Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Snakes

If there is one thing that I am afraid of, it is snakes. I can handle spiders and other bugs, but snakes have always creeped me out. Due to the fact that I have boys, I try to put on a brave face and I have even touched snakes at the Bean Museum, but that is about as much as I can do. I don't want to hold it or spend a lot of time with it, and I definitely don't want it near my house.

We have lived here for almost 6 years, and we have never seen a snake. But this Memorial Day weekend, we saw TWO snakes. On Saturday, we were outside working in the yard, and Mark yelled "SNAKE!" At first, Randy and I thought he was just playing, but he insisted, so we went to check it out. There is was. A little garter snake slithering through our lawn. We watched it, and it moved pretty quickly back toward the field next to our house. So I survived, and nothing happened--it wasn't like an anaconda was living in our yard. Mark and Dax thought it was amazing.

On Monday, I went out to check on the garden and saw some weeds growing in the strawberry patch. I decided to take a few minutes to pull them out. As I was pulling them out, I saw something moving below. Now we have had all sorts of bugs in the strawberries, but this was gray and scaly and long and skinny. At first I thought it was the sprinkler pipe that Randy just laid down, and my eyes were playing tricks on me, but then it moved again. I decided that the weeds could wait and went in to tell the brave boys in my family. Mark and Randy came to check it out, but they couldn't find it--I am sure it was long gone by then. Randy said it was a good thing and might keep the bugs down. I told him that it meant that I wouldn't be able to pick strawberries this year--good thing that Randy usually does that for me anyway.

Apparently we have snakes here. I always knew they were around, but seeing them really made it worse. I figure the snakes are out in plain sight because it's been such a wet year, or because our yard looks so amazing this year (nice job, Randy), but I have been trying to convince myself we don't have to move. So if you see a For Sale sign in front of our house--you'll know why.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One of those days

Today is one of those days--I am tired and sick. The kids are tired and sick. This equals lots of impatience and crying (by the boys and by mom). So while my two boys take a nap, I am going to remind myself how much I love them and show you how amazing they are.  Just what you wanted, right?  Maybe not, but it is definitely what I need.

Dax is too smart.  He is constantly amazing his parents with what he knows. I feel like I don't spend enough time teaching him, but somehow he knows all his ABCs (capital and lowercase) as well as their sounds. He loves the alphabet and reading. Here is a video of him "reading" The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

video

While Mark is also a smarty pants, he is an athlete as well. He loves to play any sport. In his last three soccer games, he had scored at least 6 goals. But every time I take the video camera to a game--no goals. We have dubbed this phenomenon the "Curse of the Camerino." Anyway, he finally broke the curse and played well. I just love to watch him. He loves it! Here are a few highlights.


video

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hawaii-- Mark's Leaf Collection

Mark really likes to collect outdoorsy things-- rocks, twigs, whatever, so I decided to "collect" photos of leaves for him in Hawaii. The idea was to get really big leaves that wouldn't fit in my suitcase. I thought the collection turned out pretty well.






Hawaii Day 5-- Drive to Kona

Our last day in Hawaii was a drive around the north end of the island from Hilo back to Kona. There are several sites to stop and see along the way, and this drive takes you even more closely along the coast. After breakfast, we made one stop before we hit the road. We wanted to pick up some treats for those who'd helped us on our way by driving us to the airport, babysitting, and taking care of our house, so we stopped at the Mauna Loa nut factory. This was a large macadamia nut factory on the outskirts of Kona. The self-guided tour was kind of a bust, but they did let you walk past the windows and watch the workers hulling, separating, and canning nuts. At the gift shop you could buy any type or variation of macadamia nuts. We chose the chocolate covered nuts to bring home and a can of nuts which disappeared before we got out the plantation gates.

As we headed back across the island there were several waterfalls to stop and see within the first few minutes. The first was Rainbow Falls State Park. This is a waterfall like you might see around here-- fairly small with a few other tinklers around it. Perhaps even better than the falls, we enjoyed the hike. To call it a "hike" is generous, I don't think we were ever more than a half block from the car, but we did see several kinds of lizards and this is where I started the idea for Mark's Leaf Collection.

Rainbow Falls


Natalie swinging on a vine like Bear Grylls.

Randy inside the roots of a huge tree.

A lizard


The next waterfall was much more impressive. Akaka Falls is 422 feet from top to bottom. There is a short hike here to a second waterfall as well, but Akaka is the attraction.


