Great weekend

Last weekend was pretty special, with lots of fun things and two additions to the family.

As the penultimate Grand Prix of 2012 was in Texas I was able to watch both morning practice and qualifying on Saturday morning while talking to my parents who are in New Zealand. Then after lunch Beth and I drove north-west to Dinosaur Ridge which is located in the foot hills outside Denver.

In the 1900’s they found a lot of dinosaur tracks and bones in them thar hills. The walk was pretty good, it started with a pretty dull steep elevation increase but eventually led to dirt tracks that went along the top of the hill. These were great but made a little worse by the number of cyclists using the narrow trail and dog walkers. From the top we had a great view of Denver, and of Bandimere Speedway, a drag strip a mile away. More enticingly I could make out their kart track and was able to work out the layout.

Dinosaur Ridge

On the way back down the ridge it was decided that we would go down to the track, see what their prices were and then see if there were spaces. So once we made it back down the boring long road (obviously now downhill) we drove the short distance to the track and found out that they had one more session for the day and it had spaces. Due to the falling temperatures Beth decided she would not partake but gave me the all clear. (it was $35 for 10 laps which is rather pricey at £2.10 a lap compared to the max of £1.50 a lap we pay in the UK).

I suited up with everyone else for a ten lap session. I got chatting with a guy named Sam who had also been karting before. They let people leave the pits in pairs about five seconds apart and I was in the fourth group. By the end of the third lap I had overtaken everyone else but it turned out that Sam was around my pace, as although I had passed him he was on my tail. The two of us were clearly faster than everyone else. The karts were single engined so were slower than I was used to and so there were only two spots where I even had to slow around the kilometer long circuit.

Bandimere Speedway

We pushed on getting quicker and quicker, eventually I caught some backmarkers at a bad spot and Sam was able to sneak past me. I followed him home over the remaining two laps. Afterwards we chatted, he was able to take one of the corners I slowed for flat and I managed to take a tight chicane that he slowed for flat. His line would give a bigger advantage as it led to a long straight so I assumed that I probably lost on the fastest lap count. We eventually received our times (11 drivers):

Jonathan – 58.072
Sam – 58.080
Third – 61.029
Fourth – 63.199
Last – 84.691

I beat him by eight thousandths of a second, I guess we were fairly equally matched. We resolved to meet up and go again sometime and swapped numbers, hopefully that will happen. Couple of other comments, it’s a fast and exciting track, I got black flagged on my third lap according to the timesheet, I never saw a black flag and have no idea what I supposedly did, must be a phantom call? Beth also said the guys owning the track came out and commented on how fast the two of us were going.

Karting at Bandimere

Beth and I headed home via the biggest liquor store I’ve ever seen and soon after getting home we went out again and bought two adorable dwarf hamsters for $7 each. We named them Mika Hakkinen and Kamui Kobayashi (names Beth’s idea). We played with them in the evening.

Dwarf Hamsters

On Sunday I went to church with Beth and then watched the first five laps of the Grand Prix before meeting Ethan and heading to the Broncos vs Chargers game. As a Philip Rivers hater and Broncos lover it was a great game for three quarters. Unfortunately we eventually gave him two touchdowns in the fourth to make him look less crap but it was enjoyable and yet another home win. We headed back to the Blomberg’s via Papa Murphy’s, a pizza place where they make it and you cook it (making it cheaper than ordering). We got a double decker five meat pizza that totaled 4800 calories, we were eager to eat it but it took thirty minutes to bake. Eventually we tried some and it was fantastic, neither of us was able to get much past a quarter each though. Sarah came over and watched the second half of the Steelers vs Raiders game with us and then Beth showed up with Leslie Ward our university friend. We all ate in the basement and watched the football.

Chargers @ Broncos

When that was over I introduced the natives to Formula One and we watched the first 24 laps of the race before Sarah and Ethan headed home. We finished it then next day and it was great to watch Lewis win. A fantastic weekend. It set up what was to be a great thanksgiving week but more on that later.

More pictures in the gallery.

Denver Film Festival

Before I arrived in Denver, one of my Mother-in-law’s church friends suggested that I get involved in the Denver film festival during my stay in the States. When I got out here this friend put me in touch with the volunteer manager for the festival Charles Powell and between the two of us we narrowed down my options.

