Thursday, September 27, 2007

O Keri, Where Art Thou? And if you can dodge writing your blog, you can dodge a ball.

Well, hello, loyal readers. As many who have followed my past blogs know, they are sporadic, at best. But I do feel a bit more guilty this time around, because I know that Antarctica is fun and I want to share it with you! So my apologies. I am going to repay you in pictures. LOTS of pictures of what I have been up to the last several days. Some adventures have been censored, as Big Brother is always watching, but let me tell you Big Brother, I have done nothing at all illegal and am a perfectly good angel at all times.

That said, let's get to it!

Tonight -- dodge ball! Yes, if you can dodge a penguin, you can dodge a ball. I played tonight on team housing. We came in third! Yay! There were only four teams. Still yay! Because we came in third! Below, you can see a picture of me moving in for the kill. Somehow, I was the last woman standing twice, which may be because I'm pretty good at dodging. I did not win the matches, however, because I am pretty lousy at throwing. I do believe we won that game, however.

We are playing in the big gym, which has taken down many a McMurdo-ite this year. Knee injuries, black eyes, bloody noses ... the death toll is growing. In fact, I believe the very player you see in the photo actually hurt his knee tonight. So it's dangerous out there. But fun.

There are a lot of great ways to get exercise here. I've taken up yoga, for instance, and learned that while I have formidable flexibility, I have almost zero sense of balance. Who knew? Certainly not me. I guess my future as a tightrope walker is out of the question now. Other great exercise opportunities are hikes.

Below is Ob Hill (Observation Hill) that looms over McMurdo. It's about 750 feet up. If you look closely, you can see a little cross at the top of the hill. The cross commemorates Robert F. Scott and his expedition party members who died on their way back from the South Pole. The search party who found the bodies climbed up and put up the memorial in 1912, I believe. And last week, I climbed up too, and took some cheesy tourist shots. I'm sure Scott would have appreciated that too. Some people climb every day. I am lazy, and I've climbed it only once.

What else do I do down here? On Thursdays, the Kiwis open their base up to we Americans, so I play tourist there from time to time also. Last week was the first week it was light enough at night for me to see their base. It's a kiwi green color. I think the official paint shade is called Kiwi Green. Those crazy Kiwis.

There are some great signs too, and I had to take the obligatory tourist photos. Look! Only 12000 km to Tokyo. I can make that.
I'm a janitor here, so my science is the science of cleaning up crap. But some people actually get to do legitimate science here, and some of them are nice enough to share the wealth. I showed you my fishing friends a few blogs entries ago, for whom it would be very very illegal if they would ever happen to take me on a fishing trip. If they ever did, which they would never do, we might head out to the fishing huts in a pisten bully like the one you see below. Crazy little piece of transportation, that. I hear it's a very very bumpy ride.

Ever heard about that ozone hole? That big one? Over Antarctica? Well, down here, we get to rub shoulders with the people who tell us how big the hole is. They get their information from regular launches of weather balloons. We got to take a break from work one day to watch them launch a balloon. The picture of the glowing orb is actually the sun seen through the balloon, and that's my friend Matt holding it! Pretty cool!

So do I ever work here? Yes, I do. Here's me busy buffing floors and channeling my inner Ghostbuster with a vacuum back pack. I never knew doing janitor work could be so much fun! Really! This job is a blast!

Here's a picture of some crazy weather moving in over the mountains.

Here's some crazy McMurdo public art. There's lots of it around here, and I will actually post more of it at some point. There are a lot of artsy fartsy people among us.

Finally, there's another little hike I've done after work from time to time. It's short, and easy, but very worth it. A 5-10 minute walk out of town gets you to Hut Point, where there's another little memorial to someone whose name escapes me. We still have sunsets, for a few more days, anyway, and the day I took these pictures, it was beautiful. You'll see me by the cross, and a couple of pix of the view I got to see looking out from that picture. This place is absolutely fan-freaking-tastically awesome. Get your resumes ready, folks. You definitely want to do whatever you can to arrange your life so you can get here.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Oh, it's good to have friends who are foodies -- the good folks who feed our hungry souls every day. Look what I got to eat tonight!

