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Sep. 6th, 2011

Well a lot has happened since I got back from Charleston ... my roommate moved vertically and my new roommate comes in tomorrow! Haha it was pretty easy moving Christine's things since we were only going upstairs. However, since she initially arrived in LA a couple months before I had, most of the furniture was hers. So last week I went and got a microwave (It's black! It heats my food!) and then on Sunday Christine and Junwen helped me to rent a van and pick up a sofa bed. It was longer than I thought, so I had to shift where it was going to go, but I think it looks great.

I also got into a home-improvement mood and hung up two of Molly's drawings, as well as the framed space images that have been sitting there for like two years.

New couch, plus the Water Girl and Alice

Of course there was my surprise birthday party, which Christine successfully and awesomely threw. I had nooooooo idea. I was super surprised! I loved the tropical theme, the decorations, my lei and my special cup ;-) The best part was probly the apple pie, of course hehe. But in all seriousness, I was really, really touched by everyone's presence and the thought that went into it, especially by Christine. I have to admit that in the week leading up to it, I might have been feeling a little sorry for myself not being with my family or Jay. Seeing that there were so many other people who care about me was really heart-warming (and tear-jerking lol). I also received an Edible Arrangements strawberries-and-pineapple as flowers-and-stars from Nicole, all the way in Iraq. It was a great birthday :-D

I went to the Hollywood Bowl twice last month, once for a guitar duo with the work crowd that Christine treated me to, and once for Fantasia. The guitar people were pretty neat, but ZOMG FANTASIA. I adored that movie as a kid, which is weird if you think about it. It's all music, hardly any dialogue. But Heather and I loved it. We would twirl around and around during the Nutcracker segment. So to see an orchestra play it, live, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

They did most of my favorites, but not all. They started with the beginning sequence with the orchestra segments, and then all the instruments making music in the clouds ... hard to explain. Next they did the part with the pegasi and the fauns, but they cut it off before the part with the centaurs that fall in love and the thunderstorm which was SO AWESOME. Sadness. I loved all the different colors of the centaurs when I was little. Then they did Rite of Spring, where the universe is formed and then the Earth forms. Except it's supposed to continue with this whole dinosaur sequence, but they skipped it and went to the end with the earthquakes. I miss the dinosaurs.

Through the program, they showed new sequences, either ones that weren't finished in time or that were created afterwards (but not from Fantasia 2000). One was just storyboards, based on a Viking myth of a soul's journey to the afterlife. One was really pretty, it was an egret in a bayou under a full moon set to Clair de Lune. But one of the new ones they did was some animation based on Salvador Dali's art. I hated it. It was creepy and surreal and I don't like people's heads falling off and turning into weird things ... ugh. I would have much rather had one of the originals in place of that. ::shudder::

Before intermission, they did the Sorcerer's Apprentice with Mickey. When they came back, they started with the hippos and ostriches that do ballet, and the alligators. Then creepy Dali, then the egret. But luckily they ended with my favorite segment, the part with music from the Nutcracker with the dancing fairies, flowers, mushrooms, fish, and more flowers. And they tied it into the fireworks, which was really neat, matching the color of the fireworks to the color of the flowers onscreen.

Through the show, the music tended to be off the movie by like a second, which was slightly distracting, but it was just so neat to hear the music live, in such a great acoustic place. I'm so glad I went, it was really a great experience. I really wished my family, especially Heather, could have been there.

Oh we also had the bridal shower last month! Man that seems like it was such a long time ago haha. There's been lots of wedding stuff. The bridal shower had some last minute location stress, but it was AWESOME. Christine and her mom decorated the patio beautifully, and all the food, games, prizes, gifts, and readings were all so pretty and special! It was the first shower I've ever been to as an adult, and it was great to feel all the joy that was directed at my friend. OH and cake balls ........ are my new favorite thing ever.

In other news, I did a "consult" with Christine and Junwen where I basically made it up as I went along and tried not to forget anything. Also they let me come with them to the food tasting, which was INCREDIBLE. Plus not only will it taste good, but it will be meaningful! Apparently I get to go to the cake tasting, too. ZOMG CAKE.

Also we got the bridesmaids dresses worked out! I would show you the picture of the one I tried on, but it's a size 14 and pink. Sooooo you don't get to see me in pink. But trust me, they're gorgeous, and they'll be blue! Who could ask for anything more?

Blah okay that was a good enough update. Back to work.

Road Trip to Charleston

A couple weeks ago, I flew out to Oklahoma, hopefully for the last time. Don't get me wrong, OK is OK, and we definitely had some good times there. But it was time to leave Enid and Vance behind, to leave its disappointments behind and look towards all the good things in the future.

Before we left, I got to see friends we've made over the past two years, Amanda and Shari, Joel and Heide. We ate dinner at Panevino's one last time. The Enid packers came on Monday and loaded everything up. They were great, unlike the movers (grr). Then we cleaned the hell out of the apartment, and for the last time made the two hour drive to one of Oklahoma's big cities, Tulsa. I swear, that two hour drive is almost worse than the entire days of driving. I'm very glad that the Charleston airport is ten minutes from Jay's house!

The road trip was fun, but hot. The entire country is baking, especially the southern part we drove through. And Jay's car doesn't have air conditioning. Some days were worse than others. Tuesday was Tulsa to Memphis. I know I must have seen the Mississippi River before, but I can't remember it. It wasn't that wide where we crossed. We ate dinner at P.F. Chang's, right next to our hotel. The next day was all Tennessee, up to Nashville and then down to Chattanooga. The day was rough. We ate lunch in Nashville at a Panera Bread, and were just exhausted.

I was super excited about driving through Chattanooga. I've been there once before with my dad, while he was doing research for one of his books. We didn't go to the Little Debbie plant or Southern, they were too far out of the way, and we didn't have time for the Aquarium. BUT! We did go to Rock City Gardens, which was just as awesome as I remembered, and Ruby Falls.

Rock City is up on Lookout Mountain where there are lots of cool natural rock formations. It's been turned into a gardens with plants, bridges, and little garden gnomes. Although it was humid from the rain, it was cooler on the mountain, and nice to walk around.

