Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow Storm

The weather forecast for this weekend included a severe storm warning which predicted 6" to 12" of snow! It started falling Friday night, and by the morning we had a nice blanket of snow, with more still falling.

Snowy Morning
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Blanket of snow

Conditions were terrible, but I wanted to explore and see if any stores in my nearby shopping center were open. So I dug out some snow gear from my days in Seattle, and hiked over to the plaza. I found empty parking lots, with a few other hardy souls out, plus a few trucks plowing the parking lot. Most stores were closed except for one grocery store, and I got the feeling they were going to close early.

After returning home, I lazed out and watched TV and played computer games.

Today was bright and sunny - the snow stopped falling. I went outside to survey my car, and found it covered with a foot-and-a-half of snow. The road inside the apartment complex was slushy, and some trucks were driving around spreading salt. I got my snow shovel, another piece of equipment from my days in Seattle (I guess the stuff I had to buy for the Mountaineers courses on snowshoe and scrambling came in handy!), and dug out my car, so I won't have to do it tomorrow morning.

Once again I decided to walk over to the nearby plaza, since the neighborhood roads were still snow-covered and slushy. This time, the plaza was jammed since the storm stopped and the major roads were plowed. I ate a nice salad at Panera, had a delicious cafe mocha, and walked home.

Snowy Sidewalk
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
One day after the snowstorm.

No more snow is in the forecast, so the roads should be fine. I wasn't able to run this weekend (I skipped out on a 5 miler in Baltimore on Saturday, due to the conditions) but I at least got two snowy walks in. :)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Board Games

I found a local board games group, and attended a meeting.

The group meets at a local mall, Savage Mill, a historic building. The Mall consists of several connected building, originally part of an old saw mill. The stores inside are all local-owned and unique, and several teach classes.

One that caught my eye is Terrapin Adventures, because they have a zip-line obstacle course setup outside! It reminds me of the Sanford Zoo's course, and I will check it out when the weather is warmer.

Anyway, only two other people made today's board game meet, and we settled on playing Dominion, a card game. The game worked similar to a collectible card game, where you try to build a deck to play with, except it thankfully doesn't involved buying/collecting cards - all the ones you need come with the game. Each turn you use a set of your cards to get new ones, which grant more abilities or victory points. I liked the game enough to buy a copy right afterwards!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

OUC half marathon weekend

I return to Orlando for the OUC half marathon, and to also visit friends. I knew the weekend would be as busy as I wanted it to be, because the Orlando Running Club would be having events for the exchange runners! So I planned ahead and flew in Thursday evening.

Friday, I went to lunch with a group from the Seminole Cyclists - they were coincidentally having the monthly lunch gathering when I would be able to make it. So we had a nice lunch at Fuji sushi in Lake Mary. Friday evening I went to dinner in Winter Park with the running club, and got to see several friends there.

It rained pretty heavy all Friday, so there was concern the race would be in fairly lousy conditions. It was sprinkling lightly Saturday morning, and the forecast called for a break so we hoped that would hold true. Charles took this picture of Beth, me, and Mai before we loaded up and drove to Lake Eola. Charles and Mai had run the Space Coast Marathon the week before (!), and in order to rest, Charles wasn't running. But Mai did in order to support Beth, who had been training for this event for months - her first half-marathon.

Beth, me, Mai

We were lucky and it didn't rain during the race, except for some very light sprinkles for a few minutes. Since my training has been rather lackluster, I was quite happy with coming in under 2 hours!

The ORC holiday party was that evening, and I had a fun time talking with running club friends. Before leaving on Sunday I was able to have lunch with Paul and Allison (whose wedding I attended last month) and heard about their nice honeymoon in Hawaii.

Overall it was a really good weekend!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wounded Warrior 5K

Grace, a running friend from Orlando, came up with her husband to visit some relative in the DC area. We made a plan to do a race together. After searching the local race calendar, we signed up for the Wounded Warrior 5K, a fundraiser for wounded veterans at Walter Reed.

