Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It begins!

A new gardening season has begun! I've got some gorgeous flowers out in the front yard. This is the first year that we were able to plant bulbs so we have lots of tulips and daffodils. The hydrangeas and the hostas are getting some nice leaves as well.
In the backyard the pear trees are in bloom. I think its going to be another stellar year for pears.
In addition to the pear and apple tree, we have added two new fruit trees. We have bought a Pacific Frost peach tree and a Stella cherry tree. I'm hoping they both thrive in our yard.
Inside I have tons of seedlings going. I'm running out of room in the house to put them all, I've had to sacrifice my dining room table.
I'm hoping it is another productive year. I didn't do much in the way for starting things indoors last year so I'm hoping by doing it this year, I can have better spacing and avoid the crowding problem I had last year.
The garden is almost ready for direct seeding and a couple transplants. The weather is warming up and I'm slowly getting the weeds under control. While mulching did help over the winter, the battle with the clover and morning glory is an ongoing one (not to mention exhausting).

Monday, March 29, 2010

Earth Hour 2010

 I hope everyone out there celebrated Earth Hour this year. For this years Earth Hour Jon and I played Wildcraft by candle light, then folded laundry. Sounds boring? maybe a little but it was just really nice to sit with Jon in our home without any distractions.

The disappointing part was that participation in our area was down this year. Between the hours of 8:30pm and 9:30pm energy consumption was down by only 1.04 percent. In 2008 energy consumption during Earth Hour was down by 2 percent. When we looked out our window we saw hardly any of our neighbours participating in Earth Hour. We really enjoyed Earth Hour and we are going to try to do an Earth Hour every month. Whether its a candle lit dinner, bath by candle light or sitting outside and just watching the stars for an hour. Maybe you might try it too.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hawai'i: Hanauma Bay

Another big highlight during our time on Oahu was our trip to Hanauma Bay. Hanauma Bay is a protected nature reserve so before you can snorkel there everyone is require to watch a video on what you should do to protect the reef (though few seemed to actually follow the guidelines).
We did our best to get there early in the morning but after the long wait (and long ride) for the bus we didn't actually get in until 9am. Still the beach wasn't too crowded and we managed to find a place on the reef that wasn't very busy.
The bay itself is really quite shallow, there were times that my knees were scraping over the coral. The reef is in sad condition. As one guide book put it, the reef is being "loved to death". The cove makes it really protected so there really isn't much in the way of waves and the fish are so used to people you can almost touch them.
The diversity of fish is really quite amazing. We saw so many different kinds we thought we would run out of space on the camera with how many pictures we were taking. Visiting the Waikiki Aquarium the day before was a great idea. It made it really easy to identify local fish species and to know which we should stay clear of.
Even though the reef was lacking in color thanks to climate change and damage due to tourists, the fish certainly didn't lack in color. They were so bright and so many different colors.
It was a wonderful day, the beach is nice and sandy and the water was relatively clear. Bring sunscreen though. And I would recommend applying the sunscreen after you get out of the water. The water seems to have an oily coating on top due to all the sunscreen that gets washed off while snorkeling. It doesn't do you any good in the water even if it says "waterproof". I didn't get burnt (badly, badly burnt) until after we left the water.
We snorkeled for about 2 hours before the amount of people in the water became unbearable. I kept getting kicked and all the fins were kicking up a lot of sediment so it was getting hard to see. If you are planning on visiting Hanauma Bay, go early and leave before noon. But don't miss it if you are on Oahu, the snorkeling can't be beat.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hawai'i: Manta Ray Bay

While we were in Kona on the Big Island we did a night snorkel with Manta Rays. Hawai'i is the only place where they have conditioned the Manta Rays to come to these locations at night. The lights that we all had on brought plankton and where there is plankton there are happy Manta Rays. Manta Rays feed strictly on plankton. They have no teeth or barbs, they are harmless, stunning creatures. I thought I would be really nervous swimming with such large creatures in the dark but they are so graceful and so beautiful I was mesmerized and felt calm with them circling beneath me. We saw two Mantas that night. One male who was 6 ft from wing tip to wing tip and one female who was 12 ft across. I wish I could have gotten closer to them but the group I was with had some tourists from Sweden who were flailing a bit in the water so the Mantas kept their distance. I was a once in a lifetime experience and it was amazing. Mantas are so beautiful, I can't even describe how humble I felt being near them. Here are some videos that Jon shot that night. Sorry about the quality it was a little wavey that night and the camera didn't do so well in the dark but you do see them.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

More Sewing

Since I've been away, the progress on the spring wardrobe has been slow but I'm fairly happy with the last two things I made. 