I'd never been to Ruby Falls, so it was a new experience for both of us. We went into this cave that's only accessible by elevator, that they found accidentally when they were trying to reach a different cave. The tour was about an hour, walking through and seeing all the neat formations. The cave stays at the average yearly temperature of the area, so it was sixty-something degrees and felt awesome. The pièce de résistance of the cavern is Ruby Falls, a HUGE underground waterfall. The cave opens up into this massive room, carved out from the waterfall's previous path, with the current waterfall at the end. No one knows where the water comes from. We even got to walk under it--I wish I had taken a picture of the view looking up, it was surreal! Nature ... you're freaking awesome.

Chattanooga continued being awesome during a great dinner at Terminal Brewery. Best appetizer ever: "Festo", aka pesto with feta cheese baked onto breaad. OMG. So delicious.

The third day, Thursday, was the longest driving day. It was actually nice in the morning, from Chattanooga through Georgia via Atlanta. We stopped for lunch at some famous place in a middle-of-nowhere town called Yesterday Cafe. They're supposed to be famous for their pie, but we were stuffed after our meal. It was also clearly obvious that we were very much in the middle of the South!

Unfortunately, when we hit Augusta, the hot weather returned, with a vengeance. The drive up to Columbia and down to Charleston was the worst part of the whole trip. By the time we arrived at base, we were both cranky and irritable. Jay got me a pass, and then we went to the motel and unpacked our stuff. But we couldn't relax, and quickly went back into the car and drove to the house for the walk-through with the realtor. It was so great to see it again and see that it's just as awesome as we remembered.

On Friday, Jay went to report in while I packed up the room and stayed cool. We ate a quick lunch on base and then drove to the law office to close on the house. It's quite an interesting process. We were there for about two hours. Jay signed paper after paper, with the lawyer explaining everything. I asked Mike and the other realtor some remaining questions we had about the home (how to get the mailbox key, etc). The whole event was actually pretty relaxed. And at the end of it ... we had a house.

The house is awesome. It does have a few minor things wrong, since it's four years old and no one's ever lived it in, like the shower leaking. And holy crap, bugs everywhere. At night there are all these roaches in the garage. ::shudder:: A couple of them found their way into the house. And we kept finding these weird jumping spiders. I think as he lives in it though, those will disappear. Those roaches though ... need to die. Oh, there's also this family of feral cats that comes out at night. We think they might have been living in our garage before they screened it off, and now they're living in the neighbor's garage. Oh yeah and we have neighbors! They moved in a week after us. I didn't get to say hi, but I did meet the ones kitty-corner to us.

Unfortunately, the movers suck, as I mentioned before. Their 'guaranteed' delivery date of Jay's stuff was Thursday, but we figured we'd get it sooner. On Tuesday, I urged him to call and find out when they would be coming by to deliver. Lucky he called, because we found out his stuff was still in Enid!!! They hadn't even picked it up! It didn't end up being loaded on a truck until Saturday, and was only delivered two days ago (Tuesday). Sleeping on a blow-up mattress got old after like two days. But the worst part was not having anywhere to sit in the whole house. Finally we caved and bought two folding chairs. We also didn't have any of his kitchen supplies, and again we caved and bought a pan, a baking sheet, a wooden spoon, and a knife. So we did make a couple meals in the kitchen (and I baked cookies!!!!! in my house!). But for the most part we ate out. Once we hooked the Internet up, things were better.

Jay has a friend, James, who graduated with him and happened to have the same report schedule as he did, but he hasn't found a place to live yet. So, he stayed in the house with us most of the time I was there. Another buddy of theirs is also staying at the house until the closing date on his own home.

We bought a washer and dryer from Sears, but they couldn't deliver it soon enough so we had to go to a laundromat to do laundry. We had the cable and Internet set up, but we hadn't brought the modem and router with us, so we had to get those. We got the mailbox keys. We bought a few decor items for the house, like nautical-themed stuff for the upstairs bathroom. There was this cute lighthouse-and-sailboat trash can at Wal-Mart, and then we just happened to find a lighthouse-and-sailboat shower curtain at JCPenney's. We also went to a couple of furniture and decor stores, trying to figure out what kind of couch we would like to buy in the future, was kind of decor we like, etc. It will be a while though before we can get everything.

Although we didn't go to any of the gardens or plantations, we did do some touristy things. On a random recommendation from a local, we saw this HUGE tree that's thought to be like 1500 years old. Just in the middle of a random forest. We went to see the aircraft carrier the Yorktown, with a bunch of Navy planes on it, and went into a WWII era submarine, which was kind of depressing. We also took the boat out to Ft Sumter, where the Civil War began. That was pretty neat, trying to imagine the walls being three times higher.

We visited two of the beaches. The first, Folly Beach, we went to in the evening and walked along the shore for a while, and then ate dinner there. Unfortunately I decided we should eat outside, and was myself dinner for mosquitoes. I must be slightly allergic or something because my bug bites always swell up to huge sizes. They drove me crazy all week. The second beach was Isle of Palms, which was more crowded but still cool. The water was the perfect temperature, nice and warm.

We went downtown a lot, and saw too many movies. We ate at the Mellow Mushroom, and finally ate at the famous Hyman's Seafood. We went back to the Charleston Cafe and Southend Brewery. We found a great Japanese steakhouse that has an AWESOME blue ceiling with stars painted on it. Definitely our kind of place! There's lots of good food in Charleston, especially seafood. Although I did have a steak at Longhorn Steakhouse on my last evening there, and it was delicious! We also went to the farmer's market on Saturday, although the heat was back to being ridiculous.

Although one of the reasons I stayed a week couldn't happen (I wanted to help him with unpacking his stuff), the other reason was still valid. We celebrated our fourth anniversary on Friday. On the recommendation of Nicole, we ate at Poogan's Porch, a restaurant downtown that used to be someone's home! It was really cute and delicious, although my sides were a bit weird. Then we saw Cowboys and Aliens, a good fun movie.

