunnel has a death rate worse than Mount Everest.

A great romp in the woods always needs a spooky story.

Out of the woods and on for pizza!
After hiking out to the car we’d earlier stashed, we headed straight for pizza and garlic knots. The cookies we ate out in the woods, called Million Dollar cookies, were delicious but calories from the butter and excess sugar were gone before we even ate them.

A morning of exploration and friends followed by too much food is my perfect Sunday.