Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tarangire wrap-up

Oops, I uploaded the pictures, then failed to write and post the story. That is, until now. So Tarangire was just the first of several national parks we visited, and all told we spent less than 24 hours there, but an action packed 24 hours it was! After leaving behind the cheetah and wildebeest hunt, we drove up a hill past a pond, and came upon these warthogs (and some zebra and impala, but I've already shown some pictures of those animals...). We rumbled our way back to the entrance gate, where most people took the opportunity to use the toilets, and I just wandered into the garbage dump, which, true to form for garbage dumps, was a good opportunity for bird and rodent watching. Here's another pygmy mongoose, and a baboon which had been checking out the cheetah/wildebeest hunt with us earlier.

For a recap of all the pictures from day two in Tarangire, check out the picasa album here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

run away, run away

Oops, there goes a week. Sorry, I've been busy with life here. I built a sukkah last week (a sukkah is an outside non-permanent shelter which you eat in during the jewish holiday of sukkot). We hosted a small dinner party on Sunday, and a bigger end-of-sukkot party on Monday. I bought a (used) glass kiln on Saturday, and then spent monday re-wiring the power cord so that it could reach the outlet inside the house (it's a 240V/30A line, so you can't just buy an extension cord). Yesterday I turned it on and tried it out for the first time, and it worked! Jaime's got some new earrings now. Then last night I played in my ultimate frisbee league game, and shared some of my homebrew beer after the game -- the beer I just put in the keg last friday. So I've been keeping busy.

I've been taking pictures of many of these things, but I'm further behind on the safari pics, so here are a couple more of those. After we came across the first three cheetah, and their fresh kill, it seemed that many of the animals were skittish. As we drove, we saw lots of things running: ostrich, impala, gazelle, and then these wildebeest, which were charging down an embankment and crossing the road right in front of us. Then they suddenly turned, and started to run the other way. Why? I think it was the appearance of these guys (who are probably different from the first threesome we had seen a couple miles earlier.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Here kitty, kitty

There is a whole pecking order among the carnivores and scavengers. It goes something like this: The hunters -- lions, leopards, cheetah, etc. -- find themselves some breakfast. If it's a good day, they manage to kill it, and eat all the tasty bits. Next, it's a race between the smaller ground based scavengers -- the hyena and jackals -- and the big sharp-beaked birds -- the eagles, buzzards, and vultures. The birds use their excellent eyesight and soaring ability to monitor big swaths of savannah, looking out for animals on the hunt. The jackals and hyena either track the hunters on the ground, and wait for them to make a kill (and have their portion), or they look to the skies, find where the birds are circling, and head in that direction.

There is a third group looking out for the kills, and that is the people in trucks, out on safari -- like us :-). We keep our eye out for animals on the move, birds in the sky, or, most typically, long lines of other trucks stopped on the road. This morning we came upon four or five other trucks, and then saw the cheetah. They had caught a young zebra, and had made a nice breakfast of it, but got spooked when the trucks rolled up, and the cheetah sauntered away. There were three of them who had worked together, and this turned out to be typical each of the cheetah sightings we had.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pretty Bird

Birds swooping around in the sky, birds running around on the ground... what's going on? Maybe there are some kittys running around.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Giraffe, and apparent sizes

Yesterday's post had a picture of a giraffe standing in front of a baobab tree. It gave the impression that giraffes are not particularly large animals. That would be the wrong impression. Hopefully I can correct it here, and make you realize first, that giraffes are quite big, and second, that baobob trees are enormous. In the picture above, compare the size of the zebras, which are donkey or small-horse sized, to the giraffe. Then go back and look at my last post and look at the giraffe compared to the baobab tree. Wow.

Despite their large size, and this was also true for the other big herbivores, the birds don't seem scared away. The fur of the large animals (giraffe, buffalo, etc.) collects all sorts of tasty little fleas bugs which the birds kindly remove free of charge.

These shots are from our second day on safari, starting with an early morning game drive in Tarangire National Park. It was just the tip of the iceberg on what was to be a very exciting day (including our first big cat sightings). Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

End of the weekend, and of the first day

I hope y'all had a good weekend. I woke up super early this morning to join Jaime and a bunch of her youth group kids in doing the Walk for the Cure, a 5K walk in downtown Phoenix to help raise money for breast cancer research. There were 30,000+ people participating in the events, which also included a 5K run, and a shorter walk. It wasn't very grueling exercise, but it was a nice easy follow-up to Saturday's activity: a 42 mile ride down to Mesa and back to check out a little arts festival. I'm slowly ramping up my weekly biking miles. I may start taking another glass fusing class in a couple weeks, and then I'll be riding 40-80 miles a week just to get to class and back, plus whatever rides I do closer to home.

