Friday, August 31, 2007

Who loves me most? And check out this video!

So I've been playing a little game while I've been here in Antarctica -- let's call it "who loves me most?" It's an unintentional game, but here's how it goes...

I brought along a bunch of my favorite pictures here, and used medical tape to put a bunch of them on the bottom of the top bunk of my bunk bed (so I could see them when I got into my bed, the bottom bunk.) Well, medical tape isn't really the best way to secure pictures, I've found. One by one, they've all been falling down. I tried to keep taping them for awhile, but gave up the fight as they fell like leaves, a few every day. So then I decided that maybe there was a higher message here. Whoever's picture stayed up longest must be the person who loves me most.

Anyway, my sick little game has been going on since I got here, really, and I'm happy to announce the winner ..... drumroll please .................................

Coltrane! Yes, Coltrane is the person who loves me most. That crazy mutt. I knew it. All the rest of y'all need to try a lot harder. Ha!

Anyway, friend Brian was nice enough to post a time lapse of the pictures he took the night we went out to see the auroras, so I've posted it here. I'm part of the little group of people at the bottom. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Baby's first McMurdo drag, and FAQ's, part 1

Well, they say you really haven't arrived at McMurdo until you've seen someone in drag, and I got my initiation last night. Apparently, the boys here loooooove to dress up, and do so often and with gusto, and fortunately for me, a few friends dressed up last night for some sauna hijinks. Man, they looked purty. I'm promised that this will be the first of many many McMurdo drag sightings, and so I'm looking forward to a good year. That's life in Antarctica.

Speaking of life in Antarctica, let's get to a few of your questions. These have built up over many many months, and we'll just call this part one of my FAQs. (And when you go to Antarctica, and people find out, there are a lot of questions that are frequently asked.) So here we go...

1. What the (*%#% are you doing in Antarctica?

Good question, and eloquently stated here by friend Greg ....

I am here doing the glamorous work of sweeping floors, cleaning toilets, vacuuming hallways and cleaning up the dust and detritus of this crazy little town. That's right, I'm a janitor here. Actually, a LEAD janitor, for all you title snobs, but basically, call me a jano, and very very happy to be one.

2. Why did you want to go to Antarctica in the first place?

Before you read my answer, ask yourself, now that you know you can get here, why don't YOU want to go to Antarctica?

I think it's pretty cool that you can hop on a plane and get to this place that, when I was a kid in elementary school, never even dreamed I could get to. I think it's awesome that I, with very few useful skills, can live in this environment that very brave and skilled men died getting to. I think that this community is the first community since my days at Northwestern that has really stimulated me, and it's the most unique society of which I've ever been privileged to be a part. I wanted to come here for the adventure, and for the community, and because I want to visit all of the continents in my lifetime, and because it comes with a free trip to New Zealand, and because I could. So that's why I wanted to go. You should think about trying to get here too.

3. How do you get to Antarctica?

Couple of ways to answer this question.

Physically, I traveled to Denver for a few days of orientation, and then hopped a plane to Los Angeles, where I connected with a plane to Auckland, New Zealand, and then (after a very long layover, and ultimately cancelled flight) hopped a plane to Christchurch, New Zealand. I spent a few days in Christchurch (and stayed, for the first time, at the YMCA! It was awesome!) and got fit with Extreme Cold Weather gear (that's ECW, for short) and hopped a plane for McMurdo Station! Total air time? Mmmmm... about 3 hours to LA, 12 or 13 to Auckland, 1 more to Christchurch and about 5 hours to the base. So there you go! That's how I got to Antarctica.

Now really, how did I get the chance to be here? Really really really wanted to go, and bought a ticket to Denver in April to attend THE job fair you go to to get hired here. I waited in very long lines, and worked the room like I've never worked a room before. I handed out many resumes and did my best to convince everyone I met that they wanted to hire me. Ultimately, I was offered three jobs -- I could have been a dining attendant at the South Pole, a lead janitor here at McMurdo, or a fire dispatcher at McMurdo. After a lot of thought, I accepted the janitor position, because janos get to get outside all the time, and see the entire town, whereas dispatchers sit in isolation. Also, I think I would rather clean pee off of porcelain toilets than burnt cheese off of aluminum pans. That's just me. It's a personal decision we all have to make.

I was thrilled to have those choices, because it's honestly very difficult to procure a job here. This year, 70% of the people working here have been here before. There are PhDs scraping dishes, and airplane pilots scrubbing floors, and even former TV reporter/nurses scrubbing toilets. I know, because that's me! We all do it for the adventure and privilege of being here.

4. Why did you want to give up nursing to be a janitor?

First of all, giving up nursing was easy. Nuf said. Of course, I will probably end up doing it once again in my lifetime, but it's sure nice to have a break! Giving up working in TV news was much much much more difficult than giving up nursing, which I did without a second thought. (Nurses do enough janitor work anyway. Ever repeatedly cleaned up a bed full of poo?)

I would have done just about any job to get here. So, janitor it is.

5. What's it like there?

Let's see... freaking beautiful comes to mind, for a start. Every day, I step outside and am greeted by the most amazing vista of pure white mountains. Then, when we get a glimpse of sunlight (not the sun, because we can't see that here yet) the mountains turn pink and orange and yellow and they just glow. They're pretty far away, but they look like magic. I have to pinch myself because I just can't believe I'm here. Sometimes I picture myself standing on the globe and feel like I'm upside-down! Ha!

