First outdoor climb

For Jack’s birthday in December, we decided to spring for a guided outdoor climb. Pricey, but we figured worth it since all we had ever done was gym climbing. Unfortunately, the day of the climb turned out to be about 40 degrees and pouring rain. We FINALLY got the climb rescheduled for a day that looked like good weather….and oh, boy, did we luck out.

We hooked up with Alembic Outdoors to be our guides.  One of the owners, Josh Whitson, manages at our home gym, Stone Summit.  He’s an incredibly nice guy working hard to get his new venture off the ground.   I can’t say enough good about Josh and Michael, our second guide.  They were fun, encouraging, patient, enthusiastic and the kind of people I wish I could spend all my spare time with – true examples of why I love climbing so much.  I couldn’t hand pick better role models for my kids.

We invited a bunch of Jack’s friends from the gym, but only one, Zander, was able to make it since spring break is going on for much of Atlanta this week.  (Jack asked some of his school friends and while they were initially all intrigued with the idea, when he warned them it would be about 8 hours of climbing, they all politely declined! LOL).  Fortunately, my Auxilliary Back-Up Son, Drew, who lives across the street we able to join us and we set out for Sandrock Alabama, (population 509) about two hours away.

The weather was perfect, just about 68 degrees and partly sunny.  We brought the dog, the 4 kids, one of our gym moms, who is swiftly becoming a good friend, and lots of gatorade, food and a birthday cake.  The kids were generally top roping, which means climbing routes with a rope looped through anchors bolted into the rock at the top and having a belayer below.   Each climb took about 15-20 minutes and they ranged from about 45 feet to about 75 feet.  Meredith and I each did a climb as well (Lars opted out due to relatively recent rotator cuff injury).  Drew climbed several times and I can’t even guess how many routes Jack and Zander did.

The day could not have been better.  Jack climbed until his feet were swollen (climbing shoes are very, very tight) and the skin was literally peeling off his fingers.  He loved it and can’t wait to go again.

And to top off the night?  He and Zander went to the gym for a lock in, where they climbed until about 2:30 am.  Unbelievable.

Here are some choice photos from what can only be described as an epic day.

DSC_6661 DSC_6680 DSC_6687 DSC_6709 DSC_6717 DSC_6727 DSC_6743 DSC_6756 DSC_6764 DSC_6794 DSC_6799 DSC_6810 DSC_6833 DSC_6853 DSC_6868 DSC_6875 DSC_6876 DSC_6887 DSC_6890 DSC_6891 DSC_6894 DSC_6895 DSC_6896 DSC_6897 DSC_6906 DSC_6918 DSC_6924 DSC_6927 DSC_6941 DSC_6948 DSC_6962  DSC_6978 DSC_6984 DSC_6991 DSC_6994 DSC_7009 DSC_7014 DSC_7018 DSC_7022 DSC_7027 DSC_7034 DSC_7044 DSC_7063 DSC_7067 DSC_7083 DSC_7084 DSC_7109

Snow-’pocalypse’ 2014!

Yep, it’s time for Bride of Son of Return of Snowpocalypse, Atlanta 2014-styley!

I put the “-pocalypse” part in quotes in the title of this post because anyone viewing the pictures below from, say, a location in New England or Michigan or Minnesota will scoff at the level of snow that effectively rendered the entire greater metro Atlanta region higgledy-piggledy*.

But here’s the thing: we don’t have the infrastructure for this. If you live in Maine or Buffalo or Detroit, the city, county and state services are all kitted out as a matter of course for heavy winters. It snows there, the plows are out immediately, like locusts. Salt on the roads, etc. Not here. In our defense, Atlanta’s seeming lack of preparedness for such winter events stems not from any slothfulness or government corruption or inefficiency (update: or maybe it does), but just because we don’t need it, hardly ever.

Except, of course, when we do:

The Snowed-In Dead

The Snowed-In Dead

The above image was captured (and assembled) by Twitter user Ryan Duckworth (@ryanduck), whom I don’t know personally, but this tweet/photo has gone semi-viral, probably because it’s not far from the truth.

Oh, we haven’t actually started eating one another…yet. But Jack and I (for example) did have to walk the 2+ miles to the grocery store today in order to lay in supplies. News reports from Atlanta, while they haven’t been grim in the grand scale of things  have indeed shown a city reduced to paralysis by a few inches of (admittedly icy) snow. Only one fatality has been reported so far in the greater Atlanta area (twelve total throughout the south), but there’s probably not a family in the area that hasn’t been at least somewhat affected by this storm. Commuters endured trips which should normally take minutes lasting up to 9 hours. Some were stranded overnight in ice-locked cars on the roads. Kids from local schools slept in their classrooms because bus service never arrived to pick them up, or were stranded in buses along the roadways and slept there.

