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This last year, I made and kept a resolution to do something from my life list every month. Even though 2010 was a hard year, I've had some good experiences along the way. Some of them happened by themselves, but the monthly time limit prodded me into action in some cases, and my year would have been poorer without the bathshower, the gingerbread pagoda, or riding a tandem.

So, here's to 2011! I hereby resolve to do, see, learn, create or experience something awesome from my life list every month.

1. Make a bento box (January, Little Prince themed)
2. Make a Super Epic Rainbow Cake (February, consumed watching Wizard of Oz and listening to Dark Side of the Moon - Super Epic Dark Side of the Rainbow Cake)
3. Edit wikipedia (February). My entry even made it to the front page a couple of days later.
4. Learn to chop wood with an axe (March)
5. See the tulip fields in Amsterdam (April)
6. Find the Blowing Stone near the Uffington White Horse (May)
7. Make a rock balance sculpture (May, Pololu Beach, Hawai'i)
8. Go swimming in the rain (June, Hampstead Heath mixed bathing pond)
9. Run a 5km race in less than 30 minutes (July, Hampstead Heath Parkrun, 27 minutes 35 seconds)
10. Go to an open air cinema (August, Scott Pilgrim and Princess Bride at Somerset House)
11. Make my mark in wet cement (August, wrote my name and some hearts)
12. Visit Iceland (August/September)
13. See the Aurora Borealis (August/September)
14. Stand on a glacier (September)
15. See the Thames barrier closed during the yearly test (October)
16. Make out in the backseat of a bus and in the back row of the cinema (October, Ghostbusters)
17. Visit a ghost tube station (November, Aldwych Station)
18. Write a personal mission statement (December, "Make life an adventure")
19. Build and sleep in a blanket fort (December)

Fearless

Dec. 23rd, 2010 12:15 am
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I love snow. Snow angels, snowball fights, snowman-building and sledging. After spending a lot of yeaterday afternoon whistling down the hill on a plastic sack stuffed with newspaper, always just-once-more away from giving up and going in to get warm, I found that my favourite way was to lie on my back hugging my knees, gazing at the sky and just feeling the world whiz past me. The flat grey sky lulled my half-frozen mind into a sort of meditative state where I was experiencing the sensation of the fall to the full, but wasn't trying to control it in any way. Forgetting unexpected mole-hills and the fence at the bottom, I put myself entirely at the mercy of chance. A little earlier, Tim and I had attempted a Red Arrows-style crossing using intersecting toboggan runs, but I'd been too nervous, sitting up straight and foot-braking unconciously. On the last one-more-for-luck run, I was swooping down the hill in my zen-like state when I heard a yell, and Tim sped past just above my head. A perfect crossing.

Today I walked alone in the snowy woods as dusk was gathering, when I realised that I was not afraid. This was so surprising to me, I felt for a few moments as if I had actually been shot as I entered the wood - I had heard a nearby gunshot from hunters after deer or pheasants - and as though I'd been bleeding my life away until I was just a ghost walking through the trees. I felt alert and joyful, and realised that it is in the narrow territory that is being adventurous, but not to the point of stupidity or fearfulness, that I feel most completely alive.
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As we came over the crest of the ridge, the sunset light swept upwards from the low grey clouds like a crown over Silbury Hill. We scattered some ashes in memory of the last time we were there, in the late afternoon golden hour instead of gathering dusk.

We had timed the start of our assault perfectly, and at my insistance, we took a couple of minutes to remove any bright articles of clothing. Humming the "Mission Impossible" theme, I ducked first through the barbed wire. I confidently dropped the rucksacks across the electric fence and took a big stride over, but took a zap to the wobbly inner thigh. Mum had the bright idea of using the map to pull the top strand down, and so saved us any further tasings. Across the sheep field, over another electric fence and through a final barbed wire barrier, and then a scramble to the top.

I reached the abrupt summit first, and sprawled flat on my back in some lush grass. The sky seemed to go on forever in every direction, and for a moment, all noise receded save for the wind, and it felt eerily like I was completely alone in the world. It was as though I'd been placed on an alter as an offering from the earth to the sky. I felt completely and gratefully open.

The traffic noise returned, and I sat up to see Mum arrive at the top. We looked at the view, and saw that the man-made hill does indeed sit in the centre of a gentle bowl of hills. We completed our simple ritual, and left without fuss.

As we got to the bottom, we noticed a group of people standing around at the official viewing point. They seemed to be there a long time, as we climbed over the fence and walked towards the car park, and although their faces were pale blurs in the dusk, I could sense their disapproval. They left their post at just such a time as they might intercept us as we returned to the car. Keen to avoid a ticking-off by people who didn't understand our motives, we lurked outside the car park and then ducked through the trees and over another fence to avoid them.

We high-fived to celebrate a mission accomplished.
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This week, I've made rainbow-painted flip-flops for Tim, an ipod armband for hands-free jogging, and carved a tiger pumpkin. I should make stuff more often...
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Fields blanketed in a soft silver coverlet of a hundred thousand dandelion clocks. As my Dad and I walk along the dirt path by the woods in the evening sunshine, eddies of tiny parachutes stirred up by our feet dance around our ankles.