It's Sunday night, so this also ends a moderately successful week of posting Africa pictures, the vast majority of which came from the first day of our Safari, in Tarangire National Park. Here's a link to a photo album with all these pictures and more from day one.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fuzzy/Not Fuzzy

Happy Friday y'all. Some more pictures from day one in Tarangire National Park. I was having lots of fun with my new camera (and I still am). The zoom lens is great, and enabled me to get some great shots from far away, even though I didn't have a tripod. The digital camera thing I'm still loving, 6+ years into it, because you can shoot off a whole bunch of pictures to get that one brief instant trapped in the time, as with the picture below of the lizard sticking out his tongue.

So, quick stories behind these shots. First, the
monkeys. As I mentioned in my previous post, we drove up onto a bluff overlooking the riverbed where the elephants were (and also a pack of zebra, wildebeest, and waterbuck), and where there was a picnic area at which we could actually get out of the trucks and walk around a bit. Whenever this is a picnic area, you will find little birds and animals happy to steal your crumbs, and this particular picnic area had these cute monkeys. They were running about, dangling from trees, and checking us out, though not too close.

After we finished on the bluff, we drove back down the hill and crossed a concrete bridge/ford of the river. Just over the edge of the bridge we saw this monitor lizard. I know it's hard to get a sense of scale in the picture, but this lizard is the better part of six feet long!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Elephants and relatives

We continue our journey through Tarangire National Park, still on day one of the safari (only a couple of hours past the entry gate, in fact!). And we come upon two very different looking creatures, who are in fact quite closely related (genetically and evolutionarily, at least): The elephant and the hyrax. I'm hoping I don't need to point out which is which in the above photos.

We saw our first elephants near a riverbed. We had a mediocre view past a herd of zebra (of whom we had a terrific view), but then we drove up onto a bluff overlooking the riverbed, and had a great view of the family of elephants. They were digging around on the side of the river, and sucking up water from the holes.

Later in the day we got to our tent camp (luxury tent camp, really), which was also situated on a rocky bluff, overlooking the forest, and in the distance, a lake. Scurrying around on the rocks, and in the trees, were many of these rock hyrax. They are the size of marmots, or large guinea pigs, and equally skittish. They are quite skilled climbers, though, and it was funny to walk up the trail between our bedroom and the dining hall, and see these small trees (12' tall, maybe?) with several hyrax weighing down the branches.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Identify Your Antelopes

We saw lots of antelopes throughout our journey, and it was sometimes difficult to remember which type was which, so here's a quick primer for you to refer to when viewing all the pictures. Impalas (above, left) have curved lyre shaped horns which bend both right/left and forward/back, while gazelles (above right) have straighter ones. We saw two types of gazelles, the smaller Thomson's Gazelles, and the larger Grant's Gazelle. The picture above shows a Grant's Gazelle, whose horns are curved more than the Thomson's. Thomson's Gazelles have a characteristic black stripe on their sides, which isn't found on the impalas, but is sometimes found on the Grant's Gazelles. The Grant's Gazelles, which don't always have the stripe, have a white rump which extends up beyond the tail. Additionally, female gazelles have horns, while female impala do not. Now, based on what you've just learned, what is this:

Yes, it's a bit confusing, as its got no stripe, but the white on the rump stops at the tail, and the horns are straight. My best guess is that this is a young male impala, whose horns haven't taken on their full adult shape yet. I make this guess from additional knowledge of the pictures taken at the same time, showing a bunch of females without horns, which must be impalas (I think).

