Almost Touching the Moon on Mauna Kea

If I had to choose one thing about Hawaii that I love love loved the most, it would have to be Mauna Kea.  Maybe it was the lack of oxygen at 9,000 ft+ above sea level.  Maybe it was the utter quiet.  Maybe it was the twilight and watching the mist descend and form clouds around us.

Maybe it was all of those things.

But it was magical.

Hang loose - the theme of the trip
Hang loose – the theme of the trip

I wrote about the high-powered observatories in my last post.  This is where they live.  People come from all over the world to observe the sky from atop Mauna Kea.

This mountain is technically the tallest one in the states, bottom to top (Mount Everest has a higher top elevation, but its base is above 10,000 ft).  Mauna Kea’s base is actually far under the ocean.   So what I’m saying is it’s steep.  I have altitude sensitivity, so I started feeling funny around 6,000 or 7,000 ft.  My husband never seems to notice any external stressors like that — he’s the person who can drive home from the optometrist with his eyes dilated, when I’m still fumbling for my water bottle 8 hours later.  So when it comes to driving up the side of a mountain, climbing 9-10K feet in an hour or so, let the one who can breathe do it.

The drive up is gorgeous, taking about an hour
The drive up is gorgeous, taking about an hour

 

On the way up, there are no filling stations, no McDonald’s, and only scattered houses.  Mostly there are cows.  And sheep.  Donkeys.  And signs to let you know that the donkeys will be crossing the road at daybreak and twilight.  We found those particularly amusing.  Probably the lack of oxygen.

But Mauna Kea is such an attraction because of the high elevation, the great views, and then, as the sun sets, the stargazing.  It is so dark out there with the lack of ambient light and the sharp jutting of the mountain into and above the clouds that you can see stars unlike anywhere on earth.

Everyone spoke in hushed tones
Way up here, everyone spoke in hushed tones
Not sure if they were pledging their lives to one another or breaking up
Not sure if they were pledging their lives to one another or breaking up here
You can draw your own conclusions
You can draw your own conclusions

These snaps were taken atop an embankment above the visitors’ center.  Hiking up it made me a little nervous.  Imma really scared of heights and there are no safety rails on this thing.  But getting up there was worth it.

So worth it.

New favorite selfie
New favorite couple selfie.  High above the clouds.
Representing the Herd
Representing the Herd — this is a picture from earlier in the evening, see how the clouds are just starting to swirl?

It is undoubtedly the number one thing I would recommend doing if you visit the Big Island.  I’m not the type of person who likes to go to the same vacation spots over and over again, but I can’t wait to go back and visit the mountain.  I loved it so very much.

Hope your brakes have been serviced
Hope your brakes have been serviced.  Ah — it’s a rental, whatevs.
Goodnight, Mauna Kea.
Goodnight, Mauna Kea.

 

Harry Potter and the Apple of My Molars

I visited Harry Potter World last week.  Actually, I know it’s not called Harry Potter World, but I’m 29 now, so I’m too old to be bothered with remembering the real name of the subsection of the Universal Studios park dedicated to the Boy Who Lived.

But because my visit to the park was too fun to put into one post, I’m going to break it down for you.  Today’s post is about Harry and the Apple of My Molars.  Yes, I’m talking about Honeydukes, which of course is in no way sells health food such as apples, but candy is the “apple of my eye” and …. (pfft shrrrmp, something something) — I have a sweet tooth.  So that’s what you get.  Whatever.  Logic is not necessary in blog post titles.  Don’t act like it is.

So anyway.  Honeydukes is basically the Willy Wonka retail outlet of the Wizarding World.  And by that, I mean it has some uh-maze-ing noms.

The turquoise really makes the jars pop
The turquoise really makes the jars pop

 

I've always wanted a pink princess spiral staircase to nowhere
I’ve always wanted a pink princess spiral staircase to nowhere
The storefront
The storefront, which is art in itself.

