An adventure in Croatia

I recently returned from my first trip to Croatia, where I spent a week hiking, biking, kayaking, rafting, exploring and eating throughout the country. Between grieving my mom's death, working through her stuff, the busy-ness of work and trying to stay caught up on the rest of life, I hadn't had much time recently to do something purely for fun and purely for me. When my sabbatical was coming up this was one of the first things I planned, and I'm so glad I did it. (My mom also loved to travel and explore new places, so I think she would have encouraged it, too.)

Chris on the mountain

Croatia multisport trip map from rei.com.

I coordinated the trip through REI's Adventures program, which offers adventure/active travel and vacations around the world. I really appreciate that they focus on using local guides to facilitate small group trips full of context, history and authenticity in a true spirit of exploration, instead of just shuffling hoards of people through a standard tourist experience in all the standard locations. In Croatia this meant constant conversation with our two guides about the political and cultural history of the areas we visited, delicious home-cooked meals at the houses of everyday Croatian people, adapting our plans to the moods and weather of the day, and being able to linger in beautiful locations we had biked or paddled to, before and after the tour buses or cruise ships had come and gone.

Big falls at Krka

This is my second trip with REI (the first being a week in the Galapagos Islands), and I felt fortunate that both times we had excellent guides (thanks Marin and Valentin!) and a group that was easy-going and enjoyable to spend time with. Celebrating our milestones and accomplishments over meals together each day was a real treat.

Mountaintop lunch

Croatia itself is just beautiful. The landscapes are so varied: lush national parks with waterfalls everywhere, open plains, islands dotting an amazing coastline, bustling cities. It has modern infrastructure and a high standard of living, but reminders everywhere of the not-so-distant periods of war and conflict.

War is not far away

Tourism is on the rise and is perhaps the country's main "export," and so they are wrestling with how to balance the many benefits that brings with the concerns of congestion and environmental degradation.

Dolac Market

Trogir across the water

In addition to the joy of learning about a new place and getting outside my cultural comfort zone, the trip also served as a challenge to myself around physical fitness. The trip activities were rated as "moderately difficult" and I knew that I would need to do some preparation to go from my relatively sedentary lifestyle to being fully ready to take on a week of day-long physical exertion. Apparently I do pretty well with goal-oriented training; adjusting my diet, doing bike rides around town with a loaded-up trailer in tow and working out at the gym three to four times per week in the months leading up to the trip was a lot easier when I could do it in the name of not totally embarrassing myself in Croatia.

And it paid off! Each day I was more than able to keep up, sometimes even being the one who was pushing for a bit more speed or distance. Biking felt especially good and I think I was smiling for most of a 22-mile ride through the rolling countryside.

Ready to bike

There was some cumulative fatigue by the end of the trip, but it was the kind that left me content and proud.

Chris on the water

You can view all of my posted photos from the trip.

Now I'm on to new adventures and travel in the months ahead, but I hope I'm back in Croatia again before too long; there's more to see and do there!

Living in Prague

Continuing the tradition of taking a month every year to live somewhere else, Kelly, A. and I have just returned from a wonderful month in Prague, Czech Republic.

Karlův most

Previous years have found us in Asheville, NC, Washington, DCPortland, OR and various parts of Ecuador. As I wrote about last year's trip:

It's just long enough to transition away from full-on tourist mode and get to know a place a little bit more from a local point of view. Immersing ourselves in a new landscape is also a great way to get perspective on the world and the rest of our lives - what we value, what we miss, what we want more or less of and how we might make that happen.

This year's trip was different in a few ways. Our last three have all been in the U.S. so we were excited to again be overseas and where we didn't know the language. It was also very new to do this kind of trip with our 11-month-old daughter. We wanted to challenge ourselves in these ways and while it was hard at times, overall it was a really fun and amazing experience.

View from Letná Park

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I've been everywhere and nowhere

I started a map of all the places I've lived or visited. I excluded spots where I was just passing through.

There are a lot of them, and I feel very fortunate to have seen so much.

There are also not very many of them, and it's a good reminder that I have no firsthand knowledge of what's happening or what life is like in most of the world.

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 12.52.09

May I live long enough to get a few more splotches of red going.

Asheville Living

Kelly and I are fortunate to have enough flexibility in our schedules and employment that we've continued the trend of trying to live in another place (e.g. Portland, OR, Washington, D.C.) for 3-4 weeks per year. It's just long enough to transition away from full-on tourist mode and get to know a place a little bit more from a local point of view. Immersing ourselves in a new landscape is also a great way to get perspective on the world and the rest of our lives - what we value, what we miss, what we want more or less of and how we might make that happen.

This year we spent that time in Asheville, North Carolina.

It's a place that I've spent a fair amount of time already - visiting my dad's parents there when I was younger, attending Camp Rockmont for several summers in a row, going on various whitewater rafting/canoeing trips nearby and visiting college friends there more recently - but it was great to experience the city in this new way as it lives into its emerging culinary/artistic/outdoorsy identity. The mountain air, lush woods and trails, flourishing food scene, accessible size, eclectic neighborhoods and friendly people made for a really memorable time.