Carpets of eye-bright bluebells in the soft slanting light filtered through the beech trees.

On the first hot day of summer, I lie in the grass in the shade of the pear tree. Without my glasses, the bright scraps of sunlight between the leaves are changed into heavy golden fruit hanging from the tree.

As we drive on motorways, crowds of oxeye daisies cheer from the stands.

I eat my cereal on the steps outside. Pico is rolling and purring in joy at being stroked in the bright morning sunshine. A couple of escaped cosmos flowers bloom in the gaps between the paving slabs.

Cornfields are struck bright gold by an invisible sun as thunderous grey clouds hang overhead, so for a short time, the roles of sky and earth are reversed.

Chile

Jun. 14th, 2010 07:01 pm
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This was my third trip to Chile, it's starting to feel familiar now. I hadn't stayed in La Serena before, and I loved the little box-shaped houses with their elaborate grilled shutters, every one a different vibrant colour: red, orange, brown, peach, pink, yellow, green, blue, lilac. It's a pretty town to walk around, especially near sunset. In the compound, there were abundant bright flowers of every variety.

A little museum in town has one of the Rapa Nui moai. I couldn't shake the feeling that it was lonely there, and wanted to be back on Easter Island.

I went a few times to the beach, which was a longish walk out of the university part of the town. The first time I went, I managed to get lost trying to find my way home, and was worried I wouldn't make it back before the gate shut. I finally located a taxi rank with the help of some locals, and crammed into the last seat in a taxi driven by the Evil Knievel of La Serena. I made it back in one piece, though it felt like a close run thing. The beach itself was lovely sand and wide ocean, though fairly touristy.

Cerro Pachon is something else. Cerro Tololo is a few pinheads glinting silver in the sun a few miles away, but apart from that, the two telescopes separated by a knife-edge ridge stand alone in the endless mountains. I explored the dusty hills around there a little, though I stayed close to the road as I was sure I spotted cougar prints. I suppose the cougars are happy enough with the donkeys and goats that roam the rocky slopes, but I wasn't prepared to take the chance.

When it is clear, the sky is crystalline, the Milky Way spread across it like a slug trail of divine proportions. One night, I watched as the moon set over the mountains, glowing as orange as a burning coal. One of the most beautiful times is walking down the mountain in the morning. At first, the air is cool and the gentle pastel sky is full of light above the shadowy landscape, but as the pinks and yellows disperse and the sun rises above the peaks, the brightness becomes unbearable and the sky turns cobalt blue.

I came down from the telescope only the day before the earthquake.

Stonehenge

Jun. 4th, 2010 09:32 am
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I finally got to see Stonehenge up close at the Winter Solstice. Waking at some horrendous hour in the morning, we (my parents, Tim and I) shovelled down porridge, in an attempt to keep us warm from the inside. We set off in the dark, arriving at Stonehenge in a strange half-light in which hooded figures shuffled in a ragged line past security men in luminous yellow vests who handed out fliers with a list of rules. They held us in the carpark for five or ten minutes, and then we flooded through the gates and underground tunnel, and out to where Stonehenge stood grey against a grey sky and blanket of white snow.

I headed over straight away to touch one of the stones, and felt a thrill of excitement as I laid my hands on a stone that had been deliberately set there thousands and thousands of years ago in what must have taken high engineering skill as well as unbelievable physical force. I then went to see the ceremony in the centre of the stones, where there were a ragtag group of druids and followers ranging from the traditional druid look of clean white robes and silver circlets, to brightly coloured dreadlocks and muddy jeans, via a wide range of velvet cloaks. There was also a bald girl in a white dress with a big muddy patch on her bottom, dancing to a drummer, and several monks in hooded brown robes with bows on their backs. We weren't entirely sure that the bows would have traditionally been made from carbon fibre, though.

I wasn't entirely impressed with the ceremony going on in the centre of the stones, so wandered over to the heelstone, where a different head druid - there are several warring, or at least sniping, factions - was performing another ceremony. This one was much less pompous, and he amused me no end when he finished by parodying a parody of himself: "As above, so below. Stones are open... let's go!".

It was a little disappointing not to see the sunrise, but Stonehenge looked so lovely in the snow that I think that was more than enough to make up for the grey mist that never lifted. It was really special to finally be able to see the stones up close, and I loved the atmosphere of the event.


I've since been to the Spring Equinox event, and that was great too - even if it was grey and rainy, and we didn't see the sunrise then either! I plan to miss the summer one. My dad went last year and said it was horrible - thousands and thousands of party people turn out and make a mess of the whole place, rather than a handful of mostly well-behaved druids.

Hawaii

May. 30th, 2010 01:55 am
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I was a little nervous about Hawaii, because I knew I'd have to drive. Luckily, automatic cars make it so much easier to drive, so much so that I actually sort of enjoyed it once I learned to keep my left foot out of the way. K-Big FM helped, I loved singing along to all the cheesy stuff on there, and wearing flip-flops the whole time made it easy to kick them off for driving barefoot. The road up to Mauna Kea is absolutely fine from either side of the island, whatever anyone says.