Leaving sucked. As we were getting ready I was standing in the kitchen and thought, "I want to live here." I know it's coming, soon enough, I just have to be patient, and do my work, and get there. Four years I've been patient, and it's getting harder now that the end is in sight.

Oh yeah! I almost forgot. My anniversary present to Jay was a large map of the world, so he can mark all the places he flies too. It's supposed to have a personalized plaque that says "Where in the world was Jay Carroll" But they left out an L. GRRRR. But they're fixing it.

In conclusion, Charleston is awesome, and will likely be even more awesome once the heat goes away. The house is awesome, but still too empty. And of course Jay is awesome. The end.


GEM is shiny and awesome

Conferences have this great feel about them. Last night I likened it to a family reunion (although I've never been to a big family reunion). You go to (usually) the same place, and see friends that you haven't seen for six months or a year. You catch up and it's like no time has passed, you just go right into hanging out and sharing stories. I love seeing all the familiar faces, both of my peers and of the older scientists.

On Saturday, Christine, Feifei, Xiaojia, and I rented a car and toured around New Mexico. We went up to Taos Pueblo, a Native American village which is thought to be the oldest still-inhabited community in America. It was pretty neat to see the adobe houses, made out of a mixture of earth, straw, and water. The 'North House' and 'South House' are pretty much the way they were when Europeans arrived, except that now they have doorways. It used to be that they would get into the houses via ladders and holes in the rooftops. It was cool to see, but it was a little sad. Many of the houses had little shops selling some jewelry, pottery, etc. I felt bad for not buying anything.

After that, we drove to the Bandelier National Monument, which was my favorite! We walked along the Main Trail, which leads you past ruins of an old Native American building, and next to caves in the mountain they lived in! They even had ladders so you could climb up into some of the caves that they had carved out of this solidified volcanic ash. I'd be worried about living in one though and accidentally rolling out while sleeping. I remember reading a book about these caves in the mesa, so it was really great to see them for myself. You know, you don't realize when you go into science that a secondary benefit is to see so many beautiful and fascinating wonders around the world. We should advertise that aspect more often!

Yesterday was the student tutorial workshop. Usually I would have run it, but since we're combined with CEDAR, one of their reps took on the task of introducing each speaker. I did give an intro to GEM talk which seems to have gone over well. I got a chuckle for my analogy of the structure of GEM to the parts of a gemstone. Christine said I sounded very professional.

The rest of the day was long, but the tutorials were great. We had a set of really good speakers who spoke on a number of topics with, I think, just the right amount of overlap and interest to both the GEM and CEDAR communities. Everyone I've talked to said they enjoyed the tutorials. Success!

After the workshop, I went shopping along this street near our hotels that has a ton of cute shops and restaurants. I met up with Christine and some of our friends at the church and we went to dinner to catch up. Unfortunately I got a headache after dinner, so I need to make sure I drink more water.


Charles Town

Last week I took a trip to Charleston to meet up Jay, his family, and my mom. The goal? Find a home for Jay to buy. I was along to help pick it out. :-D

Unfortunately the trip started off with snags. Wednesday morning I was freaking out. Mike, the realtor, seems to always call me because I was the first person he talked to I guess. He was pretty insistent on Jay getting pre-approved before we showed up, and kept saying we could use some guy at his office. Meanwhile Jay was going through the process with the credit union and rightly said "if it’s not done by the time we get there, too bad." But I felt like I was in the middle and the go-between. Jay told me to calm down, and not take any more calls from Mike, he would handle it. But in addition, I wanted to print out the awesome Excel spreadsheet I had made with info on all the houses, so that took a little longer than I thought it would. I just missed the bus, and when I got to the Flyaway it had left five minutes ago. So I cried and called a taxi and paid $44 to get to the airport instead of $5. Sigh. But, caught my flight.

In Atlanta, I met up with Jay coming off the train :-D and then we met my mom at our gate. It was really cool to all board the plane together and sit in the same row.

Since we landed at 11:30pm and didn’t get to the hotel until 12:30, I couldn’t see much of Charleston. Our hotel was at a great spot though, right on I-17 with views looking at the Ashley River and downtown. Charleston is a beautiful city-—rivers everywhere, and trees. Jay was excited about the palm trees for some reason I can’t fathom. Boo palm trees. But it had regular trees too ... really freaking awesome ones.

All together in the span of two days, we saw 18 condos or townhouses. We certainly kept the realtor on his toes with our six-person entourage! Some of them were in the same complex though. We looked in West Ashley, Mt Pleasant, Johns Island, James Island, Daniel Island (did I mention Charleston is on the coast where a bunch of rivers run out to the ocean? There's a lot of islands). I didn't care for any of the condos. I figure if you're going to actually buy a property, why buy one where you risk live underneath ogres.

There were some brand-newly constructed townhouses that were nice, but had issues (really small kitchen, near the top of the price range). The home that came in second was a super cute pre-owned townhouse, but Jay pointed out that probably the reason everyone loved it was because of how tasteful and beautifully decorated it was. I want to learn to make my house look like that! It especially had this gorgeous metal frame bed, with vines and swirls and flowers, which the coverlet matched. The second bedroom had a reading window nook that would have been so cute. There was a little dining area, but really no place for our computer desks. And Kathy and Mom pointed out later that the kitchen was actually old and grungy.

I want this bed frame. Just ignore Mom.

One complex in particular stood out. These homes were built just before the housing bubble burst, and have been sitting on the market for three years. They're prices had just been greatly reduced, so they were in the middle of our price range, and they are enormous (for townhouses), by far the largest we looked at.

And they're beautiful. One of the homes I'd looked at online, and it was the first one I'd thought, "wow .... I could really see us living there." We actually looked at four homes in that complex. We started with 121 WRD, which was my original favorite. Again, these homes were HUGE. You could park at least four cars in the garage, which is the entire first floor. The second floor in general has a giant kitchen and living room, a master bedroom connected to the master bathroom with a garden tub, a shower, dual sinks, and a walk in closet, a second bedroom/study (depending on if it had a closet), laundry closet, linen closet, coat closet, and half bath. The second floor plan changed depending on the house. One has a large room that we called the "bowling alley" because it’s so long ... perfect, I think, for a library/entertainment room. It has another bedroom, which is actually larger than the master bedroom downstairs (one of the few weird things about this house) with a normal bathroom. In the other floor plan, the bowling alley becomes a loft that looks down on the living room. I thought it was a waste of space but Jay kept talking about throwing Cheerios at people ::rolls eyes::. I think this one had two smaller bedrooms and a bathroom, but it also had this weird square area that didn’t seem to serve a purpose. I didn’t like that layout as much.