We stayed at a beautiful Airbnb house near the downtown area, which meant we could walk into town and experience a restaurant, bar, market, sidewalk performance or drum circle whenever we felt like it:

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Richmond Matters, a new local blog

I've created RichmondMatters.com, a new site dedicated to commentary about life in Richmond, Indiana.

As I've occasionally done here in the past, I'll be sharing my thoughts about Richmond news, politics, leadership, community life and more. It's a simple site. The name is kind of boring. I've no ambition for it beyond having a place to write with a more narrow focus on a topic that's important to me.

Sometimes I'll cross-post those essays here or tweet out links to them, but usually I won't. I'll continue to post here about all the other random stuff I enjoy writing about, but the posts about local stuff will go in this new site.

So, if you'd like to follow along with my posts about Richmond, I hope you'll use the email or RSS subscription options on Richmond Matters. I'd enjoy having your feedback and comments along the way.

Exploring Colorado

Kelly and I were fortunate to be able to spend a week exploring Colorado this month, mostly around Boulder, Vail, Glenwood Springs and Steamboat. It was a great chance to visit some family in the area, see some different landscapes, hike/bike/raft/etc., and just generally enjoy life at 8,000 feet above sea level. Apparently there's a lot more of the state than one can see in a few days, so I expect we'll be back again soon. Some photos and notes from our trip follow.

Chris and Kelly

Vail is like Disneyworld (but cuter) for people who want to be able to pick up an expensive handbag or some sushi right after they get off the slopes, with everything laid out just so for the optimal outdoorsy tourist experience:

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Shutting down Richmond Brainstorm

20140322-screenshotFive years ago this month I launched the community improvement website RichmondBrainstorm.com. The site allowed users to submit ideas for ways to make Richmond, Indiana a better place, allowed other users to discuss and vote on those ideas, and shared success stories of ideas that had been implemented. I created the site because I think it's important for a given community to shape its own course for the future instead of waiting for solutions from state and national governments, and because I was tired of hearing good, creative ideas from others that never seemed to get the attention or visibility they deserved.

In the time since, some 86 community improvement ideas were submitted and discussed, and a number of the ideas became real projects that were implemented. The site got over 140,000 visits from around 45,000 unique visitors. I've also received contact from people other communities around the country asking for help to create a similar resource in their city, and so the idea of an online community improvement idea inventory seems to itself have become an idea worth spreading.

But, after an initial period of significant activity, the Richmond Brainstorm site had become largely dormant, with no new ideas submitted to it in close to a year. Over the years I've regularly talked to local community development organizations who have said the concept of the site is an exciting one and could even be integrated into their own efforts at prompting further conversations and action, but as yet Richmond does not seem to be a place where most of those kinds of conversations want to happen online, for better or worse. That combined with the time that it takes to keep the site's software current, deal with spammers and perform other administrative tasks has begun to outweigh the value that I think RichmondBrainstorm.com is currently bringing to the community.

So, as of today I'm shutting the site down.

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Educational attainment in Wayne County, Indiana

An article in today's Palladium-Item quotes the U.S. Census Bureau statistic that "7.9 percent of Wayne County residents have a four-year college degree. The state average is 14.6 percent."

I haven't been able to find the data that supports those statements. According to the Census Bureau's 2012 American Community Survey 1-year Estimates, the numbers are a little better than that: 16.8% of the Wayne County population over 18 have a bachelor's degree or higher. Other collections and analysis of data also suggest better numbers, e.g. 13.7% of people 25 or older have a bachelor's degree or higher or 17.1% of people 25 or older have a B.A. or higher degree.

I wholeheartedly agree with the article's point that the community needs to address 'brain drain' and improve our education situation. But I was troubled to read that the number of residents with a four-year college degree or better are that low, and at least with some initial research, it appears they may not be.

I'll reach out to the Palladium-Item to see if I can get more information about the source of the stats.

UPDATE on March 18th: Louise Ronald at the Palladium-Item helped clarify the discrepancy, noting that the original percentages in the article were from the EDC's strategic plan, and that

"The strategic plan numbers represent a % of the total population, whereas the quick facts is only taking into account the population ages 25 and older. Quick facts is also including bachelor's degree and higher into their 17%, whereas the strategic plan report has them separated between 4 year degree and graduate degree."

So, depending on whether you want to include people with graduate degrees in the stats of people who have a 4-year degree, or just want to identify people ONLY with a 4-year degree, the numbers are different.

RP&L misses opportunity to engage on energy policy

EnergyIn a guest column in today's Palladium-Item, Richmond Power and Light missed an opportunity to engage in a meaningful discussion about the future of energy and power generation in our region.   Instead, General Manager James French took the unfortunate approach of appealing to ratepayer fears about increased energy costs or drastic lifestyle changes, and the politicization of U.S. energy policy.

If President Obama’s plan is enacted, every flick of a light switch, every running of an air conditioner and every spin of your dryer will cost you more and at the expense of manufacturing jobs in the United States.  Consumers will be faced with either paying more for their bill or doing without several of their everyday conveniences.

Scientific, economic and environmental data all point clearly to the ways in which coal-based power generation is not sustainable, and perhaps more importantly, the public health and environmental risks that it increasingly poses.  As the Obama administration and many other public and private organizations try to work toward policies and practices that are sustainable and practical, it's important to make sure we're talking about the real facts and options in front of us, and to make sure the public is educated about those along the way.

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