It was a nice event, the course was on closed roads or in Rock Creek Park, and crossed from Maryland into Washington D.C. and back. I was happy with my 23:37.

Wounded Warrior 5K
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Grace and Me after the race.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Paul and Alison's Wedding

I visited central Florida this weekend, to attend the wedding of my two friends Paul and Alison. I used to work with Paul, and we also were on a bowling team together (good thing it was a handicap league because I was by far the worst person on the team!), gamed together (computer and board games), and kept up meeting for lunch over the months after I was gone. Alison likes board games too, and would join us for Power Grid, Puerto Rico, or others.

Paul and Alison's Wedding
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
The happy bride and groom!

The ceremony started in the evening at the Lake Mary Events Center, right on Crystal Lake, visible in the picture. It was getting dark so my pics didn't come out that great. I'm sure they'll post some after returning from their honeymoon in Hawaii!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Grapevine 8K

I signed up for the "Run Through the Grapevine 8K", held at a local winery, after seeing several people in the tri club mention it. It was a bit of a drive, through some pretty rolling hills and windy country roads.

The event itself was tough. Really tough. I thought it would be a trial run, as opposed to a road (or other paved surface run), but it was even tougher than that. Most of the course didn't really have a defined trail - it was just over grassy rolling hills. And between grapevine rows, hence the name I suppose! There was a small stream to jump, a muddy steep trail section more suitable to hiking in drier times, and lots of undulating grassy hills with very uneven footing.

But, it was also a ton of fun. I ran carefully in order to avoid twisting an ankle (there were some tricky sections: curve/turn left while running down a steep part) and finished up in 50:02.

Afterwards, most of us gathered at a club member's house for some hot soup and munchies.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dawg Dash

This year's Dawg Dash went better than expected - I finished in 51:44 despite not running all that much since moving to the DC area. Unfortunately I couldn't map since my Garmin was dead but the course was the same as last year's.

Francesca's post-race waffle fest was a hit, drawing more people than last year even though a few (Krisanne, Eric) have moved away from Seattle! Joe was in town, and it is always interesting to catch up with him.

In the evening I had dinner with Kandi and family. Their kids are growing huge amounts now that I only see them once a year. Sam is a junior, Jacob is in 6th grade and basically fluent in Spanish (he's in the immersion program), Ellie is in school now... wow!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

New Car - Prius

I got a "new" car... a 2008 Prius. I've been thinking about getting a hybrid for years, and decided now was a good time, since I either had to register my Camry in Maryland, or get a new car. Since my Camry was getting up there (160K miles, 13 years old), and the Maryland vehicle inspection policy tries to both recover money for the state (sales-tax-free state Delaware is next door!) and weed out unsound cars, I opted for replacement - I'm sure I would have had to sink more money into the Camry.

I'm not complaining - my Camry was excellent over the years! But co-workers told me Maryland is super picky on vehicle inspections, because it is only done once for the life of the car. One coworker thinks this actually leads to more clunkers on the road, since once a car passes, it never has to get inspected again, and thus people tend to drive cars into the ground. Cars gets dinged for nicks in the windshield, rust, etc. and getting that fixed for a car I'd plan to replace next year anyway...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Football Fever

One thing I've noticed about this region of the country is how huge NFL football is. In Florida, college football rules. Alumni groups for Florida State, Florida, and Miami were all over the place, and the games are a large part of the state's consciousness.

Here, pro ball dominates. On Fridays, it is common to see a few coworkers wearing team jerseys. Badge lanyards proclaiming various allegiances are popular as well, as are various methods of decorating your cubicle.

The popular teams are the Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, and then everyone else including the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. I tend to adopt the local team after a while, so I'll pay attention to the Ravens and Redskins.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

(No) Cable TV

I decided to save a little money and not get cable TV. I like some of those extra channels, especially National Geographic, Syfy, and a handful of others. But, it isn't worth $80 more a month for that (I have cable internet for an already high ~$60 a month).

