Sunday, August 26, 2007

Celebrating 80 years of life & 10 years of...freedom?

I wish we had pictures to share from this weekend, but we never thought to pull out our camera. Friday, we celebrated my Granddaddy's 80th birthday! It's not actually until the 2nd of September, but that doesn't really matter. My Aunt Barbara flew in from California. My Uncle Steve & Aunt Cissy were there, and Ross and I were able to join in the festivities along with my parents. We had a wonderful dinner, birthday cake, played a game, and enjoyed each other's company. The highlight of the night was watching a video that my cousin, Meg, put together with the help of the family. They gathered pictures from throughout my Granddaddy's life and put it all together with a poem my mom wrote and appropriate music for each of the different stages of his life. It was great!

The next night we went to Ross' 10 year high school reunion. We had a great time. As we were walking in, we got to catch up with a friend of both of ours from engineering at LA Tech. There were a lot of people that Ross was interested in seeing and catching up with, and I think most of those people were at the reunion. It was fun for me too because I knew a few of the people there from elementary school and middle school. I even knew some of them well enough back then that we had slumber parties and were in girl scouts together. I also had fun meeting some of Ross' high school friends that I've heard so much about over the years. They were all great people, and everyone seems to be doing well.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


So this post is a little late considering that E already posted something about the shuttle mission but it has, after all, been a busy couple of weeks. Anyway, right after we got back from St. Lucia (that same weekend), I left for another business trip to Washington, DC. This time I was attending the 2007 Association for Unmanned Systems International Annual Conference and Exhibit. It was a pretty cool show with all kinds of unmanned vehicles.

To be clear, 'unmanned' does not necessarily mean automated but some of them actually do have a fairly high level of automation. The first day of the show was an all day outdoor demonstration of the systems so I got to see quite a few in action. I'd post videos but they are really pretty boring but you can see a few of the more interesting looking vehicles in the album. There were big trucks, tiny helicopters, weaponized bots, fast planes, retrofit vehicles, and several futurist looking vehicles among others.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What did you do?

That's's Ross' company that did the 3-D imagery of the damage to the tiles on the belly of the orbiter, Endeavour. Check out the video! Now we're just waiting to find out about the repair plans...

And you got it...the computer that you may have briefly heard about failing is the main computer on the station, which my group is responsible for monitoring. Fortunately the station was designed with backup computers for this very reason, so even though it failed while the crew was performing a space walk, another computer took over without much ado. It gave me and my team plenty to do though.

Here's a picture of me and our team lead for the flight, Al, during our shift handover. The second pic is of a new member of our group and a fellow LA Tech bulldog, Stephen. He did a little on-the-job training during my shift.

E and Al during HandoverE and Stephen at ODIN Console

Sunday, August 12, 2007

St. Lucia - Day 7

We both had to pinch ourselves as we awoke the last morning to the breeze blowing in and opening our eyes to the beautiful Pitons without having to get out of bed. We ordered breakfast in the room and enjoyed the infinity pool and sun deck as long as we could before leaving. The pictures below give you an idea of what the rest of the Jade Mountain part of the resort looks like. It's actually still having the finishing touches put on it. We both feel like we were completely spoiled on this trip. There was beauty everywhere we looked in the landscape, as well as the people. We certainly hope to go back some day. The last picture is our last glance at the Pitons from our amazing room before heading to the airport and home to a "welcome treat".

E on bridge to Jade Mt. RestaurantJade Mountain BridgesRoss on Jade Mt. Observation DeckRoss on Jade Mt. Observation DeckAnse Chastenet from Jade Mt.Jade Mt. Restaurant Infinity Pool from Observation DeckJade Mt. fountain under constructionE & R taking on last look

When we arrived home a little after midnight, we quickly discovered that our air conditioning was not working...welcome home! As we looked around a little more, we also discovered that our stereo receiver, Nintendo Wii, cable box, cable modem, router, and doorbell were also not working. A storm a few days earlier apparently took out a lot (but not all) of our electronics. It was strange because some things on the same surge protectors were fried while others weren't.