I really like the fabric choice for this wrap dress. This one took a really long time, because I made the pattern myself. I had wanted to finish it in time to take it with me to Hawaii as sort of a bathing suit cover-up but the facing was giving me a lot of grief so I just put it aside and finished it when I got back. It still needs a few tweaks but overall I like it.
This red tunic is by far my favorite thing I've made so far. It fits really nicely, I love the fabric and it only took an hour or two to make. I'm going to save the pattern and maybe make another one of these tunics because I'm so pleased with the result.
Next up in the sewing plan is some skirts, I'm going to attempt a new bag, and I'm going to make some more shirts. We also got a new chair for the living room so I'm going to try to make a pillow to go with it.
Before I left for vacation I had ordered some out-of-print patterns and the arrived when I got back so I'm going to try some of those out. I like making my own patterns but it just takes so much longer.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hawai'i: Volcano National Park

Hawaii's Volcano National Park is probably one of the coolest places you could ever visit. It is a bizarre combination of lush tropical rainforest and harsh moon-like lava fields and craters. We sent the majority of our time in the park on Kilauea. Kilauea is still an active volcano. While we were their it was spewing huge amounts of sulphur dioxide, which meant they had to close some roads and trails because of the danger to human life. Our first night in Volcano we went to check out the glow of lava inside the vent. The best time to do this is at night.
It was very cold because of the elevation but so super cool to see that glow. I wish we could have gotten closer but the gases are too dangerous. We decide to spend the entire next day exploring the park. We started the morning with a ranger guided tour. Luckily we were the only ones that showed up so we got a personal tour. Ed was really knowledgeable and so enthusiastic about the volcanoes. We started by touring the sulphur banks. It was an interesting sight; all those bright yellow crystals.
Our tour with Ed also included a trip to Halema`uma`u crater, some steam vents and the nearby forested areas. The steam vents are revered as a health treatment. Many people (locals and visitors) some to bask in the purity of the steam that comes from within the earth. It was nice, since it was a cool day, stand over the vents and enjoy the warmth.
 It was great to be able to ask questions about all the really interesting plants we saw. There was tons of fern. All kinds, some even towered over me. We also played around with some sleeping plants (when you touch them their leaves shrink away from you). There were wild orchids, berries (some that we got to taste) and beautiful trees. My very favorite plant (which is actually a tree) was the Ohia tree. Their blossoms, Lehua, are said to be manifestations of Pele (the Hawaiian god of fire that lives within the volcanoes on the islands). The bright red fire-esque flowers are all over the park and I just loved them.

After we parted ways with Ranger Ed, we decided to do the Kilauea Iki trail. The trail took us through some amazing rainforest. The ferns were beautiful, the trees were towering and the random flowers delighted me. We kept our eyes open for Nene but never saw any. The trail takes you down into the Iki crater. The change in terrain is dramatic.
Once you are inside the crater is like you've left Earth. The volcanic rock feels strange beneath your feet, it crunches as you walk on it (almost like glass). There were jagged edged and large vents. But still amid all the black rock there were little plants finding a home in any little crack.
 The hike out of the crater was unpleasant. It had started to rain and it was steep. I was soaked by the time we reached the top. We had spent 5 hours hiking that day and the fog was setting in so we called it a day. We were wildly impressed with all we got to see that day.
 A couple days later we decided we wanted to see some surface flows. So we drove out to a lava field near Pu'u O'o vent. We walked about 1/2 mile over 4 month old lava (it was still a little warm and had a very glassy and metallic look) and watched some lava flowing down the mountain side. It was something I will probably never see again
Driving out from the lava flows you drive through a town that was wiped out by Kilauea's power. The town is now a lava field with the exception of a few houses and some pieces of road. It gives you a great respect for the power that is within the Earth. Our time inside Hawaii Volcano National Park was amazing and an experience I recommend to anyone. It is educational, awe-inspiring and accessible to anyone. For more information including live web-cams at the craters at Kilauea visit http://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hawai'i: Pu'uhonau o Honaunau