I was excited to be a part of a film festival, even if its scope was not that major, it has now been around for thirty five years. It gave me a rare chance to put my degree to some vague use and also to get out of my basement for an extended period of time.

Due to my lack of guaranteed vehicle access I eventually got placed on the volunteer check-in desk, which was fine by me. I got six six-hour shifts to work on during the ten day film festival which would allow me to balance the festival with other commitments. The day before the festival started I met with the Charles at the Denver film theatre, on what is billed as Colorado’s longest street, next to a Tattered Cover book store. Tattered Cover is a book store with character and is one of my favourite shops in the world.

Anyway, I met with Charles and he explained my role, I would be signing in and out volunteers and answering their questions. The signing in and out would be done on an iPad and it was a nice simple job. Sounded fine to me, plus I would get four movie tickets for each shift I did that would be redeemable for a year.

I began my shift on the second day of the festival, I drove to the lightrail station and took it all the way downtown to 16th Street which is a great pedestrianized high street in the center of Denver. I made my way to the cinema and found my spot. While there were long periods of inactivity (sometimes three consecutive hours) and the desk was situated a floor down from the main festival, it was good fun. I got to meet a lot of lovely people, including those on the customer services desk (such as artist Susan Goldstein who has been involved in the festival for all but one of its 35 years) next to me. I also got to sample the filmmakers lounge next door and was able to get free food and drinks from there each night. I also thought I was putting my tickets to good use. I got tickets to four films: The Revisionaries, a documentary about the Texas State board of education pushing their agenda of creationism and other nonsense; Polski Film, a comedy from Poland; Virgin Tales, a documentary about girls brought up with chastity promises; and John Dies at the End, an Indie film starring Paul Giamatti.

Unfortunately I was not to go and see any of those four films. I missed out on The Revisionaries on the Tuesday night of the festival because I was going to take Beth and we would have gotten home late, with Beth having an 8am class the next day. I missed the other three because on the Wednesday morning, with half my shifts complete I got food poisoning.

I am now fine, I put it down to some slightly undercooked chicken on Tuesday night. The illness wiped out the remaining three shifts I had at the film festival though and meant I wasn’t able to see the remaining movies either. Even so, I greatly enjoyed my three shifts at the festival, it felt like I was able to use the knowledge from my degree talking to the other volunteers and I met some lovely people. The illness meanwhile meant I wasn’t able to do anything for four days. I felt better in time for a trip to Skyfall on Saturday evening. By Sunday night I was completely back to normal, I lost five pounds but I’m back in action.

I also got featured in their volunteer spotlight: http://denverfilmsocietyvolunteers.tumblr.com/

A holiday in a holiday

 

The title for this post makes me think of inception. When I arrived in America Beth wanted to book a little get away for the two of us. For me this trip to America feels a little like an extended vacation mixed with learning so this trip seemed like taking a vacation within a vacation.

Anyway with a lack of sporting events last weekend due to the NHL lockout we decided to go to a ski town in north Colorado called Steamboat Springs. The downside of this decision was that it was about three hours drive away but it was heading through the mountains so it was to be an attractive drive.

It turned out that the drive was very pleasant and I drove us the whole way. I was also able to knock twenty minutes off the expected journey time provided by google maps. We stayed at the Steamboat Hotel because it was cheap and had breakfast. We could have gotten into the more expensive hotels as it was the offseason but the breakfast swung it for us.

On arrival we went for a walk around the town, working out our way around. We found the town ski jump in operation even without snow. I don’t think that is something I would ever have the balls to try – too many opportunities for broken bones – so I just admired the folks with the bravery for a while. We also walked past the town rodeo which unfortunately was closed and continued down the main street where pretty much of interest was situated.

For dinner that first night we went out to Big House Burger on the edge of town which served great

 homemade burgers, we both went for the buffalo option. On the way back we stopped at the hot springs in town for a little swim, it was great as the temperature outside the pools was very cold. On returning to the hotel I still didn’t feel like I was on holiday but that we had just travelled three hours for some reason.

The following morning we found out that the hotel no longer offers breakfast. When we complained they told us that, oh, we can go and get breakfast next door if we want to. So we did but felt mislead by their ad on hotels.com and by their in room literature. In the adjoining ranch we found maps of the surrounding area and planned out our day.