Yes, 80 dollars! That doesn't include any premium channels, that is just "normal" cable and HD. I could probably live without HD, but my TV is capable and the extra charge for HD was $15 or less. So while I like some of the cable channels, the price in this area is higher than I'm willing to pay for it.

Instead, I decided to try good old "over the air" TV reception. For that, I'd need a tuner/decoder, so I bought an HD Tivo which also includes the HD tuner/decoder I would need to get anyway. Besides, after watching TV via DVR's for so long, I had to have that also - too bad my current Series 2 TiVo can't pull in HD. I had to buy an antenna as well, but those are inexpensive.

Once I connected all this stuff up, I searched for channels to see what I could receive. The good news is I get several channels, over the air, for free! NBC, Fox, PBS, CW, and some miscellaneous channels. I don't get ABC or CBS... perhaps my antenna isn't strong enough to pull in those signals.

That's OK, because I supplement what I do receive through Netflix, which is indispensable especially considering how many TV shows are released on DVD eventually. And I'll try buying one show from the iTunes store: Burn Notice. That is one of my favorite shows, and it plays on USA, which I no longer get. And I can't wait until season 3 comes out on DVD in order to see the other half of the season!

Anyway, one month into not having cable TV and I don't miss it that much. Certainly not enough to spend $80/month for it.

Friday, September 04, 2009


I've owned a Kindle (2nd generation), for about six months now, and really like it. Not every book I want to read is available on Kindle, so I still get some from bookstores, but now I prefer getting the Kindle version.

I love how many books it holds, making it a very portable library. The screen is great, nice and easy to read. The purchase discount on books varies, and I think it is great how many books are offered for free. Check out the Kindle bestsellers list - many of those books, even fairly current ones, are free! When I see one that looks interesting, I grab it... so far the best freebie has been Finder's Paranoia, which I enjoyed. I also use the sample feature, where you can download the first chapter or so of the book, for free.

There are some obvious downsides - unlike a book, dropping it or getting it wet could ruin it. But I'm careful when I take it around. There isn't really a way to share a book with somebody else, say I finish reading a book and want to loan it out. Can't do that unless I loan out the whole Kindle!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Auto Train

Since I'm moving to the Washington DC area for my new job, I decided to try out the Amtrak Auto Train. After all, I am moving from one end of the route to the other. Plus, the alternate option was to drive my car up, and that didn't sound as appealing.

The trip takes 17 hours (depart 4 pm, arrive 9:30 am the next day), and it went by pretty quick. Dinner was tasty and included complimentary white wine. The seat next to me was unoccupied so I stretched out a little bit and had no trouble sleeping. But then I doze off easily on airplanes and sometimes in cars.

One friendly couple gave me a ton of advice on the route - they live in Philadelphia and were frequent travelers. The main advice was that the sleeper cars (super liner roomette, and bedroom) weren't really worth it since the trip was just one overnight. And who hasn't taken a long plane flight and slept en route? Same thing, except the train is more spacious even in regular seats.

Another tip is to always try to get a lower level seat. That's because each car connects on the top level, so foot traffic is higher in general above. On top of that, half of the lower level is occupied by restrooms. So if you sit on the top level, you will have a better view from the window, but people will walk by you all the time on the way to the stairs down for the restroom. Meanwhile, on the lower level, there is a sliding door separating the passenger compartment (big enough for 12 passengers) from the restroom half, so we don't hear much noise at all.

The train included a "lounge" car, which had booths, coffee and snacks available all the time, and small TV screens for movie showings. Amtrak tries to arrange families and especially kids near the lounge cars, since they tend to go back and forth to the lounge. Another reason the upper level tends to be busy. All the way at one end was the dining car, which served up a very nice dinner (I had vegetarian lasagna).