That's right -- actual, factual, super wonderful sushi, made from real fish! Smoked salmon and shrimp and a yummy pear and blue cheese deal. (It doesn't look good in this picture, but believe me, it's my camera taking lousy pictures, not the food.)

Sushi is hard to come by in these parts. I had some surprisingly not bad hot dog sushi on arrival here, but there's nothing like the real stuff. So thanks foodies for inviting me! They also make a mean pizza! (That's sous chef Scott goofing around with me above.)
Another thing hard to come by -- girl time. There are a lot more boys down here than girls, so three of us have decided we are going to make a little time for estrogen hour, and have a girl's night or two or three! This is Quinn and Michelle and I.

Quinn's from Minnesota too! There are a lot of Minnesotans down here. So we are also planning a Minnesota night.

Some more pictures of friends... Zak, Marisa and Eric at the coffeehouse....

Tyler and I have the same birthday! We're having a party November 26th!

Finally, this is Talie and Roxanne and I. We are the janitor leads this year! Yay!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ice bowl

What do we do on an uneventful cold spring night in Antarctica?

We go bowling, that's what! Yes, there's a bowling alley here. The lanes are kind of warped, and the lighting's kind of bad -- wait, that's most bowling alleys, right? Well, the lanes are even more warped than usual. (At least that's what I tell myself.) Actually, the grand truth here is that if you are a great bowler at home, you are a lousy bowler here, and if you are a terrible bowler in the states, get ready to rock out at Mac Town lanes. I am, however, a mediocre bowler both here and at home. So it works the same for me.

The lanes are old. Historic even. The pin setting isn't automatic, it's done by little pin monkeys, like my friends Hally and Greg!

Whenever someone bowls, they have to jump down and throw the pins back in the machinery. Then they can reset the pins.

They wear special striped socks so the people bowling can see if their legs are in the way. Ideally.

I think if people bowl while the pinsetter is still setting pins, they are owed a big big tip, even more if their legs are broken.

I guess Brunswick made this equipment long long ago. There aren't many, if any, bowling lanes like this left around, and awhile ago, the company tried to get ahold of the McMurdo lanes, in trade for a state of the art bowling system. The lanes are, in fact, museum worthy, in the company's opinion. Problem is, if you get a new bowling system, you also have to have someone here to FIX the bowling system when it breaks. I'll bet that person charges more than the $2 an hour they pay the pinsetters.

One more little story -- I got stuck in a mattress avalanche today. Tasked with measuring and counting mattresses from oh so many years of various mattress orders, I dove in with both hands, and got more shocks than I ever have in my life. Static electricity is such an issue here that McMurdo is an iPod graveyard, because we short out our electronics all the time. But never have I met such static electricity than I did in the mattress closet in 203B. Shocking!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hello sun, watch out pedestrians and more answers to questions...

The sun's out in Mac Town. Kind of weird to think it's been weeks since I've seen it. For folks who were here over the Antarctica winter, it's been months. We've had sunlight since I've been here, but the other day, I was walking across town and got sunspots in my eyes and thought how weird it was that the sun was actually out. I wonder how I would do in an Antarctic winter (they call it "wintering over"). Would I snap and attack someone with a hammer? (Don't laugh! It's happened! Not very long ago, actually...) It's weird because when I got here just a few weeks ago, it was dark by 4 p.m. Now it's still lingering light at 9 p.m. or later, and soon, we won't have any darkness at all. It happens so fast! It's not that slow light change I'm used to seeing in Minnesota.

Here's more big news -- today I got trained to drive around this crazy little town! I get to drive these big vans that are so tall I have to use a little step and strap to get up into it. Weirdly, I never pictured myself actually driving down here. Those who know me well know how much I LOVE driving on snow and ice. But I'm groovin' on it down here, because not everyone gets to get behind the wheel. Of course, I'm being trained so I can go lift heavy things into the vans and then lift them out again. There's always a catch.

Anyway, here's a few more questions and answers for you following along ...

What's a freshie? (AKA, why is it you can't have evil tomatoes?)