Akaka Falls

The next stop was the botanical garden. We liked our walk around here, and I really wanted to take the 3 mile zipline tour, but it took about three hours and Natalie didn't want to sit in the car while I zipped around the rain forest canopy. There was a waterfall here called Umauma Falls. It is a tiered waterfall that was quite beautiful. The botanical garden was very quiet, with few visitors around, but a bit ghetto this time of year. If our visit had been in the summer, I think we'd have enjoyed it more. There is a large hedge maze, trees (and birds) or about every variety, and many spider webs. Our favorite tree by far was the rainbow eucalyptus, which looks like someone splashed it with paint. When we first saw it, we thought we'd stepped into a Dr. Seuss story. Our second favorite tree was the one that was too poisonous to even touch. Notably, Mark's leaf collection continued to grow here.


A gecko


Umauma Falls

A pretty flower at the botanical gardens--I think it's a hibiscus.

The rainbow eucalyptus tree

The last stop on the way back to Kona was at Hapuna Beach. As you've probably gathered if you've read the last 6 blog entries, we are not much for beach sitting. Don't get me wrong, I love sunburns, sand in my crotch, and overweight/underdressed people (in that order) but going to the beach is last on my list of things to do. So basically, we stopped and walked this beach in about half an hour in our shorts and t-shirts and avoided the swimsuit scene all together. I will say this is the most amazing beach I've been on. The sand was like silk and the water and waves were gorgeous. If I were going to "Go to the beach" (which you won't talk me into) this is the beach I'd go to.

A scenic overlook of a black sand beach.
Hapuna Beach

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hawaii Day 4-- Evening on the Big Island

For most of the afternoon we completed the drive from Kona around the island to Hilo. It was a beautiful drive, much like driving the California coast. There were little shops and villages along the way as well as lots of sand. We did get to see some cool birds, including Hawaii's state bird, the nene (Hawaiian goose). We also saw a peacock way out in the middle of nowhere. Though peacocks aren't native to Hawaii (Burma and India if you were wondering), they do have wild peacock colonies on the Big Island. So, yes, we saw wild peacocks. As you near Hilo you come to Volcanoes National Park. There is a visitor center like any other national park, and some drives and hikes that you can do as well. You may have seen in the news that one of the volcanoes in the park has been particularly active lately, so much of the park is off limits. You can still see the ash and smoke rising, and in the evening, the smoke glows orange over the crater. Mostly, there is a huge drive through vast fields of volcanic rock. It's sharp and black and everywhere. The drive takes you all the way down to the ocean, where, at the right times, you can see lava flowing into the water. (Of course, we were there at the wrong time). We enjoyed the park, but got rained on for much of the drive. We felt lucky this was about the only rain we saw in Hawaii.
Nenes

If we had been here at night, it would have glowed inside the hole over there.
You can see where the lava has spilled down into the ocean behind Natalie.

There was a really cool short hike there called the Thurston Lava Tube in which you hike down the throat of an extinct volcano. You wind your way through the lush rain forest and enter the tube, which is a perfectly round tunnel. The first portion of the tube, which everyone hikes, is lighted. It reminded me of walking through the (very) large intestine of a huge beast. Then, you come to an opening and you can follow the trail out, or pick up a flashlight and venture farther in. Of course, we ventured a little farther in. The flashlights that they provide must have cost at least a dollar each, and the batteries are probably replaced yearly, so by the time we left the light from the opening, we were scrambling through pitch black hoping not to crack our skulls on an overhanging rock. We went as far as we wanted and Natalie took a picture. The flash left me blind in the dark for a full minute as we stumbled back up the tube. It was a really fun hike, and easy enough for anyone to make.
Natalie about to enter the lava tube.

Randy inside the lava tube.

Can you see Randy down at the end of the lava tube?  

After the volcanoes, we reached Kona and checked into our hotel. It was "quaint" to borrow one term, "cheap" to borrow another. (I'd stay in an anthill if it was $3 cheaper, right?) The hotel was nice enough for one night, family owned and operated, and did provide breakfast. The staff there was amazing. They truly treated us like family. When I mentioned we were driving up to Mauna Kea and the observatory, they insisted we take blankets to wrap around us so we wouldn't freeze. They piled several in our arms as we left, and if they hadn't, I'd very likely still be on the mountain top-- a frozen popsicle statue of the former me.