We drove about five miles out of town to the top rated hike in the area called Fish Creek Falls. You basically start at a waterfall then walk two and a half miles (all of which is up a mountain) to a second bigger fall. It was a lovely if strenuous walk with great views of the surrounding area, we hung around at the second falls for about twenty minutes before starting our much faster descent. When we were finished we ate our packed lunch and headed to the out-of-town Strawberry hot springs. These were much bigger and better than the in town springs offering a more natural feel. We enjoyed our afternoon there.

In the evening we found Beth’s favourite pizza place Beaujos in town. I’m still not sold, I think their pizza needs more tomato sauce. I then fell asleep watching football (the real English football but starring subpar American teams).

Sunday we hiked the mountain to the West of the city, the walk was straight up the whole way but gave us views of the town below and the surrounding area, well worth it. In the afternoon we went to the small (largely dead) botanical gardens and ‘Johnny be goods’ diner in town. For dinner we went to a Thai restaurant serving great food and then went back to the town hot springs. The drive home the following day was much the same as the one there.

looking out over steamboat

I definitely grew into the holiday spirit as the weekend progressed. I suspect this was helped by not bringing my laptop along with me. We both had a lovely time even though Steamboat was clearly between its two seasons. There was not yet any snow on the ground but neither was there anything growing. This may have lowered the prices for us but it also meant there was no green around, just brown. The town and countryside were still pretty but you could tell we came at the wrong time of year to see them in all their glory. It was a nice getaway and we did some good walks and ate some great food. I also clocked up another three hundred miles of America driving. All in all a successful and enjoyable trip.

Choosing our church

 

So we arrived in Denver with no church to go to. This needed rectifying. Fortunately Beth waited until I arrived so that we could make the decision together. So over five Sundays we tried four different churches. Two of these were Methodist, one was Presbyterian and one was Anglican. So, all were my non-happy-clappy style of worship.

We started off at Wellspring which is an Anglican church  which is part of the Rwandan mission to America, and about 15 minutes’ drive from Casa de Blomberg. I was rather jet lagged as I had landed only the previous day and while the worship band isn’t something I’m accustomed to, they did a decent job. I still get a little annoyed when there is a different tune to the one I am used to but I am just difficult like that. The two best things about the church were the sermon, which was part of a series working through the beatitudes and was one of the best sermons I have ever heard and the chairs… which after a flight were very nice and comfortable, thank you very much.

After the service people were friendly and I got to chat to a lot of Broncos fans. I also got on well with a couple from seminary that Beth knew, we went out to a waffle place in downtown Denver and it was a nice way to feel like we fit in.

The following week we went to St Andrews Methodist Church which is just over a mile from the Blombergs’. This should have been in my comfort zone, being Methodist and all, but it wasn’t really. The church was too big, for one thing. The sanctuary was spread very wide and thin. There was a choir which was nice. Between us signing in as guests and leaving the service they had put together a welcome pack with directions to our house stapled to it and a loaf of bread inside. That’s neat… but a little creepy. The service itself was good with a strong sermon, not as good as the prior week but still good enough to keep me interested. Music came both from the choir and an organ as well and was good. There was also a fantastic view from the church of the mountain range. It was a nice church but a little too big and scary for my liking. It also has a giving kiosk, which is an credit card machine in the lobby for your donations…

Week three we headed to another Methodist Church, this time Trinity in Central Denver. Due to its location it was never seriously in the running for our church pick but I had enjoyed a previous service there so it was nice to visit again. Trinity is the oldest church in Denver (despite only being founded in 1859) and has a nice atmosphere to it. Trinity also had a choir and looks more like the Methodist churches that I am used to from the inside. The music came from their big old organ and was nice. We also got to talk to the preacher who was friendly. As I said, distance was a bit of a problem. We took the lightrail (Denver’s interconnecting train network) downtown which took about 30 minutes and then walked to the church another five away. Not too bad but not something for every week, if we wanted to feel like we never left England this would be the Methodist Church for us.

