More magical travel

True to my slacker nature, may I present the second blog post of 2016. Mainly I’ll just be yammering about my international travel of the year so far. What else do I talk about?

Yeah, about that overseas travel. It’s addicting, for me. I’m barely home before I start thinking of my next trip, planning where I can go and what excuse I’ll have to do so (typically work – thank you, NASA).

Why is it so damn necessary. Had a chat about that recently. Adrenaline? Possibly. Since I’m usually cruising around only half knowing where I’m going and how to get there, with only a tenuous link to anyone who knows for sure where I am. But I think it’s more nuanced than a simple adrenaline rush. It’s something about the hundreds of little experiences that happen while traveling – they sort of stitch my soul together in unexpected ways. Not just the people – I really don’t care for people in a general sense – but certain people, and don’t forget the animals, the sweeping landscapes; the connections I make between a certain sand dune in South Africa, and a moment long ago on the beaches of Thailand. That’s maybe the most significant part: the interconnectedness feeling that rushes up suddenly between thousands of miles and years of time. It’s a crazy, beautiful thing and I crave that feeling over and over again.

Another point: something about traveling makes you learn more about yourself and get that new perspective that sitting at home in your comfy routine does not. Everyone knows this – it’s nothing new – but I’m just trying to put random feels into words here.

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The most startlingly real memories in my past are from trips & adventures. I draw on them when I want to feel (happy?) content and good about life. Watching aurora from the frozen shores of the North slope of Alaska outside in the 40 below arctic wind. Silent minutes spent staring at the night ocean in a foreign country – no need to talk, the waves crashing are saying basically everything. The ancient stones that the Inca laid to walk on, and how it feels to actually be walking that same bizarre path through the forests to some far-off holy spectacle. These are the great moments of my life. Words don’t work so well, but I know some of you hear exactly what I’m saying.

So this year: Peru, Switzerland, Meow Wolf (yeah I’m counting that as travel to another place [planet?]), South Africa. Next year: Hawaii, Galapagos, who knows where else.

For the most recent travel to S. Africa, I refer you to this photographic evidence. Those other trips have yet to be documented. Someday. If I stop traveling for long enough to catch up.

 

New Year

Resolutions: Read (or listen to) 40 books and start swimming laps again.

2015 was better than 2014. In 2015, Matthew and I bought a beautiful house in Colorado on the side of a canyon. I got a job promotion, and traveled to some amazing places, such as Prague (for the third time) and Singapore (for the first). Bad things happened too, of course. We got word that Squishface the Cat is not long for this world. And holidays & birthdays were hard this year, it being the second round of them without my Mom. Overall nothing that life doesn’t usually throw at us: loss, death, adventure, elation… Struggling to feel that you have some control in this world, and then in the end (once again) just accepting that you don’t. Not really.

Three trips this year stand out as truly epic. That’s more than usual, for sure.

One: I traveled to Prague for a work conference, and had a wonderful time there. Then decided to tack on 3 days of personal travel in the medieval village of Český Krumlov. The day after the conference landed on the anniversary of my Mom’s passing, and I just didn’t want to be sitting on a plane crammed next to strangers. I wanted to be alone, have some silence, some beauty, and some reflection time. During my 3 days in Krumlov, I strolled by the river, walked the castle grounds, went to art museums, and saw a chamber music concert in the ancient hall attached to my old hotel. It was perfect.

Jesuite Hall concert room & view of my hotel from the outside

 

Two: Carrie and I had the brilliant idea of going to visit Carol & Matthew in Portland for a few days. It was damn amazing. We had the epic vegan food day of my life complete with vegan cheese shop, vegan ice cream, a stop at the Multnomah Whiskey Library, and finally a ridiculously legendary many-course dinner that was universally hailed as ‘the best meal of our lives’ (at Farm Spirit). We also met one of my own personal heroes, vegan chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz, at that same dinner and then chatted with her again the next day when we ran into her at Herbivore Clothing. We saw a feminist art show, and went to Powell’s (of course), and played Munchkin Loot Letter, and ate homemade Gorby bread and breakfast pizza, and got the best polaroid shot taken of us outside brunch (thanks, Leila!). It was just a magnificent trip.