The observatory is really cool. They say it is the premier observatory in the world for visitors, second only to the one in Antarctica (and it's much colder there) for viewing the stars. The drive up Mauna Kea is extremely steep. You start at sea level (of course) and climb 12,000 feet over fewer than 40 miles. But the road is paved, and the scenery is nice. We got a little rain on the drive up and the clouds were thick in the valley, but as we climbed we'd drive right through a cloud bank the way one might drive through a smoky house-- in one door, nearly blind for awhile, and then into the clear sky again. We passed through several of these cloud banks on our way to 12,000 feet. At the top, some volunteers had a bunch of telescopes set up. They do this every night for free. There are experts from the University of Hawaii, and locals who stargaze for the love of it, all volunteers. We looked at several galaxies, some that looked like dust, some like thumb prints, and some like clouds. The telescope trained on the moon was so clear you could easily identify individual craters, and I half expected to see the flag standing next to a moon buggy.  Finally, they turned the telescopes to Saturn, and you could very plainly see a bright little planet with rings coming around it. This amazed me more than anything on the trip and I looked at it through about 20 different telescopes and multiple times through the biggest telescopes. It was as if they had pasted a decal from a book about Saturn on the end of the telescope. We stayed until nearly 11 o'clock, sneaking peeks at the stars and Saturn before starting the long drive back to Hilo. This experience affected me so much, I've been studying the stars since I got home. In addition to Orion and the two dippers which I knew before, I'd now be happy to show you Pleiades, Cygnus, Betelgeuse, Vega, Sirius, Cassiopeia, and Taurus. For me, this was the highlight of the trip. (But not one we could take photos of!)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hawaii Day 4-- Morning on the Big Island

We woke up at about 4am to catch a flight over to Hawaii, better known as the Big Island. The pace of life on this island is more what you think Hawaii should be. There are much friendlier people, and the snarls of traffic are missing. Basically, our plan was to drive around the Big Island over 2 days, stopping to see the sights along the way. Our first stop was at the Kona LDS Temple. We didn't know there was a temple here until the day before we left, so we didn't plan a session. Also, it is a small temple meaning no rentals, and we didn't bring our duds. Also, sessions are practically "by appointment" it seems. They only hold a few sessions per day-- just 2 on Wednesdays. The grounds were beautiful, though, and we saw a real wild animal. I was surprised to see a mongoose running around the grounds. It turned out to be the first of about 10 mongooses we saw on Hawaii.


I know--it's not the best picture, but it is the only picture that we got of a mongoose.  They are so fast!
We also stopped for breakfast at a beach side restaurant. This seems pretty unremarkable unless you were there. We sat right on the pier over the ocean and listened to the shorebirds as we sipped orange juice and ate egg burritos and yogurt. It was beautiful and peaceful. A pleasant change from the chaos of Honolulu.

Eating by the beach.
After a stop at Snorkel Bob's to rent some gear, we went snorkeling at a popular bay called Kailua Bay in Kona. This snorkeling excursion was much better than the last. Though there were hundreds of people in the small cove, the water was far clearer, much shallower, and had many more fish. Within a few seconds we saw a sea turtle swim by close enough to touch (though that is a federal offense). The fish were far more diverse, and we shot another roll of underwater film. In addition, the coral was brighter and had sea urchins and we even saw a small eel hiding in the rocks. The most impressive thing I saw were 2 large purple/blue/yellow fish. They must have been 18 inches long and 8 inches "tall." We spent over an hour snorkeling here, and may have stayed longer, but Natalie swam into some coral again. Snorkeling was number one on my list of things to do in Hawaii, and this second experience was exactly what I had hoped.

The fish were definitely not afraid to be right next to you.
I thought this fish was so pretty with all of its colors.
An urchin

I loved seeing the sea turtles.

Randy snorkeling.

Hawaii Day 3-- Whale Watching Dinner Cruise

Okay, I admit it. The whale-watching cruise was a real bust. As a rule I avoid cruises because I don't like to get drunk, seasick (actually I never get seasick), or look at a lot of water, but Natalie really wanted to see some whales.

Our vessel was a Catamaran called the Aliki kai, and we had "preferred" seating, which cost $10 and meant we could sit by the window and eat first. Also, we got 2 complimentary alcoholic beverages instead of 1. The best part of the cruise was that they take your picture as you get aboard. Then for $10 you can buy a key chain with your picture in it. We took a really cute picture, so Natalie bought it so we can always remember our 3 hour tour aboard the Aliki Kai. The problem was dinner was bad. The food was supposed to be "traditional Hawaiian" but could be better described as "classically disgusting." In addition, the waitress actually brought me an alcoholic beverage despite the fact that I was quite clear that I wanted my specialty drink without. You'd think she could have remembered after her snarky comment about "people who are no fun!" By the end of the meal, when I was ready to go up and look for whales, Natalie was in the bathroom for the fourth time. Apparently, sailing is not in her blood. Thus ends her dream of becoming a commandant on a naval vessel. Oh, and did I mention that we didn't see any whales? Apparently, whale season is pretty much over, and the boat had seen whales only once in the last couple of weeks. A lot of drunk people enjoyed the dancing on the ship, though. And we have a snazzy keychain that will always remind us of our time on the Aliki Kai.