Here’s our personal story:

Beth left on Sunday night to get an early start on a series of meetings in Denver. She was planning to be gone until today, Wednesday, in the evening, returning about 8:30 or so. About Monday night, we started getting concerned about what things might be like should snow start falling in earnest. However, Apple’s stock weather app still showed only a cold day, not a snow day (though other services, apparently, did show snow for Tuesday already).

Pickup for school via Fulton County buses was more-or-less as normal Tuesday morning (if a bit colder than usual). But by about 11am, this was how it looked out our front window:

photo off our front porch early Tuesday

I know, I know – not much more than a dusting by northeast standards, and still not much to worry about even here…but the snow kept falling steadily. Frankly, by this time, I’d expected the schools to call with closure notices, but…nothing. Yet. Time passed, snow kept falling. By sometime after 12pm, the district called, saying they had decided to “wait it out.” I get it, I suppose: they were already far enough into the school day that I think they were hoping they could just tough it out and get kids home on the normal schedule. Unfortunately, as the snow continued to fall, it became quickly apparent that was not going to be a likely – or advisable – scenario.

One thing Fulton County School district has always done very thoroughly is parental notification. FCS insist on both a home number (for those that have them) as well as mobile number and work numbers for both parents of any children in their care, the idea being that they don’t want to have a potentially urgent or emergency message go unreceived because the number that was called was not the number the parent could answer at the time of the call. So they call every number, by default.

As I said, this gives parents peace of mind that they won’t miss any important messages regarding their children. But it also means that every time a message goes out, I receive FOUR telephone calls: one each from the elementary school (for Jack) to my cell phone and our home phone, and two identical calls to the same numbers from Meredith’s middle school. And Beth receives the same to her cell phone and work phone. Then FCS follows up with email notifications, too. Between Beth and I, we were probably averaging nearly a dozen redundant notifications for every message FCS sent out yesterday.

And they sent out a ton, when the scale of the decision-making mistake became clear. By 1pm-ish, FCS had decided to close all the schools, effective immediately, reversing their previous “wait it out” policy. The problem with that is: FCS schools dismiss at different times (between primary, middle and high schools), because the same buses serve all three levels. What that means is that even on the clearest and mildest of days, it would have been a logistical disaster to try to release all three at the same time. There just aren’t the buses to manage it.

Of course, yesterday wasn’t anything close to the clearest, mildest of days, nor were the circumstances anything approaching normal. By the time FCS made their call, this was about what things looked like (it had stopped snowing, but by then, the damage was already done – this is the same view as earlier):

photo off our front porch, late Tuesday

Still not what northerners or Canadians would call a blizzard…but enough to well and truly screw metro Atlanta. Meredith texted me from school, saying (of course) that her phone battery was low (because she’d forgotten to charge it the night before), but that they were still waiting for buses to arrive. I told her to call or text when she was leaving school. Those of you have been to our house know how steep the driveway is. As a result, I knew I was not going to be taking the car out to do anything for at least a day or two. My expectation was to receive Meredith’s text and just walk down the hill to the mouth of the neighborhood to greet her and then walk back up to the house with her.

Jack was a different story. He doesn’t have his own phone yet, so there was no way for me to reach him. I called a neighborhood mom to ask what her thoughts were on picking kids up, and found out she was stuck in her car at the bottom of the hill at the entrance to our neighborhood, unable to climb the hill. So I told her to call me when the bus arrived and I would come get Jack as well. Hours passed. More redundant email/phone messages arrived from FCS, telling us stuff we already knew. Meredith texted, saying buses still had not even arrived at her school yet. Finally, Jack called from a classmate’s phone, telling me that he was on his regular bus…but that the bus was stuck up on Mimosa drive (about a mile and a half away), behind cars that were stuck spinning their wheels, etc.

So I put on the winter clothes and walked down the hill to Willeo Drive…and then all the way up to the bus on Mimosa. One other neighborhood mom and I took about twenty children off the bus and walked them back down alongside the stopped cars on Highway 120:

photo of Highway 120 with snow

That’s what it looked like on the way up the hill on 120. Imagine what it was like on the way back down, with 20ish elementary-schoolers in tow who think this is the greatest thing ever and are running around like nuts. At one point, I had to stop the entire group and tell them in my best Dad Voice that it would be really awkward if I had to explain to any of their parents that they died on the walk home from school, so could they please stop freaking jumping around like snowbound Mexican jumping beans in improper footwear?