The ones with that second layout were 123 (middle unit) and 111 (end unit). Again, I didn’t care for them as much. 121 and 125 had the better layout. The differences between the two were that the one room downstairs in 121 didn’t have a closet, so it was called a study, while in 125 it did so they could call it a 3-bedroom house. The other difference was the kitchen. 121’s was large, but the cabinets were white and the countertops kind of eh-gray. 125’s had dark cabinets with beautiful countertops, and more hardwood flooring. But we misheard the price, and thought that it was $16,000 more than 121. So for a while we were going with 121.

But on day two, I was reviewing the houses on my phone, and I discovered that we had the price of the 125 WRD house wrong. It was actually only $7000 more than the 121 WRD. So, we went back to look at it again and show it to Jay’s dad and sister (who hadn't been with us at the time). It became first on the list with that price difference. It really is the nicest one.

To give you an idea of what a good deal it is, the other homes we were looking at in the area were selling for around $105/sq foot. The 125 WRD house was priced at $73/sq foot. The one problem with these houses is the garage/basement. The area is apparently a flood zone, so all the houses are designed with these wooden slats on the walls, so that water will go through and not carry the house away I guess. Which is smart, but we were worried about pests and rats and snakes getting in. So we would want them to be screened with something called hardware cloth or hardwood cloth. The other thing is that the railings/steps up to the entrance on the main floor weren’t finished, same as the deck, but apparently they’re going to do that. Finally, it had a higher homeowner’s association fee, but we found out it covers exterior insurance and flood insurance where others don’t.

We also had fun! It wasn't all house-hunting. On Thursday evening we drove to downtown, to eat at Southend Brewery near the Battery and waterfront. We also walked along and saw these great fountains, including a pineapple one. Then we went to a place I found on my phone called Kaminsky's which is supposed to have the best desserts in town. It was pretty good, but I don't know if it was the best. I liked the place across the street better that we went to the next night.

Everywhere we went I was pulling out my phone to look something up, find us a place to eat, find directions. It was a life saver. But it did make me feel like I was "in charge" of activities all week, which sometimes stressed me out a little. For instance, on Friday evening we drove to the Battery, the southern-most tip of the main downtown peninsula. They have these big shady trees and a gazebo and it looks out onto the harbor. We walked around looking at the rivers and the old houses until dinner, when we found out the restaurant we wanted to go to didn't have an opening until 9pm!!! So then we had to search for a place that had vegetarian for Mom and "non-seafood" options for Jay which was harder than it sounds, because OMG this is a seafood town (which is a good thing in my opinion). Finally, I looked up Italian places on my phone, and found one nearby. But we walked to it and didn’t see it, and found out it closed! Everyone was getting hungry at this point and I was like ";_; I’m sorry I’m a terrible leader!" but this random pamphlet guy told us there was an Italian place just around the corner, and would we like coupons for $5 off our entrees?

So, crisis averted, we ate dinner at Bocci’s and discussed the house options. In the end, the 125 WRD one had SO much space for SUCH a low amount, it was a no-brainer that it was number one.

On Saturday morning we went to Mike’s office for Jay to make an offer on the house (with the pre-approval letter that had finally come in). Jay wasn’t nervous at all. Cucumbers wish they could be as chill as him. I was a little nervous and it wasn't even me signing things. If it had been, I probably would have been like "OMG do I REALLY want to do this? Maybe I should think on it for like ten years."

We offered the listing price, because Mike said that since the houses had been reduced so much from the original, the seller wouldn't budge. But we did ask for two things though: that the basement be screened in, and we asked for a closing date of July 25. Apparently this is unusual, because closing dates are usually 30 days out. Mike warned us that the seller might not want to tie the property up that long if something happened to go through.

That took longer than we expected. Jay and his family went to see the base while Mom and I went shopping. In the evening we went over to were the Aquarium is because there was supposed to be this Tall Ships festival thing, but it was almost over and you’d have to pay to go walk around on the ships. No one wanted to do that, and most of the vendors were lame, although we stopped at a few. So we walked around and took more pictures, and then Jay said he wanted to go look at this Spice and Tea Shop we’d seen yesterday but which was a mile away. It was super cute! I'd love to shop there and buy things for the ... our ... kitchen.

Cannonballs are heavy.

Don't ask ....

Me and Mom

Mike didn’t call us back until just before 8pm that evening. He told Jay that the seller didn’t want to put the screening in, and they were uncomfortable with the closing date, so we could either move the closing date earlier or put down another $1000 good faith money (in addition to the amount Jay had given that morning). So, essentially the two non-standard things we'd asked for, the seller said no to both. Well, Jay played it a lot cooler than I would have and simply said "I dunno man. That might be a deal-breaker for me. I’m going to have to think about it and call you later. Maybe tomorrow." So everyone came up to our hotel room and were debating what to do back and forth.

On the one hand, Jay was annoyed that the seller wasn't giving on anything. He said several times "I'm not emotionally attached to this house and there are others, we can reexamine the others" while I'm thinking "Please no ... I'm attached ..." Mom pointed out that it was the principle of the thing that he was annoyed about. Jay's parents offered to help with the extra money and keep the closing date where it is, and that it really didn’t matter that much because it's still money that goes towards the down payment. So then it was really coming down to the screening, which Jay would have to hire someone to do, and make sure he’s at the house to do it, all while flying all the time, and it was just a huge hassle. We talked about how dumb it was that the seller wouldn't put in some ~$500 screening to make the sale and get rid of the property that'd been on the market for three years. We decided that we should go get dinner and keep talking about it there.