Mauna Kea was immense and glorious. Sadly, due to getting altitude sickness, I only spent a couple of nights up there as an astronomer, one of them on oxygen. I also visited on the weekend during the day, and hiked to the shrine at the summit, and to the permafrost lake. I was so pleased to visit one of the Kecks and Gemini North.

The apartment I stayed in had a balcony, from which I could see the sea and into the garden of the block, where there were mongooses (mongeese?). I loved seeing a couple of cats stalking one, but never daring to actually poke it - that mongoose was very sure of itself. In the bay behind the block was a shallow cove for swimming, and in the evening, there were often huge, majestic turtles resting there. There were geckos in the apartment, once in the litter bin, but my best gecko viewing was in Wal-mart. I'd stopped in there around 3 in the morning, having tried to watch a laser run that wasn't going anywhere, and on a pile of t-shirts, there was such a cute little gecko.

Volcano National Park was fantastic, apart from smashing my camera there. I went a couple of times, hiking across the caldera, where the ground feels fragile, or through the forest around it. The first time I went, it was dusk when I got to the lava tube, and after going through the well-lit touristy first half, I peered dubiously into the complete blackness of the second half. A couple of guys came out and said that I had to go in - and when I said I was chicken, they insisted on escorting me. I guess maybe it was silly to go into a deep, black cave with a couple of strangers, but it was really cool and scary in there, so I'm glad I went. The volcano was only really smoking by day, but by night, there was an otherworldly deep red glow at the bottom of the plume. The volcanic smell isn't quite simple sulphur, but something more sharp and acidic.

In Hilo it rains - hard, warm, luscious rain that makes the whole town bloom. Everything is green, the gardens are stunning, and the ginormous banyan trees line the drive by the shore regally. I plucked hibiscus and fragipani to wear behind my ear (left ear means you are taken, right signifies that you're single). But out of fairness, I decided to drive round the island one weekend to see Kailua-Kona, the hot, dry, sunny side. I went the south way, via South Point. The route down to the coast here goes past several scenic windfarms, and it is easy to see why - the wind whips in from the sea, and the waves crash terrifyingly on the shore. I watched a lot of foolhardy people cliffjumping, and added to the pebble messages left on the point itself.

My favourite place in Kona was the sanctuary. In the old days, someone committing a kapu (taboo) act would be subject to extreme penalties, not just the death penalty, but sometimes death for their entire family. However, there were some places that were sacred, and if the perpetrator was able to escape to one of these, they were absolved of their crime and could return to their community without punishment. This sanctuary is a serene, palm-fringed strip of coast that is a perfect place to wander as the sun goes down, and is one of the most peaceful places I have found.

Kona was kind of touristy, and though it was fun to see that side of Hawaii, I didn't fall for it as I did for Hilo. I liked the shrine to surfing (Hawaiians have their priorities straight!), and saw some cool petroglyphs. I drove back over the saddle road, which was fairly fun and roller-coastery in bits.

I also did the north road another time, which was much greener and hillier than the sun-baked old lava flows of the south road. The old road that loops back and forth off the main road is incredible. I didn't enjoy it as much as I might have done if I wasn't praying fervently not to meet something coming the other way, the road being about one-and-a-half small car widths wide, crumbling at the edges into the ravines below, and without passing places. The forest is lush and blooming, and devours anything it encounters - I saw a car half-eaten by a banyan tree. I drove right up to the Pololu Valley lookout to see the stunning views over the ravine and walk down to the beach. I'd taken the whole day sightseeing on my way there, so when I drove home over the Kohala mountain road in the dark and fog, maybe that wasn't such a great idea, but I made it back okay.

I think my favourite part of the island was Puna, rich with the sort of lush green forest that is the best feature of Big Island. In between this forest was a beautiful National Park of petrified trees, and uplifting stretches of cotton fields. At one point, I just had to stop the car at the side of the road and run down the road whooping, jumping and dancing.

I did have my share of tourist moments - I bought a lei and several brightly coloured dresses, went to the kind of touristy restaurant that had hula dancing (to "Walking in a Winter Wonderland", amongst other things!), bought a ukulele, and even a grass skirt. In Kona, I had dinner at the Forrest Gump restaurant, for novelty's sake - you switch the sign from "Run, Forrest, Run" to "Stop, Forrest, Stop" when you want to talk to a waiter.

Some of my favourite memories of Big Island were falling asleep and waking up to the sound of the sea in a room filled with light, chocolate Silk soy milk and coconut tapioca pudding from the health foods store (I got addicted to these, and they sustained me through long nights of observing), and singing along to Christmas songs on the radio while wearing a sundress and driving barefoot. Kona Coast by the Beach Boys, with the line "I want to spend Christmas on the Kona Coast in Hawaii" was awesome for this! I also liked the industrial side of Hilo, garlanded liberally with electricity lines against the heavy grey rainclouds and peppered with gas towers. The 'Imiloa astronomy center also deserves a mention for having an exhibit with an apple pie coming out of the oven - "If you want to bake an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe" - Carl Sagan. Least favourite part - taro. Why would anyone choose to eat purple-grey wallpaper paste?

As I hopped across to Hololulu, I noticed again how the islands of the archipelago are shrouded in cloud, while over the sea, the skies are always blue and clear.