If you’ve never had Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, I highly recommend them as an experience.  I first had them over a decade ago when my husband and I started dating.  [Wow, that really makes me sound old, but I swear I’m not even eligible for social security yet.]  They give you a picture list of the types of beans, much like the Jelly Belly Beans, sort of like a National Audubon Society for jelly beans.  I readily ate them all, even the booger, dirt, and grass (I’m pretty sure I have never had a vomit-flavored one– despite the listing on the bean inventory), and none of them taste that bad.  Except for the pepper.  They really get ya on the black pepper.  Beware!

Bertie gets his own window
Bertie gets his own window
They clearly don't even care about presentation.  *eyeroll*
They clearly don’t even care about presentation. *eyeroll*
I'm sure there's at least one vomit-flavored bean in every box -- they are huge
I’m sure there’s at least one vomit-flavored bean in every box — they are huge
They also have the classic chocolate frogs, complete with a card inside
They also have the classic chocolate frogs, complete with a card inside

And they have a few of the less-common candies as well.  Things that are not as sugarcoated as the Every Flavour Beans and chocolate frogs:

Jumping Snakes.   Something tells me they're not joking.
Jumping Snakes. Something tells me they’re not joking.  Notice my lovely hand model.
U-No-Poo.  Um.  Yep.  That's what you think it is.  Like Immodium candy.
U-No-Poo. Um. Yep. That’s what you think it is. Like Imodium candy.
Treacle
Fizzing Whizzbies.  Always a favorite in the books.
Exploding Bon Bons.  Guaranteed to cause  Monty Python-type explosion in the comfort of your home.
Exploding Bon Bons. Guaranteed to cause Monty Python-type explosion in the comfort of your home.

You don’t have to change out your money at Honeydukes (they graciously take American dollars), but it might be something cool to think about in the future.  Are you listening, Universal?

Sickles Only.
Sickles Only.

The cashier at Honeydukes asked us about our day, and we started chatting.  She said that one of the strangest reactions she had ever seen in the store happened the week prior, when a teenager opened her chocolate frog and started crying.  (Out of fear?  Sadness?  Lactose intolerance?  Supreme happiness?)  Supreme happiness it was.  I feel ya, random teenager.  Life is rough.  Honeydukes makes everything a little better.

 

Beware the Ides of March (A Photostory)

You’ll have to forgive me that the title has nothing much to do with this post.  I only get to say, “Beware the Ides of March!” once a year, and as a Latin geek, this is a huge deal to me.

You’ll also have to excuse the non-linear nature of tonight’s post — it’s basically my Instagram roundup/favorite things of the week post.  (i.e. I have some pictures from the past week, and I want to share them.)

First of all, did you know they have Harry Potter stamps at the Post Office?!

I had to buy two books!
I had to buy two books!

Seriously, my week was practically made at that point.  I didn’t have to go on.  But yet, I did.  I made my way to Fish’s Eddy homewares in NYC.  Apparently, it’s kind of a big deal.  I had no idea, but the outside looked great, so I thought I would check out the inside.  Look at this gem:

<3 <3 <3
❤ ❤ ❤

I really need some gay weddings to attend, because I really want to have an excuse to buy these.  Get with the program, West Virginia!  I thought this shot was a little too perfect to pass up:

Rainbows and unicorns
Rainbows and unicorns

I loved the color in the window on the way to dinner.  Couldn’t walk by it.  I also couldn’t walk by this without talking a shot:

This was just like the Pick Up Stix game
This was just like the Pick Up Stix game

My sole souvenir from the trip was from the Fish’s Eddy:

This was my souvenir from the trip: from the Fish's Eddy
Rest in Grease

And then I made a Peep Diorama for the American Bar Association contest.  Yes, these are cannibalistic Peeps:

And then I made a Peep Diorama for the American Bar Association contest.  R v. Dudley and Stephens
R v. Dudley and Stephens

It’s a pretty interesting story about 4 sailors who are shipwrecked, have to fight off sharks in their flimsy lifeboat, and end up eating one of their party to keep from starving in the coming days.  (Sacrifice one so that the others can live!)  But then they are rescued and charged with murder.  (Uh-oh!)

