Random (but not really)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Vacation: Cabrillo National Monument

While we were staying with Mechanicky Gal, we went to Cabrillo National Monument to visit the tide pools. We also got to go into the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. Most of the rooms were closed off to the public, so you could look in and see what it would have looked like when it was in use.

The tide pools were gorgeous, and I loved walking along them.




Oh, well yes, there were a lot of rocks. So I took lots of pictures of rocks. Because I like rocks.

This is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse


You could walk up to almost the top of the tower, but you couldn’t go outside, or climb the ladder to the light.


I took this picture to remind me to look up when and why lighthouses would use different colored lights.

Short answer (according to the internet): it depended upon the light house. The rate of rotation (sometimes in combination with colors) could designate a specific lighthouse. The color could designate the location of the lighthouse in relation to the bay.



Also: This guy again.


Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,National Park / Forest,Photos,Travel  

Vacation: Sea Creatures and Shore Creatures and Plants

Gorgeous pine in the entrance circle. (Not sure what species. I didn’t get a close-up pictures of the leaves, and Michael and I can’t decide.)


Shaw agave (Agave shawii)


Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea)


Coyote Bush/Brush (Baccharis pilularis) has incredibly soft flowers.


(Thanks Mary!)

Not that you can tell from this picture, but we saw a seal!


And the next day we saw dolphins!


Yeah, for both of those you’re just going to have to take my word for it.

Written by Michelle at 6:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,Flowers,Photos,Travel  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vacation: LA BREA TAR PITS!!!!!!

After we met up with Mechanicky Gal and Carol Elaine, we got to go to THE LA BREA TAR PITS!

Where we saw… FOSSILS!



Why hello there!

American Lion!






Ground. Sloth.




OK. Maybe dire wolves weren’t so smart.


Coyote! Raptor! And some sort of prey!




SO ADORABLE! (Well, perhaps not adorable.)


Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,Photos,Science, Health & Nature,Travel  

Vacation: JPL!

Carol Elaine generously offered to give us a tour of JPL. (Sadly, it was a holiday of some sort, so I was unable to purchase post cards. You can’t imagine how much pain this caused me.)

I only had my cell phone, so most of my pictures were shit, but here are a few nice ones.

Here’s my favorite thing!

This was a light show that showed you the communication between different satellites and ground control. It was a brilliant way to show the flow of information.


The lights going down the strand represent data coming from a satellite. The lights going up the strands represent data going to the satellite.


Some satellites have very little data transmission right now.


It was a genius learning tool, but also very pretty to watch.


The text that’s hard to read says:
The Habitable Zone: 00001
Confirmed: 01743
Candidates: 03276



This absolutely delighted me, though I have fears it was a set up, and not just the result of some random argument.


Take THAT Neil deGrasse Tyson!


Written by Michelle at 6:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,Photos,Science, Health & Nature  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Vacation: Joshua Tree Wildlife

I still have lots of pictures to go through, but have been trying to get caught back up on, well, everything, so here’s a quick look at some of the wildlife we saw.

Here’s an antelope squirrel (Ammospermophilus leucurus I think), which I’d assumed was a chipmunk.


I’m hoping this is a coyote (Canis latrans) because I’ve never seen one in the wild, and was excited to see it.


(there are two other pictures if you click through to Flickr.)

I believe this is a Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)


(I got another picture of a different scrub jay in a tree.)

I may also have seen a Pinyon Jay, but I couldn’t get a clear picture to check.

LIZARD! Most likely a Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana) but I’m pretty reptile illiterate.


We also saw lots of ravens, but I didn’t take any pictures of ’em. Mostly because I was too busy taking pictures of rocks.

Written by Michelle at 8:05 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,Photos,Travel  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Vacation: Joshua Tree National Park

Since we were only a few hours away (and in California) we made a point to visit Joshua Tree National Park.

Since I always buy books of the places we visit, I decided this time to purchase the books BEFORE we left. One of the books I got was Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide. This was completely helpful, since it divided the trails into types, as well as distance and time.

Also helpful was the Joshua Tree National Park (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map).

We combined the two, to give us an idea of what we’d be able to manage in a day, and plan the drive to see as much of the area as we possibly could.