But I digress. About 2/3 of the way home to Riverbluff, my phone rang. It was another neighborhood mom who also has a child in middle school. I still had not heard from Meredith that the buses had arrived, and was not looking forward to the prospect of getting Jack home and then having to turn back around and walk the same exact route plus another couple of miles to get Meredith. But the call from the neighborhood mom was a welcome surprise. She said she’d been in the car for FOUR AND A HALF HOURS, trying to get from our neighborhood to the school. That’s about four miles. And yes, that means she’d been traveling one mile an hour. In her car. Actually, it was slightly less than that, because she told me she estimated she was about a half hour from the turn-in to the school. She also told me – hallelujah! – that she would pick Meredith up as well as her own son.

So we waited. And waited. And waited. And eventually, received a call back from the neighborhood mom saying she was stuck at the exact same place that Jack’s school bus had gotten stuck – apparently, there were cars there that simply weren’t moving at all, I don’t know why. But she also told me that her husband was on his way – on foot, again – to meet them all with extra coats and appropriate shoes so they, too, could walk home.

Meredith got home after six, after having been dismissed from school at about 1:30.

I don’t know who’s to blame for this…but I sure wanna blame somebody. ;)

* Apologies for the use of technical terminology like “higgledy-piggledy.”


What the heck does that mean? I’ll get to that in a minute.

Meredith has always had an artistic, creative streak in her and she has also discovered something that she’s really into that is completely outside anything Lars and I know….Japanese pop culture, specifically manga and anime. She’s teaching herself how to draw these very stylized animation characters and does a good job with it.  Here’s an example of this type of art (although this isn’t Meredith’s work):


What has me really impressed though is that she and of a couple of her friends have taken the initiative to form a Japanese Club at school. They’ve recruited a teacher to be their sponsor, received approval from the administration, developed their goals and started working on programs for the club. This kid has got a ton of spark, and she’s going to go places!

So back to that title….what does it mean? It means “We are very proud!

Jack Competes at 2014 Climbing Divisionals!

Last weekend was the 2014 USA Climbing Divisionals, and Jack was a competitor!

2014 Climbing Divisionals  Jack Problem 1

I have been horribly slack about keeping up with posting duties here at Olsson Family Homepage, so a little bit of backstory is probably in order. A couple of years ago, Jack was invited to go rock climbing by a friend. He’d never been before, and we had to sign a waiver to allow him to go (all rock climbing gyms require this, as a precaution). He loved it.

So much so, in fact, that he began asking to go frequently. The gym we found is a fair distance from our house: it’s over off the I-285/I-85 interchange near Chamblee-Tucker road in Doraville, so it’s not a quick trip (though it’s not THAT far, it’s just that those roads, especially I-285, are terrible during rush hour - see the map here if you’re interested). It’s called Stone Summit, and as you can see from the pictures on their website (or the below videos), it’s totally worth the drive. In fact, Stone Summit is America’s largest and best-equipped climbing gym! Who knew we had such a resource right here in our own area? It’s like having Waimea Bay out your window if you’re a surfer.

The neatest thing about Jack becoming so involved in rock climbing is that it’s something he did completely on his own. This isn’t following in Dad’s or Mom’s footsteps: neither Lars nor Beth has climbed a rock in their lives (though Lars did a fair amount of hiking and backpacking when he was younger). Jack developed his love of this sport entirely on his own. And took to it like a fish to water. Before long, he was asking Dad to go at least once a week, and before long Dad had to learn to become certified to belay climbers (so, y’know…if you ever need that particular skill, just ask. ;) ).

Then, Jack learned there were competitive teams at Stone Summit  and in fact at gyms throughout the nation, and nothing would do but that he join one. Again, we didn’t really know about this in the way that, even if you don’t participate in it, most people are aware that there are soccer and baseball youth teams in virtually every community. Rock climbing isn’t nearly as popular as either of those or several other sports, but it’s gaining in popularity, and its fans and team members are very loyal indeed.

One unique thing about rock climbing teams is that they’re not divided by age like most other sports teams for kids are. In baseball or basketball or football, you’re divided into age groups because it wouldn’t be fair to have sixteen year-olds competing against twelve year olds, whether the sport is soccer or basketball. But since rock climbing is a solo sport, they split the teams up by ability and commitment, not age. At competitions, climbers compete against other climbers of the same age (again, due to fairness), but at practices, the top team might have the best climbers for ages anywhere from 8 to 17. It makes for a much more Montessori-like, multi-age environment, something which also suits Jack’s personality well.

