Posts from the ‘Fun stuff’ Category

Hello Thirty-One

My birthday was on Sunday, just a couple of days ago. I turned 31, which doesn’t seem like a particularly remarkable age. I already did the big three-oh last year, so now I’m just glad that I’ll be in the low end of a decade for a few more years before ruing the onset of the forties. It is a prime number, which is kind of interesting, but that’s pretty much it.

I really love birthdays; it always feels like such a special day to me, one that only happens once a year and must be savored due to its infrequency. This year was a little bit different, though. With so much going on and being so busy, it was a little hard to remember it was coming up and to ramp up the excitement for it. By popular demand, I did decide to have my signature birthday party again this year. While it was a bit of work to pull a party together in the midst of packing and moving, it did finally draw attention to the fact my birthday was coming up and helped me finally get into the spirit.

The “Slash Bash,” a devastatingly clever name born out of inadvertent punctuation, is a birthday party/fall festival/masquerade ball that I’ve thrown every year or so for the last ten years. In fact, I believe 2012 marked the tenth anniversary of the first Slash Bash I had back in college. The attendees have changed throughout the years, but it’s always been a fun time to celebrate with my friends. This year it was also a bit of a going-away party, too. I wanted to thank my friends for the years of friendship and wish them well as we move onto a new chapter in our lives.

While there might not be that much that’s notable about turning 31 in general, there is indeed one notable thing about this year. It was ten years ago, around the time of the first Slash Bash, that DH and I got together. While we’d known each other for a couple of years through our campus ministry, it wasn’t until the end of our Sophomore year that we started talking more. We both stayed in town for the summer doing various things before the semester started, and we got to know each other a bit better during a summer Bible study. Then when Junior year started, we began spending a lot more time together.

I remember him helping me with decorations and such for the Slash Bash at the end of October before my birthday. We were hanging out a lot; it seemed ridiculously obvious that we liked each other. But we weren’t going out on dates or anything, just hanging out a lot, so that made it less definitive to determine if our relationship had changed into something else. I suppose we were both a little shy to talk about it, but finally when he kissed me for the first time, it seemed pretty evident where things were going. :pĀ  That was probably the best birthday present ever.

Except the pair of flaming Vans I got that year. Those were ridiculously awesome, too.

Happy “Anniversary,” BT3. May God allow us many, many more.

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There and back again

Long time no blog. Sorry for the lack of posting in the last few weeks, but I do have a good excuse. I’m sure you won’t fault me for it.

In order to celebrate my completion of graduate school and achievement of my PhD, DH volunteered to take me on a very nice trip. We spent a lot of time figuring out where we wanted to go and when we would be able to go there. There has been a lot going on with finishing up my work and interviewing for jobs and this and that; however, we decided that if we waited for “just the right time” to go somewhere, we’d never end up going, because there just is never the perfect time. So we decided to go ahead and just book a trip and let the rest of everything going on happen around it.

There are many attractive and interesting destinations around the world, and we considered many different possibilities. However, in the end I decided that if I got to go anywhere, I wanted to go to Paris. I took so many years of French in high school and college and even excelled at it, and, though I’m quite rusty now, I’ve always had a desire to go to France and experience the culture about which I had learned for so long. Plus, traveling to an international destination was one of the biggest items on our 101-in-1001 lists, and we got to check that off!

Since we were planning to get the most out of this opportunity to cross the pond, we decided to take two entire weeks to travel over there. While I could happily spend two weeks in Paris, we decided to actually see some other sights while we were over there. We ultimately decided on a multi-city itinerary, connecting the cities by train.

We started off with six nights in Paris, where we rented an apartment just south of Gare du Nord and Montmartre. We purchased a Paris Museum Pass for six days. I very highly recommend this pass, which gives you entry into most of Paris’ main attractions (Eiffel Tower being the main exception) for two, four, or six consecutive days. You skip the ticket line just about everywhere and go directly in, saving significant time (though you will often have to stand in a security line regardless; can’t bypass that!). It also gave us entrance to a few sights we wouldn’t have thought to do before, plus, to be perfectly honest, we used it a couple of times for entrance to museums so we could use the facilities. However, these were at least educational and edifying potty breaks. šŸ˜‰ I also highly recommend a good travel guide; I used the one by Rick Steves for both Paris and Rome and found it to be invaluable for suggestions on beating crowds, saving Euros, and walking about town.