Finally we went to Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church about 25 minutes East of the Blombergs’. This church has a rather large plot with half as the sanctuary and half as teaching rooms. We arrived early and went to the young adults’ class. It was very enjoyable and we met some lovely people. It was also well structured by the girl who was running it and had a similar vibe to an Ichthus meeting. After the class we went to the sanctuary for the service. I was surprised having seen the size from the outside that there weren’t hundreds of chairs inside and that the alignment of the chairs was odd. The various sections of the congregation were not focused on a central point as you might expect but instead we were looking at the worship band and not the preacher directly. This detracted from my focus on the worship. The service was nice enough, I will admit to checking the time a little as we were heading to the Broncos shortly after but I still enjoyed it. In the end though it would have been the class and not the worship (with a band including a banjo) that would have swung it for us.

So there we are, four churches. I decided that we should try Wellspring again, to see if the sermon could match the first and to also make sure that it wasn’t jet lag talking to make me like the church. It turned out that my initial thoughts hit the mark, the second sermon was close to the first in quality and the worship was very pleasant so after a short chat Beth and I decided that it would be our church.

Saturday night we went to a young adults group run by some 20-somethings from wellspring. We had a good time and got to meet a lot of other people who have come to the church in the last six months. It was a nice way to get to know people our age and feel justified in our decision.

Then on Friday we went to a mosque with some Denver Seminary students. I couldn’t convince Beth to become a Muslim, so Wellspring it is. Seriously though, it was a very different experience and I was surprised by how close the religion is to Christianity on a lot of subjects. I am glad I got to try a service there and thank both the mosque and Denver Seminary for the opportunity.

The first five weeks

It has been over a month since I arrived in Denver. I’ve really enjoyed myself so far. I also haven’t had time to get home sick yet and have slipped into a routine. I get to spend Saturday through Monday with Beth doing fun things (granted most of Sunday is dedicated to sports and church) and then work on various websites and learn new things in the mornings for the rest of the week. Tuesday’s I go to the gym around midday for three hours. I cycle there and back (the cycle back, almost all up hill is rather hard going). Wednesday and Thursday I take a break to watch a movie or play games and then get back to websites late afternoon, then Friday I aim to go on a hike or cycle ride with someone local where possible.

That would be a fair summary but it is a little more interesting than that. So what have I been up to? This post got a little out of hand so here are some quick links to sections: sport, adventures, fitness, friends

Watching sports

Well I landed on a Saturday night around 6pm and fell asleep by 9pm. The following day, Beth took me to a church called Wellspring and we then went out for waffles with some seminary students, which was nice but I wasn’t entirely awake. Then in the afternoon Beth and I took a bus downtown to watch Denver play Pittsburgh in their home opener. My tickets at Mile High are high up but also fantastic and it was a great game to get things started with the Broncos pulling out a lead late on and getting an unlikely first win for Manning on a very tough schedule. People have been predicting great things for this Broncos team and after five games while we have some very good players, other teams are clearly better. We also got dealt a tough hand with our schedule this season. I see a 2-3 start as a positive beginning as they could easily have been 0-5. Anyway, we left the Pittsburgh game, got on the bus and I promptly fell asleep. It would take me a week to get over that. On the Thursday we went to ‘old chicagos’ a fantastic pizza place near the Blomberg’s house and watched the Bears @ Packers, I fell asleep in the second quarter, at about 8:30.

We have continued the pasta night tradition over here. We have had people over for our favourite Monday meal every week since we arrived. A week after arriving we had Beth’s friend Sara, who stayed with us in Canterbury once, and her boyfriend Ethan over, there was also a Broncos game to be watched, this result was not such a hoot. Payton Manning threw three interceptions in the first quarter, majorly putting the Broncos on the back foot against a better Falcons side. The team rallied in the second half but the hole was too great. That said, the food and company were as usual great and Sara makes a mean apple crumble.

The week after that it was back to Mile High with the wife to watch Denver take on Houston. Houston are possibly the best team in the AFC this year and so I was not surprised when we lost. The Texans highlighted again major holes in our defensive secondary that will likely hold us back this year as we get deeper.

During the week I then got to watch two baseball games. The Colorado Rockies had a dire 2012, nearly losing 100 games (98). Still it was exciting to go and watch them, even if the weather was poor enough at the first game that they gave us free tickets to a second. It was also good to watch this side that has done so badly pick up a couple of wins to help the close to their season. The weather for the second game was much better and as the final home game of the season it led to a lot of free stuff. Everyone got a t-shirt and a voucher for a free ticket the following season.

