Monthly Archives: March 2011


31 Mar

Moab Classics

Posted by on March 31, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Jason and I just went down to Moab…again. Nope, we never get tired of that awesome place.

On this trip we wanted to experience some Moab classics. We hiked to Corona and Bowtie Arches and climbed up Negro Bill Canyon to Morning Glory Bridge. (That’s the canyon’s official name. All you political correctness enforcers need to just close your gaping mouths and deal with it. Everyone, including African-Americans, wants this name left as is because of the historical significance of this Bill fellow so just chill.) We also biked up to the Gemini Bridges and through a large portion of the Moab Brand trail system. We had a great time, though the weather was as moody as a teenage girl and ranged from perfectly sunny 70s to a windy downpour.

Corona Arch is graceful and stunning...and windy.

Jason took this great picture of a hardy desert bloomer while we were hiking to Corona Arch. I love it!

The hike to Corona and Bowtie Arches was delightful and scenic. This short jaunt is very family friendly. Parts of it go up a short cliff face, which you scale with the help of a cable and a little ladder. While the ladder is pretty much unnecessary, I skipped it and just trekked over the adjacent rock, I think kids would love the adventurous nature of this climb. Also, the trail is only 3 miles long roundtrip so you probably won’t have to listen to fatigue-induced incessant whining from your young’ins while traversing it.

Morning Glory Bridge didn't look too impressive until you got right under it. Then you really grasped its bulk.

Negro Bill Canyon was not nearly as scenic as the arches’ hike; the best thing it had going for it was a lovely stream that crisscrossed the trail multiple times. In addition to not being as pretty, it was also way too crowded for my taste. When I go out in nature I like to enjoy nature…not dozens of people meandering around. Thank goodness for laziness! The higher we got in the canyon the less we saw other humans. We got to enjoy the Morning Glory Bridge, the sixth longest natural bridge in the United States, in seclusion. This bridge is situated on one side of a sheltering cove formed by a semicircle of rock walls. With a bubbling spring slipping out of a crack in the stone filling this recess with its echoes, it was serene setting for a snack break and I’m glad we had it all to ourselves. As we were descending the canyon a storm was quickly moving in overhead. The wind gained angry momentum and we knew that we weren’t likely to make it back to our car without getting wet but the storm’s imminence did have the beneficial side effect of scaring off other climbers. We saw next to no one the whole way down.

Beneath this overhang Jason and I watched the sky burst. I can't imagine a lovelier spot to witness a storm.

My feet were more than a little on the red side when I got out of the creek but I was grinning from ear to ear.

Since it wasn’t exactly a warm day, Jason and I had crossed the canyon’s creek over and over on rocks and had not so much as dipped our toes in. Apparently, a chance to wade into this stream is the major incentive for throngs of people to ascend this canyon in the summer and, although there was absolutely no sweltering going on that day as the harsh wind rampaged up the ravine, I was determined not to return to the car without letting my feet go for a swim. Although Jason thought my plans for submergence bordered on lunacy, he agreed to stop with me at a pretty spot where the stream cascaded over a small waterfall so I could dabble in the water. The instant Jason and I sat down under a mass of rock adjacent to the creek, which had been carved into a C shape by many years of flowing water, the sky let loose but this sudden shower didn’t deviate me from my plan. I replaced my hiking shoes with sandals and let the rain trickle over me as I wandered through the brook’s clear cold waters and then sat with Jason under the overhanging boulder when the downpour became torrential. It was absolutely sublime, and one of my very favorite Moab moments, sitting beneath that protective precipice watching the rain shoot over the rocks above us and the pristine stream turn into a chaotic puddle as the ripples from endless raindrops battled for a piece of its surface. The smell of rain mingling with the scent of desert plants was intoxicating and unlike any odor I have encountered before. Wow! After about 15 minutes the cloudburst stopped and we were able to continue our hike while still enjoying the fragrance of a thirsty land awakened by the touch of moisture. The deluge began again when we were just about a minute or two from our car; we were awfully lucky.