Easier to tell apart are the Eland (below right, standing amidst the zebras), the largest antelope, and the Dik-dik (below left), the smallest of the antelopes.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Birds

You have all been waiting so patiently, and I know you really want to see the big 5: the elephants, buffalos, lions, leopards, and rhinocerous, as well as the other big mammals: giraffes, hippos, cheetah, etc. I'll get to them all, and somewhat soon, I promise. But today I want to focus on some of the animals we weren't expecting to be so impressed by, the birds. There were lots of them and they were super: super big, super colorful, super funny looking, etc. Here's a sample. Above you have a vulture of some sort (sorry, I am not a birder so I don't know exactly which... if you know, post it in the comments). Below left is an ostrich, and below right is one of many colorful chaps, the lilac breasted roller. We saw all of these within our first hour in Tarangire National Park. It's an amazing place, much less visited than Ngorongoro or Serengeti, though still popular among people with more than 3 days for their safari.
Tomorrow I'll show some of the bigger game we saw.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Oops. Apparently I've let another month slip by without posting anything to the blog. For shame, for shame. Well, I've been keeping myself busy with trips (Santa Fe in early September) and visitors, plus lots and lots and lots of yardwork. I've also been taking some pictures, though certainly not at the rate I was shooting them during the Africa trip. Sometimes I bring the camera out and about the town, other times I do the exceptionally lazy thing of not even getting up from my computer desk to shoot the pictures. I still think the results are interesting. Don't you? I think this one might need to get printed with a nice matte finish.

Friday, September 5, 2008

I need this like I need a hole in the head

It's the last night of my summer school, and I've spent the last day and a half working on a project using the software tools and data available through the national virtual observatory. I was working with one other guy, and we got some basic results, but mostly we've been learning how to use the tools, and which ones work better than the others. Now I've got to write it all up in a 12 minute talk which I'll present in the morning. At least that's the plan. But I have this bottle of bourbon which needs to get finished before I fly out tomorrow, and it will be a tough decision which one to work on first...

The picture above is from Tarangire national park. There is a large resident herd of elephants there, and they get thirsty in the dry season. The baobab trees store water in their trunks, and the elephants get jealous, so they use their tusks to gouge out holes in the baobab, and drink the water which comes out. After drinking a bottle of bourbon, I might have that same desire tomorrow morning...

The Safari Starts!

I've been at a conference for the past week here in Santa Fe, NM. It runs through tomorrow. I took so many pictures during the safari trip that I don't have space to store them all on my laptop. I've got the full resolution images on my external hard drive, and thumbnails on the laptop so that I can still organize and tag all the images even when the external disk isn't attached. But to upload pictures to the blog, I need to have the full res version (well, something bigger than just my thumbnails). Realizing this, I uploaded a bunch of pictures last Friday, while the hard drive was attached, intending to write up accompanying text later in the day. Well, day turned to night turned to day turned to another week and here it is wednesday with no text written. Yet. Let me quick change that, for this first batch of pictures at least.

We started our journey on Saturday afternoon, flying from various parts of the U.S. to London. We continued on Monday morning with a flight to Nairobi, and then on Tuesday with a bus ride to Arusha. Finally it was Wednesday, day five of the trip, but day one of the safari, and we were itching to get started. It didn't take long. We drove out of town, away from the moist, runny slopes of Mt. Meru which encompass Arusha, and into the dryer lands south and west. After a quick stop at the grocery store for supplies (water, gin, rum, chocolate), and a two hour drive, we got to the entry station for Tarangire National Park. We got out of the cars to stretch our legs, and to pay the park entry fee. There were some really colorful birds in the parking lot, including the multi-hued starling which is sort of the local version of a pigeon: plentiful in number and typically found creeping up on you at the picnic table while you are eating lunch. Speaking of which, while we were itching to get started, our guides told us it was time for lunch, so we had to eat that before we could start looking for animals, and we thought, "how much longer is it going to be before we finally see something?" Well, not long at all. We finished our lunch and went back to the landcruisers to discover that we were going topless (for one. Loosely topped for the other vehicle). We hopped in, drove through the park gate and one minute later came across a herd of zebra & wildebeest, and ten seconds further down the road passes a monkey, and we realized, Wow, this is going to be an amazing trip.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Monkeying Around

That first afternoon & evening in Arusha, we were all pretty tired from the travelling. Some people wanted to nap, others wanted to... also nap. I wanted to explore, so while Jaime settled in for a snooze, I grabbed my camera and walked to hotel grounds trying to get a picture of a massive ant trail I had crossed earlier. On my way to the ants, I got distracted by a bird, and since I was excited to use my brand new super telephoto zoom lens, I tried to follow the bird up into the tree as it hopped higher and higher on the branches. I lost the bird, scanned around a bit, and was surprised to see something much bigger looking back at me: this monkey. That was a very exciting first find, and I knew I had to go up to the room right then and wake Jaime up to show it to her. Luckily I was right, and I didn't get yelped at for waking her, and she was even more excited to see the monkey than I was. We proceeded to follow it all the way across the hotel grounds, the monkey hopping from tree limb to tree limb and the two of us walking along the various garden paths, until the tree limbs stretched further than the garden paths, and we lost track. Great fun, though, and a precursor to what was to come.