As we’re getting ready to leave our room, Mike calls back (not even an hour from the first call). He said that the seller agreed to do the screening! Apparently Jay’s bluff(/not-bluff?) had worked and Mike must have called the seller’s realtor who called the seller and said "Man, this guy really wants the screening and he’s willing to walk away. It’ll cost you like $500, do you really want to lose a sale over something so trivial?" And so I guess in the span of an hour all the phone calls were made and the guy agreed. And since Jay had discussed this with his parents, he agreed to front another $1000 for the down payment ahead of time and keep the closing date the same. So all he had to do was throw out one phrase, and mean it, and apparently convince us of it too. I know that’s what you’re supposed to do in negotiation but I don’t know if I could have been as cool about it.

We hadn't eaten lunch until like 3 (at a Mellow Mushroom pizza joint near the college), which is why we didn’t start going to dinner until 9. We went to dinner at a place on Folly Beach, which was ... interesting. I mean it had good food choices, but people were smoking and drunk (beach town on a Saturday night at 10-11pm ...) while we were eating our food. But it was mostly okay. I had scallops and made my mom try one and she said it wasn’t "that bad." MUAHAHAHA.


It was a great trip. Charleston is a beautiful city. I could see us living there ... making it our home. I wish I knew what's going to happen with my job, but all in good time. I've got to take it one step at a time. But the house is beautiful ... our house, I kept saying. It really is probably too big for all our stuff right now. But we could grow into it. It could be our home.

Home in Charleston

Whew! All of the stressful things this month are DONE. Now I get to relax, and tomorrow, go on this trip I've been looking forward to as the "reward" after my exam. Which, I passed. Did I mention that? I'm now a Ph.D. candidate. I'm not sure what I was perform the exam, but whatever. It was more stressful than I'd thought it would be, for various reasons ... but I passed. I was pleasantly surprised that all of the committee members agreed that I should drop the simulations portion. That was the part I was most worried about in terms of my ability to accomplish it in a timely manner. I've met with each committee member (last one today) to get their thoughts. I have some really tough, but fair, comments that I need to think hard about. I need to create a new outline.

But anyway, the trip! Tomorrow I fly to Atlanta, where I'll meet up with Jay and my mom, and we'll all take the same plane to Charleston, where we'll meet up with his parents and sister. Yay for family get togethers! And then we'll look at houses, although as Jay points out "Jenni already has her dream house and it's called XXX Winding River Dr." I can't help it ... it was the first one I looked at that made me say "oooo ...", where I could really see us in that home. Every other one I've looked at, I've been mentally comparing to that one. We'll see if it holds up in real life.

When I look at these houses and think about what it means, there is a feeling in my heart, in my stomach. I can't think of the words to explain it fully. It comes when I look at a lake and imagine seeing it every day, or when I look at a kitchen and imagine cooking meals together. When I think of the future, and Jay and I, there, together, living it, sharing a home. It's a feeling of warmth mixed with a little quiver. It makes me want to hold the image of the future close to my heart, cradling it, like a present that I don't want to reveal too quickly.

I don't know how this is going to play out. The questions of where I'll get a job or when we'll be together are a lot more frequent this days, and it's still just as tough to admit that I don't have all the answers. But no matter what happens in this crazy future of ours, it's going to be freaking awesome. Because we'll be doing it together.

Meeting K.A. Applegate

Yesterday, I met K. A. Applegate (really Katherine, but I always think of her as "KA"), author of the Animorphs book series. I found out that she was signing books at the Festival of Books. I hesitated because it's being held over at USC this year, but really there was no question--if she was there, I had to meet her.

I have a couple of my books here (#1-6), but they are very "loved" (aka ratty), and the rest are at home. So I went to B&N and bought the re-released #1 and #2. I was worried about traffic and parking, so I ended up getting to the booth an hour before her signing. I wandered around looking at various booths ... I actually bought too many books yesterday. You can't take a Kissinger to a Festival of Books and not have her walk out with tons of new purchases!

When I came back to the booth, there was a line, which grew after I got in it. Everyone in line was my age. When I was third in line, this guy came over to talk to me, and while we were talking I realized he was Michael! ("Yes, the infamous Michael from the dedication page.") And he pointed out his children, Jake and Julia.

The girl in front of me began crying, and KA teared up as well! I have to admit I kind of understood how she felt. My own hands were shaking as I took a picture for her. Finally, it was my turn.

I said how nice it was to meet her, how I'd been reading her books since 5th or 6th grade. I told her about how me and my friends would pretend to be the Animorphs. I told her that on the drive over, I realized that Animorphs was the first scifi books I'd ever read, which led me into the entire scifi genre. It was really from reading science fiction that I first decided I wanted to be an astronaut ... which has led me to being here, where I am today, a grad student in space physics. She really liked hearing that and called Michael over for me to tell him.

I told her that her books were the first ones that made me think about war, and what it meant for a person to go through war and be affected by it. I learned so much about animals from her books. Seeing a hawk made me think of Tobias and thermals. I can never trust a person named Chapman. I would order Happy Meals "with extra happy".

She was so nice and kind. It was really a great pleasure to meet her, to have her sign my books. She had a little notebook for us fans to sign as well.

I wish I could have explained to her how much Animorphs dominated my middle school life. How my friends and I learned to be creative and come up with elaborate plots and characters, based on her work. I made up my first fully realized character, Quantana, to give Ax a girlfriend--admittedly a bit of a Mary Sue. The way she wrote still influences my writing style! How I met my best friend by thrusting the simming at her and insisting that she write something. How I don't know anything about the Civil War, because it was so easy to sim in 8th grade history class that we never paid attention. How I met people on the Internet who became good real life friends, all from Animorphs Role Play. I wish I could have brought the +1000 pages of the simming to show her--maybe have her sign it!--but it's at home.

I still remember lying on the couch, and my dad handing me an Animorphs book to read. But it was #2, so I had no idea what was going on, or why their dialogue was in '<' and '>' symbols! Animorphs was also the first series, and remains one of the few, where I identified more with a guy character than a girl.