The view from the top of that extremely long hill we climbed was pretty great but I don't know if it was worth all that work.

Coming back on the Gemini Bridges road I hit a patch of sand that was unexpectedly deep. It made my bike slide sideways in a straight path to some bedrock. I narrowly missed smashing my head into that stone by making a hasty exodus from my seat. I thought this jump was extremely ungraceful but Jason said the quickness of my reaction was a thing of beauty. I managed to come away from the incidence with just a few scrapes and a slightly twisted ankle.

We have considered biking the path to Gemini Bridges for many years. This Moab classic follows a jeep road back to this famous landmark and is extremely popular with ATVs, 4x4s, and bikers. I think about half the scouters in the world have ridden this trail. So why, in all our trips to Moab, hadn’t we done it? Our handy dandy Moab biking book said this trail was relatively easy when ridden as a one-way with a shuttle but as an out-and-back it becomes a nearly 16 mile behemoth due to a long and steep climb at its start. In short, we were scared away by this fearsome assessment since we only ever take one car to Moab, making shuttling impossible. This time though we decided to conquer Gemini Bridges anyway and tell that hill where it could stick it. It turned out to be a great ride. The rise at the beginning was a monster but it wasn’t that bad; we’ve ridden much, much worse. Gemini’s dirt road wasn’t as much fun to bike as some of the other trails we’ve done in Moab but it was challenging enough not to be completely boring. Also, it traveled through some very scenic areas and over patches of slickrock, so we did get to satisfy some of our slickrock cravings. The bridges themselves were awing and a bit scary. With nearly a 250 foot drop on both sides of these twins and between them, it’s no wonder that there have been so many fatalities in the area.

The bridges made me really nervous. Jason is standing on one of them here-just a thin line between two colossal drops.

From this view you can better appreciate the immensity of those cliffs.

That peculiar formation is called Gooney Bird Rock. It looked like a goofy sentinel watching all the passing riders.

The last day we were in Moab we decided to bike some of the Moab Brand Trails. I never knew these trails existed but apparently Jason has known about them forever and ever. Just a few miles out of Moab this trail system offers plenty of tasty loop options for many levels of riders. However, I should warn the familial thrill seekers that most of this terrain is probably too difficult for little kids. We took the Bar M loop to the Rockin’ A trail first. Rockin’ A was supposed to be a tricky rock-hopping ride over slickrock. It was tricky alright. I wish I could say that I enjoyed this route but alas, I did not. The first bit was pretty fun but the last third was way too bumpy and ledge littered for my tastes. Bear in mind that this review is coming from someone who has conquered the Slickrock Trail, Tusher Canyon, Bartlett Wash, etc. etc. etc. I am no biking sissy but Rockin’ A was too technical to be fun for me and even crazy Jason thought it was too rough. After Rockin’ A I decided that I had had my fill of slickrock for a while so we opted to next ride the Lazy EZ loop, a fantastic singletrack, through some gorgeous desert. The fiery sand and sparse desert foliage in this area was crowned by rims of brown and white boulders making the scenery look more like a movie set than a real landscape. Our winding bike trail looked very much out of place amongst these surroundings; the only human hands you could envision in this untouched place were maybe John Wayne’s. An enormous number of cactuses, many of them just inches from the trail, added a degree of danger to this path since even the tiniest misstep could lead to planting yourself in a cactus plant. This was an excellent ride and I think it would make a nice introduction to singletracks for those looking to narrow the girth of their tread.

This quick shot turned out great; I took it on the Lazy EZ loop.

Moab was fantastic as always. We enjoyed exploring some of the trails and areas we had heard so much about. The weather was a little temperamental but, considering it snowed here in Salt Lake City while we were gone, I guess we can’t really complain.

23 Mar

Wii Active 2 for You?