A freshie is what we call your basic fruits and veggies down here, nice and fresh and raw and tasty. We were dropped off in August, and the next plane doesn't arrive here til October, and that's a recipe for some bad bananas. Those stalwart winter overs go months without a plane, and so freshies are hard currency for them. Never never never get caught throwing out fruit here. You will shortly be dead, if witnessed. We do have a smallish greenhouse that produces a little bit of yumminess, but it's pretty small, and there are a lot of people hungry for lettuce here.

How do you get a gorilla costume in the antarctic? go to the costume shop on the corner?

Thanks for the question, GB Brian. Weirdly, there is a costume shop here, and it is on the corner! It's actually a little service they call gear issue, in which you can rent all sorts of fun things, and then get your money back when you return them in good condition. I can get cross country skis there, shoes for the bouldering cave (yes, there is a bouldering cave) and even a gorilla suit. Who knew?

From Colleen in Appleton: If it's a dry cold due to the lack of precipitation, then does it work to your benefit as in a dry heat?

Colleen, I don't actually know the answer to that question. But it's a good one. If I was less lazy, I'd investigate. It often feels pretty cold, wet or dry. I was in a building today that was actually colder than it was outside. Some of these storage buildings really trap the cold -- it was kind of weird, because it was pretty cold outside to begin with.

From Jeremy, my wonderful ex-roommate: I would love to know more about this conference that you mentioned in Denver, how you marketed your skills, and how you went about networking.

Most of the work down here that isn't scientific is done by employees of that wonderful ginormous military contractor called Raytheon. This year, Raytheon has subcontracted all of the station services (dining, cleaning, etc.) to a company called NANA. And once a year, these two companies have a massive job fair, through which many many people here are hired. It's in Denver. It's in April. Mark your calendars and save your pennies, because you have a much better chance of getting here, if you go there. (They usually post the one-day job fair date on the company website sometime after the new year.)

How did I market my skills? Turns out I have very very few skills that qualify me for a job here! They want useful people, like heavy equipment mechanics, plumbers, sous chefs, etc. I am none of these. But I did wait in all sorts of long lines, and tried to convince every person I talked to that if they ran through the people who were actually qualified for their jobs, I should be at the TOP of the list of people NOT qualified for the job. Through this method, I got three job offers, which I hear is fairly rare, and am actually loving doing the janitor thing down here. If you actually have skills, you might find the path easier. And you will get paid a lot more. I am a liberal arts major, and am fairly useless.

I handed out a dozen resumes, and then re-sent them on-line with a cover letter, both targeted to the specific job and specific person I had met at the job fair. It was pretty intense for me, because I wanted a job here so badly, that I must have gone into super-marketing-me mode.

Anyway, that's it for questions for tonight. Keep them coming! Coming soon to a blog near you -- why Antarctica has scary places if you've played Silent Hill or Resident Evil!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Tomatoes are evil

This has nothing to do with Antarctica, but it is funny.

The only problem with tomatoes in Antarctica is that we don't get any.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

One more aurora picture, and I met the evil scientists from Finding Nemo

I keep posting pictures of that super awesome aurora night, but friend Matt has put up one that I think really gives a great perspective of what it was like standing on the ice. You are probably about 100 degrees warmer right now looking at it (literally) but this was it. This was what blew my mind, and what an awesome intro to this fantastic place. Probably the most magical night of my life.

But anyway, you've heard that before if you've been following along. Now to the evil part of Antarctica ... the mad scientists! Ha ha ha ......

This is Jon. He gets to come to Antarctica to fish! But he is evil. PURE EVIL. These are the cute little fish he and his fellow beekers (that's what we call scientists here) have caught.

They even have cute names, like Lenny and Theo. And Jon and friends are going to experiment on them to death. (Please note that they are also using fishing poles with Sponge Bob and Scooby Doo to catch said fish.) Don't they look happy to be alive?

A few of them were trying to make their escape when we were there, so maybe soon they will taste sweet freedom. Or maybe they actually taste LIKE sweet freedom. I guess they'll find out. I told Jon he was like the evil scientist in the Disney movies, and that maybe a seagull and tropical fish would be breaking in to free their friends sometime soon. I also suggested that, as no cute dogs or kittens are allowed here, maybe he could use his fish to pick up girls.