Animorphs were the first books I read that made me think "What if...?", where I realized that you could pretend anything you wanted and it could be better than the real world around you. The Animorphs were funny, they were smart, they turned into animals, and they struggled so much with trying to save the world. Just six idiot teenagers with a death wish, but they helped me to dream, to think, and to build powerful and enduring friendships.

For Jenni,

With thanks for being such an amazing fan!

You're awesome.



Mar. 21st, 2011

Updating fail ...

After 1.5 years, Jay came to visit me in Los Angeles. It was definitely something to look forward to during all the SERE crap. When I visit him in Enid, there's really not much to do, so I might have overcrammed our schedule a little bit while he was here. We weren't at the apartment much.

He arrived on Wednesday, and I had forgotten about Mustache March. ::shudder:: It's not that it looks BAD, it's just weird and different. It makes him look older. And kissing him with it is just weird. My dad has a mustache. You do the math.

We went to dinner at the Grove, at an Italian restaurant Diane recommended. We ate outside, next to the fountain synced to music, which was awesome. The music was a little loud, but it felt like Italy! It was a beautiful night, too. The food was delicious. I had a salmon dish that actually tasted GREAT (comparing it to the terrible, dry, rubbery "Alaskan" salmon we had in Fairbanks) with golden beets and some kind of awesome goat cheese souffle. While we were there, I had my first Random Celebrity Sighting. I was just glancing around at the other tables and my eyes caught on a familiar face: Mario Lopez. We watched with amusement as two girls stood nearby us, trying to figure out if it was really him, and then trying to get up the courage to go over. Eventually they did make their way over and he took a picture with them. Jay and I were trying to think of someone that we would interrupt during their dinner ... we didn't really come up with anyone. I guess if we like them enough to want to talk to them or take a picture, we'd respect them enough to leave them alone at dinner!

Thursday was the first day of adventure! It was also when Jay started getting more sick. :-( He was basically sick all weekend. Anyway, we took off, heading for the Bay Area to go see Doug and Christy! I think I drove all the way that day, which was fine. We took the 5 up, although we detoured into Bakersfield to buy a pair of sunglasses for me and Chipotle for lunch. The reservoir south of Gilroy was INSANELY full! Like, after another rainstorm I'd be worried about it overflowing the road at points!

We made it to Doug's at around 3, I think. It was great to see him again. We sat outside on the patio, next to their awesome pool and garden, and caught up on our lives and the Academy. Oh, and played with Skipper, of course. In the evening we went to the country club, where we had a delicious St. Patrick's Day dinner! Guys, I had soup and liked it. It was potato leek soup, and it was divine. I never like soup. But this ... was awesome.

After dinner, they had entertainment! A bunch of girls (and two boys), ranging from elementary to high school, came out and did Irish step dancing! It was so cool to see. All the girls had beautiful costumes with the same basic pattern, but wild variations in color schemes, materials, etc. They all had perfect ringlets which could NOT have been real for most of them, but looked great. One girl who danced is going to Dublin to compete in the world competition! That would have been neat to get into during school.

The next morning, we had breakfast with Doug and Christy (and Skipper) and then left the O'Handley Hilton by 11. We drove down to Monterey and ate lunch at a pub. It was too cold and windy to really enjoy the bay. Our ORIGINAL plan was to drive the 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) all the way back down to Los Angeles. Except that part of it decided to FALL INTO THE OCEAN two days before we got there! (We actually didn't even know about it until Doug told us).

So instead of going down to Carmel, seeing Big Sur and McWay Falls, we took a huge detour on the 101 down to King City. We turned onto some random road with no other cars on it, and made our way through farms, passed through an army base, and through a national forest before we finally hit the coast. Don't get me wrong, it was beautiful ... quite a drive to make, actually. The hilly-farm areas were so green and lush from all the rain, it felt like we were driving through Ireland or Scotland. The army base was a little weird, considering they apparently do live firing practice there. It juts right up against the national forest, and it's a 17-mile drive to get to the coast. But it's not an easy drive ... oh no. It was INSANE.

See all those kinks at the beginning? That's where you climb the mountain, and by the time you realize there's only two feet between you and the side of the road, you're already facing certain death if you fall. The entire 17 miles was a series of 180 inside turns, with 180 quick outside turns. Oh and by the way, there's no dividing line, and other cars are coming the other way. I was really glad Jay was driving. We did get to see cool views going up, but on the way down, our magnificent view (I imagine) of the Pacific was blocked by rain and fog. It was definitely the craziest road I've ever been on.

Oh yeah, did I mention it hailed?

Finally, we made it to Highway 1, despite my brakes burning and my slight queasiness. We unfortunately missed a good part of the highway, but we were still able to see a lot of it. At one point we pulled over because I saw elephant seals! So we got to see them after all. We didn't stop at Hearst Castle, but we did see Morro Rock, and finally stopped for the day in Pismo Beach. Jay picked out a very nice hotel, with adorable rooms that came with a fireplace and a Jacuzzi! Unfortunately the rain that tied in with the aforementioned hail stayed with us pretty much the whole trip, and the beachside hotel didn't have much beach to offer. We ate dinner in a (hopping) Italian restaurant, and walked back through the rain to the hotel.

In the morning they brought us breakfast in a picnic basket. It was strange, the night before we had filled out our breakfast request. The food items were divided into columns, and you could pick one item from each column per guest. But apparently if you wanted milk with your cereal, you had to mark "milk" in the drink column (instead of, say, hot chocolate). Dumb people.

So we went an hour down the road, to Solvang, to have brunch. Solvang was SO cute, and I hope to go again when a) it's warmer/not raining and b) my companion isn't miserably sick. It's a town designed to look like an old Danish town. We ate at Paula's Pancake House and had Danish pancakes, which are thinner than the normal ones. We also purchased danishes at one of the bakeries. Unfortunately, mine was not brought to me by someone named Stiny.

Solvang seems like a place to go to either drink or shop. We were driving and have no money, but we did stop in one of the shops that had CUCKOO CLOCKS. ZOMG I want one. One with a bird that pops out. They had this music box that played Canon in D, but it was $50. I also froze in happy remembrance when someone turned on a carousal that played The Entertainer. We used to dance around to that song when I was really little.