With six days, we did pretty much everything we wanted to do in the city with a little time to be relaxed about it. However, that doesn’t mean we didn’t walk probably ten or fifteen miles every single day! My feet and back were complaining a bit, but we saw a lot of the town on foot. We did make strategic use of the Metro and suburban train system, too. Paris is really great about that. We covered all the big sites: the Louvre, Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame (including climbing the towers), Arc de Triomphe, a walking tour of Montmartre, the Orsay Museum, and more. We also discovered a number of smaller gems thanks to the Museum Pass and the travel guide.

Paris was probably my favorite destination, though I certainly enjoyed our other stops, too. I certainly hope to go back again one day! I’d also love to explore more of France outside the city.

My favorite view of Notre Dame….I like big buttresses and I cannot lie.

Eiffel Tower by night…and I did go all the way to the top!

One of the many ornate bridges across the Seine.

After our stint in Paris, we caught a train to Zurich. We overnighted there before a train through the Alps over Gotthard Pass into northern Italy, but we enjoyed our time walking around the old town and feeding swans and ducks by the lake. We also purchased lots of chocolate, though we were a bit disappointed to not find any actual chocolatiers in town. We had really wanted to do fondue while we were there, but despite lots of research and investigation, we just couldn’t come up with a plan to work for our one evening there. Plus, it’s not really fondue season just yet.

Old town Zurich on the Limmat River.

Duck….duck…..swan!

Our scenic train trip through the Alps was an intentional destination in our itinerary, and it was really awesome to see, even if just through a train window. That unfortunately didn’t make for very nice pictures to show you.

After a train switch in Milan, we headed to Venice for two days. Venice is such an interesting city; while there are some interesting sights there, like the Doge’s Palace and San Marco’s Basilica, Venice itself is the most interesting sight. Our experience there was particularly “interesting” because of our lodging. The landlady at the bed and breakfast didn’t speak any English (her husband did, but he was evidently out of town), and for some reason this destination was fraught with a handful of small hiccups. However, after much gesturing and nodding, everything turned out just fine; we had a nice place to stay, and made it to our final destination without further incident.

A typical canal in Venice.

After that, we topped off our trip with four days in Rome. We rented a nice apartment literally steps from the Vatican Wall and museum entrance. In the Eternal City, we invested in a Roma Pass, which gave us two free entrances to sights, but we found it to be worth it particularly for the metro and bus pass. By this point we were exhausted from walking across three countries (four if you count the Vatican), and we used every opportunity to ride the metro there. I can’t count how many times we transferred at Termini station. But otherwise, Rome was very walkable, maybe even moreso than Paris.

The Colosseum

Rome is such an old and interesting city. We saw ancient sights and “modern” Baroque buildings literally side-by-side. We also were very excited to have the unique opportunity to see the Vatican Museum on Friday evening. They open late on Fridays a few months out of the year, so we reserved our spot ahead of time and completely beat the enormous lines that we saw every single day there. We also went to St. Peter’s Basilica and climbed to the top of the dome, which was a bit claustrophobic and nerve-wracking but worth the effort. And the church itself is just enormous beyond description.

View from the very top of the cupola of St. Peter’s.

Admiring the dome of the Pantheon

We flew home from Rome after 14 days of traveling. All in all, it seemed like a pretty good division of time between cities, though we’d like to actually see more of Switzerland another time. We also enjoyed the experience of train travel, though arranging four separate tickets did get a bit tricky on the front end. But the time I invested in carefully planning our itinerary, travel, and lodging seemed to pay off with few, minor hiccups along the way.

We got back on Tuesday night, and we were absolutely exhausted! We pretty much walked everywhere, with modest support from metro and buses. DH came home a little sick, and I’m still a little tired and having a hard time not waking up too early. But it was still a lot of fun. My parents came to house sit and watch the dog for us, which was great. They enjoyed a mini-vacation away from home, and we didn’t have to worry about our pup getting lonely or in trouble. I think it worked out well for everyone.