The real reason they are studying the fish here is that the fish seem to have some sort of natural antifreeze in their bodies, to help them withstand the extreme cold temperatures. And these are just the little guys. There are larger species, and maybe I will get to see some!
Anyway, it's fun to see that Antarctica isn't just about cleaning toilets...

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Pictures! Finally pictures! What have I been doing with my time, anyway?

OK, a few housekeeping items -- first of all, you no longer have to be registered to comment on this blog! That is, until the spammers piss me off. So there you go, feel free to sound off. Unless it is about Viagra or a Nigerian bank account I might own somewhere.

Also, the kids blog is now up and running. No profanity there. Also, not as much fun. But possibly more information about Antarctica. That's Also, I may post some pictures there I'm not posting here, if you are interested.

Finally, I've fixed the date/time stamp on my blog. So now, the date and time you see posted is the actual date and time I'm posting here at McMurdo. So you could read into the future.... ha ha ha.

I've finally figured out how to get some more pictures up here -- ones I've taken with my sad sad little replacement camera. To give you an idea of the quality of photos, I have a 128 MB card that holds 300 photos. High quality stuff. But it will have to suffice for now. (Too bad, because by the time my nice, and now repaired, camera shows up, the sun will be up permanently, and no beautiful sunrise/sunsets anymore.) But I've had many many requests for more pictures, so I'll post some from time to time, now that I've figured this out.
First up, party pictures. (What better?) Our department had a little par-tay last night, 1920s themed, and full of fun. Guess which party guest I am?

Those are friends Zak (Attack) and Vince on either side. How am I 1920s? I represent the Scopes Monkey Trial, in which the state of Tennessee tried to ban the teaching of evolution in schools. How random is that? I tried to go as a flapper, but the only costume I could find was a gorilla suit. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. (Yes, I realize a gorilla is not a monkey. However, most people were having so much fun they did not notice. Also, no one wanted to admit they didn't know what the Scopes Monkey Trial was all about. Actually, I had to Google it myself.)

Ahhh... and the photos continue. Every Thursday night is America Night at Scott Base, the Kiwi (New Zealand) base about 2 km down the road. What do we do? The Americans drink to have a drink, and the Kiwis drink to forget all these Americans are there! Ha! These are friends Scott and Sean, who are palling around with me until their SO's (wife, girlfriend) get here in October. They are fun!

This is how we use our brain cells down here. Beer art.

This is Andre. He's learnin' me some cribbage. It seems to be quite popular down here. I used to play with Dad, but I am refreshing my recollection on the many ways to count to 15.

Here's me getting my cold weather gear. That's ECW (EXTREME cold weather gear. EXTREME. Ha!)

Finally, some pictures of the plane I got here in -- a C-17 that landed on an ice runway. How cool is that?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I am being brainwashed, and FAQ's, part 2

Here's a question ... do I get to watch TV while I am in Antarctica? Answer: yes, I do. But what kind of TV am I watching? It's good ol' AFN. The Armed Forces Network, and this is my first introduction to the pleasures of the entertainment available to our good men and women posted all over the world by Uncle Sam. It's basically hand-picked programming from a variety of networks -- we get CNN sometimes, and don't forget Fox News (Uncle Sam surely didn't), and a few really bad TV dramas, random sports programming, and even the Daily Show and Colbert pop up every so often.

The weird thing is that instead of commercials for products, we just get little commercials made by the powers that be. Like why I shouldn't abuse my wife, or alcohol, or why I should sign up for military insurance. It's all very PSA, and, I suppose useful in its way, but it's starting to get to me a little bit. Like I was watching football the other day, and I really had to decide if I wanted to finish watching the game, and subject myself to endless propoganda, or just forget about it and read the score online. It's so weirdly hypnotic and silly at the same time, and I really feel like there's some sinister subliminal message being pumped in underneath the soundtrack -- like "George Bush really isn't so bad, is he????" and "Dick Cheney can kick your rear any time he wants...". I guess we'll see -- if I come back a Republican, you'll know something's up.

Anyway, here's to some more questions:

What's a FNG? (Profanity warning...)