I made a flying visit to Honolulu to see Pearl Harbour, and it was worth it. The first day I tried, the jetty broke away just before our slot to take the boat out, and being the weekend, it looked like it might not get mended for a few days, and I might miss it. The next day they'd rigged something up though, and after seeing the extremely moving film for the second time, I got the navy boat across to the Arizona memorial. This ship was sunk on December 7th 1941, killing 1177 sailors, nearly a half of those who died in the attack. Most of them are still there on the Arizona. It is a place unlike any other, and impossible to describe. Oil still leaks up from the sunken vessel, nearly 70 years later, and pretty little tropical fish dart around the bases of the gun turrets, visible under the clear blue water. I didn't feel in the mood for Waikiki Beach afterwards, so I spent the rest of the day in the Bishop museum.

I flew home via a day in Chicago, which was a bit of a shock to the system. I arrived at some horrendous hour of the morning and got the train into the centre. I lugged my ukulele around in the freezing pre-dawn mist, looking at the twinkly Christmas lights amidst snow and feeling for the first time like it was nearly Christmas. As it slowly got light, I made my way through the parks to the edge of Lake Michigan and stood there alone as some geese honked mournfully out of the fog. I gave in to my craving for warmth, and spent most of the day in the Fields museum, which was anything but a wasted day.


Finally, a fun but uncorroborated fact about Big Island, Hawaii. Some tourist guide in Kona told me that of the 13 types of ecosystems on Earth, 11 exist on Big Island. One day, I mean to check that out. I can confirm that the sudden changes in weather and vegetation as you travel across the island are quite extraordinary.
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I stopped posting during my year in Canada. In part, it was due to a big photo project that took over a lot of my time, and in part, I was simply having such a great time that I didn't need to post here to remind myself how wonderful life is. I kept meaning to, and for a while at least, I made notes to myself in a text file of the things I wanted to write about. These are some treasured moments from my year in Canada...

* The department Christmas party was initially cancelled due to a snowstorm at the last minute which meant that we had to evacuate the hill. When it finally happened, there was an amazing Christmas tree consisting of a pyramid of little fir trees in pots, which were given out after the party for us to take home. Taking Connie back on the bus, I got so many people saying what a cute little tree she was, and then I made little decorations out of beads and paper stars. The first time I had a Christmas tree of my own!

* The hill to work looks completely different depending on the weather. Walking up in the fog, the rock walls loom and skeletal trees are sharp through the mist. It reminds me of the Swamp of Despair in the Neverending Story.

* I like the middle-aged lady on the Number 83 bus who sings aloud without caring what anyone thinks.

* Some days, when the cloud and mist lies low over the landscape, we can look down from the hill to see a soft white blanket below. Hyejeon says that in Korea, this is called a cloud sea.

* I love collecting or photographing random objects, from the obvious things like a golf ball at the edge of the golf course, to the strange, like a headless wedding-cake topper of a groom on the path through the woods. Other things I saw included knickers on a tree, a glove carefully left on the fence for the owner to find, a parsnip in the surf at the edge of the sea, and an old orange plastic chair thoughtfully put at the bus stop.

* When it was snowing, I went down to the beach and paddled in the sea. There were delicate white edges to the waves, and the air was pale grey and misty with whirling snowflakes. It reminded me strongly of the Hokusai woodblock print.

* I had the strangest dream of android love poetry and washing spinach on a motorway bridge.

* When I stuck a needle hard into my finger when sewing, my first thought was, "don't lick it, photograph it!". The taste of blood always reminds me of the water from the Chalice Well in Glastonbury.

* While waiting for the bus, I saw a van with "Two small men with big hearts moving company" and a load of hearts painted on it. Awww.

* When the heavy snow came, I ran straight out onto my balcony. Heavy flakes were spiralling down, making haloes of the lights. I pulled on a jumper and shoes and walked outside. After 10 minutes or so, I realised how cold I was getting, I was shivering hard and my eyelashes were sticking together, so I turned round to go home. But in the subdivision, the houses all look the same, and I couldn't even tell where the roads were any more. I got thoroughly lost, and it took me three tries to find the right road, so I was very grateful to get home.

* When home for Christmas, mum made a scene of herself in a well-known scandanavian furniture warehouse, blowing through a straw into her fizzy apple juice. We were all laughing so hard.

* I love wax crayons, and always sniff them surreptitiously.

* I love the phrase "wide awake".

* Walking home from a swing dance class in -5 without a coat, with wind chill of -13. It was bitingly cold, but I felt so powerful as I held my head up and sang old songs like Greensleeves.

* The beach is so special in the winter. I get home from work, and walk straight out, to spend as long as I can walking in a daze by the water's edge, beachcombing for seaglass. I only go home when it's dark.

* I went to a skiing conference on Vancouver Island. It was amazing fun, even though I sucked at skiing, which I only tried once. What I did love was snowshoeing, which is like wearing ginormous flip-flops, and sounds like a herd of elephants stomping on cornflakes. We walked through beautiful pristine woods, and saw miniature waterfalls frozen into icicles, and incredible snow frozen into crystals that looked like diamonds. I also loved the snow-tubing, where you whoosh down a steep frozen slope in a huge inner tube. Absolutely terrifying and exhilerating. After a couple of gentle runs, I bravely asked for the run-up snowplough one: you stick your legs out straight, and start right up on the slope, above the person who pushes you off... when you get there, they grab your legs and whirl you round so you go whistling down the slope spinning crazily. I lost my hat!