After trying out, Jack landed on the Ascent Team. This is the third-highest team, and the one where every new climber (especially the younger ones) start out. You can’t go to a higher team if you’re new to competitive climbing until you’ve been promoted from the Ascent Team. Well…Jack was promoted within a few weeks, because he’d been practicing so much on his own that the coaches could see he should be moved up. Jack is now on the Vertical Team, one below Stone Summit’s top team, the Summit Team.

The Vertical and Summit Teams are the ones from whose members the competitions are usually made up. So far, we’ve already been to competitions at Stone Summit, in Chattanooga, TN and in Jacksonville, FL (told you I’d been slack on writing updates here!). Every year, there is a national competition, just as there’s a Little League World Series. Climbers from gyms all over the country compete locally, then regionally, then Divisionally (a group of states), before the final competition at the national level.

The Jacksonville competition was the Regional competition. Jack went…and, in his first year, placed high enough (sixth) to move on to the Divisional competition, which was this last weekend. That catches you up to the sentence which started this post: Last weekend was the 2014 USA Climbing Divisionals, and Jack was a competitor!

Competitions are tightly regulated and scored. The main gym area where the climbers will be competing is literally shielded from view so none of the competitors can get “beta” (information about how to climb a particular route) by peeking at the routes that are being set up. The day of the competition, climbers are left in “iso”(lation), apart from the competition area, for the same reason. When it is a particular age group’s time to climb, the boys (or girls!) enter with their backs to the wall where the “problems” (specific routes) have been set up. They sit in chairs facing away (again, so they can’t get beta in advance), and each one must do all of the routes set up, in order. For Divisionals, there were four routes Jack’s age group of boys had to do. There were boys there from teams from Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Florida — basically, the entire southeast.

Each boy gets four minutes to complete each route (or get as far as he can). Speed is not a factor, and a boy can make as many attempts at each problem as he wants in the four minutes he has allotted. These routes (“problems”) are difficult (as you will see below!). Many boys didn’t finish some or all of them, though all got at least some of the way through all. Some boys either “flashed” the problem (completed it on first try) or “sent” the problem (completed it, but after more than one attempt). Jack didn’t finish any of them, but did get farther than many of his competitors. After the four minutes has expired, there is a four-minute rest period, then the climbers transition to the next problem (30 seconds), and then it’s time for a new four-minute clock on the new problem.

Here’s what an attempt looks like. This was Jack’s first attempt to solve the first problem on his list. You can see him strategizing how he will approach holds and placement of both hands and feet. You start with both hands on the holds in the start box (with tape around it), then move across the other holds to the finish box. Usually, that’s upwards, but – as in this problem – you actually have to go up and then back down to finish — not an easy thing to do at all. Jack makes it about halfway:

Like I said, if there’s time remaining, competitors will try a second, third or even more times – sometimes as many as seven or eight attempts. I didn’t get to record Jack’s subsequent attempts on problem #1, and camera error (OK, operator error, LOL) caused me to miss the second problem altogether. But here’s Jack’s complete, four-minute series of attempts at problem #3 (apologies for the sloppy camera work; this was all hand-held, and I had to keep moving to let other people see, stay out of the judges way, and have an unobstructed view of Jack):

The other kids (and the parents!) are so supportive when each kid is competing. Even though the kids are officially competing against one another, when they’re up there on that wall, the competition is mostly with oneself: can you figure out the way that’s going to allow you to send the problem? Do you have the strength, the agility, the balance? So every other competitor on your team will cheer like crazy for every one of their own that’s currently on the wall, which you can hear in the background on all these videos. Here’s Jack’s full, four-minute series of attempts at problem #4:

The guy in the beginning of this video with the oversized clipboard is a judge. His job is to score the competitors on how many attempts they make (fewer is obviously better), and on how far the competitors get on each attempt. Each judge has a photograph of the route he or she is judging, with the holds numbered. The competitors only know they have to get from the start to the finish, but each hold along the way is secretly numbered on the judge’s photo, and in the case of an incomplete route, they get credit for the highest-number hold they “controlled.”