Posted by on March 23, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Winter does awful things to exercise motivation. When the temperature outside is below freezing and snow is whipping through the air going on a nice run usually isn’t foremost on your mind.  The sluggishness and bitterness of those cold months make many of us feel like we’d prefer napping in a cave to getting our bodies moving. The end result? Spring finds most of us fighting the flab.

Since staying fit in the winter is always a bit of a struggle for me too, this year I decided to try keeping myself in shape by getting the new Wii Active 2 Personal Trainer and doing its nine-week program. The Active 2 is pretty nifty; it’s heaps better than the first version. Now you don’t have to worry about plugging yourself into random cords like an electrified exercising Barbie doll.  Plus, the newer Active also has a heartbeat monitor, which makes it easy for you to see your heart attack coming. The nine-week program is designed to work all areas of your body and, since your routines get longer and harder as time goes by, keep you from plateauing. It incorporates cardiovascular as well as strength training exercises for all your wobbly bits. I started the program in early December and just finished it a couple of weeks ago. Here’s what I thought:

Pros:

1. Track Star: The program is great motivation for regular exercise. It schedules you for 4 workouts a week and when you miss a day it lets you know. You can make up missed exercise on your rest days but if you get too far behind catch-up becomes impossible. All that tracking was great incentive for me to keep up.

2. Every One of Your Bits Count: Everything gets exercised with this program. You do squats and lunges galore plus abs work and lots of training to toughen your arms. All those spots that usually get overlooked on me got an overhaul and they definitely needed it. Jason says he’s noticed that my arms look more toned. Sweet!

3. Cool It: The program includes warm-up and cool down portions. It felt nice to stretch after every workout-something I usually don’t do enough of.

I burned about 5000 calories doing the nine-week program. That's roughly a pound and a half of fat I'm not stuck carting around now.

Cons:

1. Condensed Cardio: For a running junkie like me, sprinting for a couple minutes at a time really doesn’t present much of a challenge. The cardio in the program wasn’t nearly as difficult for me as other portions of the workout.

2. Sadistic Ghost in the Machine: Although the second edition of the trainer is remarkably better than the first, it still has its hang-ups. There are certain exercises that seem to throw it for a loop and no matter how precisely you do them it doesn’t recognize your movement correctly. Nothing like being in the middle of a tough lunge routine, which you are struggling to finish anyway, and having the silly program tell you over and over that you aren’t completing your reps. As if the prescribed number of repetitions isn’t grueling enough, it would have you just keep going in a continual lunging loop while it deflates your morale by insisting that you are not actually doing anything. Geeze!

3. No Sick Days: The program doesn’t let you pause your workout schedule when you are unable to exercise for a period of days due to illness or a trip. This would be a nice feature. I was absent from the workout arena for a couple of weeks because I went to Mississippi and came home sick. That put me incurably behind; try as I might I could never get completely caught back up.

4. Game Over: After the last day of your nine weeks is up you can’t go back and complete missed workouts; it won’t even let you unofficially do them. Since I got behind because of my vacation/sickness duo, I was planning on doing my 6 missed workouts after the program was finished but it was a no go. That was disappointing and frustrating.

The Active isn't something you'll want to do with an audience present. Without onlookers it's easy to forget that you look silly running around an imaginary desert oasis; with onlookers it's nearly impossible to forget.

All said, would I recommend the Active 2 Personal Trainer?  Yes. It was perfect as a supplement to the sporadic snowboarding, running, and racquetball I do during the winter. It kept me going and it worked out parts of me that could normally be mistaken for pudgy Jell-O. However, I do think the Personal Trainer would get pretty boring if used as one’s sole means of exercise and, of course, I much prefer exercising outside when it isn’t roughly the temperature of an icebox out there. The Active 2 is a poor substitute for a sun-drenched run but I do plan on continuing to use it a couple times a week to keep my puny arms from reverting back to their gelatinous state.