 

 

Three: The road trip through Alaska. Maria and I were scheduled to travel to Fairbanks, Alaska for a conference in October. We made a plan to arrive early in Anchorage, drive through Denali National Park, and end up in Fairbanks just in time for the meeting. It was amazing! We ended up driving the wrong way the first night, which was a random accident with wonderful consequences, as we got to see the seacoast south of Anchorage – some of the prettiest territory I’ve ever laid eyes on. We saw a bald eagle, sunset over a crystal blue lake, mountain goats AND sheep through some nice guide’s zoom scope, and managed to narrowly avoid a snow/ice storm that would have prevented us from going north the first night anyway. The second day we did turn north, drove past Denali in all its glory, and ended at the Denali Dome House bed and breakfast. We visited Denali, did some hiking through lots of snow and met the sled dogs of the park. We went to the 49th State Brewery and saw the Christopher McCandless bus replica used in the Into the Wild movie. The last day we drove a somewhat harrowing five hours through a developing rain/ice storm to finally drop down into Fairbanks by the evening. It was a nice trip full of just the right amount of adventure and improvisation.

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Overall, I count 2015 as a resounding success. 2016 will have lots to live up to, but it might just squeak ahead. After all, this year will have: hiking Machu Picchu in Peru with friends, work travel to Switzerland, South Africa, and Istanbul, the beginning of renovations on the house (that we finally own!), and lots of other plans and adventures; with (I’m certain) many surprises, both good and bad, along the way.

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We saw the amazing Taarka in our little town on Thursday. They were spectacular! They also have many songs with singing and the gal has a beautiful voice, but I really like this instrumental song a lot. They are often described as folk with gypsy and jazz elements.

Sunday Quicktakes

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Matthew and I have a big plan to train all summer for an intense hike up the famous Long’s Peak with our friend, Julio. He did the summit last year and has been our hiking guide and buddy on a few hikes so far. We have other fourteeners (14,000+ foot summits) in mind as well, but Long’s is a serious challenge. The round trip total is 16 miles with a 4800 ft elevation gain. You have to start the hike before dawn in order to get back in time, since severe thunder and lightning storms occur above tree line almost ever afternoon. I’ve been doing a hike each weekend, checking off on the list some of the nearby front range peaks. Hopefully we’ll be on track to do Long’s in late August.

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Here are a couple pictures from my hike this morning. This is the 3rd Flatiron. And next is Boulder from above.


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We’re going to NC in 2 days! Boogie time with lots of friends. I will get to see my Mom and sister only briefly, but they’ll each be coming out west this summer for more quality time.

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Gardens are shaping up nicely. We decided to do 2 standard raised beds, and a taller but shallow raised lettuce/radish bed. Matthew built them all of course. We also constructed an herb spiral out of landscape rocks. It’s a technique that provides different micro-climates for a variety of herbs. Shady, moisture-loving herbs like chives and chamomile go on the bottom towards the north side. And arid, sun-loving herbs like rosemary and lavender go up top. We are currently growing a variety of herbs – those mentioned plus: strawberries, 2 types of basil, marjoram, sage, tarragon, dill, yarrow, lemon verbena, thyme, oregano, and probably more that I can’t think of right now.

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I will share the “before” garden pictures from a few weeks ago, and some updated pictures in the near future.


Raised beds for tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, beets & carrots.


The start of the herb spiral.

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Work is continuing to go well. I still feel like a 2nd year grad student most of the time, since I don’t know too much yet about the science I’m working with. But I talked to several senior researchers lately who said the best thing that ever happened to them was switching science topics completely between grad school and a post doc. They said the extra effort and temporary lost feeling is worth it in the end. We’ll see! I could have barely told you a thing about radiation science this time last year. But I’m working on catching up…

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I have been playing around with my pinhole camera cap for my micro-4/3 camera. Here are some examples:


Tulips


More-completed herb spiral


Our home

Pigs in the Workplace and other Quicktakes

Forget Friday quicktakes. Who has time during the work week to blog? It’s Saturday quicktakes from now on. SQT, bitches.

