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Hi All,

Dawn continues to grow brighter. We had another storm kick up for the last week, so we couldn't see much on the horizon, although the increasing light was still very apparent. The moon also rose, for the last time in winter, a few days ago, significantly adding to the brightness. Our days of stumbling over sastrugi are over! I'm sad to see such a clear sign that winter is drawing to a close, but I'm also excited for the light, for a change.

A kind person here offered to develop my slide film, which I took advantage of. The meter on my camera doesn't work as well as I'd thought, so most of the pictures are totally black or totally white, but I did get some decent shots. As I get those mounted into slide holders (tedious, but necessary) I'll be scanning some in. Photography is a tricky thing here, and I'm still learning a lot about it. It is somewhat common to break a roll of film when shooting in the winter. To take an aurora shot, most people put their camera on a tripod and then open the shutter for 5 to 45 seconds for 100 speed film. Generally many shots are taken in a row, but with the temps hovering near -100, the plastic base of the film freezes. After about 2 minutes, I can hear the plastic creaking as I (slowly!) advance the film. After about 20 minutes, my film shattered. Normally it will just break off, but I actually shattered about 2 frames of film into little bits.

Food remains an important issue for me. I have lived alone for the last several years, and am very accustomed to cooking my own food and having my kitchen arranged the way I like it. I was a little apprehensive about coming here, since I knew I wouldn't be able to cook much of my own food. I've been pleasantly surprised by the food here, although not everything is to my liking. Lately Mike and Steve (the SPARCLE brothers) and I have been cooking ourselves midrats every night. For a long stretch we made chicken with lemon juice, basil and garlic. Last week we branched out and made a most delicious peanut sauce that none of us can get enough of . We also figured out how to use the grill! The constant feature of dinner is whole green beans sauteed in olive oil and garlic. The beans aren't canned (that is, they aren't already soggily cooked) and are a great find.

We usually have a side of rice with everything (to soak up the olive oil/garlic or peanut sauce). However, due to the high altitude (thus low pressure), water boils somewhere around 190F (we measured it once, at 18x but the thermometer was unreliable). Rice and pasta are difficult to prepare here--the water cannot fully penetrate the rice grain at 190, so what winds up happening is you cook the rice for a really long time to get the water all the way in the grain so it isn't hard inside. This means its overcooked and really mushy. We have "pasta ala paste" on occasion. The only rice that doesn't do this is something like Uncle Ben's Converted Rice, which isn't terribly flavorful or nutritious. This weekend, I found a solution I didn't think was here. Up on the roof of biomed I found a pressure cooker! This wonderful device can simulate sea level cooking conditions, and all weekend we ate great quantities of tasty basmati rice.

Many of us have noticed a definite "toastiness" set in in the last few weeks. Irritability comes on us more frequently, especially over the most inane things. The most bizarre things capture our attention--a very common pastime is playing solitaire. I've spent countless hours sitting next to a cribbage buddy, board on the table, but both of us playing separate games of solitaire. Even the involvement of cribbage seems too much some days. Nearly as common, but more amusing to an outsider, is the activity of sitting around watching someone else play solitaire. I recently sat with 5 other people, all of us *intently* watching a sixth play solitaire, cheering her on, pointing out cards she'd missed. We all erupted with joy when she won the game. People also frequently watch other people play video games. We are aware there is something odd about these activities, but right now they seem interesting enough to us. My buddy Mike was *captivated* the other night watching me load slides into a projector tray. Then, as I advanced my dark and light slides, he made shadow puppets in front of each one. I was nearly hysterical with laughter, they seemed so entertaining to me!

Travel discussions continue to be very popular. There was a small grumbling over the Raytheon contracted travel agent in Christchurch that handles all our arrangements, but that has passed and most of us have gotten the information we need. We receive a "fare credit" for the cost of a ticket directly back to our POO (point of origin. the acronym brings us endless entertainment as we appear to regress to third grade....). Most people then decide to purchase a round the world ticket on the Star Alliance, of which United Airlines is a member. There are three ticket levels--29,000 miles, 34,000 miles, and 39,000 miles. My route clocks in around 26,000 miles, so I can buy the cheapest ticket. My out of pocket cost will be a little under $400. Amazing!

/andrea

copyright 2001 Andrea Grant

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