This day (Saturday the 11th) was the qualifying round. At the end of the day, there were going to be 11 total competitors who got to go on to the finals, and from there, I believe only three would be sent on to the Nationals competition in Boulder, CO, which will have competitors from all over the country. Unfortunately, Jack placed…12th in his age group, meaning he missed returning the next day by only one place. However, he did better (I think, if I remember correctly) than any of the other Male C’s (Jack’s age category on the Stone Summit team). We’re so proud of our boy – all this, in his first year! I know I’m…well…Dad, and therefore biased, but I predict great things for Jack if he keeps this up – which we all think he will: he LOVES it, and that’s the important thing, at the end of the day.

Fantastic job, Jack! You were a hair’s breadth away from competing with the best in the country. You GO, boy!

Accounts at Olsson Family Homepage

Quick housekeeping note:

photo of Spam

Don’t cause such a fuss, dear: I’ll have your Spam

After a fair amount of annoyance (and deliberation), we’ve decided to remove the registration link here at Olsson Family Homepage. WordPress offers two options for the administrator: “anyone can register” means exactly what it sounds like – anyone who finds this blog and clicks on “register” can create an account. The other option is simply, no public registration at all. The problem was: we had been getting a significant amount of “registration spam” – users who would register from similar email addresses under unlikely usernames. Hopefully, the WordPress code is written well enough that these spam “users” are little more than annoyances…but as anyone with any IT knowledge can tell you, if there are problems with your code, someone who already has valid credentials can potentially “escalate” their privileges, meaning they could go from subscriber to a much higher level of access, and potentially wreak havoc on the blog or perhaps even on our server itself. So it’s more than just an annoyance to have to check on and delete spam registrations, it’s a potential security hazard as well.

In the mass-purge of spam accounts, it is possible that we may have removed genuine accounts as well, though I hope not. If you can no longer log in using your old credentials, this may have happened to you. Don’t worry. We can still (re)create accounts for people manually, and we’d be happy to do that if we know you. Just send us a quick email requesting your login name (and password), and we’ll set it up and send you a reply when your account is created.

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of creating yet one more account in this age of too many logins and passwords, no problem: you can still comment on posts if you like, but if you haven’t commented before (or in a long time), there may be a short delay while your comment is moderated and approved (that way, we don’t simply exchange the problem of registration-spam for comment-spam). Again, sorry for the inconvenience.



photo of Meredith at just past two years of age

Meredith On the Wall at Montclair Park

So today, we were cleaning out the basement. Some of that stuff has been down there for quite some time, given that it tends to be where we put the stuff we no longer use but can’t bring ourselves to throw away. In cleaning out the old desk and getting it ready to sell or give away (anyone want a desk?), I came across this old DVD labeled simply “iPhoto Digital Library, Feb. ’03 – Sept. ’04.”


photo of Meredith as a toddler

Like An Angel…Kinda

In other words, this covers the period from about four months before we left California for Georgia up until about a year after we’d moved into our current house. Talk about a time of changes and upheaval! I don’t even remember archiving these photos onto disk, but I must have at some point. And man, what a long-forgotten trove of memories it was to dig down into some of these folders. Here’s Meredith, from mid-March of 2003, at Montclair park, the little park we used to take her (and, briefly, Jack) to when she was itty-bitty. Check ‘em out (and click to embiggen). Quite a beautiful little girl, wasn’t she (and yes, I’m biased)? So much water under the bridge, such a long time ago.

Three cheers for our girl!!

So, some of you may recall the fiasco that was Junior National Young Leaders Conference a couple of years ago (brief recap:  Meredith was actually nominated by a teacher…who didn’t know what the deal really was.  In the course of researching it, I was able to register our dog, Hammie, up to the point of sending payment.  So much for elite, exclusive and “select”).  After such a disappointment, Lars and I were a little (more than a little) skeptical about another academic nomination that Meredith brought home a few weeks ago.  But this one has checked out!  Her science teacher nominated Meredith for the Billy Lancaster Forestry Youth Camp. 

This Camp provides an indoor and outdoor classroom for energetic, inquisitive students to learn about forestry, wildlife, ecology, tree identification, fire protection, forest products and the people who manage these resources in Georgia’s vast forests. It was founded in 1988 by Billy Lancaster and is sponsored by the Georgia Division of the Society of American Foresters.

Most public schools in Georgia nominate just one student to attend – and for Crabapple Middle School….it was our girl!  And since we all know Meredith is really just a forest sprite disguised as a human child, she couldn’t be more excited about spending a few days in the woods.  AND they have horse back riding and lake activities.  Does it get any better than this?

You can read more about the program and the camp here.  We are so proud of her!!