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Some weeks ago, a pig agility show took place in the building where I work, for some reason (a person’s retirement party, I think?). And while pigs in the workplace may sound like a crazy concept, it was actually quite adorable and awesome. The pigs were super well-behaved. They did tricks for Cheerios. Here you can see Digger pushing Mudslinger on a skateboard.


Taken on Lauren’s phone!

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While I was in CA, the news was full of starving sea lion pup stories. Almost every story had a sentence like this one: “For some unknown reason that we’re still researching, their food prey has moved to another location in the ocean and the sea lion pups can’t get to it.” Or: “We have no clue what happened to all the fish.” Idiots. People ATE all the fish. Fishing is an enormous industry (like the oil business) and similarly, it tends to want to keep bad press headlines such as “Overfishing is endangering sea lion population” out of print. But certain scientists not beholden to government pressures have been speaking out about this issue for years, and hopefully they will be heard more often. Stop eating fish, people. Get your Omegas from plants like a boss. If not for your own damn health, do it for the hundreds of starving adorable baby animals.

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In recent conversation, I had yet another debate about whether or not using two spaces after a period is appropriate. I thought this issue died years ago! I thought it was only old people who still tried this awkward maneuver, but apparently not. Educate yourselves on the evils of two spaces.

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Matthew had a very close encounter with a pair of mountain lions in the wilderness. Two morals to the story: carry a sidearm when walking in wild areas alone – and mountain lions can be damn scary. No mountain lions or Matthews were harmed in this adventure – but it was close.

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The upside to wandering wild canyons is finding lots of antlers. So far, he has found a beautiful set of elk antlers and a matched set of large mule deer antlers, each side found a couple weeks apart. The antlers/bones/skulls ratio to other decoration in our home is rising rapidly.

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A few weeks back, we went to Denver to see what turned out to be a pretty amazing show. Phosphorescent was playing – a band I first saw many years back in Greensboro, NC in a hotel basement when they were traveling around with the mostly-unknown Iron and Wine. Matthew Houck has grown his sound since those old days, and I’ve loved everything he’s ever done. They did an incredible show. Here’s a video of them doing ‘Song for Zula’ at a record station:



Must have been super sunny in that studio!

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The opening band, Strand of Oaks, was a beautiful surprise. That guy is incredible – songs about space stations and living on the moon with ridiculously honest, confessional lyrics and (best part) an epic head of hair. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Strand of Oaks:



“Everyone I know will either move away or die”

Adventures in CA

Last month, I went on a work-related trip to California to test an energetic particle instrument at two facilities. This instrument is the engineering model of what is flying in space right now on the Radiation Belt Storm Probes (or Van Allen Probes) satellites. We are trying to better understand the response of the instrument to different particle populations to make more precise conclusions about the data we’re getting down from the satellites.

The trip consisted of a week in Berkeley, a visit to San Jose, a road trip down the coast with a couple colleagues and a few days in LA. My pictures of the trip can be found by clicking here.

The first stop was the Lawrence Berkeley national lab nestled in the hills above Berkeley. We were using the 88-inch cyclotron, which is capable of producing a concentrated beam of energetic protons. We needed energies of 20-50 MeV, which is quite high. The beam works by creating ions at a source and then accelerating them down a beamline to produce high energies. The beam is then tuned to a certain energy and pointed into a cave that contains the instrument or hardware. The cave has thick walls and lots of safety procedures. Here are some pictures not taken by me.