Relaxing by the Pool

Hola Y'all, I hope everyone had a relaxing labor day weekend. We had a whole gaggle of friends come to visit: Claudia & Jared were in from D.C., Morag, Dara, Knut, Tyra, and the whole Blum family came up from Tucson, and Morag's beau Mike came in from Hawaii, all to hang out, have some barbecue, watch the diamondbacks play the dodgers, and to generally have a fun & relaxing time. It went well. We grilled pizzas on friday, smoked lots of ribs on saturday, had more barbecue on sunday, and even more on monday (plus some salad too).

The picture above is not from this weekend, but from our first day in Tanzania. This was tuesday evening. We started the journey mid-day on saturday, spent sunday night in london, monday night in nairobi, then took a ~6 hour bus journey (some of that time spent at the border post) to finally arrive in Arusha. We were met by two landcruisers from our safari company who took us to our first lodge, on a coffee plantation on a hillside east of town. It was a great chance to relax in comfort after a long journey, and to prepare for the long (though far more exciting) journey of the safari in front of us.

I'll try to post more of the safari pictures and stories this week, while I've already moved on to my next trip. Right now I'm in Santa Fe, New Mexico (a town I last visited 29 years ago), for the National Virtual Observatory Summer School. I'm learning all about how to use the NVO tools and the internet for doing astronomical research. Today was day one, and I must say it sounds like a pretty exciting group of tools. We students (about 50 of us) will learn about the tools this week, and do some experimentation, then next week we'll try out full projects. I have one in mind already, so hopefully it's doable. I'll find out soon.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Love Birds

I was a little bit worried that our tree-trimming would scare off the local bird population, but I'm happy to say that we still have a cacophony of chirping coming from the back yard. The culprits for some of the most twittery of the chirping are a small flock of peach-faced lovebirds. Last spring we had a couple of them in the yard, but now we've got a group of 8-10 of them, and they were still hanging around last night, after the cutting was all done. I didn't have my super-telephote lens on the camera as I was walking in the yard, but did pretty well with my kit zoom lens, and some judicious cropping.

Tree Trimming

Between the heat of a Phoenix summer, and all the travelling I've been doing (and yes, will soon get back to posting pictures from), the yard has gotten a bit unkempt. So I've spent some time the past week or so trimming all the hedges, bushes, and many of the trees. The highest of the trees, the palms, were going to be the biggest challenge, and Jaime wasn't so keen on me buying a stepladder & chainsaw and attempting to do it myself. When a knock came at the door a couple days ago, and the guy on the other side asked me if I wanted him to trim the palms, I decided I should take him up on the offer. He and his friends came by yesterday to give them all a haircut. Almost a mohawk in some cases, but they are now a lot lighter, and the dead branches and dried out seed pods all were taken down and carted away. Turned out to be just in time, as well, since a big ol' monsoonal storm ripped through the area last night, and there are more forecast for this weekend. Pictures above and below show the trees before trimming on the left, and after trimming on the right. Quite a shave! Now maybe I should do the same for myself...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Do Re Mi

I guess I'll start at the beginning, since I hear it's a very good place to start. The trip was a celebration of my parents' 65th birthdays and 40th anniversary, all of which occured last year. My sister Gabrielle and her husband Chris are currently living in Africa, and Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo (of Heart of Darkness fame). Gabrielle, my other sister Dominique, and I, along with our spouses, gave our parents the present of a family trip to Africa. The Congo, however, is not a tourist friendly place, so we had to choose some other part of the continent to visit. After a fair bit of web surfing and guidebook reading over the past year, we settled on the "northern circuit" of Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar just off the coast as the best place for our trip.