We were actually able to recover a couple of things like the cable box by "rebooting" our house. We literally turned off every breaker to the house and watched the meter stop spinning. Unfortunately, it didn't fix the air conditioner, so we pulled out the box fan and opened most of the windows in our house. We slept really well that night since we were used to no air conditioning in St. Lucia, but we were glad to get it fixed the next day.

Since then we have either ordered or replaced everything else. We came in just under our deductible, so insurance didn't cover anything, which I guess is good. Even our "welcome home treat", couldn't dampen our spirits after such a wonderful experience though. It's been hard to go back to work and adjust to our normal lives again, but we must! There's now a shuttle docked to the ISS, and our co-workers would appreciate our help. ;-)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

St. Lucia - Day 6

Day 6 we had an early breakfast and met another honeymooning couple for a 45 minute ride to the Enbas Saut Rainforest. This was by far our "hardest" hike, and we only hiked about 2 miles. The part that made it hard was that we had to go down ~1200 steps on our way into the rainforest and up ~1300 steps on our way back out. It was awesome! A family from another resort joined us for the hike. Here's a pic of our group getting started.

Enbas Saut Rainforest Hike

The trees by themselves were incredible. The fig trees like to literally suck the life out of other trees. You can see the one below wrapped its roots around another tree and lived off of it until the original tree died. Then there are trees with flying-buttress type roots that help them stand. None of the trees have deep roots, so this is their way of surviving.

Fig TreeFlying Buttress Roots

The highlight of the hike was the Enbas Saut Falls. There were 2 falls with a pool at the base of each. The water from the first, smaller fall ran into a pool and created the next fall. Both pools were big enough to swim in, but we opted to watch the others and climb around a little.

Waterfall SignUpper Enbas Saut Fall
Lower Enbas Saut Fall

On the way back up there was a bench marking every 1/4 mile. One of the little girls in our group had to be carried by our guide for a while because it was so steep and strenuous. Of course, we loved every minute of it. There were all kinds of beautiful (and some unusual) flowers and fruits on the way back up. We even saw a cinnamon tree, which was a new thing for us!

1/4 mile benchUnusual Flower

If you ever go to St. Lucia and do this hike, which we recommend, be prepared to sweat and take some water and bug spray with you...there were a lot of mosquitos!

When we got back to Anse Chastanet, we were greeted by one of the managers who had apparently been looking for us all morning. To our delight he invited us to spend our last night at Jade Mountain (the resort within Anse Chastanet). We were very excited because we had heard wonderful things about Jade Mountain, so we quickly packed our bags and were moved to our new room; although, I don't really think it qualifies as a "room".

When you walk in the door, you are immediately looking out at the Caribbean Sea and the Pitons because there are only 3 walls in the room! The next thing that catches your eye aside from the size of the room is the infinity pool at the edge of the room reflecting the view of the Pitons like a piece of glass. There were two sitting areas, a 4-poster, king sized bed, a large open bathroom with a "tub for 2" and a shower without walls, a full dining table that would easily seat 6-8 people, a mini fridge, and a sun deck with 2 chaise loungers.

Jade Mountain RoomJade Mountain RoomJade Mountain RoomJade Mountain Bathroom

The only thing that's missing is a kitchen. However, you can order room service for no extra charge, so really there's no reason to leave your room! As a matter of fact, the only reason we did was for dinner that night because we had already made reservations at the Indian/Caribbean Restaurant, Apsara. We both like Indian food, but it was even better fused with a Caribbean touch! We couldn't have asked for a better ending to an incredible day!

