(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

To the "I" States

The holidays have passed. The party's over. Time to go back to work.

January has sort of a bad reputation and to some extent it's deserved. My family generally has a tradition of having a good time with each other (Priya's is the same and we've been combining them over the past few years). January presents us with the post-holiday blues combined with tough weather (here it's the dead of summer and in the US it's the dead of winter). And it's generally a long stretch before the next vacation.

There are a couple of things that have made the transition a bit easier this year. One is that upon returning to Dar we've been presented with strangely rainy and (relatively) cool weather. There are rumors that this is El Nino induced but whatever the reason, it's more pleasant for us.

Another thing that has eased the transition to some degree was that I opted to stay on top of my work a bit more than in previous years. It put an occasional damper on the holidays sometimes but the normally overwhelming barrage of emails and work, though daunting, is not as bad as it could have been.

Finally, I have to say, I do enjoy what I do for a living. Not everyone can say that. It's by far the most difficult job I've ever had and it deals me more massive blows on a daily basis than you could imagine. Even so, it's a fascinating world that I live in. I have an excellent team of staff to help fend off these blows and, I also have to say, we do a good job.

So now we're in the office for about a week before heading out to the field for an extended period. This is a new year in a new camp with some new staff and it's important to make sure that we get things started off right. I won't be back in Dar until the second week of February, Priya a week later.


The holidays began with a week in Indiana, north of Louisville. I had never been there before so it was a new experience for me. The first few days were spent primarily detoxing from the tumultuous period just prior to the break. We ate, had a lot of interesting discussions, went to a Louisville University basketball game, shopped, played with the kids (extended time watching little Isabelle do whatever it is that toddlers do), etc. They're in a rural setting so we took advantage of a nearby state park to go for runs in the hills. We also spent a day hanging out in the city of Louisville and I have to say that I was impressed. It's definitely a livable place and I look forward to seeing it in a different time of year.

City Hall, Salem, IN

Christmas Eve we went to Priya's parent's Presbyterian Church in a town nearby. It was very similar in many ways to services that I attended when I was a kid with a Christmas message, carols, dimming of lights and lighting of candles. Eight-year-old Matthew, not unlike the way I was at his age, was successful in torching the front of his hair with his candle. The service, combined with the musty smell of an old church building, made it a wonderful reminiscence of the old days

Christmas Day the children tore into their gifts, albeit a bit less savagely than I did as a kid, and then we again ate like kings.

 Little Isabelle

 Basking in the glow of the laptop

Fantastic Dinner at Steve and Cathy's

The day after Christmas we headed to another "I" state. To the confusion of most geography-challenged Americans, Idaho is not in the Midwest and it does require at least a couple of hours in a jet to get there from Louisville.

 The amazing Shoshone Falls, Priya and Curtis on the right

Weather cooperated and we arrived in Boise without incident. We were able to hang out with my sister Lisa and her husband Brett bit before heading south to spend a couple days with my parents and my brother Curtis who'd arrived a couple days before we did. It's always a wonderful low-key time there and I always look forward to it.

We also mixed in a chilly run along the Snake River canyon affording some spectacular views. Our turnaround point was the top of Evel Kneival's jump site from his failed attempt to jump the quarter mile distance across the canyon in a rocket motorcycle in 1974.

Curtis overlooking the canyon and Pillar Falls

Then it was on to my sister Cheryl and Pat's house in Inkom, near Pocatello. The traditional massive snow drifts were non-existent due to the lean winter precipitation. Eventually, not long after settling in to their log home (one of my favorite houses in the world), the weather changed and it ended up snowing most of the time we were there. It raised hopes for ski conditions for the upcoming trip to Sun Valley. While in Inkom we ate the traditional amazing steaks, took a dip in the hot springs and had a great time just hanging out.

Lava Hot Springs in the cold and snow

Sun Valley
Then it was off to Sun Valley and our two nights at the famous Sun Valley Lodge.

Baldy Mountain

Cheryl had tapped into a good deal and we were able to enjoy the luxury for much less than what it normally would have been. Within a couple hours of dropping off our bags, it was off to the mountain for some downhill skiing. The snow was not as good as I would have hoped but for someone who lives thousands of miles away in the tropics, beggars can't be choosers. It was great to be in the mountains and sliding down the slopes.

The gang in front of the lodge

The culinary tour of the "I" states continued that evening with more steaks, good wine and lots of fun conversation at one of our favorite restaurants, our beloved Pioneer in Ketchum. That evening we brought in the New Year in our room at the Lodge. The next day, New Year's, most of us skied again. Unfortunately our legs were not in good ski shape and after a few hours we were all happy to cut it early and head to the Nordic ski lodge for a drink, snacks and football. That night we some nice Italian food at Ciro's in Ketchum. Director Rob Weiner was dining there as well which is a bit funny since the last time we saw him in Ketchum was in an Italian restaurant. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that he's a big fan of Italian food.

Back to Boise

The next day we had to make our way back to Boise for our annual family Christmas party. This normally takes place between Christmas and New Years but this year it didn't work out. As such it ended up being a little less Christmas and a little more party. Lisa and Brett have a great house for hosting and they're also pretty talented at being hosts.

The final day before boarding the plane was spent shopping and preparing for our return to Tanzania. Brett took us to a sports bar that had over fifty television screens. I have to say it was a bit overwhelming to have so options for my attention – in addition to people sitting around you. That's always the big shocker when going to the US. Options. Whether it's TV channels, food or laundry soap, America loves to have so many choices for things it can make your head explode.

Priya and my sisters

Lisa took us to the airport the next morning. In addition to the sadness of the holidays coming to an end, my Boise State Bronco football team was to play the biggest game in their history and I was going to miss it sitting in an airplane flying from Seattle to Amsterdam. Ugh. The exact same thing happened in 2006 when BSU beat Oklahoma in what has been called the best college football game in the last decade. I remember booking my flight several months ago thinking that our return was later than normal (we usually travel on the 1st or 2nd). I thought that if BSU makes it to a big bowl game, I least I won't miss it this time. Due to the exceptionally late scheduling of the Fiesta Bowl this year, alas, I still missed it. As I logged on to the internet in Schipol Airport I was very happy to see that they were able to win without me.

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