So that’s my week in a nutshell.  What about yours?  Have any fun photos to share?  I’m new to Instagram (yes, I know I’m just joining 2011), but I’m looking for beautimous and/or interesting accounts to follow!

From the Earth to the Sky

Some days I feel grateful simply that I have legs that work and lungs that breathe.

Other days I feel like a happy marriage, a beautiful home, a loving family, great friends, and a stable job aren’t enough for me.

Some days I look at other people and think they have it so much easier than I do.

Other days I want to pour my heart and soul out to those who aren’t as fortunate (be it fortunate in material items or those things that can’t be seen).

Every living, breathing thing will die one day.  It’s hard to think about that.  It’s hard to think your husband, your parents, your dog, your best friend — will all one day be gone.

I think the redwoods are the closest thing to a cure for these thoughts.  I guess they’re old enough to teach me a thing or two…

Image

Photos from the Commonwealth

West Virginia and Pennsylvania share very similar geography and industries.  But there are way more people, and camps, and just things in PA.  Some towns we drove through today were founded before the Declaration of Independence was signed.  West Virginia split off from Virginia in 1863 for those of you who aren’t familiar with our history (and there are a lot of you, still today, ask anyone from West Virginia).  We moved the state capitol several times  — actually from Wheeling to Charleston to Wheeling and back to Charleston.  We just generally didn’t get our stuff together as early as our Commonwealth neighbor to the north. But anyway, anytime I go to Pennsylvania, I don’t really feel like it’s much different from West Virginia, aside from the large cities that are sprinkled throughout.  We have the same trees, the same hills, the same winding roads:

Like these beautiful cows
Like these dotty cows and the clouds above them
And these tall, tall trees
And these tall, tall trees

One of the highlights (and the actual purpose) of our trip was to go to a Nine Inch Nails concert in State College, Pennsylvania.

They rocked the house +
They rocked the house

One of the other highlights of our trip was stopping at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater (“The Most Famous Home in America”).

It is worth the trip if you’re in that area — and when you think it was built 75 years ago, it truly is a testament to the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright:

The iconic shot of the house hanging over the falls
The iconic shot of the house hanging over the falls
My loving husband took this shot of me on the bridge leading to Fallingwater
My loving husband took this shot of me on the bridge leading to Fallingwater

One of the best parts of our trip, however, was something we didn’t plan.  As were driving between State College and Mill Run, where Fallingwater is located, we saw the sign for the 9/11 Memorial of hijacked Flight 93.  We made a split-second decision to go view the site.  Right now, there really isn’t much there.  A beautiful walkway and wall commemorating that day with the names of those who died, and a boulder that sits over the impact site.  You can only view the impact site from afar, which makes sense when you recognize the layout of the land.  It is a large, open field.  The park ranger said that the plane came in at over 500 mph and flipped onto its top.

It was a solemn visit, like many national monuments.  But something about the 9/11 monuments are different to me, probably because I remember that day so well.  Most of the monuments and museums I’ve traveled to in my life memorialize things that happened long before I was born.  And as my husband pointed out as we made our way along the walking path, there were young kids there who were not even alive when 9/11 happened.  To them, 9/11 will be like the Vietnam War — something horrific that their parents lived through.

I didn’t really feel much like taking pictures at the memorial, but I did take one:

The woolly caterpillar
The woolly caterpillar

When I was growing up, my grandma would always say to count the number of black rings the woolly caterpillar has on his back and that will tell you how long our winter will be.  This guy only had a couple black rings, which means a short winter.

Here’s hoping.  I’m already ready for summer again.

What did you do this weekend?  What’s an Old Wives’ Tale you remember your grandparents telling you?  

Bourbon Trail

In Kentucky, they make two things well: bourbon and thoroughbred racehorses.  I got a little living history lesson yesterday when I took a roadtrip to just past Lexington in Woodford County, near Versailles.  One of the more high-end bourbons, Woodford Reserve, is made there, and I took a tour of the beautiful facilities.