* I got rickrolled! Fantastic.

* I did the 10k run, and though I was down as a "walker", I ran enough of it to get a time of under 75 minutes. I was very pleased with myself. Along the seafront, there was a whiff of sea in the air that made it so nice to run.

* Victoria looked so lovely in the spring, with the cherry blossoms out, and puddles on the ground.

* Bike to Work Week was tough on Gerda, but all the better for that. Even though I pushed her up the hills! I love the exercise I get - the walk up the hill each day, cycling the 10km into town on the Lochside trail at weekends, or walking the 10km loop around Beaver Lake, seeing the beautiful trees and the stripes of sunlight on the ground.

* Tofino is a truly special place. The temperate rainforest is breathtaking, the trees are like ents. We saw bears.

* I was nervous about my first bellydance performance in years. But the other girls in the tribal troupe were lovely, and did my makeup for me. It felt really nice to be part of a group.

* Sidney Spit is a little gem of perfection. A long strip of white sand, coarse seagrass blowing in the wind, old pilings, seabirds calling, and a picture-book red-and-white lighthouse.

* I got up for dawn on the solstice to see the sun rise over the sea. I cut my foot so badly on the rocks that I thought it would make a good sacrifice to any gods listening, but sadly, it was cloudy.

* Victoria Day was awesome. I wanted to take part in the Living Flag - but didn't get there early enough to get one of the official red or white t-shirts you needed. So I went to a shop and bought myself a cheap red t-shirt, and smiled nicely enough to one of the organisers that he let me crash it. We all got tiny Canadian flags, and got to wave and smile up at the crane where a bunch of reporters were taking our pictures. Later on, I watched the fireworks over the bay, chatting to an old guy who had learned woodcarving from First Nations people. He helped me fend off a drunk guy as I rescued my bike afterwards. I had meant to stick my bike on the bus to get home, but there was no chance - the buses were completely crammed. I had to cycle home in the dark, quite trickly along the unlit Lochside trail without a working front light.

* Tim and I cycled along Long Beach in Tofino, early in the day when it was deserted. That was incredible. The wind was strong, and the sand was white. The air smelled of salt, and the only sound was the waves.

* Luminara, the Victoria lantern festival, was sadly rained out. I persevered, seeing as much as I could in the pouring rain, with my trusty electric candle still flickering. Afterwards, I had to wait ages for a bus, soaked to the skin.

* I saw an otter on the beach - it ran right up, then noticed I was there and ran away again. And then it came back! Another time, I saw a raccoon in someone's driveway.

* I love seeing the rescue kittens in the window of the pet store in the mall. Timmy's doughnuts are sublime. And in the used book store, I found books I remembered from being a kid, but which are out of print, and I could never get. After finding the first two, I managed to find the third in the series on my next trip there.

* The bus from work went right past the Glendale gardens, so I could stop and walk there for an hour. There is an incredible amount of love lavished on that garden, and it shows. There is a broom in the roof of the Japanese hut, and a gong to chime. I loved the native garden, and the peacock made of painted wood, and the huge eucalyptus tree. I saw hummingbirds there.

* The bunnies in UVic are so tame... an hour after work with a bag of carrots or apple pieces is an hour well spent, especially in the early summer when there are cute baby buns.

* Rio de Janeiro is a scary place. My evidence for this comes in two pieces. First, on the street backing onto the Copacabana hotel I was staying in, there was a knife-sharpening stand. I doubt it was for kitchen implements. Second, my friend from Capetown said she was looking forward to going home because she felt safer there. Still, there are some incredible views from the mountains within and overlooking the city, and it is a city with a lot of heart. I wasn't too happy walking back from the metro alone at night, though.

* Getting up first thing in the morning to do a nude photoshoot on the beach, I surprised a few people. The guy with his dog managed to ignore me, but the couple collecting seaweed asked whether I wasn't cold.

* Seeing a sign in the window of the pizza shop "Pizza Pi" saying "3.14592654....", I knew immediately what I had to do. I made a Pi Avanger costume in which to go and correct it. It was such a cool costume that I spent the whole day in it... getting the bus, correcting the sign, walking round town, and grocery shopping (where of course I ran into someone I knew).

* I went to the Butchart Gardens to help out with an observing event there, organised by the brilliant amateur astronomy societies in Victoria, in which the public are invited to look through telescopes. I saw Jupiter's moons, something I'd never seen before, and which fired me up all over again. Later in the year, I saw the space station pass overhead.

* I completed the Grouse Grind, in pouring rain. I was very satisfied, even though it was not a quick time. Afterwards, I saw Dr Sun Yat-Sen's Chinese Garden.