Then that Sunday I took Beth’s best friend Jenna to the Broncos vs Raiders game. The crowd was the loudest I had heard it and the Raiders were fairly useless, our boys walked all over them and we ended the day 2-2. The following week we were destroyed by the Patriots but the less said about that the better.

Adventures

Nine days after arriving in Denver, Beth and I drove to Mount Evans. I had been there before on my first trip to Colorado and got altitude sickness at the peak. It also held the title of best cheesecake I had tasted. On our return it was snowing so the peak was closed but we could get half way up and enjoy the snow and excellent views. We also walked around a lake near the visitors centre and got more cheesecake. Unfortunately it wasn’t as good this time but the mountain itself was wonderful. Having driven us there Beth suggested I drive to lunch. I had driven a little since arriving but only around the neighbourhood. I took over from halfway down the mountain, to Idaho Springs, where we ate at the amazing buffalo restaurant. I had a very nice buffalo burger and Beth had stew. From there I offered to drive all the way home and we arrived successfully 45 minutes later.

The following weekend we ventured to Pikes Peak, famous for its hill climb. We originally thought we might take the train up but it was $35 each. In the end we drove and enjoyed plenty of fantastic views (that said how racers drive it in 10 minutes is amazing). It turns out I am not beyond altitude sickness though. Once we passed about 12,000 feet I started feeling light headed. At the summit (which some maniacs had cycled to) I wobbled around a bit, not really enjoying the view until we came down.

It turns out that coming down the mountain is the hard part, at least on your brakes. We were stopped at the check point because our brakes were 400 fahrenheit and after I took over I drove very carefully as we could smell the brakes cooking. We stopped again near the base to give them more time to cool (you don’t want to lose your brakes when the bushes on the side of the road are actually the tops of trees). We had a walk around part of another lake and then pulled over a couple more times on the final stretch to give them more rest. Once we reached the bottom we decided I should drive all the way back to Denver. This journey gave me a lot more driving confidence. It turns out that driving in America is easy, if you ignore the decisions other drivers occasionally make and don’t mind stop signs and red lights every minute or so.

The following week we returned to my favourite views in Colorado which can be found at Daniels Park, about five miles from the Blombergs’ house. From there you can see the Rockies from Pikes Peak all the way north, and often see Buffalo roaming too. It’s a lovely place to go.

Keeping fit

I have a dream of coming back from Denver healthier and weighing less than I did when I headed over there. I figure this would put me in the minority of travelers to America. The Blomberg’s were kind enough to get me a gym membership when I arrived here and I have been putting it to use, going at least once a week to the gym a couple of miles from their house. Beth and I also bought ourselves bikes to use here and I have been using that to get me around locally ever since. It also helps that the local cinema is a walkable mile and a half away and that the train station is about 30 minutes cycle away. Every little helps and I have so far built up my arm muscles and lost about five pounds.

Friends

When I first arrived, I was worried about how I would make friends cooped up in the basement. It turns out that Beth was able to meet some nice people at seminary and that the friends she already had around here are pretty great too. We have met some wonderful people at the churches we have visited and had nice times on pasta nights. It is going well so far.

So…

My time here has been great so far, I am keeping busy, getting exercise, occasionally leaving the Blomberg basement, eating well and having a lot of fun.

My thanks as always go to Craig and Fran Blomberg for letting us stay in their house and I hope that we are not being too much of a bother to them. 

Arriving in America, customs

After months of preparation I was ready to get going. On Saturday 8th September my parents drove me to Heathrow airport’s wonderful terminal 5. We checked in, which didn’t take long and then had lunch. It later took me just two minutes to get through airport security. This is what an airport terminal should be like. I got through security 80 minutes before my flight. Eventually I was on the flight after watching some wheelchair rugby on TV.

For once the flight went ok. I am usually not great at flying. While I am not particularly afraid of the plane crashing, I just get really bored and its not a pleasant experience. I usually find I run out of things to do after about four hours. This time I alternated between reading and watching tv shows and that made it go fairly quickly. Eventually we arrived in Denver.