E in Infinity PoolJade Mountain Room Sun DeckRoss by Infinity PoolE& R in Jade Mountain Room before Dinner

Friday, August 10, 2007

St. Lucia - Day 5

We met our guide, Meno, at the Beach Bar the morning of our 5th day, which also happened to be St. Lucia's Emancipation Day. From there we hopped in a boat and made our way to another local beach where our hike to the Malgretoute Waterfall began. We walked past several homes, restaurants, etc. as we made our way from the beach and up the mountain to get to the waterfall. There were a lot of local people out and about because it was a holiday, but we were especially pleased to find locals at the waterfall too. It made us feel like we weren't just at a tourist destination.

The Malgretoute Waterfall is a warm waterfall. Water from natural mountain springs joins water from the volcano springs to produce a beautiful warm waterfall. Pools have been built at the base of the falls for people to relax in. There is also a hot waterfall at the same location, which comes directly from the volcanic spring. Unfortunately, there was sulfur blocking the flow the day we were there, so we didn't get to experience it. The warm waterfall was good enough for us though! Standing directly under it, you get a nice, warm massage.

E under the Malgretuoute WaterfallThe Malgretoute Waterfall

We noticed that the plants in this area of the island were much larger than those near the shore and produced more crops and flowers. Here's a picture of a banana tree and some of the flowers we saw on our hike.

Banana Tree BloomFlower on Malgretoute Hike
Bird of Paradise Flower

While waiting for the boat to pick us up at the beach, we watched the locals enjoying their holiday. It just so happened that one of the hotel staff members was roasting hand picked cashews from her property on the beach that day. I didn't know that cashews had to be roasted. Apparently, the oil in the pod will make your lips and tongue swell if it is not burned away. She was very sweet and let us each have one. It was delicious, and probably a once in a life time experience for us!

Roasting Cashews

A Rastafarian approached us with a lobster for sale not long after having our fresh roasted cashew. Of course, there was nothing we could do with it, but it ended up being cooked over the fire with the cashews, and I'm sure made a wonderful dinner for someone.


On our way back to Anse Chastanet, Meno took us by a bat "disco" as he liked to call it. It was raining by this point, so we didn't get a good picture. There were a lot of bats in the crack of a cliff flying around. Meno likes to call it a disco because he figures there's no way they're sleeping in there.

The rest of the day was spent on the beach reading books and eating good food...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

St. Lucia - Day 4

The fourth day may have been our favorite. We went Jungle Biking in the morning and took a couple's massage class in the afternoon with a little beach time in between. The jungle biking was intense, but loads of fun. They start by taking you down "Main Street", otherwise known as the beginners course, and show you where the other trails are. They seem to be rated a lot like ski slopes. Green was for beginners (a well cleared path), yellow for intermediate (rocks and roots but fairly flat), red for advanced (rocks, roots, moderate switchbacks, and hills), and black for a death wish (no one has ever successfully done this on a bike).

After finishing the green trail with our guide, we were on our own to explore and ride wherever we liked. My (Elizabeth) ego was stroked quite a bit on the ride with the guide. He seemed impressed with my riding skills and seemed to think I would have no problems on a red trail. None the less, we started on the yellow trails first to make sure our wheels would stay under us. Did you know that rain makes rocks slippery? Did you know that the rain forest is aptly named? It had been raining off and on, so the yellow trails were a little harder than the guide let on. Once we got going though, we did a pretty good job. Neither of us fell, which I thought was a success!

We did all of the yellow trails on the plantation, stopped to refill our water bottles, and headed out again. We did a couple of the yellow trails again, and decided to see what the red trail was like. The problem with slippery rocks and roots on a hill is that it's very hard to get going again once you've had to stop. We ended up walking our bikes a lot on the red trail, but it was fun to see what it was like. We were reminded over and over in our tour at the beginning that "there is no shame in walking your bike!"

Ross starting a yellow trailE on a red trail

We took a water taxi back to Anse Chastenet where we caught our breath and had lunch on the beach before going to our couple's massage class. It was incredible! We each got an hour long massage from the other while being instructed by a massage therapist named Jonathon. He would show you how to do something, and then watch carefully to ensure you were doing it correctly not only for the benefit of the person being massaged, but also to prevent injury or unnecessary strain on yourself. The person being massaged got a real treat when it was time to work on the legs. Jonathon would demonstrate on one leg while you followed on the other, so the person being massaged had four hands on them at once! Did I mention it was incredible? The perfect way to relax those muscles after a morning filled with intense biking.