There were eight of us going on this trip, starting from four different locations: my parents from Pennsylvania, Dominique & Ted from California, Gabrielle & Chris from Kinshasa, and Jaime & me from Arizona. That made the air routings a bit of a mess, but it all worked out in the end. Jaime and I flew from Phoenix to Chicago, where we met up with Ted, who had flown in from SFO. Dominique was already on the east coast for a conference, so she went with my parents to JFK. We six were all supposed to meet up in London, where our flights were scheduled to arrive only 5 minutes apart. In Chicago, I brought Jaime and Ted into the American Airlines Flagship Lounge, the special airline club with free food and booze for those of us who spent too much time on airplanes last year. Meanwhile, my parents and dominique were in the admirals club at JFK, which they got into for free since they all (and us too) had upgraded our seats to business class for the transatlantic flights. We connected via cell phone before departing, and it was fun to have a lounge-to-lounge conversation. The picture above left shows Ted and Jaime enjoying the Chicago flagship lounge.

We got into London around noon. The business class seats on American are quite comfortable, as is the whole business class experience (food, drinks, movies, all of it). Unfortunately, flights to heathrow are pretty short, only about 6 hours, which isn't enough time to properly enjoy it all, and get sleep too. So we all took a short nap at a hotel near the airport after arrival. Then we hopped on the tube and went downtown to meet up with our friends Renny & Bill, who moved to London from San Francisco about six months ago. They played tour guide for us as we walked around in the rain, looking for a good place for dinner (see the picture, above right). After rejecting an italian place, a middle eastern place, and a tavern (and there were no indian curry houses to be found in that part of town), we sent our advance scouts (Bill & Dominique) ahead without us to battle the rain and find a good restaurant which had space for eight. They succeeded in their quest, and we had a very nice meal at a Thai restaurant, lots of conversation, and then finally headed back to our hotel to catch some bed-ridden shut-eye before our next long flight on Monday.

Tomorrow, the journey continues...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Serengeti Splendor

I'm back home in Arizona, and almost back onto the right time zone. Jaime and I got home around 11pm on Monday night, having travelled for 43 hours to get home from Stone Town in Zanzibar, the last spot on our two week family safari to northern Tanzania and Zanzibar.

The trip was awesome. I shot 3250 pictures with my new SLR, and another 170 image pairs with my 3D camera rig. Now I've got to go through and process them all. Step one, downloading them onto my computer, is complete. Next I've got to back it all up to DVD, then start the big sort/tag where I throw out the less appealing ones, and keep the better ones. Then I can try optimizing some for printing, and others for posting on the blog. I haven't looked at them all yet, but here's one I found from a quick glance through the pictures I took on our first day in the Serengeti (which was something like our fifth day on safari, having previously visited Tarangire, Lake Manyara, and Ngorongoro crater, and Olduvai parks/camps). This was just before sunset on what was probably our most spectacular day, in terms of packs of big animals, including a pride of nine lions who had just finished a hunt (they caught and killed a cape buffalo), and a large herd of elephant grazing near a water hole. Pictures of those will get posted soon, I promise, once I figure out what sort of theme or order I want to put into the posts.

Oh, and I'll be posting a goodly number of 3D pics as well, in cross-eyed format, so start relaxing those eye muscles now.

Right, and a comment on the above picture. That's a Thomson Gazelle grazing under an acacia tree (one of the 100+ acacia varieties which grow in that part of the world).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dinner in 3D

Those of you who used to read my old pic o' the day site know that I kind of got hooked on taking 3D stereoscopic pictures. At the time, I was using one camera and I would lean to my right, snap a picture, then lean to my left, snap another picture, and then I would combine them on the computer into a pair of images for cross-eyed viewing. Well, I've now gone one step better in that I bought a second identical camera and mounted them on a single bracket so that I can take both pictures at almost the same time (to within the accuracy of my fingers depressing both shutter buttons at the same time). This means I'll be able to take slow action shots in 3D! I can't wait to experiment more with the possibilities. The mounting bracket puts the cameras further apart then the human eyes are, which means that things are in super-stereo: the depth "feeling" is stronger than you would have in real life. But this is ideal for use with telephoto lenses, so that even with the higher magnification, you still get that 3D feeling. Try it on the image above. Sit back from the computer screen, cross your eyes and you will see two copies of each image. Relax your eyes until they overlap into a line of 3 images, and try to get your eyes to bring the central (overlapped) one into focus. It will appear in 3D. If at first you don't succeed, try, try, drink, and try again. I'm bringing the rig with me on my upcoming trip to Tanzania, so hopefully I'll get some awesome shots of lions and zebras and oryx, oh my!