There were electric sockets available along the windows, and if I had known that I might have brought my notebook on so I could watch a movie. Instead it stayed packed in my car, which wasn't had since then I didn't have to worry about my computer when I went off to eat. I brought a book, but wound up looking out the window until dinner time, and doing that again after dinner until it was dark. When I woke up around 6:30 am, I had breakfast and then the staff announced we were running nearly an hour ahead of schedule and would arrive at 8:30 am!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On The Road Again

It seems my fate involves moving frequently - I hope this next one is it for me, and that future moves will be in the local area. Ideally I will meet someone and settle down. ;) As far as employment opportunities, cultural attractions, entertainment and so on, the Washington DC/Baltimore metropolitan area will be hard to beat... and so I hope to stay. I'll be busy exploring the area for a long time!

I typically don't miss places as much as people. That being said, I wound up liking central Florida much more than I thought I would. There is other stuff to do besides theme parks, honest. The weather is pretty good for running and biking year round, and I took advantage. Kennedy Space Center is nearby - I got tickets to see a launch once, but it was delayed and I couldn't make it. I enjoyed kayaking and canoeing, and the occasional airboat ride, even if that is more on the touristy side of things. I'm not a huge beach goer, but I went a few times and had a great time with surfing lessons. I visited Key West with my family, but never did explore the rest of the state much at all. No trips to the panhandle or Jacksonville or even St. Augustine, no stop in Miami, and only two or three quick visits to Tampa.

But it comes down to the people I knew, and I will miss them. I got lucky finding a great/active biking club and running club and made several close friends. The good news is flights are short and cheap - 2 hours and about $200 if purchased in advance. I know I will be back in Florida twice in November - once for a friend's wedding, and a second time for a half marathon.

My blog helped keep in touch with friends when I moved from Washington. But now, most of the people I knew in Florida are all on Facebook so I guess that will be the new way to keep in touch.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Friends Helping Friends 5K

I had a great race this morning, taking 2nd place overall at a local 5K! I started out in 6th place - I could see five men in front of me immediately after the start - and over the course of the race, I reeled most of them in. My time was 21:44 which is really good for me.

This victory falls into the "cherry picked event" category, for three reasons:
1) New race - I know the people that put this event on, and they got the idea and began working on it five weeks ago. That isn't a lot of time to get a race together, much less advertise it!

2) New location - the event took place in Colonial Town Park, a shopping plaza in the Lake Mary/Heathrow area. It isn't obscure, but it certainly isn't as popular as the typical spots of other area races.

3) Other events - the biggest reason I did so well, is that most of the really competitive runners (i.e. the Lake Monroe Roadkillers) all went to another event that same morning, the Moss Park Forest Run. That event has been held a few times, is bigger, well advertised, etc.

But, 2nd place is 2nd place, so I'm happy!

Check out the map from my Garmin - this event had so many turns, a few runners got lost on the course.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Segway Tour

Another thing I've always wanted to try is a Segway tour or ride. I've seen then a few times, on TV shows such as Arrested Development, in movies such as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, even on other tours - when I was in DC for the MCM last October, I walked right by a group taking a guided tour on Segways. It looked fun so after digging around a bit, I found that Segway of Central Florida offered a historic tour of nearby Mount Dora.

My friends Amy and Christine and I showed up a few minutes early, and started getting used to the Segways. They are very sensitive - we quickly found out that it doesn't take much leaning at all to make the Segway go forward. Turning was done by pulling the central handle left or right, and that's about it. After doing figure 8's in the store for a few minutes, we headed out for the tour.

The tour itself began in a park, with a view of the lighthouse. Almost immediately, we went offroad onto grass, which the Segway handled quite well. We quickly got comfortable controlling the Segway - it really didn't take much time at all.

Mount Dora Lighthouse
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
This lighthouse is on Lake Dora, and is the only lighthouse on a freshwater lake in Florida.

We wound our way through Palm Island Park, through a nice neighborhood and Gilbert Park, up Mount Dora (a towering 100 feet or so), and through downtown. Our guide filled us in with information about the B&B's we passed, the original general store and lakefront dock, sites of historical interest such as the location of the fire and police station, so-and-so's original house, and so on. Granted, Mount Dora doesn't have the adventurous or exciting history of other cities, but it was enjoyable enough on top of the Segway ride. It began as a factory town and added more when a railroad was built, and these days it hosts a lot of festivals, from art to bicycling events.