I live in a dorm, and eat in a cafeteria, which really reminds me very much of my freshman year in college. I have a roommate (and will soon have two more!) and life progresses very much like college life except I work instead of taking classes. We work 10 hour days, six days a week, and for this, I get paid less in a week than I made in a day travel nursing. Almost everyone has Sunday off.

McMurdo Station is like a town, with all of the things that make a town tick. Three bars, a post office, a chapel, waste management, a sewage facility, wastewater facility, dorms, a cafeteria, a carpenter shop, a heavy machinery shop, warehouses, a fire house, a little hospital/clinic. But mostly, it's here for science, and the support of scientists. It is the only official reason the U.S. Antarctica bases exist (there are three, this one, one at the South Pole, and one directly below Chile, called Palmer Station.) All of the places I mentioned here exist (officially) to support the efforts of peace and science. (One might argue that most of the countries that have bases down here also wouldn't mind getting a piece of the oil action that may or may not exist here too, but that's another debate.) But in reality, right now, McMurdo really is all about the science. Geology, climatology, weather balloons, ice core drilling, Antarctic wildlife ... I am here to clean the station that supports the scientists. All of this is managed by the National Science Foundation. (I work for NANA, which is subcontracted by Raytheon, which is subcontracted by the NSF, blah blah blah.)

Right now, I am here at a time the Antarctic program calls Winfly. Think of it like the Antarctic spring. The program flies three planes of people here to get ready for Mainbody, which is when this little town gets swamped with people. There are about 300 of us here now. In October, that number will grow to 1000+, in a matter of weeks. So there's a lot of elbow room here now, and we are mix of new people and winter-overs (people who stayed here for the Antarctic winter, which is summer for the US.)

Alright, that's enough for now. Tune in next time for answers to other great questions, like, what's the weather like here? What's a FNG? Do penguins taste like chicken? And please, keep your questions coming, because it gives me something to talk about!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Auroras are awesome!

Well, it's about time I got off my tush and worked on this blog a bit. I'm so far behind, that I've given up on catching up, and I'm now just attempting to keep up, which, let's be honest, probably won't happen anyway.

But anyway, thought I would share with you my first Antarctica picture. Because both my camera and computer have now completely bombed, I have to rely on the kindness of strangers to post pix for me. This was last night, when I got a chance to ride out on the sea ice and watch the lunar eclipse. Which was pretty awesome, but completly overshadowed (ha!) by the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Really. The auroras down here are pretty damn cool. It felt like I was standing under fairy dust or being abducted by aliens or seeing what it was really like to stand on the outskirts of Heaven. It was so absolutely mind-bending and life-changing that I think it was one of the most magical moments of my life. (You can see neither the eclipse, nor the auroras in this picture, but that is McMurdo Base behind me.)

So there's that.
For those who are wondering, Antarctica is fairly amazing. The view from little McMurdo base is incredible. An entire horizon of white mountains that turn pink in the sunlight, which finds its way into town from about 10 am to 5 pm every day, but we get 20-30 more minutes of daylight every day. Soon, it will be light 24/7, but right now, we still get some dark, and I'm able to see the southern sky for the first time. It's very strange to be somewhere the Big Dipper is now. I've never been anywhere without it. Weird.

I love this place because I have genuinely liked and been interested in 100% of the people I've met here, and that's pretty crazy. I have yet to find myself in a conversation that I am not interested in, which happens ALL THE TIME at home. This place has great people, and I'm right at home. We live dorm style, eat cafeteria style, work hard and play hard. It sort of feels like my freshman year in college, except for we're from many different age-group demographics (although it's still pretty white here -- both the snow and the people!!)

I still can't shake the feeling that the last few weeks have all been sort of a weird dream, and sometime soon I'm going to wake up and only remember a few crazy parts. It's just astounding to me that I'm here -- that I am able in my lifetime to hop a plane (OK, a few planes) and find myself in Antarctica, of all places. Even though I've been here for more than a week, I'm still having trouble really believing it, every time I step out of the door.
I will try to update more. So many of you were so supportive to me in getting here that I owe you all a little of this adventure too! Please, ask questions in the blog comments, and I will try to answer them! I'm working on an Antarctica FAQs, and will be happy to expound on anything you are wondering about! The kid's blog isn't up yet, but I'm working on it!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Greetings from Antarctica

Hello to all my super family and super friends!

I send you August greetings from Antarctica! And I am happy to say I arrived safe and sound and am enjoying weather that makes me feel like Christmas should be coming soon!

I've promised this blog for quite some time now, and I am just finally getting around to putting something worth reading up here (or not, that's for you to decide) but anyway, it will be here if you'd like to read about my take on what it's like to live and work here on this cool continent.

A few items of note:

*If you are a family with kids who want to follow along, you should check out my blog for kids at . I am not quite an X-rated person, but I am not always G-rated, so this is a place that will be geared for kids -- Mrs. Nelson's class, and cousins, etc. If you want to hear the real story, you should stick with the blog you are reading right now, because hopefully it will be more entertaining! (I hate censorship! Even when it's my own!)

*If you are an Antarctica blog aficionado (which I was, before I came here) please note this is a first-year, FNG blog, (FNG to be defined later, for adults), and therefore, probably will contain a lot of stuff that's interesting to me, a FNG, but not necessarily anyone who knows anything at all about the program, because it will be full of wide-eyed stuff that will seem old hat to you.

*I swear. If this offends you, read the kids blog.