Friday, May 9, 2008

So Sleepy

Most of the time we gemini queue observers are scheduled for four or five nights at a time, depending on the preferences of the individual observer. That works out to ~3 five night shifts or 4 four night shifts per semester. I always preferred the five night shifts. Now that I'm back here just for observing, I've got two observing blocks scheduled with a 10 day break in between to catch up on sleep, visit with friends, and toodle around La Serena and Santiago with Jaime. That's a good chunk of observing, and I'm at the tail end of night #5 right now, and I'm super tired. So if it were a normal run for me, I'd be done, but this time I'm up here for six nights, and I have to figure out some way to sleep today so that I can make it through tomorrow night. My second run, at the end of the trip, is only five nights, but then I have to go down that afternoon and fly home overnight to the U.S. That will probably be the most tired I've been getting onto the overnight flight, and I hope it leads to a serious quality sleep on the plane.

I'm too tired to even include a picture with this post...

Monday, May 5, 2008

New Dorm on Cerro Pachon

Woohoo, there's finally a new dorm on Cerro Pachon. We used to have to drive back and forth each day from the telescope on Pachon to the dorm on Cerro Tololo, half an hour away. And it's not an easy half hour drive. No, it was a stunningly beautiful and spectacularly scary half hour drive, after having stayed up and worked all night long, and trying to remain awake for that windy cliff-edged drive back to bed.

Now we have a three minute drop from the telescope to the new dorm. Much, much better and safer too. I slept there today, and while I'm still not able to get eight hours of continuous sleep up here, it was much quieter and more comfortable than the old Tololo dorms. So, Yey!

The architectural styling is kind of interesting too. The west face of the building has a bunch of windows on a long, wide hallway. It reminds me of an airport terminal. It also heats up something wicked in the afternoon (and it's late fall down here), but the rooms stay well insulated and cool despite the hallway temperature.

The windows cast interested shadows on the carpet, I was noticing during our daily 4pm coordination meeting. I want to take a picture of the shadows, but was busy with the meeting today. Tomorrow I'll bring the camera with me.

The other quirky thing about the building is the front entrance. It reminds me of the old space invader characters...

Sunday, May 4, 2008


I'm back on my old stomping grounds, having just driven up to Cerro Pachon, site of the Gemini-South telescope. I'll be up here observing for six nights. It's a couple hours until sunset, and the sky is completely clear, and conditions seem quite stable, so it should be a good start to the observing run. I'm overlapping tonight with another astronomer to remind myself of how to operate things, and to learn what's changed since I was last up here in January.

The picture above is from my garden. It's a night jasmine bush which has the most wonderful scent, and flowers which make me think of stars. Or pinwheel galaxies.

Time to pack up my computer now and head to dinner, and then the summit. The first night can be hard to stay awake for, but hopefully my sleeping in today will allow me to stay at least somewhat alert for the whole time.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Surfin' round the world

It's been a while. I know you know that, because you've been telling me for weeks, months even. Who are you? You should know yourself. But just in case you are feeling a bit too singular to be singled out in a post by wee little me, yes, I am referring to the plural you, ustedes, not just the single you, you who is reading this right now (or perhaps due to the wonders of the world wide web, yous who are reading this right now), but to all of you (J, E, C, C, M, D, T, R, A, P, S, J, M, and all those other initials) who have asked me to get back at it, start posting again, and to keep it up a bit longer this time. So, here goes...

A year ago when I bought two surfboards, just after deciding to move to the desertlands of phoenix, people (maybe even you) asked why? Where was I going to surf in Arizona? Well, I answered then, I'll only be a six hour drive from the beaches of southern california. I won't have a job. I'll be able to go surfing whenever I want. So, six plus months after moving to said desert, have I been surfing yet? Yes, once, in san diego. But no, not on my board. It was a rental. So my board is sitting idly by in the house, yearning to be surfed upon, and my pool is sitting idly by in the backyard, yearning to make some waves, and combining the two seems like the perfect combination. I started by paddling around in circles (small, little circles). As my paddling form is still rather inefficient, I do get to paddle several times per hand in a forward direction before I need to throw on the hand brakes, turn, and head back the other way. As my efficiency improves, I expect I'll only get one or two paddles before I streak across the pool and outgrow the space. Then I start practicing my pop-ups, getting from prone to up-standing in one swift graceful motion. Finally, I graduate to advance maneuvers, such as the cut-back seen above. I'm ready to take on the real waves now. If only I could find an ocean...