Our boat

Natalie did enjoy the sunset because she hadn't gotten sick yet!

Randy enjoyed the boat ride despite sending most of it alone.

Natalie in one of her few moments of not feeling sick.

Hawaii Day 3-- Canoe/Hike/Snorkel

Our third day in Hawaii was a lot fun-- but the most expensive of all. We talked to the concierge and arranged a canoe trip for the day. That night we booked a whale watching dinner cruise. The total bill for the 2 of us was nearly 500 bucks! It was worth it, though, especially since the snorkeling and whale-watching in Utah really stinks.

About nine o'clock we drove across the island again, over to the east side. There we met with our kayaking guides. After packing up our lunch and gear, we went over to Kaupo Beach. Just off the beach, there is a small islet called Manana Island. It is unique in its formation and history for lots of stuff, notably, having a small volcano caldera mostly visible, being an ex-rabbit island, and serving as the only breeding ground for wedge-tailed shearwater birds. The plan was to canoe the 2+ miles over to the island, do a little exploring and hiking, and then canoe back for a little snorkeling.

We started with a canoeing lesson. Natalie really liked this because of the rules involved. First, the largest (fattest) person should sit in the back. Second, the person in the front does all the leading. Basically, whatever she did with her oar, I was supposed to do. In addition, she got to call steering commands: "Two on the right," to turn left, "Back Paddle," to slow or conduct a tight turn, etc. I got to sit in the back and take commands.

Working together, though, it was amazing how quickly we covered the distance to the island. It was a little frightening, as the water was about 20 feet deep, and the canoe was fairly unstable (not a wooden or metal dinghy that you take out on a lake, but a piece of plastic about 4 inches deep). We made the trip to the island pretty safely, but landing the canoe was another matter. As nearly as I can tell, the proper landing technique is to jump out and try not to tip the canoe or drown. It seems easy enough, but becomes quite difficult in the choppy water. It was bad at Manana because of the way the island sits at an angle to a second, rockier island. Anyway, we survived, and we didn't even lose our lunches (or other gear).

The island was very impressive. The shearwater birds were nesting everywhere. This is a sanctuary, so you can't bother them, but they are so near that you had to be careful not to step on them. They nest in little holes in the ground under nearly every bush or overhang that you pass. The island is mostly volcanic rock, which made hiking around it difficult, particularly in bare feet (which I tried, only to break off a toe nail) and not much easier in flip-flops. To make matters worse, we skirted the island on jagged rocks climbing and dashing over the rills while waves pounded around us, threatening to smash us against the cliffs. It was pretty amazing.

On the far side of the island, sits the caldera of the volcano. It has mostly collapsed, leaving a one-quarter shaped cone, with a jut of rock which used to be the other side of the caldera on the opposite side. This makes a "V" of ocean that comes into the base of the caldera which is very deep called the Queen's Bathtub. It is the perfect place for cliff-jumping. The jump was around 30 feet, and the water at the bottom is calm due to the V. It does occasionally swell and rise as a big wave comes in, but this made it more like a roller coaster than a CIA interrogation. I really like cliff-jumping and took full advantage, but even more fun to me is watching people who are too frightened to cliff jump crouch querulously on the edge and try to talk themselves into taking the plunge.

After hiking back to the beach for lunch, we canoed back across to Oahu. This trip was eventful because we saw what looked like a paper bag floating in the water. Soon we realized it was a sea turtle. As our canoe approached within about 10 feet of him, he rolled over on his back and raised a flipper, which looked exactly like he was waving hello (though more probably he was "giving us the flipper.")

When we got back to Kaupo Beach, we had about an hour to snorkel. The snorkeling at this beach isn't great, in fact, it isn't even good, but we did see a few tangs and other brightly colored fish. The water was calm and shallow, but a little cloudy and our pictures with the underwater camera didn't turn out too well. To us, though, who'd never snorkeled before, this was the highlight of the trip so far. Though Natalie has told me she's not a good swimmer many times, she was very brave and swam out quite far with me. I realized later, when she smashed her knee into a rock multiple times that what she meant was that, though she could swim, she's pretty clumsy in the water! That coral is not only delicate, but sharp!

Randy on the beach waiting for his kayaking lesson.  Can you see the island we are heading to right behind him?
Randy with his paddle.  He was a great partner.


The shearwater birds in their nest.

Randy and Natalie on the hike over to the caldera.

Randy jumping into the Queen's Bathtub.

He survived!

Our sea turtle sighting.  That is his head poking out of the water.
I didn't get a picture of him flippering us off!

Randy heading out to snorkel.

One of our underwater pictures of the yellow Tang fish.

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