So now we’d just trying to get back to normal, though “normal” is not a word that is really describing our life at the moment. If our two-week trip to Europe was big, then what happened when we got back was totally epic. I’ll have to tell you all about that next time.

P.S. A special thanks to my followers who are travel bloggers and francophiles whose adventures inspired me on my trip! Bon voyage!

It was a dark and stormy night…

DH and I took a tour of Wind Cave while we were in South Dakota a couple of weeks ago. While on the tour, our guide performed a very standard cave tour ritual–our whole group sat on a row of benches, and she turned all the built-in lighting off. There you sit, hundreds of feet underground in total darkness and silence; no stray beam of natural light could make its way to you there. Our guide then pointed out that the first cave explorers did so by the mere glow of lantern light. She demonstrated with an actual candle in a lantern…it was not very bright at all but gave off an eerie glow across the rock formations on the walls and ceiling of the cave.

Last night I cam home from an exercise class around 9 p.m. It had been raining on and off all afternoon and evening with the occasional burst of lightening around the sky. I pulled into the driveway, mashing on the garage door opener to no avail. I supposed the battery must have died, so I hopped out of my car to try the remote keypad mounted to the side of the garage door. Nada. I wasn’t sure what the deal was, so I just parked in the driveway and went inside.

I quickly figured out what what going on…the electricity was out. The appliances were off and, the light switches did nothing. I scrounged around for some flashlights and dug out a pile of candles to light in the kitchen. After determining it wasn’t just a breaker on our house, I called the power company to report the outage. I assumed it was related to the storms going on, but I wasn’t sure. An automated message said they estimated the power to return just after midnight. There was no real point it waiting up just to see the lights come back on, so I got ready for bed by candlelight, then snuggled on the couch with the dog and a book for a bit of reading before heading to bed.

Having no electricity for the evening reminded me of being in the cave. No light to be had other than some small, flickering tongues of flame, the harsh white light of an LED flashlight, or the glow of my telephone screen. And with all the appliances and electronics off, it was eerily quiet. It’s amazing how accustomed we are to the electric hum that’s constantly around us 24/7.

Unfortunately, this also meant the dog could now hear every molecule banging together in the air, and he felt the need to bark at every little whisper of something he heard. I’m sure this was exacerbated by the fact that he knew DH was gone and that it was just a little eerie with the lights off. Well, at least he’s, presumably, a good guard dog, right?

It was dark and quiet when I went to bed, but it was bright and humming when I woke up this morning. I’m thankful that if the electricity had to go off, it at least picked a cool summer night when nothing really was going on instead of a cold day when I was dependent on heat (we don’t have a fireplace, gas or wood, in the house) or an evening when we had a lot of people over. Either way, it’s kind of nice to know you can get by unplugged if needed, at least for a little while. I felt slightly helpless for a few moments, then I realized I could manage just fine. The biggest inconvenience was not being able to see, though I mostly remedied that by candlelight. Long term, though, we depend on it for keeping and cooking food, for washing clothes, heating water, and other basic tasks required for modern convenience. A lot more planning and preparedness would be required to do without electricity for a longer period of time. I mean, people did this for millenia and managed just fine; you just have to get used to it.

Either way, an evening of books by candlelight wasn’t so bad, actually.

 

Head for the hills!

DH and I took advantage of a free weekend to do something we’ve been meaning to do for a while–take a trip up to the Black Hills area of South Dakota. This isn’t one of our 101-in-1001 travel items, but it should have been (we might have to substitute it for another one, though). Since I haven’t been anywhere since Christmas (and then we just went home to visit) and it might be a little while yet till our proper celebratory vacation, it was much needed and surprisingly effective, even if it was just a two day trip.

The trip to the scenic location unfortunately required a six hour drive across the absolute bleakness of eastern Wyoming. However, DH and I kept ourselves entertained by listening to the Grand Ole Opry live and some old Hank Williams, Sr. recordings–huzzah for satellite radio. Finally we made it to our hotel and began exploring the area the next morning.

