Tag Archives: travel

Hamster Balls for the Win!

Growing up, we weren’t allowed inside pets. We had all sorts of critters, but that is just what happens when you live in the country. At various points, we had all the fixings of a farm, but never all in one moment. We had chickens and a mean ol’ rooster who attacked the small children sent in to gather eggs. We had calves that we christened with adorable monikers like Cookies and Cream or Bert and Ernie. (We also ate those same cute little guys when cold weather rolled in. They were fun “pets” in the summer and tasty tacos in the winter.) We had pheasants and rabbits and dogs and of course a smattering of slightly feral cats. Then came the llamas and a pygmy goat we babysat for a short time. But, for the majority of my childhood, all pets were outdoor pets. They had cozy stalls filled with warm straw and houses crammed with blankets and heaters, so were not lacking when it came to comfort, but none of them got to spend their evenings with the humans in the big house. That is, until my sister and I wheedled and begged (and probably annoyed) my parents to the point where they gave in. We would each be allowed to have an “inside” pet. She went with parakeets, getting a blue and a yellow budgie to add to our bedroom décor and I went with a hamster, thinking it was fuzzy and adorable. (These were the first iterations. We each went through several of our chosen pets throughout the years.)

My first hamster, Candy, was a light cream color and loved to fill his (her?) cheeks with pellet food and then spit it out if you got too close. (This turned out to be good preparation for when we got the llamas!) But, more than anything, Candy loved being shoved in his clear plastic wheel and set loose in the house. Luckily, we had very few stairs, as he seemed to always find them instantly and take himself off-roading in his wheel. He’d scurry around the house for hours until he had worn himself out and we’d find his ball tucked in a corner, him asleep, usually with a pile of poo. His adventures literally left him pooped!

Candy (and his successors) are what came to mind a few weeks ago when I was confronted with a human-sized hamster ball. You see, in New Zealand, there is a lovely company called Zorb where one can pay money to be strapped into a gigantic hamster ball and pushed down a rather steep hill. Thad stumbled upon this phenomenon on our first evening in NZ and we quickly decided the home of Zorb-ing would be our destination for the next day.

Hill? Hamster ball? Lots of bungee cords? Why not?!

It is pretty much exactly as it sounds. The workers drive you to the top of the hill (you are barefoot, so walking isn’t a great option) and strap you into a large plastic orb. It is really two soft, blow-up balls, one bungee-ed to the other to create shock absorbers. You get strapped in by the ankles, waist and a chest belt and then you’ve got loops above your head to grab with your hands. As soon as all the buckled are clipped, the worker asks if you are ready, and ready or not, down the hill you go!

Now, I love “dizzy” rides. The Scrambler is my favorite place to be at an amusement park. I can go on that thing again and again and then down a cotton candy and hop right back on. No problem! But, the Zorb gave my belly a run for its money.

Flying down the hill, all I could see was a rotation: green, blue, green, blue, green, blue. Grass, sky, grass, sky, grass, sky.

About half way down I began to silently pray that the cookie and apple juice I had for breakfast would remain in my stomach, which felt like it was making two rotations for each one of my body.  And of course, there was squawking the entire way down. I think it was a series of “aaack”s each time my feet made another trip over my head.

Reaching the bottom of the hill, I slowly and clumsily unhooked by various belts, stood up in the ball, only to crash back down, having lost all sense of direction and any coordination to which I may have previously laid claim. It took a good minute before I was able to squeeze myself out of the opening and zigzag my way away from the hill.

Zorbing was crazy and not cheap, but definitely an experience worth having! I think I would probably do it again, but with much more trepidation, as my tummy now knows what it is in for as I barrel down a hill, head over foot, time and time again. (And I know how poor Candy felt when he hit those few stairs, sending him tumbling in all directions!)

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Guest Blog Post: Yellowstone as a Winter Wonderland

This blog entry was written by Kelsey, a student at Syringa Middle School in Caldwell, Idaho. Recently, she spent a weekend exploring the great outdoors of Yellowstone National Park on a science trip with some of her classmates. Here are her thoughts after returning home, frozen, but full of new ideas!