* Seattle is such a friendly city. I went by seaplane - managing to swing the co-pilot's seat both ways! - definitely the best way to travel. As you see the city from the air, the Space Needle is visible from miles off, with the mountains in the background. I stayed in an art hostel - central, cheap, beautifully decorated, friendly staff, and free breakfast. The market is just incredible, all the sights and sounds and smells mix together. There was a shop selling old-looking tin robots. A guy out on the street was playing an amazing drum solo on a collection of old plastic cartons, and other odds and ends - he gave a little girl some sticks to play along with him. The Space Needle was super-awesome... I stayed up there for hours and hours, watching the sun set across the city and the lights come on. The Space Needle was designed to look like a flying saucer, riding on the top of an energy beam, and that is exactly what it looks like. I like seeing it best at night. I sat on the shoulder of the Fremont troll, who lurks under a bridge, clutching his Volkswagen beetle. In gasworks park, people ride bikes, have picnics, fly kites and dance, all in the shadow of the rusty old pipes and chambers of the old works. Next to the park, seaplanes land on the sparkling blue lake, and the Space Needle soars on the skyline. Other highlights were the underground tour, Washington uni grounds, and the library.

* Hyejeon came back the weekend before I left Victoria, and stayed with me. We had afternoon tea together at the White Heather tearoom, watched the seals in Oak Bay, and had a fire on the beach. Our matches didn't work so well, and we ran out... so I had to borrow some from the other people having a fire, some way away. We made s'mores, and watched as the sparks flew into the air. The smells and sounds of the fire and the sea blended together in a time of perfection.

* I loved the bell-pulls on the buses, and the way in which the street light opposite Thrifty's was broken for the whole year, so would come slooooowly on... then off. And sloooooooowly on... then off. I loved the swings in the park overlooking the beach, and the pirate flags outside one of the houses on the beachfront. I loved the huge washed-up logs which had drifted free of the hugs log-rafts which floated down the rivers. The enormous one at the end of the beach, I named Captain Watchtower, or The Watcher for short. I loved all the beautiful First Nations totems. I loved the crystal clear air. I loved the friendly, relaxed attitude of the people who live on the West Coast. I loved the little stand right outside work that sold enormous bunches of flowers for $3 with an honesty box. I loved the deer that roamed freely throughout the suburban neighbourhood, as well as in the wilder areas. I loved being able to walk to the beach, through a forest and up a small mountain, or round a lake, all right on my doorstep. I loved it when the lady on the bus told me about her chickens. I loved eating lunch outside at work, looking across to snowy Mount Washington in Seattle. I loved cycling to the farm markets out of town and returning with daffodils and cabbages in my bike basket. I loved the dollar store, and buying gummi bears from big bins in the supermarket, and raucous canada geese and "eh?".

* I was so sad to leave Canada, and left slowly... two buses, a ferry, another bus, followed by the transatlantic flight and the drive home, all with a huge suitcase, three rucksacks, sundry bags and my bike. Even as I left, it was brought home to me how much I liked Canada - people helped me with my bags onto the buses, and the bus driver stopped specially for me so I wouldn't have to carry my stuff across two roads. Still, it was nice to come home to friends and family.
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This year, I want to cross off twelve diverse things from my life list, one from each month. So far I have...

1. Made a short video (created in January and February 2010, won an award in April)
2. Felt an earthquake (the big one in Chile in February)
3. Played Katamari Damacy, thanks to my friends who bought it for my birthday (received in February, but due to Chile trip only played in March)
4. Been to a ceilidh, which was as awesome as I hoped (April)
5. Made and ate nettle soup, which was quite nice (May)
6. Taken the bus to World's End and explored (June)
7. Walked the Ridgeway (June)
8. Took a bathshower (July)
9. Saw Vienna Teng play live (August)
10. Had a fish pedicure from Garra Rufa fish (September)
11. Visited the island of Hven in Sweden (September)
12. Rode a tandem - both captaining and stoking (October)
13. Learnt the NATO phonetic alphabet (November)
14. Made a bonfire and burnt old uni notes, but not all of them yet (November)
15. Made a gingerbread house - or rather, a gingerbread pagoda with ninjabread men (December)
16. Went through a carwash (December)

Earthquake!

Mar. 5th, 2010 09:33 pm
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I've always wanted to experience an earthquake, and having been in Chile last Saturday at 3.34am, I can definitely cross that one off my life list. I was in La Serena, 700km from the epicentre, but the shaking was still powerful enough to wake me, despite my extreme sleep-deprived state following a 6-night observing run. I woke up from a dream convinced that someone was tunnelling into the motel, and when I understood it was a quake, I was astrounded by how strong it was. The building was shaking from side to side by what felt like at least a foot at a time. It never occurred to me that La Serena wasn't the epicentre. I tried to get online to check if there had been reports of an earthquake, but the internet was dead again, so I gave up after 2 hours and went back to sleep. It was only the next day, after sleeping for 12 hours, that I finally managed to get online and saw all the concerned emails and chats from friends and family. At that point, I realised that this was a big quake. Magnitude 8.8 at the centre, many hundreds of people dead, not the quake I wanted to experience.

Next day I went down to the beach, despite a little bit of nervousness at all the tsunami warning signs (La Serena is very flat around the beach). Everyone seemed very normal, and I saw no earthquake damage.