On a side note, I set my nine-week program to medium, which is the equivalent of normal. I thought that this might be a little too easy and contemplated increasing the difficulty to the highest setting but I’m glad I didn’t. Normal was a bit too painless at first but as time progressed it definitely became challenging in bits. The cardiovascular portions never caused me too much grief but all those lunges, squats, crunches, and pushups were sometimes tricky. So unless you are a hardcore squatter I would recommend trying the program on medium.

15 Mar

Planes and Plagues

Posted by on March 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Husbands are good for a few things* and getting their wives sick is one of them. A few weeks ago Jason brought home a lovely virus and kindly shared it with me. But not only did that boy give me his germs, he gave them to me just as we were about to leave for Mississippi to visit my grandparents. His perfect timing amazes me. He very rarely gets ill but when he does it’s inevitably right before we are scheduled to go on a trip. How does he do it?

My body is tough and usually does a truly fantastic job of fighting off bugs but because I was wrestling with this infection as I was hopping airplanes and keeping unusual schedules it got a good hold on me. Luckily, while I was at my grandparents’ it was still gathering momentum so I felt relatively decent during our stay. My voice became little more than a squeak as I struggled to speak loudly for the hard of hearing and at night I had a constant itch in my throat that made sleeping a hopeless task but that was the extent of my symptoms until the day we were leaving the South. That’s when our short plane ride made my little menace unmanageable.

Since I was starting to feel congested the day of our return trip, I took some decongestant before we boarded our jet as a precautionary measure. My preventative efforts didn’t prevent much. Our direct flight was only three hours long but it felt never-ending as I was simultaneously plugged up and running everywhere. My sinuses stubbornly refused to respond to the change in air pressure and their unrelieved blockage gave me the strange and uncomfortable sensation that someone was sitting on top of my head. I was not alone in my suffering; practically everyone on the plane seemed to be in no better shape. There were orphaned tissues lying in the isle and many passengers seemed to be undertaking an unspoken coughing competition. There are few things worse than sitting next to someone on a flight that coughs in your face the whole time so I refused to join the ranks of the rude hackers. With some concentrated efforts I stifled all of my coughs and sneezes throughout the ride, which didn’t exactly add to my feelings of wellbeing.

The second I laid down I would start coughing uncontrollably so Jason constructed this mound of pillows to keep me upright while I slept. It wasn't super comfy but it did help me rest much better. These ridiculous pillows are the reason I decided to post about my illness; they still make me laugh.

My dignity and politeness lasted through the flight but by the time I got home the snot gates had opened wide. At that point I was beyond completely miserable and I literally had a steady stream of watery mucus shooting out of my nose. I wish I could say that becoming a booger geyser was the low point of my sickness and that things just improved from there but alas, that was not the case. It took two more weeks, and many nights of sporadic sleeping mingled with coughing spells, for me to fully recover.

The moral of this story? Planes and respiratory infections do not go together well and apparently husbands and restful trips don’t either.

By the way, Jason got better just as I was starting to get sick so he was in excellent shape for our trip. Good for him.

*I fully acknowledge that husbands are also good for opening jars, reaching high shelves, killing spiders, fixing computers, tying snowboarding boots, and carrying heavy groceries.

10 Mar

Expanding Your Horizons

Posted by on March 10, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Whoever said one thing leads to another must have been a genius. A month ago a trio of board members from the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, including myself, gave a presentation to a group of chemistry students at UVU. A professor in the audience approached me afterward about giving a similar lecture to a bunch of teenage girls at some sort of Saturday shindig. Although she was mainly interested in me presenting to these adolescents, she did mention that the guys could tag along if they’d like. Since I didn’t really understand the particulars of this girly symposium I didn’t want to go get myself all committed to it quite yet so I just told her to send an email to us about it and we’d see what we could do.

What a nerdy pair!

It turns out that she was talking about Expanding Your Horizons, an annual conference sponsored by UVU. This conference is typically attended by approximately 600 girls in the 6th through 12th grades from all over Utah and the surrounding states. Its purpose is to show these young ladies the many awesome career options available to them in the fields of science and math and give them the confidence to envision themselves as scientists. These girls basically spend a Saturday morning going to three hour-long lectures of their choice; about 50 topics are available and all are presented by professional women.