A F***ing New Guy. That's me. And all first-years here are called FNGees, but called so with love. Most of the time.

What's the weather like?

If you've lived in the northern USA, you've probably experienced most of it before. Minnesotans like me are used to blowing snow and cold. The temps since I've been here have ranged from probably 20 below (F) to 15 above. The last few days have hovered in the -10 to 0 range. What's different is that the wind comes out of nowhere, and it can be strong. Today was a crazy wind day, but definitely not as bad as it gets here. Very hard to walk up the hill, I'll tell you that, and I had to pull out the polarized ski goggles to see in the blowing snow.

We did have snow here the other day, which you may think, ha ha, of course there is snow in Antarctica. But actually, it does not snow very often. Most of the snow we get has just been blowing around forever and ever, and it isn't actually snow from the sky. A large part of this continent is actually desert, with very little precipitation each year. If I was not so lazy, I'd actually figure out how much snow we get, but I am, and so are you if you don't Google it yourself!

Do penguins taste like chicken?

I would be in very very big trouble if I was able to answer that question. Penguins and all Antarctic wildlife are under crazy protection here. I have heard, however, that they are kind of gamey. Not that anyone would know that officially. Not that anyone even knows that unofficially. Or even knows anyone who knows the answer to that question in any official or unofficial capacity.

Why are you posting twice a day some days?

Ah, but I am not. Official McMurdo time is actually official New Zealand time, because the base is located right below New Zealand. So I am one day ahead and seven hours behind the Central Time Zone. I am posting at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 5th, which makes it about 1:30 AM on Wednesday, September 5th for my Central Time Zone friends right now. So it may look like I'm posting twice in one day, but really I'm probably just posting twice in YOUR day, not mine. I just haven't figured out how to change my blog's time, mostly because I'm, again, pretty lazy.

Finally, I leave you tonight with a few more great pictures, again of the aurora night of last week. You'll see the auroras over our Hagglunds, and a picture of the moon in eclipse over Observation hill, with McMurdo Base below. Good night!

Monday, September 3, 2007

I like it here

Here's why I love this place.

I'm sitting in a room tonight with a bunch of people, and we're chilling and hanging out and laughing and having fun, and the subject turns to marriage, which usually turns my stomach, and makes me instantly fall asleep and fear next people will start blabbing to me about their kids or their sister's kids or their cousin's kids or blahby blahby blah...

And I realize that every person in the room is vehemently anti-marriage, and all the stupid conversations they've had about marriage, and I realize, OMG. I'm finally home. The mothership has called, and as much as I hate the cold, it just might be Antarctica.

I haven't had to see pictures of anyone's two-year-old yet. And hopefully won't for a very long time. I'm not really completely anti-kid or anti-marriage, but I am very anti-those topics being the ONLY subjects of conversation people can muster. It's just great to finally be around people who get that. Lovely lovely lovely.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The key of destiny

So one of the tasks that comes with my glamorous lead janitor job here is that I get to (have to) take a turn at being the keeper of the master key. That means when all these drunk-ass Antarcticans lock themselves out of their rooms, I have to go and find them and let them in. Just by coicidence, most of the people I've had to let in this week have been people I know! I should stop feeding them beer, and maybe they'd remember their keys! Ha! Sucky part -- I can't leave town, which means no hikes, no trips to Scott Base (the New Zealand base down the road) etc. There's plenty to keep me busy here though, so, as most people say around here, no worries.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Smokers school Keri in the ways of smokiness

Hmmm ... the things you learn in Antarctica. So I'm not a smoker, but I did learn, when you are cleaning the smoking lounge here, and you move around smokers' ashtrays, and even if you are being nice and washing out said ashtrays, you better put the same ashtrays back exactly where you found them! Apparently, people are kind of possessive/particular about these things. I didn't even know one could have a favorite ashtray. They all look the same to me -- glass, maybe metal, round, holds cigarette butts, etc... But I'm not a smoker, and I am a FNG, so there you go. Learn something new every day!

It's the weekend here! We get a whole whopping day off tomorrow, so girlfriend is sleeping in! Yee-haw!