It took me two extra days to get home from Chile, and I had to get a sleeper bus rather than a plane to Santiago. I didn't see much damage in Santiago, despite a long taxi ride from the bus station. There was one fallen-down house and a few demolished walls, which may or may not have been due to the quake. At the airport, there were a few bits of "Peligro" tape around, but nothing that actually looked peligroso. The international flights were run out of the domestic departures terminal, while the domestic departures had been relocated to a tent village outside.

Here's hoping Chile recovers quickly.
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I'm not the only one who thinks the hill is magical...

Last night, on the way down the hill, Hyejeon and I saw some animals on the path, which moved off as we approached. Neither of us could see what they were. They seemed too stocky to be deer, and to move too noisily and not gracefully enough. However, if they were bears, they were only the size of semi-grown cubs. I think cougars tend to be lone beasts. They were probably deer, but I'll never be sure.

Tonight, stepping out of the Institute, the moon was a bright cresent against an especially lovely soft lilac sky. Later on, when it was dark, Venus and Jupiter were bright disks near the moon, and just for a moment, the white light of a plane passed by, making a perfect line of three stars.
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After my dance class today, I went on a free trolley ride around downtown Victoria, on a big cart pulled by two huge shirehorses dressed in Santa Claus hats and tinsel. One of them did an enormous wee that smelled really bad. After that, I had my favourite blackberry pancakes and sea-mist tea in Rebar. With spherical stomach, I went to see the exhibition of Christmas trees in the super-posh Empress Hotel (my favourite was by a road-building company, and was decorated with yellow plastic dumper trucks and "CAUTION" tape). En route, I saw Darth Vader playing Irish jigs on a black-sprayed violin.
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I went into town with Hyejeon to see the switching on of the Christmas lights this evening. We got free spicy herbal tea, free chocolate brownies, free hot chocolate, free ginger cookies and free candy canes. They had poi spinners all dressed in LED clothing with LED poi, before the fire brigade switched the tree lights on. Afterwards, there was a live fire display by five amazing poi and staff spinners. The guy who looked like Wolverine could spin two flaming staffs at once, as well as throwing and catching them. The gorgeous blonde girl spun a fire hula hoop, not just round her waist, but round her neck! I was also a fan of the techno-style poi spinning by the really young guy who looked like Luke Skywalker.
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A few weeks ago, in Ottawa, I read about Tanbata in a children's book of Japanese festivals in the museum bookshop. I was reminded of this when Seagull told me the Chinese version of the story last weekend.

The legend of Tanbata, the Japanese Star Festival. Vega is Orihime and Altair is Hikoboshi.

Orihime, the daughter of the Sky King, sat on the bank of the Milky Way and wove beautiful cloth all day long. Despite her tranquil life, she was sad, as she never had time to meet anyone and fall in love. Concerned, her father introduced her to Hikoboshi the cowherd who lived on the opposite bank of the river, and the two fell in love. They married each other, and became so wrapped up in each other that Orihime wove no more cloth and Hikoboshi let his cows stray all over the heavens. Tentei, the Sky King, became very angry. He banished Hikoboshi to the far side of the Milky Way and forbade him to see his daughter. Orihime cried all day long, and eventually, Tentei relented a little and said that they could meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, so long as Orihime had finished weaving her cloth. There is no bridge across the Milky Way, and so on this day, a flock of magpies comes to form a bridge with their wings, on which the lovers can reach each other. If it rains, the magpies cannot help them, and they must wait until next year to be together.

The legend of Qi Xi, the Chinese Night of Sevens, or Magpie Festival. Vega is Zhi Nü, Altair is Niu Lang, and β and γ Aquilae are their children.

One day the cowherd Niu Lang came across seven beautiful star sisters bathing in the lake, and he stole all their clothes. The sisters send the youngest and most beautiful of them, Zhi Nü, to fetch their clothing. She finds Niu Lang, and makes him return the clothing, but he sees her naked, and so she must agree to marry him. The pair were very happy together, and had two children. The Goddess of Heaven discovers the union, and is angry that the star girl has left her task of weaving colourful clouds to marry a mortal. She forces Zhi Nü to return to heaven, and the couple are very unhappy to be separated. Niu Lang is looking up at the stars one day, mourning for his beautiful young wife, when his cow talks to him. The cow tells Niu Lang that if he kills him and wears his hide, then he may ascend to heaven and be with his wife, so Niu Lang does this. He wraps his children up in the hide, and they all fly up to heaven, and are reunited with Zhi Nü. The Goddess quickly finds out, and is furious. She whips her hairpin out, and scratches the Milky Way in the sky to separate Zhi Nü from Niu Lang and their children. Zhi Nü sits on one bank weaving, and Niu Lang sits and watches from the other bank with their children. Once a year, on the seventh night of the seventh moon, all the magpies in the world take pity on them and fly to heaven to make a bridge so that they may meet. If it rains on the night of Qi Xi, it is Zhi Nü and Niu Lang crying at the misery of their separation.
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Every time I reach the top of the hill in the morning, or walk into the canteen to get a drink and look out of the window, I'm surprised to see a huge snow-covered mountain. It looks almost fake in its white-capped perfection.

