Friday, April 29, 2011

# 16 - See a Space Shuttle Launch (Almost There!)

We are in Orlando trying to get #16 checked off my life list. STS-134 will be the final launch of the shuttle Endeavour. The launch was first targeted for March, then April 19. However, the April 19 date was moved to April 29 due to an anticipated traffic jam at the International Space Station. The Russians astronaut team would be docked at the same time Endeavour needed to be there, and due to the timely nature of the science work that the Russians needed to do, Endeavour got bumped.

We arrived late on the 27th and made our way to the condo we are renting downtown. It's in a nice, walkable location, a few blocks from Lake Eola and a cute commercial district. I found it on AirBnb. We spent the 28th getting our "provisions" for launch day, including tracking down collapsible chairs and picnic stuff.

This morning was an early start. We had to be to the mall to catch the tour bus by 5:00 AM. That meant alarms were set for 4:00 AM, not that they were needed, as I was too giddy to sleep. I woke up every 10 or 20 minutes, not wanting to miss the alarm.

When we finally arrived at Kennedy Space Center, we had a few hours there before we needed to board the buses to go out to the viewing area on the NASA Causeway.

Made it to the Kennedy Space Center!

Astronaut greeting us at the entry gate.

Part of the rocket garden at the Kennedy Space Center.
We had time to catch a wonderful 3-D IMAX movie on the Hubble Telescope. It included amazing clips of the spacewalk/work that the astronauts did to do the repairs to the Hubble. Do you remember when they finally got the Hubble in space, it had a warped lens that produced blurry photos? Well, space shuttle teams did a series of spacewalks to correct the problem. The other thing about the movie that was fantastic was the stunning images of the Earth from space. You know, every time I see a picture of the Earth from space I am reminded how tiny it really is, and how more care needs to be taken.

After the movie, we got in line to board our tour bus to the Causeway for viewing. This viewing point puts you about six miles from the launch pad, which is the closest you can be as a visitor. Well, maybe you can be closer if you know the right people or are a VIP, but it's the closest you can be as a "regular" visitor. Right about the time our bus rolls into the parking area on the Causeway we see a bunch of people packing up and heading back to their cars and buses. Hmm ... that can't be good. Bob quickly pulled up the NASA app on his iPhone (which I highly recommend) and read, to our disappointment, that the launch had been scrubbed. Apparently they found a malfunction on a component. Bummer! The current word is that it will launch no earlier than the afternoon of May 2, so we wait. We knew the potential for last minute scrubs, either due to technical or weather-related issues, so it's really not that surprising. Safety first for the crew ... being able to see the launch is a total bonus. I was able to get this photo of Endeavour on the launch pad.

So, now we wait until Monday, keeping our fingers crossed that we will get to see a launch.. I am not sure if seeing the shuttle six miles away and no launch is going to cut it for me. I am crossing my toes too, for a little extra luck.

Happy campers at the Kennedy Space Center!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Little Squirt

Friday night we picked up a docent shift at the Tidepool Rookery. Earlier this month the harbor seals starting having their pups and now there are about two dozen mom and pup pairs hauling out at low tide. The "holy grail" experience as a docent is to see a seal give birth. Well, folks ... we got to see it. First year volunteering and on our second shift. Some people volunteer for years and don't get to see it.

Here is an overview of one  part of the rookery. Lots of moms and pups sprawled out. There are also some big females here that are waiting to give birth.

There were two large females that we were keeping our eye on, as they kept moving around the beach, separating themselves a bit from the others, and once they did settle, the just couldn't seem to get comfortable. One spotted female hauled herself as close the the bluff wall as she could, hunkered down and started rocking back and forth, almost like she was heaving or panting.

Soon a flock of seagulls swarmed in. This was a good sign for an impending birth, as they like to swoop in pretty quickly after a pup is born and eat the placenta and afterbirth. I am not sure what clues them on the impending birth, but they clearly knew something was going to happen.

Waiting for an afterbirth snack. Yum!?
After a few minutes of heaving, we saw the female spread her back flippers and a caught a glimpse of something black starting to bulge out. About 30 second later, out came a shiny black seal pup. Boom, there it was.

Black harbor seal pup, just a few minutes old.
This seal pup was rambunctious from the start. It could not decide it if wanted to nurse or move around the beach. Mama seal tried to keep herself between the pup and the other seals. At one point, the pup wandered over to another female and looked like it wanted to nurse on her. She swatted him away with her front flipper. Mama seal was not happy about that and we thought there might be a tussle for a moment. The seal pup moved itself deeper into the mix of other seal and was greeted by more swats and warning sounds. Mama seal was really getting nervous and so were we. We were not sure if we were witnessing typical post-birth activities, or if this little pup might get a really good swat that could cause harm. We kept rooting for the little pup to get out of the mix of the grumpy seals and into a clear area of the beach.