Our Segways had a speed limiter of 8 mph, which I immediately translated to the running pace of 7:30 min/mile. We are all runners and I joked that I could qualify for Boston if I could ride a Segway the whole time. Halfway through the tour, the guide showed us how to take it out of "slow" mode, upping the max speed to 12 mph, or a rather speedy running pace of 5:00 min/mile. We didn't have any trouble with the extra speed, and zoomed away for the rest of the tour.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Tomato Plant

One thing I've learned about myself over the past 6 years of home ownership, is that I basically despise yardwork. There are tasks I don't mind but still don't like (trimming bushes), tasks I hire out (lawn mowing), and everything else (weeding and so on) I would just rather not do. I see myself looking for townhomes and/or condos in the future, to avoid a large lawn to take care of. :)

About the only thing I do "enjoy" is growing tomatoes. My friend Mai gave me this plant for Christmas, and it has reliably produced a handful of tomatoes every 4 to 6 weeks. That isn't enough to feast on, but they do make an occasional salad extra tasty. All I have to do is water it and shovel a bit of fertilizer/topsoil in now and then. Easy enough even for me to do!

Tomato Plant
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
This sad looking tomato plant is the extent of my enjoyable gardening efforts.

Maybe I'll branch out into growing simple herbs or green onions - edible plants that do well in pots.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Surfing Lessons

Another activity I wanted to try is surfing. So today, Mai, Charles, Diana, and I drove over to Cocoa Beach, FL to take a group lesson. Our executive summary is: we had fun, but not enough so that we're going to buy a board and take it up as a hobby.

The lesson started with some safety information, about rip tides, jellyfish, and sting rays, and then we practiced getting up on the board. The motion isn't too difficult: you lay on the board with your hands at your ribs, do a pushup while looking up and sliding your feet forward into a crouch, stabilize, and then stand up (keeping knees bent). We tried a few times in a building before walking over to the beach.

As beginners, we were given foam surf boards. Really long ones. Mine was probably 9 feet tall or so, which made it a bit unwieldy! The foam boards are softer so they don't hurt as much if they bang into you, and they are wider/longer for better stability. Afterwards I asked about the fiberglass surfboards and the instructor said those turn and slide through the water faster, which makes them tougher to learn on.

We practiced hopping up on the boards for a few more minutes, and then headed out into the water. Once out there floating on our boards, the instructor would hold us still while we got ready, and then helped launch us as a wave came by.

All of us had our share of falls, but over the two hour lesson, we each had a few successful rides to shore - stood up and surfed in for a few seconds at least! We would take turns and move back for more.

The unexpected thing for me was how tiring it was getting back out from the shore. Those long foam boards proved to be a challenge to move through the swells, on the way back out. To get decent practice, we were far enough out where the water was almost over our heads, and a few times I was swept off my feet towards the beach. Hopping on and paddling all the way out also proved tiring. I felt wimpy because we were in small waves, probably four feet at the most, and I'm sure serious surfers wouldn't even consider what we tried as surfing at all. We were on the skiing equivalent of a bunny slope the entire time, but at least at a ski resort a lift takes you back up. I can see why surfers work up a huge appetite after a few hours, given the work involved in getting back out for more!

After we finished up with the lesson and rinsed off the salt water, we ate lunch at a nearby taco stand, and went back to the beach for a bit. We walked back out in the water and had a great time just bouncing up and down with the waves - almost as fun as surfing with a lot less effort. ;) Well that isn't fair, I'd try it again if the opportunity came up. But I think I'd be more likely to get a boogie board, for riding waves.

Surf School
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
I'm a graduate! Along with Mai, Charles, and Diana.

Friday, July 17, 2009


One place I wanted to visit before I leave Florida is the Everglades.