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‘The Blue Cube’ – a vacuum chamber we used for some of our experiments

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AECR ion source

The view from LBL is amazing – you can see all of Berkeley, across the bay to SF and even all the way to the ocean beyond. It is especially beautiful as night falls – a sight I was able to experience several times due to long working hours (one day we worked until 4am). Friday we were treated to a tour of Berkeley’s Space Science Laboratory, which is even further up the high hill and has an even more spectacular view. John Bonnell showed us some great instrument design prototypes from THEMIS, FAST and various other satellite missions – it was super fun. Then we stopped by the USS Hornet aircraft carrier parked in Alameda Bay, as a fun touristy thing to do. Next it was on to San Jose, where one of my colleagues has a sister living. We stayed at her house, took a walk through a park hosting a feral cat colony, and feasted at an Ethiopian restaurant featuring a very enthusiastic keyboard player. The sister and her husband are artists and frequently host gatherings and art/music shows in their home, so they have adjustable track lighting everywhere, lots of art on the walls, and a stage built in their living room. They were very friendly and fun to stay with.

The two engineers I took the road trip with both work at LASP with me and are both great people. We had a nice drive down the coast on Saturday-Sunday and stopped frequently to sample the view and watch wildlife. We saw a California Condor that flew 15 feet over our heads and a whole colony of molting elephant seals.

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The coast!

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Male seals showing off and arguing for dominance

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This was the cutest seal in the world. The seal was sleeping the whole time and wagging its feet like a dreaming dog.

We reached LA on Sunday evening and the peaceful tone of the coast was gone for good. The next three days were packed with more long days of instrument testing using the beta spectrometer at Aerospace Corporation – a Co-I institution in the RBSP mission. The spectrometer uses a radioactive source and bends the radiated energetic electrons using a strong magnet such that only certain energies of particles are allowed to enter the chamber aperture and reach the instrument. By Wednesday I was exhausted and headed home to Colorado finally. A week and a half is a long time away from home at this point in my hectic life.

Enjoy the pictures! More to come soon on recent adventures.

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One of my very favorite songwriters died last weekend. Jason Molina was a great poet and wrote heartbreaking songs about loss, regret and the small glimpse of hope that might lay ahead. He died of organ failure due to his years of alcoholism, and he was just 39.

I’ve listened to an awful lot of his music this past week. Here’s one song with his band, Magnolia Electric Co. – his work from Songs: Ohia and his solo recordings are equally amazing. One of his shows I attended remains one of my best musical memories – it was Magnolia Electric Co. on a lawn outside under the stars on a summer night, and I think of it often.

Friday QTs (One day late)

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Thinking lots of gardening thoughts lately. Too bad I left the majority of the gardening stuff in NH.

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A Latin American pope sounds so sexy! Way too sexy for the Catholic Church. Oh wait, he hates gays and is a million years old. Okay, sounds about right.

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R.I.P. Google Reader.

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We just finished watching all of Deadwood. That show is so good. It was cut short, like most of television’s best shows. Warning, side effects include saying ‘fuck’ far too often.

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The governor of Colorado is a huge oil/gas industry proponent, and is really evil about it. He is in the process of suing all the townships that have recently banned fracking from inside town lines. My town, Lafayette, will likely vote on the fracking issue soon since the neighboring communities have been doing it and the wells keep getting closer to the borders. As of yet, there are no fracking operations in Lafayette. The choice is between standing up to the government and protecting the town’s residents and resources (and likely getting sued in the process) or making the same mistake that a number of other towns have made by allowing the fracking to commence.

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The little old town Public Rd. of Lafayette is interesting. It is about 3 blocks from our house, but our road dead ends on a little town square and so there is no cross-traffic on our street, which is nice. Public Rd. has a little of everything: there is a Community Holistic health center, an EZ Pawn shop, a ridiculously cute local coffee shop, cupcake shop, art galleries, garden center and a few tiny Mexican markets.

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I went into one of the Mexican markets for the first time the other day. They have a great selection of good staples (tortillas, bulk spices and rice, produce) and a huge selection of insane foods I would never eat (dried whole shrimp in bags with eyes and everything, jarred meats, unidentified bags of food with no label or price tag). A bonus is the wide variety of pinatas that one can purchase there – the choices are all hanging from the ceiling, some you have to brush out of the way just to get to the food shelves. One more neat thing is the bank of red phones at the back, which we assumed were there for customers to pay to call Mexico.