Vancouver

Nov. 25th, 2008 07:42 pm
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I got up super-early on Saturday and caught the ferry to Vancouver, where Seagull met me with a beautifully hand-drawn sign. We went to a little market and had some food, before going to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Crossing over the wobbly bridge, the river foams in the canyon underneath. On the far side of the river, we wandered around all the walkways through the forest, which were lit up for Christmas like a twee fairy grotto. There were a lot of wicker deer, covered in little white fairy lights, except for their glowing red LED eyes, so we figured they were Evil Zombie Deer. We were just about to leave when we noticed a kid's trail activity which featured stickers, so we went and harangued the peacefully knitting girl who was on duty. She indulged us by letting us do the sticker sheet, and gave us pin badges for getting it all right, and extra stickers as well. Score!

It was getting towards evening, so we drove out to English Bay and caught the end of the sunset. It was strange, and yet somehow familiar, to walk on a beautiful sandy beach covered in driftwood and purple shells, watching an apricot sunset over the city. In the east, pastel-shaded dusk was settling over the snow-covered mountains, and behind the beach, skyscrapers the colour of sea-glass overlooked the ocean.

We had a delicious dinner in Vancouver's most famous veggie restaurant, Naam, which is apparently open 24 hours a day, so students can get a bowl of noodles at 3am. It was a cosy, friendly place, and we chatted to some other people in the queue; despite turning up soon after 5pm, we had to wait 20 minutes or so to get a table. They also had the most beautifully dressed waitress I have ever seen, in a long brown-and-white printed strapless dress. After that, we went to Seagull's place, and watched the stars and the sky-trains from her balcony.

On Sunday, we went to Chinatown, and visited the free part of Dr Sun Yat-Sen's Chinese Garden, which was a very pretty and unexpected oasis in the middle of a busy part of the city. Chinatown itself was bursting with colour, with the brightly-painted fish-design banners lit up by the morning sun. All the street signs are both in English and Mandarin, and the lamp-posts are painted in red with dragons on top. After a wander, we had lunch in a canteen-style cafe. I had daikon, which I think I may have eaten before, and lotus root, which was totally new to me, with my fried noodles. Afterwards, we drove along East Hastings Street, which is one of the places where the many homeless people in Vancouver gather.

We spent the afternoon in the Aquarium, which is just fantastic. I was mesmerised by the jellyfish, which they keep in luminous tanks of bright blue, so they float like bubbles in a lava lamp. We saw the belugas being trained, including the little baby beluga; they train them so that they can check their physical health more easily, and to give them physical and mental exercise. We saw the dolphin show twice, it was so good! I was simply stunned by the way in which the dolphins immediately performed complex choreographies after a single hand signal from their trainers. I've never seen a dolphin show before, as I feel a bit funny about animals entertaining humans in that way - but they were rescued from nets, so there is a reason for them to be there. They also appeared to be enjoying themselves! There is a seagull called Stephen who likes to hang around the dolphin show in the hopes of getting a scrap of fish, and seemed most imperturbed by the close proximity of large and powerful dolphins.

We had prime position at sea-otter feeding time, and Milo was the cutest, fuzziest little thing imaginable, with his stubby little paws. I feel so sad that his partner, Nyac, died last year - he is all on his own now. Here are Milo and Nyac...



Afterwards, we took a walk along the seawall in Stanley Park, and saw the Lion's Gate Bridge and the famous pile of sulphur on the far shore. I suppose there is a refinery there or something, but the enormous pale yellow heap makes a strange contrast to the snowy mountains behind. Again, I had the strange feeling that all this was somehow familiar to me. We deciphered the totem poles, and Seagull told me about a potlatch she'd been to (a feast and giving-of-gifts celebration held by First Nations people). By this time, it was dusk, and the bridge was lit up with white lights.

Sadly, I had to go back to Victoria, though in a strange stroke of luck, I met my office-mate on the ferry, and she kindly gave me a lift back home.

Planets

Nov. 20th, 2008 08:13 pm
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I saw two remarkably bright celestial bodies as I walked home from the bus stop today. I wondered whether they were really planets, strangely positioned lights for some purpose, or a peaceful alien invasion. It turns out they were Venus and Jupiter. I keep looking for them again as I duck in and out to do laundry, but the wind has come up and blown the clouds in.

Moonlight

Nov. 17th, 2008 09:23 pm
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I woke up at about 5am this morning, and thought I'd left the light on. It was the moon, shining squarely through my skylight and onto my pillow.

Gyotaku

Nov. 17th, 2008 09:16 pm
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On Saturday, a kind person from the department took me out to Goldstream Park with his daughters, to see the end of the salmon run. Piles of dead fish were stinking by the sides of the river, and seagulls were busy picking at them and the few live ones left laying eggs on the shallow gravel beds. We saw at least ten bald eagles sitting on trees or in the marshy bit, looking fed.

I took the opportunity to try gyotaku, or fish printing. Apparently, Japanese fisherman in the 1800s wanted people to actually believe them when they said their fish was thiiis big, so they made prints using the fish. So, I wiped the dead fish down with the sponge, thinly painted it in orange, green and pink, and rather squeamishly pressed paper down on it to make a picture. It's actually fairly amazing how the scales and gills and eye show up.

I have a picture of a dead fish on my wall!
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