One of the most interesting things we did was to take ranger guided tours of some of the national parks in Hawai'i. Pu'uhonau o Honaunau is on the Big Island and is a national heritage site. It is one of the few remaining sacred sites belonging to the Hawaiian natives. One of the stories was that this was the location where a Hawaiian princess would go to be near the sea. It was, however, forbidden by her family. She would dress as a commoner and seek away to this place. Here she feel in love with a fisherman, but naturally they were found out. There was a curse placed upon them that if they were together ever again that both families would die (the royal family and the fishing village). So they could never be together again, so the fisherman took a white flower and cut it in half. He planted it and it grew into a tree that grows by the water and flowers with only half a blossom. She planted her half in the mountains and it also grew into a tree with only half a blossom. The myth is that if you try to carry that flower down from the mountains to unite it with its other half, it will die before you reach the ocean because the princess and her fisherman can never be together.
This was also a place for kings. This stone in the picture above is actually a type of board game. It is very similar to checkers but the goal is not to have the most of your opponents pieces but instead to be that last person to make a move. It was used by kings to settle disputes without a war. It was a pretty intense board game since the loser usually lost his army, land and often his life.
That hut you see there is actually a Hawaiian temple of sorts. It is the sacred place. In that hut are buried past Hawaiian kings. It is one of the last temples left on the islands because one of the Hawaiian kings decided to rid the people of the old ways by burning all the temples on the island. Except this one because really who wants to bring such bad luck on themselves by burning the bones of your ancestors.
The temple is guarded by many totems. I found it so interesting to see how much their totems differ from those we see here on the west coast. Many of these totems are representations of the family gods of the kings. The look out over the water to protect against those who would bring harm to the royal family.
The location of Pu'uhonau o Honaunau is on a beautiful beach surrounded by volcanic rock. It was paradise. It is also known as the Place of Refuge. The beach there is a place where sea turtles come to nest. We didn't see any that day but we were frequently reminded that this park belongs to them as well.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hawai'i: Waipio Valley

Jon and I just got back from 2 weeks in Hawai'i. We did so many things and I have so much to share that I'm going to break it all up into multiple posts. This one is dedicated to Waipio Valley. Waipio Valley, also know as the Valley of the Kings, is located near Waimea on the Big Island of Hawai'i. Waipio means curved water. It has a beautiful curved coastline and curving rivers.
It had been raining quite a bit before we arrived so the rivers a waterfalls were all visible. The roads were also pretty flooded. We decided to do a guided tour in a 4x4 vehicle. It was a great decision. The road down is narrow and a 25% grade hill. It was intense even in the 4x4. Also, our car was too low to the ground to make it through all the water you have to drive through.
People do live in the valley but it is very limited in terms of resources. Only about 5 houses down there have electricity, they rest live off generators and candles. There is no plumbing either so they all need to collect their own water. Most of the residences are Hawaiian natives. Our guide, Douglas, was a Hawaiian native and his family has property in the valley (we encountered his cousin on the drive). Douglas was really great a sharing stories about the valley, ancient medicinal uses for the plants, teaching us some Hawaiian, telling us about taro farming (which is what the valley is mainly used for) and giving us some Hawaiian recipes.
I loved all the vegetation. It was really very lush in the valley. The whole valley has been carved out of volcanic rock by water. There are tons of banyan trees. Nothing says tropic rainforest like some banyan tree.
This is one of the rivers we had to cross but you can see all the banyan trees in the background. This river was so heavy they day before that a big Ford truck tipped over trying to cross it. It rains a lot in the valley. It started to rain just as we were leaving.
The valley was stunning, I'm struggling to find words to describe how wonderful the experience was. If you ever go, go in a 4x4 vehicle because the grueling hike just takes away from all there is to enjoy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hawai'i: Scuba Diving

Jon and I just went scuba diving for the first time last week. We were in Honolulu Hawaii and were out with a company called Rainbow Scuba. Our guide, Ken, was really fun and super patient. I was a little nervous but when I got down (and finally got my ears to pop) it was so relaxing and so interesting. I did my best not to touch anything and simply observe. The reef was not as vibrant as I expected it to be. But the fish swam right up to us and we saw some sea stars. We even saw a white tip reef shark. Here are some pictures that Ken took. They aren't flattering but they are cool.
That's me swimming over to join the group. Ken was a fan of the "hang loose".

Jon and conch shell (with something still living in it so I didn't touch).
Again Jon touching. Here he as some coral and I'm in the background looking at all the little critters on the ocean floor.
Here is Jon, me and Ed. Ed was another tourist who joined us. Ed was really scared of the whole experience and would constantly try to grab me. He almost pulled my mouth piece out. It got a little annoying. But overall it was an amazing experience.