Lecturing was actually fun with such a captivated audience.

Some of the girls wanted to know more about food science. I was happy to oblige them.

Once I sorted out the details of my requested conscription I was happy to volunteer. Education was a big deal in my family. My dad encouraged all of his kids to go to college and get a useful science degree; the girls were treated no differently than the boys in this. So I grew up with the conviction that I could do anything and I was happy to pass that self-belief on by mentoring these teens but I really didn’t want to be in charge of 3 hours of talking and demos all by myself. Only one fellow board member volunteered to endure reverse gender bias and lecture with me: Aaron the chapter chair. He and I modified our presentation to be more suitable for this age group and as interactive as possible. There was lotion making, fragrance sniffing, and, for our grand finale, we let the kids fragrance their own lotion samples to take home.

Practically all of the girls wanted to be Aaron's lotion assistant. When he'd ask for a volunteer nearly all the hands in the room would shoot up.

The result? The girls loved it! Each of our classes was completely full and we didn’t have any disruptive students, although we were warned to expect some. They all seemed enthralled by the subject matter and, with 30+ fragrance options, our lotion customization thrilled them almost as much as Justin Bieber. The enthusiasm of these young ladies was contagious and gratifying. They looked to their future careers with an eagerness that few of us even faintly echo as we drag ourselves out of bed for work each morning.

The girls were crazy about making a super smelly lotion all their own.

Presenting at Expanding Your Horizons was a great experience and our influence on these students was obvious. I heard many of them commenting to their friends afterward that they wanted to be a food scientist or a fragrance chemist. I inspired some soon-to-be scientific rock stars, validated the coolness of my career choice, and created some good karma-not bad for a Saturday morning.

3 Mar

Southern Hospitality

Posted by on March 3, 2011 at 12:01 am

I only have one set of grandparents still living and their home is deep in the heart of rural Mississippi. They used to travel across the country every year to visit their grandkids here in Utah; it was a much anticipated reunion. Unfortunately, my sweet grandpa suffered a stroke last summer so driving thousands of miles isn’t in the cards for him right now. Since they couldn’t come to us, and we hadn’t been down to Mississippi for four or five years, we decided it was definitely time we paid them a visit.

It was so nice outside that we decided to relocate our card game to the backyard. After moths of relentless Utah winter I couldn't get enough of that sweet southern sunshine.

We didn’t “do” much while we were in the South. We spent most of our vacation chatting, going on walks, playing cards, watching movies, and eating. But doing “nothing” with my grandparents was a pleasure, especially with a warm sun shining overhead. The weather was extremely pleasant the whole time we were down there, even by Mississippi standards. I couldn’t resist wearing shorts even though my legs are currently a shade so pale they almost look lavender.

Those of you who haven’t visited the Deep South may not fully appreciate just how different the culture is there. Complete strangers wave at you as you drive by them or stop for a chat as they drive by you, trailer houses are almost as common as non-portable homes, time seems nonexistent because no one pays attention to it, English sounds very foreign and sometimes it’s undecipherable, practically everything is fried, even the tiniest of towns seem to contain innumerable churches, and everyone’s enormous yards look like they are in constant danger of being reclaimed by the dense woods bordering them.

My grandparent's took us to their favorite restaurant: The Pickle Barrel. There we ate a variety of fried fare including my favorites: catfish and hushpuppies.

It’s a unique place with a flavor and heritage all its own. Speaking of flavor…the South is all that when it comes to catfish, hushpuppies, cornbread, or carrot cake topped with fresh pecans from the yard. Those southerners know how to cook and I know how to eat so we get along alright.

It was an overdue visit and I’m so glad we finally made it down. Mississippi may not the center of sophistication but it’s home to some pretty fantastic grandparents and some pretty fantastic catfish.