I searched around and found a tour company (Dragonfly Expeditions) that has a really fun sounding multi-day tour. The itinerary is packed: visit a fishing village, stargazing, hike, photography, biking, canoe adventure, etc. So I made an inquiry... and found out that they don't run the tour during the summer, due to heat and mosquitoes. I can understand that!

But lately the local paper has been filled with stories that make me NOT regret visiting the Everglades... it seems the Burmese python population is out of control and the state is launching an effort to reduce the population. This follows from several stories about a pet python that killed a 2 year old girl - in this case the pet owner didn't lock the python properly.

So I think I will pass on an Everglades visit. Maybe I'll get a book or DVD instead. ;)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Zoom Air

The Central Florida Zoo recently opened a unique attraction: Zoom Air Adventures, a ropes/obstacle course, consisting of various climbs to platforms in trees, zip lines, and obstacles called "games" to cross from one platform to another.

There are three courses available for adults: Upland I, Upland II, and Rainforest, in increasing difficulty. In addition, there is a course for kids, set much lower to the ground. All the courses wind around the parking lot and entry area, so people visiting the zoo for a picnic can watch the people on the course.

A few weeks ago, Mai, Charles, Amy, and I went to try it out. We ran into some scheduling problems and only could do Upland I and II, and unfortunately Charles had to leave early, but we had a really fun time. So today Amy and I went back to try the Rainforest course. The way they have the levels setup, we had to redo Upland I and II - I suspect it was for observation purposes, the course monitors wanted to make sure you knew what you were doing.

The basic premise is red wire runs along the course, and you move forward by clipping/unclipping one of two carabiners to this red line. The carabiners are attached to the climbing harness you wear. For climbing a vertical ladder, there were red loops at every step, and you moved up slowly keeping one clip in at a time. Also running along the course is a heavy silver wire, which is typically there to support the various obstacles, or sometimes it is the only thing you have to use for crossing, tightrope style! For the zip line, we had an roller attachment to clip to the silver wire.

The monitors impose a limit of two people at a platform (build around a tree), and one on a "game" (i.e. obstacle), at a time.

Zoom Air Ladder
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Introductory obstacle.

This is the first "game" right after the introductory ladder climb. It isn't long but each step is shaky and you find out pretty quick how much you have to work to move forward! The red wire is visible, as is the starting platform on the left (labeled with a big green 1), and the next platform on the right.

Zoom Air Bridge
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Amy checking her carabiner midway across the obstacle bridge.

The obstacles vary from wooden planks, netting, wooden tunnel, to nothing but the silver wire. Sometimes I would use the red wire for balance. I found the ones with suspended wooden steps to be really tricky, because the step would swing back and forth. Progress is steady if slow sometimes. The zip line segments were really fun too, a nice break from a tricky crossing. The courses are progressively longer, so by doing all three we were out there a good 2 or 2.5 hours. I really had a great time and might go again once Mai and Charles return from their trip!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wekiva Springs Canoe

My parents are visiting me for a bit, so for President's Day, Mai and Charles suggested all of us go canoeing at Wekiva Springs state park. I've been to the springs a few times, mostly for a trail 5K, but have never canoed there. The weather was great and it sounded like fun!

Originally uploaded by klbarrus

The springs were busy with several people enjoying the sunny day and cool water. After getting our canoes we paddled downstream for a mile or two, before turning around and fighting the current. OK, the current wasn't really that strong, it was just barely noticeable. I was steering my canoe and I'm 99.9% positive my terrible steering caused us more effort than any current we faced.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Gators are everywhere in Florida!

Wekiva Springs connects to Rock Springs - midway down we passed a fork leading to the other park. After looking at the map, the distance to Rock Springs from the fork looked to be several miles further than it was to Wekiva Springs - a wrong turn would mean a lot of extra paddling!

Originally uploaded by klbarrus

Friday, January 23, 2009

History Fair

Diana's friend and coworker Katie needed some volunteers to help judge History Fair entries, as part of Milwee Middle School's participation in History Month celebrations, so I agreed. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I figured it wouldn't be too bad!