Mama seal nudged him along until they were closer to the shoreline and separated from the rest of the group. One large wave and they were covered and in the water. The pup quickly understood the drill here and bobbed around in the water with mama seal propping him up every now and then. After a little play, they made their way back on the beach.

Resting after their first dip in the Pacific.

Needless to say, we were very excited to get to see a live birth! Can't wait to go back and see the little squirt grow. It's the only solid black one on the beach so far.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

You Let a Stranger Stay with You?

Over the past month, we have started hosting travelers in our guest cottage. These are people who have contacted us through one of two ways; through Warmshowers or Couchsurfing.  These are people who we have never met "in real life", but have met through one of the travel-related webpages I just mentioned. So ... what is this all about?


Warmshowers is a network of touring bicyclist who either provide lodging, need lodging for a current tour, or both. We are certainly not touring bicyclists ourselves (heck, two miles on my beach cruiser is FAR for me); however, our location right next to Highway 1 makes it a bit of a no-brainer to be involved. Come summer time, Highway 1 is heavy with long-distance bicyclists. Also, Bob received kindness and hospitality on his long-distance PCT hikes over the years, so this keeps the goodwill going.

So, how does it work? First, you need to be registered to use the Warmshowers web page. You set up a basic profile and note what kind of things you can provide for touring bicyclists. Options range from: lodging, food, laundry, a shower, or a place to pitch a tent or any combination of these. We've hosted twice so far, and have another pair of cyclers set up for next week. Both of the experiences were great. The first couple we hosted were on a West Coast tandem tour. The second was a recent college grad from Canada on a huge ride around Canada and the US. I think he had been on the road for more than 200 days by the time he got to us.

Warmshowers has a "feedback" system, so you can leave comments about your experience with a given host or guest. Reading these reviews gives you a sense of the kind of person you may be hosting or visiting.


 As noted on the CS web page, CouchSurfing is an international non-profit network that connects travelers with locals in over 230 countries and territories around the world. Since 2004, members have been using our system to come together for cultural exchange, friendship, and learning experiences. Today, over a million people who might otherwise never meet are able to share hospitality and cultural understanding. CouchSurfing's mission as an organization is to create inspiring experiences: cross-cultural encounters that are fun, engaging and illuminating. CouchSurfing is really more about just providing a place for someone to crash, but rather, you are really sharing a bit of your local area with the visitor.

There are different ways to be involved with this organization. You can open your home to a traveler, or you can offer to meet them somewhere for coffee and show them your city, etc. CouchSurfing users can set up pretty extensive profiles, so, again, you can have a sense of how this person is that you may be hosting or staying with. There is also a feedback system where you can leave comments about your experience with the person. CouchSurfing also has local community groups (usually by city or county) that may get together for potlucks or events. This is a good way to meet people that are into CouchSurfing before you decide to host.

So far we have hosted two sets of CouchSurfers, and we have a few more lined up in the futures. The first were from Southern California and were taking a little road trip through the state. The second couple were talented photographers from North Carolina who were on a big US road trip. Both have been very respectful, no issue at all.

Tips if you want to host

Here are some things we have gleaned from our experiences so far.
  • Make sure everyone in your household is on board. Discuss how often you might want to host, where they will stay, etc.
  • Write a clear and informative profile so your guest gets a sense of who you are. I like to inform we have pets, in case people are allergic and that we keep a vegetarian household.
  • Take the time to thoroughly review the profile of the person you are hosting and their past feedback. Is the feedback lukewarm, is their profile scant on information? If someone contacts you, pop their name into Google and see what come back. You are, after all, may be inviting these people into your home.
  • Email a few times or call and speak with the person before you accept their request. This gives a chance to get to know them a bit.
  • Review the general tips and safety tips on both of the web pages from these organizations. They have good guidelines for hosts and guests.
  • Think of your guests as friends, instead of someone coming to steal your TV. As Bob likes to remind me, people are probably not coming over just to steal our TV.
That is the brief rundown of the two organizations. We are still fairly new to all of this, but I would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Overall, what I am enjoying most is meeting new people, learning about other people and places and sharing our lovely little part of the coast.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spring Lambs

You may have seen my earlier post about the sheep that perform prescriptive grazing at The Sea Ranch. Well, spring has sprung and there are dozens and dozens of adorable baby lambs.

They are so playful and wobbly. At the same time, they are very demanding for their mothers, bleating loudly to find their mom and then when they do, aggressively hitting her udders to make the milk drop so they can be fed. Well, enough text, let's get on with the adorable lamb photos!

We are now waiting for the seal pups to be born. I suspect that will be another post of adorableness. In the mean time, enjoy the spring where ever you are.