They had all kinds of neat trivia to share with us — like the fact that there’s a several million-gallon pond out back that is rigged to pump water inside the buildings if they catch on fire and pump the burning alcohol back into the pond.  Prit.tee. cool.

Anyway, Woodford is a small-batch distillery, so they make only a fraction of what the big time bourbon companies churn out (like Wild Turkey).  But that’s one of the things that makes it a really interesting place to visit.  It’s small enough for them to take you through their operations and allow you to see every part of the process.

One thing I didn’t know is that Kentucky has great limestone water that is perfect for making whiskey.  Apparently the water makes it taste fabulous.  Surface water — not so much, so they go underground for the good stuff.  They use corn, barley, and rye to make as their ingredients at Woodford.  Kind of funny to think those innocuous ingredients turn into bourbon over the course of roughly 7 years.  The fermentation process begins in these massive vats.

The fermentation process begins in these massive vats.
They boil and bubble.  Any witch would be happy to have them.
Then they are put into these massive copper vats and turned into something suitable for being barreled.
Then the fermented concoction is put into these massive copper vats and turned into something suitable for being barreled.
The limestone building where all of this takes place is gorgeous.
The limestone building where all of this takes place is gorgeous.

Once the alcohol is ready, it’s put into charred oak barrels.  They even have a fun little barrel roll that comes out of the limestone building and goes into the building where the storage building.  The barrels weigh about 100 pounds empty and about 525 pounds when full.

So I guess a little train track type thing is helpful for getting these things to the next building….

Rolling down to be stored for about 7 long years.
Rolling down to be stored for about 7 long years.
The building where the bourbon is stored looks like an old jail -- bars on the windows and all...
The building where the bourbon is stored looks like an old jail — bars on the windows and all…
These windows are amazing.
These windows are amazing.
What a gorgeous sight...
What a gorgeous sight…

Once the bourbon goes inside the barrels, it’s stored for anywhere from 6 years on up… roughly around 7 years at Woodford.  They likened  the vintages to wine — where you keep it stored at different times to make different flavors.  A lot of it evaporates each year from inside the barrel.

The barrels are stacked high...
The barrels are stacked high…
Each barrel has its vintage marked on it
Each barrel has its vintage marked on it

They have to take extra care in Kentucky because of the fault line they sit on… the building where the barrels sit is supposed to crumble around them if a disaster-size earthquake ever hits Versailles.  Another cool piece of trivia.

All of this learning obviously makes people rather thirsty, so they round up the tour with a shot of Woodford near the gift shop.  For $7, I can’t think of a better way to kill an hour in Central Kentucky.

And you can grab a passport for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to have stamped each time you go to a distillery in the Commonwealth (you do know Kentucky is a Commonwealth and not a state, right?).

At the end of the tour, we saw this well-worn cat, whom the tour guide did not acknowledge…

A trip to the groomer is probably not a bad idea for Woodford cat, and maybe something to drink besides whiskey
A trip to the groomer is probably not a bad idea for Woodford cat, and maybe something to drink besides whiskey

Regardless, I dubbed him Woodford Cat.

It was a great little day trip for people in my neck of the woods.  People who brew small-batch anything are always very proud of what they do, so anytime you have the chance to witness something like that, take advantage.

What’s your favorite bourbon drink?  Mint julep?  Manhattan?  

36 Hours in Huntington

I always think it’s fun to read the “36 Hours in…. [insert major city here]” series in the New York Times.  I think it’s high time that someone made one for Huntington, West By God Virginia.  Maybe if The Times asks nicely, I will let them reprint it (with my byline, of course).

Huntington is one of the largest cities in West Virginia, but it’s more of a town by most people’s standards.  Read on to find some of the best spots in town you can hit up in 36 hours:

Start your day with a warm cup of coffee and a breakfast cookie at River & Rail Bakery in Heritage Station.  The coffee there has just the right amount of strength and the baked goods are the best in town.  Stand in line for half the time that you would at Starbucks, in addition to enjoying the friendly service and the comradery the patrons who frequent the establishment.