The Black Hills region, located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, is characterized by dramatic granite hills and spires, rugged and inhospitable buttes, and rolling plains.

These granite hills are home to one of the most iconic monuments in America, Mount Rushmore.

DH and I visited Mt. Rushmore in the evening. We were tired and hungry after a long day and really debated whether to stay for the nightly lighting ceremony. While standing right there, we decided to look up and watch a video of the lighting ceremony on YouTube. So we got to see it while not actually having to stay to see the real thing.

Okay, okay. I’m kidding. Well, about the leaving part that is; I’m quite serious about watching the video. šŸ˜‰ We poked around the gift shop long until it time for the show, so we stayed. It was quite patriotic and dramatic, and while it was late when it ended, we were glad we stayed. And at the end of the ceremony all the veterans were invited to the front to state their name and service, and a few helped take down the flag for the evening. It was quite a meaningful experience.

Earlier that day, we did some scenic driving in the hills. We walked through historic Deadwood, the iconic wild west town, and drove through Sturgis, motorcycle mecca. I personally didn’t find it very exciting, but that’s just me. We also drove east towards the Badlands, first stopping at Wall Drug in the city of Wall. This is quite possibly the most awesome tourist trap ever. Featuring five cent cups of coffee, free ice water, a tyrannosaurus rex, and home-made donuts, it’s just about as close to Disneyland as you can come in the middle of nowhere. And of course, any day you get to sit on a large jackelope is a good day.

Moving on from the drug store took us to the Badlands themselves. This is an interesting geologic feature, a cross between the Grand Canyon and desert buttes. It really is quite desolate.

The next morning we spent driving around Custer State Park, which features both the granite hills and the rolling plains. The plains are home to lots of interesting animals like deer and pronghorns. We even saw a turkey and a roadrunner while there, two birds you don’t just come across every day. However, there are two more notable creatures in the park. First is a very large herd of bison, which we were excited to see during our drive.

The other interesting herd is a pack of burros, the descents of a herd used by pioneers. Evidently, they are also called the “begging burros,” for very obvious reasons. Say cheese, guys.

Our last stop on our way out of town was Wind Cave, a national park just south of Custer State Park. This is one of the longest caves in the world, with 138 miles currently explored but over 2,000 miles suspected to be lurking under just a few square miles above. DH and I took a cave tour (a mere two miles) before heading back home.

All in all, it was a great trip, short but full of interesting sights. We might have enjoyed another day to spread out our excursions, but we did everything we wanted to do and didn’t feel horribly pressed for time. We also picked a great weekend to go; it had been very hot, but it was cloudy and cool all weekend. I think it rained at home the entire time we were gone, too, so I’m glad we got rain but didn’t have to wade out in in.

It might be a little out of the way, but if you’re ever in the area or can make the trip, I highly recommend it!

“The bombs bursting in air…”

This weekend we marked another 101-in-1001 item off our list (three in one week isn’t bad!).

Every year, the baseball team hosts three fireworks games–two around Independence Day and one for their last home game of the season. We’ve always wanted to go one, and this year we finally made it. I think I delayed on this one because I thought it would be a crowded, crazy mess to deal with (these are always sell-out games). It wasn’t too terrible, although parking prices around the stadium were artificially inflated due to demand. We also seemed stuck in a bit more traffic than usual after the game. Anyways, it was a neat experience.

The game was a commanding victory, which is always exciting. Then, after the game finished, all those seated in the two big sections underneath where the fireworks were being shot off were lead out onto the outfield to watch the show. This seriously took almost half an hour, but it was interesting to watch the mass chaos unfold until everyone finally got seated. The show itself was great; lots of interesting fireworks, patriotic music, and a quite ridiculous finale. This seemed like the perfect kind of activity to have on our list…fun and easily doable and prolongedly procrastinated.Ā  šŸ˜‰

A photo of fireworks from a phone camera is hopelessly blurry. Ah well.

 

 

 

14,278 ft.