Before leaving Solvang, we stopped at the Ostrich Farm and fed the ostriches! Jay took pictures hoping I would get pecked, but I FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS. I wanted to buy an ostrich egg but I didn't see any, and the ostrich jerky looked weird.

After that, we pretty much pressed for home. We did get off the highway (way too early apparently) to drive down State St. in Santa Barbara. It really seemed like a place to go to either eat, drink, or shop! By the time we got to Malibu, I was tired and ready to be done driving. We got home and lazed around for a bit. For dinner we went to In'n'Out and watched Firefly episodes afterwards.

Sunday was the worst (best?) rain Los Angeles has had in years. It was a flat out storm, which was really only strange because of where we are--anywhere else it would be normal, and in Florida people would have still gone to the beach in it. We spent a lazy day recovering from our road trip, and in the afternoon went to see the movie Unknown in the Chinese Hollywood theater. (Pretty good movie btw.) Afterwards, we drove through the rivers that had taken over the Hollywood streets to get to the restaurant where we were to meet Jon and Shannon! They are no longer LD, which is awesome, and it was great to see them again. The restaurant had like 25 beers on tap (including cider for me, yay) and had weird sausages, including wild boar, elk, pheasant, alligator, and venison. Unfortunately they were out of the first two, so I tried the pheasant. It was good! Sausagey. It was great to catch up with our friends.

Sadly the trip went by too fast. By the time we got home, we had to hurry to get ready for bed, to wake up at 4:45 to drive Jay to the airport. Booooo.

Evil week is over

Yaaaaaay this week is OVER! I'm so glad. Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty rough, but yesterday and today were so much better! And now there's all sorts of awesome to look forward to!

It was great to come back from Alaska and its negative ridiculous temperatures, and find that spring has come to LA! The trees are all blooming and the air smells sweet (well, as long as you stay away from the main roads). It's warm and sunny. You know LA, sometimes you can be pretty nice.

I waded into the morass that is health insurance, and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get anything back from my Anchorage doctor's visit because of deductibles. Sadness. However, it looks like I can reimburse the hotel that I had to get, so that's good. I also did my taxes, and I'm not really sure what's changed but I'm getting a larger refund than last year. Woohoo! Which will immediately go into my ... shall we say ... Upcoming Life Events fund.

Yeah. I plan ahead.

So Tuesday and Wednesday kinda sucked. I was nervous and worried the whole time, and pretty much just wanted to be alone and miserable and all that jazz. I tried focusing on research, but that snowballed on Wednesday afternoon when I hit one of those Fail Walls. You know the one, where you start thinking "I'm a terrible scientist, I have no idea what I'm doing and I'm a fraud, I'll never finish!" But thankfully those periods tend to be short for me, and the next day I was soooo much better. I felt confident, I was able to write a couple very important paragraphs, I was doing things for the GEM meeting, and basically just back on track.

It probably didn't hurt that I wasn't worried anymore, thanks to being able to talk to Jay that evening and hearing that he sounded okay, and not miserable or in terrible pain. Which, you know, not being in terrible pain, always a good thing. I know it was bad, and really sucked, but I think I was imagining that it was worse than it probably was. I'm so glad it's OVER!

Today I went out for lunch with Diane, the girl who I became friends with after helping her with her research project. It was really great to catch up, and it's so funny because we're at basically the same point in both our grad lives and our personal lives. I mentioned that I had been looking for things to do with Jay while he's here (because I'm a hermit, boo), and I'm glad I did because she gave me ALL these ideas and restaurants, and emailed me links to everything after lunch. YAY. On the way back to work I stopped at Diddy Reese and got some ice cream, just because.

In short: Life ... is good. Especially with chocolate.

The Dancing Lights

This past week, I attended an AGU conference on the aurora and magnetospheric processes, held in Fairbanks, Alaska! Even though Alaska's one of the States, it's exotic enough that I'm considering it a conference in a 'foreign' land. It was such a wonderful trip in every way.

First and foremost, I saw the aurora--the beautiful phenomenon that we all study, but many of us had never seen before (I got a certificate, signed by Akasofu, for seeing the aurora for the first time, haha). I was a bit worried because I didn't go out on Monday night with my roommate Meghan in their car, so I missed the best night of the week. My talk was the next morning and I didn't want to be dead tired, or make the others feel like they had to go back early and then miss something. I was hopeful that Monday wouldn't be the only night of the week with activity, and luckily there was something the next three nights when I went out!

On Tuesday night we drove to the top of a mountain, and on Wednesday and Thursday we went to Poker Flat Rocket Range. I hitched rides with Meghan (Dartmouth, roomie) and Phil (also Dartmouth, went to undergrad with Jay). I also hung out with Steve from Iowa a lot, although he only went the first night.

At first when activity was low, I thought it was just a cloud, but I quickly got used to being able to distinguish between auroral arcs and clouds (of which there weren't many, luckily). When we arrived at the mountain on Tuesday, the show had already begun. It was pretty crazy and dynamic, none of the usual behavior we talk about in our research. Wednesday was more of a typical substorm (my professor Larry would say three onsets but that's a point of contention ;-) ); same for Thursday, although we had to wait until 1am for it to do anything.

My favorite part was being at Poker Flat, because in the science building they have this room that looks to magnetic north, and the walls and ceiling are glass. The room is heated, so you can watch the aurora and not be cold! It was small, so it couldn't hold a lot of people, but it was so peaceful, and while the aurora wasn't doing anything there were stars to watch. We would talk softly in there, it almost felt like being in a library or a church. Except when the arc brightened and started to go off, then there were excited "Look over there!" cries.