After you get your caffeine fix, head over to one of America’s most scenic parks, Ritter Park.  In the historic Southside area, this park is full of people and dogs any time of year and in all weather.  On Sunday afternoons, you can even see grown men LARPing in the park (live-action role playing).  It’s super fun for everyone.

The Ritter Rose Garden
The Ritter Rose Garden
In full bloom this time of year
In full bloom this time of year

After you’ve worked up an appetite, head over to Jewel City Seafood for a light lunch of crab cake and Caesar salad from owner Joe.    The seafood is fresh and the diner-like ambiance is endearing.

After lunch, take a short drive to the Spring Hill cemetery, where some of the Marshall University football team’s plane crash victims are buried and a memorial has been built.  A somber sight, no doubt, but it was an event that affected the entire town and still is remembered every year by the University.  It even inspired a major motion picture, We Are Marshall, with actual movie stars.  The cemetery is even home to graves of Civil War soldiers, officers, and generals, so it’s worth the trip.

The Marshall University memorial monument -- as a testament to players, coaches, and friends lost in 1970
The Marshall University memorial monument on Marshall University’s campus– built as a testament to players, coaches, and friends lost in  the 1970 plane crash

As the evening draws near, head to Pullman Square, a recently revitalized area of town.  Concerts, 5ks, and farmers markets take root here.  It’s a great place to be in Huntington.  Pottery Place is an especially great place to spend a few hours if the inspiration is there.  (You can even take a bottle of wine to drink with your friends as you make a custom piece).

From there, it’s a short walk back to Heritage Station to check out some of the shops there before dinner.  They have a locavore store, The Wild Ramp, which only stocks foods and products that were produced within 250 miles of the store.  You can find artisan products in addition to some delicious organic produce, fresh meat, and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.  At Heritage Station, there is also the Finds & Designs secondhand store, where you can find some great vintage treasures.  Everything from evening dresses to blankets can be found, but the jewelry counter is my favorite place to hang out in there.  There are a number of other shops worth checking out in Heritage, but as the list is growing it seems monthly, I’ll just direct you to go see what catches your eye.

Bottle & Wedge in Heritage Station, which shares its right wall with Brown Dog Yoga
The train car at Heritage Station and one of the popular shops, Bottle & Wedge

For dinner, if you’re feeling extravagant, there’s no better place for my money than Savannah’s.  The menu is inspired and well-rounded — my husband loves the lamb.  They have an extensive wine list and sell my favorite beer, Sam Smith Nut Brown Ale.  Whatever you do, make sure to save room for dessert.  Any dessert will do.

After dinner at Savannah’s, only one place is fit to top off your night.  Back to Heritage Station for Sip.  A wine bar with a select few vintages on tap, you can try anything you’re unsure of in a 2 oz glass.  I always get a flight like the Interesting Reds or the California Whites (avoid the wines with the “surprising minerality,” though).  Ask the bartender for the best new bottle they have on tap this week.

After you close out slip, get some sleep.  You need to be back to Heritage in the a.m. for Brown Dog Yoga.

Needing some time on the mat to think about all the fun things you’ve done in the preceding 24 hours and center yourself?  Head to Brown Dog Yoga for a session (heated or not – check the schedule) with some of the best yogis in town.  The beautifully renovated space is perfect to zen out.

After working up a sweat and an appetite, head over to Black Sheep Burrito & Brews for brunch (if it’s the weekend).  They have all you can drink Bloody Marys and Mimosas for $8 a head (90 minute limit — please drink responsibly).

If you drink as many mimosas as you probably will when they’re an $8 free for all, you’ll probably need a nap before you can travel back to wherever you came from as you wrap up this 36-hour tour of Huntington.

But if you’re still up for a little excitement, head over to Colonial Lanes and bowl a few games.  The prices are cheap and they sell beer by the pitcher that you can bring into the alley in the supposedly-haunted adjacent bar Rebels & Redcoats.  Maybe see if you can spot a ghost– the stories about their size, gender and appearance vary widely, probably all made up by some really drunk people who were very bad at bowling.

Questions for you:

Are you a Huntington native?  Did I leave out one of your favorite places?