We walked/hiked the following trails:
Cholla Cactus Garden
Arch Rock Nature Trail
Barker Dam Trail
Hidden Valley Trail
Cap Rock
Black Rock Trail

We drove up to Keys View

We entered the park from the south, Cottonwood Springs entrance. All of the Cottonwood Springs trails are closed, because multiple floods have exposed toxic mine tailings, so no hiking. This took us through the Colorado Sonoran dessert, which was full of Cholla cactus, Creosote bushes, Ocotillo trees, and Smoke trees.






But what I liked best were the rock formations.



We drove north, and move into the Mojave desert, which really did look quite different from the Sonoran.







Joshua Tree and the desert were interesting places to visit, but I would definitely not want to live there.

Written by Michelle at 8:40 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: California,National Park / Forest,Photos,Travel  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Vacation! Huntington Beach

So Michael’s conference was at Huntington Beach in some really expensive resort hotel.

Really expensive resort/hotel. But I was lucky enough this trip that the hotel was NOT in the middle of nowhere, so I was able to walk to find other (more reasonably priced) places to eat.

If you know me, you are probably aware that I do not much care for the sun. So I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the beach far more than I would have expected, mostly because I found watching to surfers to be fascinating and somewhat mesmerizing.

And there were a LOT of surfers.

Huntington Beach Surfers

I was on the pier at 5:30 AM and noon and sunset, and the water was always full of surfers.

I also noticed that not only did males predominate, but when there were female surfers, it was first thing in the morning, or late afternoon (say, before work and after work), which I found quite interesting. Mind you, it was a very small sample size.

And I also liked walking along the beach at sunrise and sunset. Water is very relaxing, and walking along the water without the sun beating down on me or massive crowds was quite pleasant.



And the birds!



I kept watching the Sandlings and giggling with delight as they’d walk down to the water line, and then scurry back from the tide.


Plus, a pelican that had almost no fear of humans.


And I did get to spend some time with this guy:


Written by Michelle at 8:00 am      Comments (1)  Permalink
Categories: California,Photos,Travel  

Friday, October 24, 2014

VACATION! Taking the Train

Where have I been? GLAD YOU ASKED! I have been on VACATION!

Michael’s conference this year was in California, so we made a vacation out of it! We took the train to California, went to his conference, then went to Joshua Tree National Park, then headed back to the coast and spent time with friends. We, of course, took the train back, so it was a very relaxing two weeks. (I’ve got a ton of book reviews I finished writing and posted need to post, because the train is perfect for reading, when you’re not staring out the windows at the passing scenery (which I did quite frequently).

Despite most of our trains being delayed at some point (including spending the night in Toledo) I still greatly prefer taking the train to flying. And with a roomette, we had a place to lie down and included meals, so WAY better than flying.

Because everyone has asked, here are the sordid details:

Capital Limited: Pittsburgh (11:59 PM) to Chicago Union Station (8:45 AM) – This leg is always delayed and running late. Plan for it. Also, I think next time I want to leave from Cumberland, because the Pittsburgh Amtrak station is AWFUL. Plus, we’d leave earlier and get back later. This will be our plan next time we take the train.
Southwest Chief: Chicago Union Station (3:00 PM Fri) to LA Union Station (8:15 Sun) – This was two nights on the train, with meals included. It went through: Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado (south-east corner), New Mexico, Arizona, and California. We went through a LOT of desert, which I found fascinating to see.

Coming back we took:
Pacific Surfliner: San Diego to LA Union Station – This had long stretches of views of the ocean, which I really enjoyed. We got this last minute, so our marvelous hostess didn’t have to drive from San Diego to LA.
Southwest Chief: LA Union Station (6:15 PM Mon) to Chicago Union Station (3:15 PM Wed)
Capital Limited: Chicago Union Station (6:40 PM) to Pittsburgh (5:05 AM)

The total cost for both of us was ~$2,000, and (with the exception of the Surfliner) included the roomette with breakfast, lunch, and dinner (as applicable to that part of the journey). And the roomette was a single fee, not a per person fee. Plus, our luggage was free.

So the trip was, essentially, 3 1/3 days each way, and we got to see parts of the country with which we were unfamiliar.

Currently, a non-stop flight from Pittsburgh to LA is ~$570 / person and takes 5 hours.
Flights with layovers are currently:
United, 6h 40m, $336
US Airways, 5h 45m, $360

That’s with no checked luggage and no sustenance included.

Here are some of the views I enjoyed: (Please note, all pictures were taken from a moving train, through a thick window, with a cell phone.)







Because I turned on location services for most of them, you can click through to Flickr to see where most of the pictures were taken.