Over the week, she brought me a stack of essays to read. The grading instructions boiled down to "always find something positive to say" and "remember these are junior high kids" while selecting the essays that best stuck to the theme of "important people and their impact on today". Most of the essays I read (a dozen or so in total) did a good job of selecting someone famous, but many didn't strongly tie in their impact on today's society. The other major criteria was a bibliography containing various numbers of sources (I sorta glossed over that figuring the other judges would pay more attention).

On the morning of the fair, I showed up and noted the setup. The library (er... Media Center as they are apparently called today) was split into a few areas for the different categories: multimedia, websites, essays, and the cafeteria stage was used for displays. Multimedia and websites?! Good to see the relentless march of technology. :)

Anyway, the two other essay judges and I went into a small side room, where we interviewed each of the students individually. This wasn't meant to be grueling, but some of the kids seemed really nervous or outright terrified. Our questions were straightforward, things like "what gave you the idea for picking this person", "what was the most interesting thing you learned" and so on. After chatting a bit, the kids all relaxed as they got excited talking about their essay. We had a range of historical figures, from Knute Rockne and Elvis Presley to Nikola Tesla and Marie Curie to local figures like Henry Flagler.

After wrapping up and selecting the finalists, I got a tour of campus courtesy two of the students: Anita and Courtney. They were in 8th grade and had an entry in the Displays category. They were either on the yearbook staff, friendly with Katie and the other teachers, good students that were looking to duck out of a few more minutes of classes by showing me around, or all of the above. In any case, they were really helpful and fun to talk to, as I thought back to my junior high school days.

I realize all the students I saw today were among the best at the school, hence they were participating in the contest. School-wide finalists would advance to compete in a county-wide competition to be held in a few weeks, and from there I suppose there will be a state-wide one. I gathered from Katie that the History teachers all assigned the essay topic to their students. Hey, sounds like reasonable arm-twisting to me! After grading the essays, making comments and suggestions for improvement, the students that came back and worked on their essays more were eventually tapped for the fair.

Katie bought door prizes and made Certificates of Appreciation for everyone. I was happy since I won two bags of Starbucks Coffee.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

School Nostalgia

I gave into some pressure and joined Facebook, after several friends kept inviting me. Plus, the local bike club here is surprisingly active on it.

While fiddling around, I decided to search for a bunch of people I went to junior high school and high school with. Junior high was a bit unusual compared to others, because I went to a DoD school for American kids in Frankfurt, (West) Germany, and for obvious reasons it was tough to keep in touch - families moved and so forth. Dad worked at the U.S. Consulate and my classmates were so-called "army brats" or kids of civilian employees (Justice Dept, State Dept, etc). I loved it there - aside from living overseas and getting to see a lot of Europe, I had many friends in school. We all got along, probably since everybody was used to moving a bunch, my peers were all relatively laid back. We all realized we were all in this together. ;)

To my surprise, I got a hit - Trenna (Keiper) Bingham, a junior high classmate! We've traded a few mails and it's so fun contacting somebody from back then.

After more searching, I found more info on Frankfurt American Junior High School. One alum created a page for FAJHS, and a link to a Yahoo Group! I requested to join and hope that goes through soon. Maybe I'll find a few others and see what they've been up to.

There are other websites underway, and, so I'll keep an eye on those.

Anyway, Holly's page has some maps of Frankfurt. The High School map is fun for me to look at, because I lived near it!

On that map, circled in the upper left near the word "Ginnheim", was Frankfurt Elementary School #2, where I finished 6th grade. A bit lower to the right, under the word "Schurz-Sdl" is a small street named Plieninger Strasse - that's where I lived. Across the yellow road on the map, is the "Amerik. Hochschule" circled with a pen. The Consulate my dad worked at is somewhere around the Gr├╝neburgpark area, but I can't find it.

Both FAHS and FAJHS don't exist anymore. The bases were closed down, areas decommissioned and returned to Germany. Now they just exist virtually!