There are 54 (more or less) mountain peaks in Colorado with the distinction of having summits over 14,000 ft. above sea level. These mountains are lovingly called “fourteeners.” A favorite pastime in Colorado is “peak bagging,” in which someone seeks to climb as many 14,000+ peaks as possible. It’s pretty common to hear of folks bagging all 54 (more or less). This is not, however, very common to hear in our household.

The only fourteener we’d ever bagged was Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs, which we did by cog railway train one Memorial Day a few years ago. No sweat. However, on our 101-in-1001 list, we did put “climb” a fourteener as one of our local to-dos. I did put the word in quotes so we could count Mt. Evans if we got the opportunity to do that one day (Evans and Pikes Peak are the only two you can drive to the top of).

I didn’t really anticipate actually climbing one; in my mind I always saw it as quite a challenging task well beyond my skill and fitness level. And indeed, there are many peaks that require technical rock climbing and very long trails to the top. Furthermore, a significant mountain climb requires a ridiculously early start, as dangerous thunderstorms are prone to pop up at any time in the afternoon out of the clear blue, leaving you utterly defenseless on the bare face. Ideally, you should be well on your way back down by noon. Plus, hiking at such altitude is not trivial even for the fit.

However, over the years I heard from various people that there were some peaks that were actually more accessible in both their location as well as their technical difficulty. In fact, a few were within an hour drive of Denver with well established hiking trails to the top, making it unnecessary to get there before dawn in order to get on the trail early enough. With some trailheads starting “just” 3,000 ft. below the summit, the overall distance to the peak is even downright reasonable.

DH and I had been pondering the idea of doing one of these so-called “easy” peaks at some point, but it was hard to know where to start, as we don’t have much experience in the area.Ā  However, we were recently talking with multiple friends at various times who recommended one to us as a good one for “beginners.” Grays Peak is just a short drive from Denver, and its proximity and well-marked trail make it a very popular hike for locals. It’s also a two-for-one; with minimal (relatively) effort, you can summit Grays and take a short hike over a saddle over to Torreys Peak, also 14,000+ ft, and bag two in one trip.

We thought we might work our way up to it with a few lower altitude hikes throughout the summer, but when our friend said he was thinking of taking a casual “stroll” up Grays in his spare time, we decided it would behoove us to take advantage of the opportunity to go with an experienced outdoors-man who’s done a few of these before. Therefore, we packed up our gear in our truck and headed out to hit the trail with three of our good friends.

The weather could not have been more perfect for climbing a fourteener. Not a single cloud in the sky, and no threat of thunderstorms all day. It was over 100 in Denver, so the temp was really not cold at all at altitude. There were a few strong gusts of wind, but not prolonged and manageable.

Destination: Grays Peak: 14,278 ft. and ~4 miles. As seen from the trailhead.

We started off a little less than ideal, though; as this is a popular destination on a summer Saturday, it seemed like all of Denver was there. We parked 1.5 miles below the trailhead, so we had a decent hike in before we even got started. However, once we got going, we managed a pretty good slow and steady pace up through the broad meadow to the base of the mountain. A couple of people from our group decided to take it easy and decided not to go all the way, and around 12,500 ft. the rest of us started up the actual mountain face.

The key to hiking at such high altitude is to take it super slow and steady. There’s also no shame in taking many breaks, even just a few hundred feet apart, especially as you get up around 14,000 ft. Even the most fit people are doing the same thing; your body just can’t function the same with so much less oxygen, plus you’re climbing, too, after all. Slow and steady wins the race here.

At one point nearing the top, our group of three stopped to rest, and after a few minutes I told DH and our friend that I’d go ahead and start my slow plod up the mountain, figuring that they’d eventually catch up to me before the summit. The distance between us waxed and waned for a while, but before I knew it, I looked back and couldn’t see them at all! Somehow, even at such high altitude, I had hit a stride, and even with slow plodding and frequent rests, I was steadily ascending to the top. At the last switchback before summiting, I looked down to see DH and my friend on their way. I decided to hang back a few minutes so we could summit together. Sure enough, we all made it to the top.

The top of a 14-er….popular tourist destination with traffic jams!

