Followed By a Week in Hawaii

Flowering vine in the petrified tree park in Puna.

My poor brain was so confused after my China and Hawaii trips that it gave up all semblance of a time-zone and obediently returned to Pacific Standard Time in only 24 hours.  Truly a silver lining to the most exhausting two weeks of my life.  But Hawaii!  Like last time, it was an unbelievable experience, both observing-wise and snorkel-wise.  We got at least some data on all four of our half-nights on Keck, and my observing partner graciously let me sit in the drivers seat and press the image exposure button (as well as the other less interesting parts of observing like making sure the instrument is setup correctly and sending new astronomical targets to the telescope operator… they only let astronomers control the instrument — basically the camera — and hire other people to control the telescope and dome).

Hapuna beach again, one of our favorites.

Before and after our four nights of observing, my observing partner Vardha and I revisited some of our favorite snorkel places and then explored a new region of the island: Puna.  Oh my, is all I can say.  Puna is so different from the rest of the island, less touristy, with the most impressive canopy of trees overhead as you drive down country roads.  And then there were the tide pools large enough to snorkel in.  Apparently in the 1970s, scientists “sprouted” some coral in the tide pools and oh man has it taken over since.  I’ve never seen coral so varied: large mushroom coral, small delicate coral, in all different colors.  The tide pools also added an element of danger, since as you swam between them, you had to be careful not to be torn to shreds by said coral.  And of course there was a surf that jostled you around a bit and threatened to beach you if you didn’t swim quickly enough between deep pools.  Basically it was the most fun ever.  I want to go back.  As soon as possible.

Hidden valley with a black sand beach.  You can't get down there without a special vehicle; the easiest way is actually to hike.

After snorkeling in the tide pools until we were both rather chilled, we headed off to a pool heated by volcanic activity.  Puna is very close to the active eruption on the Big Island, so it isn’t surprising that there should be heated pools in the area.  This pool is especially fun because it is heated by water from underground and cooled by a channel to the sea.  You can hang onto a rope in the channel to the sea and be pulled out to sea and then back into the pool as the waves come in and out.  It’s basically a roller coaster ride and I was rather afraid that the slimy rope would give out under the weight of a few of us (it didn’t.  We survived).  There are a lot more interesting heated pools in Puna that we didn’t get to see this time, so I’m anxious to return with a four-wheel drive vehicle to get to some of the more “out of the way” ones (really just ones at the end of a bumpy dirt road… nothing there seems to be more than 10 miles from anything else).

Petrified tree, killed by lava and then made permanent...

Four Days in China

Mountains near the great wall

As with all of my interesting travel destinations, this was a work trip, in every sense of the word.  I arrived Tuesday evening for a conference on Wednesday through Friday, and flew out Saturday at noon.  This means that opportunities for sight-seeing were limited, especially once you consider the exhaustion of changing time-zones in addition to being at a conference in the first place (group activities started at breakfast and went until the end of dinner).  I contemplated going out for drinks after dinner, but the sleep-deprivation coma always seemed to kick in before I could get my butt out the hotel door.

Mountain from the bus

Thankfully, astronomy conferences tend to anticipate the crazy-busy tired attendee who doesn’t bother taking a day of vacation (or more) to fully enjoy the local sights, and a whole afternoon of the program was dedicated to an outing to the Great Wall.  If only I had remembered to bring a warmer coat!  I lasted all of 30 minutes walking up and down an impressively steep length of the Great Wall, snapped some photos of the views (which were extraordinary), had my picture taken with some Chinese tourists (apparently Americans are somewhat of a curiosity), and promptly bolted back to the warm bus to regain the feeling in my hands and face.

View of the great wall from the busView of the great wall and valley from the topAnd now for the view with panting people

It will come as no surprise to many of you that my favorite part of the trip was the food.  I wasn’t sure whether I was mentally prepared to eat Chinese food for three meals a day (yes, including breakfast).  It wasn’t even hard.  My biggest worry was that there would be too much meat and that I would end up feeling sick, since Peter and I cook and eat meat maybe once a week to once a month.  But no, there was unimaginable variety of vegetables, noodles, and rice at the hotel restaurant (where we ate all but one of our meals).  The one meal we ate elsewhere was in a stunning, very fancy restaurant with live performers during dinner and a never-ending line of food brought to our table.  A dish of donkey meat was one of my favorites, along with a very spicy beef dish, and some marinated lotus root.  I wish I had taken more pictures of the fancy restaurant and its lantern-lit gardens, but the experience was so captivating that I totally forgot to be a tourist.

The lantern above our table at the fancy restaurant.  The rest of the restaurant was similarly decorated.

Our beautiful matching table settings at the fancy restaurant. You can also see the revolving glass centerpiece where the dishes were placed.

A Mustard-gold Zinnia


Here is a blog post I wrote months ago and only just remembered.  Work has been a bit crazy as of late.  And travel.  More on that soon.  Until then, pretend it’s early October:

Last week Peter and I took a trip to Boston to see friends.  It was a glorious week of eating too much, drinking (almost too much), and catching up with some of my favorite people.  One of the friends we stayed with, Anna, recently adopted a long-haired calico kitten that is, as she put it, in the upper tail of the bell curve of cuteness.  I completely concur, and was only too happy to let him chase our motionless feet under the covers at all hours of the night.

To distract myself from kitten withdrawal after returning to California, there was nothing to do but attempt what seemed an impossible feat: to sew a Zinnia skirt, lined, with pockets, and no fusible interfacing for the waist band.  Perhaps this doesn’t sound so daunting to those of you who know how to sew, but, you see, there were no specific instructions for what I wanted to do (only, make a lined skirt OR a skirt with pockets), and to make matters worse I was suffering from a head cold.  The whole process took three days (although not three WHOLE days, thank goodness): one day to tape together the printable PDF pattern and cut it out (this part is rather tedious and I prefer to do it late at night when my mind is no longer capable of rational thought), one day to cut out the fabric, decide how I was going to alter the pattern by not having fusible interfacing and adding pockets to the lined dress instructions, and to sew up everything except the bottom hems (ok, this took me most of the day), and finally, one day to finally get around to sewing the bottom hems because oh man was I sewed out from the second day.


On the bright side, I have never sewed anything so challenging, what with the pockets, the impromptu lined waist band, and my first ever invisible zipper.  And while I sometimes finish a sewing project and think “Hmmmm, maybe I should take a shot of tequila before wearing this out of the house”, I am absurdly proud of how nice this skirt looks.  You can barely tell that it even HAS pockets.  Oh, and did you notice the fabric-covered button???  Yup, I made that too, although “assembled” might be more accurate.

More of the inside


  • Main fabric: mustard-yellow linen blend that is too scratchy for comfortable contact directly with my skin (hence the lining).
  • Lining fabric: greyish light-weight cotton fabric originally labeled for children’s pj’s.  It is very soft and doesn’t add too much extra bulk.
  • Details: one invisible zipper, one fabric-covered button, and hidden side-pockets added between the main and lining fabrics.
  • Alterations: other than the addition of pockets, I also changed the waistband to be the main fabric on the outside and the lining fabric on the inside and didn’t use fusible interfacing to add structure.  The waistband turned out perfectly rigid and wonderfully soft on the inside.
  • Would I make another one?  Um, YES!  I already have two more planned out.  Now I just need another weekend of head-cold induced house arrest.

Fabric covered button on the back

Have any of you made anything awesome recently?