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Before Yellowstone became a state park, Ferdinand V. Hayden gathered a group of explorers to take a “professional look” at the park. Among these men, were old and young , tall and short. None of the men had spent much time together, they knew each other vaguely. This trek to the park brought them closer and they acted just like old friends. As their last night on their trek neared, the men dreaded going home. After they got to know each other, they never wanted to leave.

On the last night of their adventures, the comrades sat in a circle around their final campfire together. Around this campfire, they conveyed their thoughts and feelings to one another. They admitted their thoughts on the beauty of the area and their wishes of staying there. Alvred Bayard Nettleton, the youngest of the explorers, granted the men’s minds an idea to stew on. Alvred thought that preserving the area would allow them to come back and show their families and allow others to see the stunning beauty of this area. Most of the men disagreed or thought it was impossible, and continued their conversations. That night all that was on those men’s minds was going home to their families.

In the morning they left each other’s company, few tears were shed and they were on their ways. The men all lived in different places, they took trains and cars to their destinations.  The only thing on their minds, the idea that came about in conversation the night before. As each of the men continued their lives, they still thought about this idea long and hard. The men finally came together and followed up on it. The law stating that the Yellowstone area was now considered a state park, was signed by Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.

This is how Yellowstone National Park came to be.

This last weekend, I spent a weekend in the first national park, Yellowstone. This story, matches the one my classmates and I created last weekend. Just as the men did, we explored and created memories in our adventures. The rangers, that led us through these adventures told us this story.  I matched our adventures to ones that these men had back in 1870.

Although, these first men spent a year, we only spent a weekend. This weekend felt almost too short. Each and everything we did just seemed to end so soon. These moments let me get closer to people I didn’t talk to much. Just like these men, I went into the trip vaguely knowing everyone. And without technology, and only our personalities to sustain us, I got to know a great group of people. I just wished that we can stay this good of friends after our expedition.

This expedition, also allowed us to understand and witness the beauty of one of the last places in America that isn’t totally over run by urbanization. The views from every point in each of our hikes were gorgeous. Down to every tree branch, were little quirks and kinks that made Yellowstone, just an amazing place to be. The weather that we experienced might not have been traditional weather for Yellowstone, but it still made me appreciate everything there. Each and every animals’ path that we crossed was a fantastic experience. Even if we did just see tracks of an animal, I still felt as if that animal was there. The ones we did see in the flesh, were calm and allowed us to see their habitat as they did.

The first day we were there we focused on the geology of the area. We took samples of the water in several of the hot springs. By doing this we could test the pH of the water, along with using a heat gun to determine how hot these hot springs actually were. This day we didn’t see many animals, but we did see a lot of people. The boardwalks were covered with people, we didn’t let that stop us from being scientists. This was overall a sort of laid back day.

The second and final day was by far my favorite day of our “trek”. On that day we drove out about 30 minutes away from where we were staying and just hiked. We focused on ecology that day. The rangers took us out to the wilderness. I would have never seen myself as an outdoors person, but I felt at home. We took a path that was made just the week before, that the public didn’t use. The rangers took us out snowshoeing across the beauty and vastness of Yellowstone. At one point we walked up a hill, at the top I could see everything. I could tell how just breathless I was, it made me forget this was real life. Everything I was thinking just went out my ears and all I thought was that there was no way to describe what I was seeing.  It made me think, this is really what the world should look like. It made me sad to have to leave that lookout, and the bison friends we hung out with while we were up there. I didn’t take a picture, because I figured if someone really wanted to see it they would want the same experience up on that hill.

That night all of us explorers, tired and wanting to go home, came together in a circle. We sat there at the last campfire of our expedition. We told legends about each of our totem animals and heard a legend or two from our rangers. There, sitting in that circle around our “campfire” I felt close, personal with each and everyone of those kids. I felt that I had gotten to know them so well after the seemingly shortest weekend ever. I looked around and thought “ Man would I love to stay here and make memories with everyone here”.  I just enjoyed it so much. With the use of an old bison horn, we all said something we learned or did this weekend that we enjoyed. Everyone talked of how beautiful Yellowstone is and how we all loved the chance to get to know each other. We all enjoyed each other company and were good friends. Tears we shed, songs were sung, then we blew out the “campfire”. We then packed and went to sleep.