Tuesdays are when the Managers throw a little party for everyone with free local rum punch and appetizers. We ended up having dinner with an older couple that had just moved from Canada to DC. They were very nice, and we had fun getting to know them.

MusiciansR & E at Manager's Party

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

St. Lucia - Day 3

We were a little more active on our third day at St. Lucia. We started the day with a "game" of tennis. Really it was more like "see how many balls E can hit over the fence" or "see how far E can make Ross run". None the less, we had fun laughing at each other and getting a good workout.

E playing tennis

We rested a little and had lunch on the beach where we watched the crabs bravely venture from their homes in search of food.

Brave Crab

In the afternoon, a local guy named Meno took us for a hiking tour of Anse Mamin plantation next door to Anse Chastanet. We learned so much about the heritage of the people and the island. One of the basic things we learned was that "Anse" means bay, and the name that follows is the original land owner's name. Anse Mamin was originally a sugar cane plantation worked by slaves. To keep the production of molases going even during the rainy season, Mamin put a roof over the building where the molases was boiled. It was so hot people would kill themselves to be spared.

The next owner, Du Bouley, turned the plantation into a fruit plantation where coconuts, cocoa, citrus, bananas, and many other things were grown. We saw the remains of the building where the coconuts were cooked to make them easier to process, which was also the slave quarters. I think Meno said around 200-250 slaves slept on the second floor of this building, which also would have been excruciatingly hot due to the fire that was heating the coconuts. In between the molasses and coconut buildings was a building used for drying the cocoa beans. The doors on the side would open up allowing the beans to be slid in and out as needed depending on the weather.

Coconut HouseCocoa House

Next we hiked to the cemetary and church built for the slaves. It was not a very large church. Mamin would allow groups of them to take turns worshipping so the harvesting and processing could continue.

Anse Mamin Slave Church

Near the church was an oven that the slaves used for cooking. Meno described how they would seal it off and use a smaller "window" to check on the food to prevent heat from being lost...pretty smart!


From there we continued on to Mamin's second house. His first house was destroyed by a kitchen fire, so this one was built with the kitchen in a separate building.

Mamin's 2nd House

We also saw many beautiful flowers, learned a lot about the local herbs and trees, saw a hummingbird's nest and a "sun burned" tree.

African Tulip TreeSunburned Tree
Hummingbird Nest

That night we went to the Beach Bar again for drinks and to watch the sunset. Then we went back to the Tree House for dinner. After dinner we made our way to the other bar at Anse Chastanet to listen to some local music and visit with Alex and Jessica. Of course, where there's music, I will dance. The girls had fun dancing with some of the staff, and eventually the guys joined us. It didn't take long for us to break a sweat on the dance floor, but it was too much fun to stop!

E and R on the beachE dancing

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

St. Lucia - Day 2

Our second day at Anse Chastanet was perfect. After a wonderful breakfast we did a little exploring around the hotel and spent most of the day relaxing on the beach and snorkeling. There was a marine reserve that kept a large area of coral protected from boats, so there were lots of beautiful fish and coral to check out. We even managed not to get sunburned! They had great huts to sit under out of the sun, and hammocks to relax in and swing between the palms. The pictures really speak for themselves.

marine reserveSt. Lucia BeachE in hammock

That evening we had drinks at the Beach Bar as we watched the sunset and the rays beam from behind the clouds. It was picture perfect. The margaritas were excellent, and Ross enjoyed the local beer, appropriately named Piton. We had dinner in the Tree House restaurant where I discovered my new favorite food...the chef's chocolate and cinnamon mouse cake. You knew it would be a dessert!

E looking at beachbeach at sunsetRoss at barE and RsunsetPiton beer