And by “all,” I do mean half of the Denver metro area. Like I said, it’s a very popular trail, and it was quite packed with people all the way along it; that made a few of the rockier and steeper sections a bit more fun to navigate. However, our trusty guide led us to a little hidey hole away from the crowd where we could lounge out of the wind, eat some food, and take in the blue sky. It was almost like being at the beach. Almost.

Just chillin’ at 14,278 ft.

It’s quite an amazing view from the top of such a mountain. You could see so many miles in all directions. I could see ski resorts, the interstate, reservoirs, and other mountains I recognized. I could even see smoke from the High Peak fire in Ft. Collins. It’s quite a change in perspective.

From the top of Grays, it’s a nary but a quick jaunt over to Torreys across the saddle. However, it was getting pretty late and we were pretty tired (I’d spent that extra 1.5 miles hiking from the car to the trailhead), and we still had to get down the mountain. So that will have to wait for another day.

You are parked here…and you’ve gotta get back there somehow!

You would probably imagine that it’s all downhill from here, right? Well, you’d technically be correct, but people usually don’t appreciate how difficult downhill can be. The trail was very loose and quite steep in places, meaning you had to be very careful with your footing lest you slip off the trail and down the face. Hiking down a steep incline is also quite hard on your legs and knees. Therefore, we didn’t make any better time going down than we did going up until we got back to the broader, more meadow-like area. And by then, my legs were so tired that even the smallest step down over a rock was a potential hazard for tripping or twisting an ankle. My legs were sooo tired by the time we got back to the trailhead that I almost thought I couldn’t take one more step without resting. (I also had to pee pretty significantly at that point, making it even more miserable…I’ve never been so excited to see a vault toilet in my life) However, I dug down and found the strength to make it back. My quads were terribly sore for about two or three days, though, and I was completely exhausted and good for nothing on Sunday!

All in all, it was a good experience, despite the exhaustion near the end. There’s no way I could have done this without having trained for the 10K run in the past months; that gave me the cardio capacity and some more leg endurance to tackle it. A hike or two at lower elevations probably would have been good, but we still managed alright. DH did have a bit of altitude sickness, but despite not feeling great he still had a stellar performance. We may or may not tackle another “easy” one in the future, but at least we can say we’ve done it, and we’ve cross another 101-in-1001 item off our list. Very satisfying.

“String theory”

Last Friday night I went to a scrapbooking crop night at a friend’s house. Now, I don’t scrapbook at all; however, she has crop night once a month, and she is nice enough to let me come over and knit and eat M&M’s while everybody else crops. Then I also get the satisfaction of watching other people use pretty paper without feeling the insatiable need to buy it myself. Sounds like a win-win to me. I haven’t been able to go in the last couple months, what with defending my thesis and graduation, so I was glad to be able to come back for this one. I got to visit with some of my friends and got some productive knitting time in.

I’m not sure what the deal is, but I’ve completely lost my knitting mojo since the beginning of the year. I know I was busy for a while with thesis stuff, but usually it’s something fun I can do to relax. Plus, I’ve had a lot of down time while watching the X-Files that would have been perfect for knitting. However, I’d try to get out my current project and make some progress but soon lose interest. For some reason, I’ve just been totally uninspired. A few weeks ago I thought about even starting a new project to get myself motivated, but that certainly didn’t happen, either. However, it appears that forcing myself to knit at the crop night has finally given me a boost; at least over the weekend I cranked through a few squares and still feel motivated to do more. Hopefully I’ve crested the peak and am now coasting downhill on this project; it would be great to get another 101-in-1001 item done!

While at the crop, my friend’s cat decided to take a nap on top of my knitting bag. I’m sure it was comfy because it was full of squishy yarn, so she made herself at home while I worked. However, she did finally notice the actual yarn I was working with, and that certainly got her attention.

I call that “string theory.” When I finally made her scram so I could get more yarn, she meandered around and visited some other folks. Then she found an empty box to play in. A cat in a box…for a physicist, the joke just writes itself. However, not all my friends were familiar with Schrodinger’s cat in a box paradox, so my joke fell as flat as, well, a collapsed wavefunction.

Maybe this is why physicists aren’t invited over to play with normal people all that often.