I made the walk from the plane to customs at my usual high speed to try and get further forward for customs. In the end I was maybe thirty back in the queue. Eventually I got to the front of the queue and the moment I was dreading arrived. I explained why I wanted to come to America and was sent through to an interview waiting room where I was left sitting by myself. I then had to wait until the rest of my flight got through customs before an officer appeared to interview me.

I convinced the lady officer that I had money enough to survive on and that I wasn’t coming in to work and she was satisfied by that. In the end she got hung up on the fact that I had booked a flight that returned me in May, eight months from my flight date. She kept telling me that the maximum stay I was allowed was six months. Apparently I should have asked the guy at my interview in May how long I could stay for. I told her that I assumed because I had a year’s visa I would be able to stay for as long as I wanted in that period. Then she asked why I applied in May and only just got around to coming to America, I explained that I didn’t know how long the process would take and so wanted to get it done early. She then reiterated that she could only give me six months and that I really should have asked at the interview. I was thinking, well its two in the morning where I come from so I’ll just take that and go. She stamped my passport and I was allowed into the States with a leave to remain until early March. I’d already read that you can apply for extensions to that so I figure that is what I will do in January. Or I can just go to Canada for a few days or something.

My bag was waiting for me as I had been held up about twenty minutes and then I met my wife through customs. We headed back to her parents’ house stopping at Chipotle for burritos on the way. I explained my visa to her parents on our arrival and we agreed we would aim to extend it (it would only be an extra two months after all). The important thing is that I was in and the adventure could began.

And on the plus side they didn't ask if I was a member of the nazi party or if I had recruited child soldiers. Nor did I tell them that my furniture storage contract is null and void during either a civil or nuclear war…

Going to America, final preparations

August saw us enter our final month in England for the time being. I celebrated my birthday early by watching Dark Knight Rises on the Science Museum iMax in July and therefore didn’t do a lot to celebrate the day. The following weekend, however, we had most of our friends and English family to our bungalow for karting and a barbeque, both of these were fantastic and I think served well to send us off.

The following weekend Tamara invited us and our Canterbury friends around her house for dinner. It was a lovely way to send Beth off with her flight the following day and we stayed late. it was off to Heathrow the following morning. We had planned that Beth would be flying out three weeks ahead of me so that I could tie up some loose ends. It was an emotional farewell and I decided to head to Horsham to see my parents afterward before returning to Canterbury late for my final two steward duties the day after.

My penultimate week of work came and went and I was soon on the train to Sheffield for Britbowl XXVI which was better in every respect than the year before. I will likely write about that later though, suffice to say it was epic.

The last week of August had an odd feel to it as I have never left a company after working there full time for three years. It was nice to feel appreciated and like I would be missed, hopefully for more than just my IT knowledge. It was also fun being taken to the pub twice during my final week. I was unable to fully cut ties on the Friday evening, however, as removing my personal data from my work pc took longer than expected, eventually I threw in the towel and took it home with me to finish off.

That weekend, my final one in the UK until 2013, I had my parents down and took my Mother to see Paralympic goalball at the Olympic park. Once the first goal had been scored the excitement built as we started to understand the nuances of the sport. It was also great to see our friend Michael Sharkey competing for England. He played like a captain should in an enjoyable tie game. We had lunch with Cathy, Nick, Nicola and Louise and then headed back to Canterbury for an epic Picturehouse burger. I would like to thank my Father for dismantling furniture and generally preparing me a little better for the arrival of the storage company later on that week.

On the Monday I closed off ties with my job by taking my PC back to the office and looked for a couple more quotes for our car. With none better than the £1200 offered to me by We buy an car I decided to take up my grandparents offer of storing it on their driveway. Wednesday was moving day. The storage company Jordan and Jarretts had a remit to pack everything themselves and they did a great job. They managed to get all of our belongings into two storage containers and it was a tight squeeze with no empty space at all. My parents were then pleased to find out that they did not have to come and get me but that I could in fact fit everything I needed in my little car. The only downside on the day was being told I should have done a better job cleaning by the landlords but I had half an hour after the storage company left so I didn’t do too badly.

I arrived in Horsham and chilled out for a couple of days after three hectic weeks. It was nice that I got a chance to say goodbye to my friends and family in August but during that whole period I just wanted my flight to come around. After four months of preparation I was ready to get over there.