In other news, I flew to La Serena yesterday, my old haunt, and I'm down here for most of May working for Gemini and doing a couple of observing runs. I'll do my best to get back into the frequent posting schedule I had when I lived here last.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Backyard Wildlife

As I sit here in my office typing, I can hear our Sophie the cat in the kitchen, making her clucking/purring sound. There must be some sort of wildlife in the backyard which she can see through the patio doors. It could be almost anything. We have a wide range of birds back there, including a green parakeet, hummingbirds, and all sorts of more mundane looking things. I heard a woodpecker back there while we were moving in. We've also got lots of bunnies, on the lawn, in the hedge, nibbling on our vegetables. My mom was out there early in the morning last week, and said that she saw a coyote! It saw her, then spooked and ran away, leaping over the 6+ foot tall fence. A couple of days ago, Jaime and I were driving home just after sunset, came around a corner, and saw a BIG bird on the road. As we approached, we saw another, and another, five in all. They were red-tailed hawks (we think), and they had caught a prize (I mentioned that there were lots of bunnies around...). It was into twilight, and difficult to get a clear picture without a tripod, but the picture above is my best shot. Between the hawks and coyotes, we've decided not to let Sophie wander around outside without parental supervision.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Life Roars On

Wow, a week just flew by there without any posts. I was busy hosting and entertaining a bunch of family and friends here at the new house. My parents showed up last wednesday night. Jaime's parents came in on Thursday, and Andrew (Spaz) and Julia came in on Friday. Friday night was Jaime's installation ceremony at the temple, and on Saturday we invited lots of people over for a house-warming celebration. The house was full of our guests, mostly locals, but also Greg, Ilene, and Ilene's mom, who had driven up from Tucson for the weekend. The house quieted down on Sunday evening, and then on Monday Jaime, my parents, and I drove up to Prescott Valley to visit my great Aunt Lilo, whom I last saw when I was about five years old. That was fantastic, and we continued on to Sedona where we spent the night (sans Jaime, who had to go back to Scottsdale since she was working Tuesday) and yesterday morning, hiking and exploring art galleries. We tried to hike the west fork of Oak Creek trail, but there was a good layer of snow all over the trail, and the creek was running high, making the water crossings cold and somewhat dangerous, so we didn't get very far. I'll try that trail again in a couple of months once it's warmed up a bit and melted all the snow.

Anyway, I hope to be posting lots of pictures from the past week, but I'll start with this rushing torrent of oak creek for today.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Beef: it's what's for dinner

We are settling into the new house. It's been a bit of a tug-of-war to decide on food each night. We want to start using our new glorious kitchen, but after a full day of moving and/or shopping we feel exhausted, and its a bit easier to go out, or pick something up to bring home. Saturday we were feeling energetic, and decided to cook beef shortribs, following a recipe I found online. Short ribs are a slow cooked food, necessary to get the meat nice and tender. Unfortunately, we didn't start cooking until after 8pm, which meant that the ribs were finally ready to be eaten around 11:45pm. Late dinner! Jaime whipped up some garlic mashed cauliflower to go with the ribs, and it was a very yummy meal. The herbs for the ribs came from our garden, so we really got to put our new house, garden, and kitchen to good use. The meal was quite filling, and it helped power my early Sunday morning, when I was up at 7am to finish (mostly) the moving process, meeting up with a couple guys and their truck at our old apartment to move all our furniture to the new house. That's done now, and we realized the new house (at ~3000 square feet) is much bigger than the apartment (~1000 square feet), so we needed to buy some more furniture, which we did during a sunday and monday furniture shopping spree. That was a doozy, and we picked out counterstools for the kitchen, a couch, chair, and daybed for the living room, a table and chairs for the dining room, and a bedroom set for the master bedroom. I'm now feeling especially poor, but we sure do have nice stuff. There's still some more things to buy to get the house fully set up (I went light-bulb shopping yesterday to set us up with at least one backup bulb for each bulb type in the house (5 different types)), but I think I'm going to declare March a month without purchases. I'll buy only food (and gasoline), and try not to get any more stuff. That will be quite a relief, I think.