So, is it more expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? For me? Hell yes. Especially being able to actually see the landscape as we went by.

ADDENDUM the First:
Because it might be helpful, here are two pictures of the roomette, both taken by Michael (obviously).

train room 1   train room 2

Written by Michelle at 1:36 pm      Comments (7)  Permalink
Categories: California,Photos,Travel  

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hiking West Virginia: Cranberry Glades & the Falls of Hills Creek

Well, it was more casual strolling than hiking, but both of these are places you shouldn’t miss. Although it was only the 4th of October, it was 42 degrees at Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, and there were a few snow flurries. So the weather there can be quite different from the weather elsewhere.

Which means I was wishing that I had worn much warmer pants.

Location: Falls of Hills Creek and Cranberry Glades Botanical Area
Trails: Cranberry Glades Botanical Area & the Falls of Hills Creek
Distance: Cranberry Glades Botanical Area: 0.6 mile; Falls of Hills Creek: 1.3 miles
Elevation: Falls of Hills Creek: 367 feet

Cranberry Glades Botanical Area


The Cranberry Glades Botanical Area is a flat boardwalk, so it is accessible to everyone. Although it is only a 0.6 mile loop, there is incredible biological diversity in that small area.






Yup. Snow.


Cranberry Wilderness Area

This area was in an area not in the boardwalk, but similar botanically, and the light was a lot better.



The Falls of Hills Creek

The upper falls are accessibly by a gently sloping path. They were also kinda boring without much water going through the area.

The rest of the path was a lot of stairs. But utterly worth the hike.


The Middle Falls


The Lower Falls


The stairs are quite steep in places.


Cranberry Glades Botanical Area GPS map
Falls of Hills Creek GPS map

Written by Michelle at 10:12 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Hiking,National Park / Forest,Photos,West Virginia  

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Books of September

September was a slow reading month. Temperatures finally cooled enough that I wanted to go hiking again, and the insanity of football games was more than enough incentive to push us out of town. Plus, I decided to take up canning this fall (if I get my act together, I’ll write about that sometime) so my free time has been limited.

In addition to less reading time than normal, we were busy enough (in a good way) that I was wanting to relax with favorite characters and books I knew I’d enjoy.

The best books of the month included two audio books. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith narrates Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, and he completely blew me away. I liked the book, but the narration was pretty much perfect. I can’t recommend these highly enough.
I also read Patricia Briggs’ anthology set in Mercy Thompson’s world. Very few of these stories are about Mercy, but that doesn’t bother me at all. I love well-written short stories, and these are all very good.

Fantasy, Supernatural

Alpha & Omega
Cry Wolf  (2008) Patricia Briggs
Mercy Thompson
Moon Called (2006) Patricia Briggs (8.5/10)
Blood Bound  (2007) Patricia Briggs (8/10)
Iron Kissed (2008) Patricia Briggs
Bone Crossed  (2009) Patricia Briggs
Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson (2014) Patricia Briggs (9/10)

Mystery, Historical

Flavia de Luce
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (2014) Alan Bradley (Not Rated)
Speaking from Among the Bones  (2013) Alan Bradley (7/10)

Audio Books

Moon Called: Audible Version (2006/2009) Patricia Briggs and read by Lorelei King (DNF)
Peter Grant
Midnight Riot: Audio Version  (2011/2012) Ben Aaronovitch narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (10/10)
Moon Over Soho: Audible Version  (2011/2012) Ben Aaronovitch and narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (10/10)

So, in a slow reading month I read eleven books, which I know is more than most people read, but still relatively low for me. (I read nine books in May, for many of the same reasons I read so little in September.) This also brings my total for the year to 131, which was more than I read some years when I was in grad school. So I’m on track to read more books this year than I have in any other year.

I read mostly eBooks again, but there were three audio books in there, and one lonely paperback. Of course nine of the books I read were re-reads, and eight of those I have in multiple formats. (Of course, this counts the Mercy Thompson Moon Called audio book that I didn’t finish.)

Mostly supernatural fantasy this month, with those books having a strong mystery element, and two straight-up mysteries.

I read four male authors and seven female authors, which brings me to 59 writing-as-female authors for the year and 43 male authors. With the nine books written under initials and two written under a male pseudonym, that gives me approximately 55% female authors to 34% male authors. (I’ve read a lot of anthologies this year.)

So not much new this month, but I really do recommend that you seek out the audio version of the Peter Grant books.

Written by Michelle at 6:35 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading  

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