The organizers did a great job of arranging other fun activities. On Tuesday we went to the Chena hot springs. We got a tour of the geothermal power plant and greenhouses by the owner, Bernie, who is the COOLEST guy ever. He started off a little ... O.o shall we say ... but he was just funny, and very passionate about what he's doing. Although when he said something like "Americans can solve any problem, we're the greatest group of people on the planet!" everyone looked at all of our European and Asian colleagues and were like .... awkward! He liked rhyming: "Smoke stack free by 2023!" "The solution to pollution is dilution!" He ranted for a while about pollution from coal factories, nuclear power plants, etc. He also said that in Alaska they "get to sell nature, and we get to keep it." Which I thought was awesome. The hot springs was nice and warm. All of our hair turned white! The steam rose up, condensed on our hair, and then froze. It did make me feel a little dizzy (like Tohru!).

There was a banquet on Wednesday, and on Thursday we had a tour of Poker Flat, including the building that they hold the rockets in until they launch. The ENTIRE BUILDING moves out of the way when the rocket is ready to go. I hung out with a lot of the rocket grad students, and heard about the dual excitement and boredom of launching sounding rockets. I kind of wish we had that kind of hands on experience at UCLA ... but being in Fairbanks for 9 weeks might be more than I can handle!

And it was cold there. VERY cold, especially at the beginning. Like, highs in the single digits and lows in the minus teens and twenties. Fahrenheit! I did pretty well, although the one thing I didn't have that I really should have was boots. On Friday we went to the international ice sculpture competition, and after half an hour my toes were dying tiny little icicle deaths inside my shoes. Luckily I had some toe warmers I could put on when we went inside to get dinner. The sculptures were so incredible, although I liked the 'realistic' better than 'abstract', especially ones of animals.

My friends from UCLA and I set up an activity of our own: dog sled rides! All in all, it was actually a little sketchy, but it was very fun. It was basically just this one guy who owns dogs, so he picked us up and we drove out to a frozen river, and then hooked all the dogs up. There's not 'traditional'-looking, purebred huskies, just Alaskan dogs that are really good at running and living in the cold. They were all sorts of colors, and about the size of Coco (although not as fat!). As he hooked them up to the sled, they were all barking and howling and wanting to run. He had it set up so that one person would sit in his sled, and another sled would follow behind that we could drive! Driving was SO much fun, I didn't fall once. I just stayed loose and pretty much did whatever I saw him doing. You have to lean against whatever the sled's doing, and there's a brake so you can keep your line taut. It was mostly flat though, so I just rolled with the bumps and watched the scenery. I wish I could have gone longer!

Amidst all of this awesomeness, we actually did some science! So often in the circles I run in, we refer to the aurora as the end process. Last week I realized that we still don't know what forms an aurora arc, or a lot of the motions and behavior of the aurora. A lot of the talks were given from a 'ground-up' perspective, which was really interesting to hear, although some could have given better introductions to their research. I had an oral talk on Tuesday morning, which was short and sweet, and received several compliments. I talked to and shared my list with Steve from England who does incredible work, so hopefully we can collaborate on SMCs together! I also talked to Kathryn and Eric from Canada, met Eric's new master's student, and finally met Jim from Marshall. I took copious pages of notes ... I should read over them again!

I also feel like I'm getting ... more adept? at listening to talks. Even though we were out until 3am every night looking at the aurora, I was awake and alert through almost all of the talks. I don't know if I'm learning how to concentrate better, if I'm just more knowledgeable about the background, or if the talks were just that interesting, but it was a good feeling!

Unfortunately, the trip didn't end so wonderfully. I (along with Marissa) had arranged our schedules so that we would fly from Fairbanks to Anchorage on Saturday morning, and then spend the day there before flying a red-eye back to LA. Well, when I woke up Saturday morning, I had stomach pain. I figured it would go away, but then I was sick, and it got worse. I had managed to pick up the local stomach bug making its rounds. On the Anchorage flight I threw up twice more, and by the time we landed I knew I wasn't going to be a tourist that day. It was pretty bad and painful, Marissa ended up driving me to a clinic. They said I was dehydrated and the doctor gave me a shot in my hip to stop the stomach spasms. Which, OW. It burned. It still kind of hurts. The doctor agreed that it's the worst shot he's ever had. But it did what it was supposed to. It also made me extremely drowsy and dizzy, so Marissa ended up driving around looking for a hotel we could stay at where I could just sleep. There wasn't a lot of options because the Iditarod dog sled race started that day (which we were going to watch ;_;), but we found one, and even though I couldn't walk very far without having to stop, she got me and my luggage up to the room, made me drink water, got me toast, and was basically just totally awesome. I'm really grateful that she was there, I don't know that I could have functioned otherwise. Luckily, by the time she had to leave to catch her flight, the worst was over. I basically slept all day until my midnight flight to LA, and then slept most of Sunday.

So not such a great end, but at least it didn't happen during all of the awesome fun in Fairbanks! It was really an incredible experience, and I'm so grateful to have the chance to attend science conferences in such wonderful places!


Well ... I just got off the phone with Jay. It's the last time we'll talk to each other for five days. It's ironic that tomorrow, I leave for the snows of Alaska for a conference, while he heads into the mountains of Washington for survival training. It'll be colder in Fairbanks, but I'll have, you know, a bed. And shelter. And heat.

I guess it's kind of amazing that since we've started dating, we've talked every single day. I think there was one or two times where circumstances made it so we accidentally forgot to call each other for one day. But even during OTS, that hellish first week, he called for at least a minute to let me know he was okay.

I felt a little better after talking to him, compared to how I felt all day. He sounds excited, and talked about the extra gear they're giving them to combat frostbite and hypothermia. They have missions each day, so it's kind of like a game, not just walking around in the woods.

I am excited about Alaska. I mean ... it's a crazy and incredible opportunity. I'm going to make the best of it, and have a blast. But a huge part of me is sad that I won't be able to share my daily experience with Jay. And a small part of me is going to feel guilty every time I go inside and escape the cold. Christine suggested that I email him every day, like how I would write letters to Nicole during basic, so I told him I'm going to do that. Then it will feel like I'm communicating to him, even though he'll get it later.

Aaaaaand now I just got off the phone with Nicole, haha. Who somehow managed to call at just the perfect time. In the grand scheme of things, five days is not that long. The week is going to fly by for both of us. I'm really glad that after all this SERE crap he'll be coming to visit.

Now I must finish packing! For Alaska! ZOMG!


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