The next morning, we cleaned our dorms and headed on our way. We got on the bus, each and everyone of us dwelt on the the thoughts of our friendships and  the scenery. We enjoyed each others’ company for the rest of the bus ride.

The next day at school, everyone went back to their normal friends. I felt like we repeated the same thing that happened with those explorers. They discovered things, and became good friends, but without the beautiful park to keep them together they lacked that friendship. That is why I wish that everywhere was much like that park, because beautiful scenery brings people together.

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In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Khalil Gibran

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Wordless Wednesday: Brought a Bit of New Zealand Crud Home in my Lungs

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Wordless Wednesday: Sydney Opera House

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Wordless Wednesday: Ready to Tube the Glowworm Caves- Waitomo, New Zealand

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Wordless Wednesday: Thaipusam

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Photo credit: Thad Ross

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Our Home is Girt by Sea (AKA: We Have Giant Tuna!)

Australians all let us rejoice,

For we are young and free;

We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil;

Our home is girt by sea;

Our land abounds in nature’s gifts

Of beauty rich and rare;

In history’s page, let every stage

Advance Australia Fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing,

Advance Australia Fair.

Oh boy, do the Australian’s know how to rejoice in their beauty rich and rare! Last Tuesday night, I was Thad’s +1 for Australia Day, the biggest national holiday celebration in KL. Since we’ve been here, we’ve heard rumors that if we were to attend just one national day event, Australia’s was the one to which we would want an invitation.

Those folks were not wrong.

As a member of the 4th of July committee for two years in a row in Chengdu (which each year hosts two events: Chengdu and Chongqing), I am well-aware of how much work it takes to pull off these huge parties. The planning for next year basically starts about a week after the current year’s event. Having walked in those shoes, I was incredibly impressed with Australia’s shindig. Very over the top!

The evening started with the requisite speeches toasting the Queen of Australia (am I the only one who didn’t know they recognized the queen?!) and thanking the host country, but once the formalities were out of the way, the doors to the grand ballroom opened. In a rush, in flowed hundreds of guests, all headed straight for the food tables. Luckily, the food tables were ample and well-stocked. Thad’s first stop was the one labeled King Neptune, where an enormous tuna hung from above, the chef cutting off pieces for each person in line. After having more than a sample size of ol’ Neptune, we ventured over to the Outback table where an entire lamb was roasting on a spit. From there it was the seafood table which had an ice sculpture that dispensed shrimp for all the hungry guests.

(As pretty much the opposite of a “foodie,” I could leave or take most of the dishes that evening, but I was highly impressed with the presentation! Lights, fog machines, entire tunas, whole lambs, shrimp dispensers…all very fancy!)

In the midst of all these food tables scattered around the ballroom, guests mingled and nicely vied for the few cocktail tables, looking for somewhere to set their plates as they indulged in everything Outback. At one such table, where for a few minutes we commandeered a spot, we were introduced to several members of the Australian navy who are stationed in Penang. As I chatted with one woman who is up there with her husband’s post, I had a weird feeling that I had met the Australian me! She was about my age and does not have kids and follows her husband’s career from country to country. She was having a hard time finding a job in the area, so decided to go back to school and work on a degree program. Sound familiar?!

By 9:30, we decided to call it a night. I’d been in heels since 7AM and my toes were ready for a bit of freedom and I think Thad had worked his way around most of the buffet tables, so it was time to head home to kick off the shoes and loosen the belts.

Not only do they have adorable koalas and kangaroos as their beck and call but the Aussies know how to entertain hordes of diplomats looking for something cold to drink and a bit of meat to eat. Is there anything these folks can’t do?!

Word on the street proved to be right this time: Australia Day is where it is at when it comes to stuffy national day events!

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