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Yes, I know I promised trip stories, and they’re in the works, but I had to first take care of a ton of stuff upon arriving home–mail to sort, scuba classes to deal with, birthdays of friends to attend (gee, tough, that one!), getting stuff together for this festival I’ve been invited to attend in a month or so, getting things at work back up and running. You get the point.

But I do have a good excuse for why I didn’t start yet.

Because last night, I was celebrating! My first paper about some of my PhD work was accepted, after a round of editing and then a round of rebuttals about extra experiments. But accepted nonetheless! For publication! By me!


There was champagne, and this morning was a little fuzzy.

It was lovely. πŸ™‚

But yes, the stories will start soon.


Ever see some jackass driver, weaving in and out of traffic? Or going straight from a left-turn lane? Or turning left out of a go-straight lane next to a left-turn lane? Or anything?

And think to yoursef, now where’s a cop when I need one!?!?!

(By the way, those are all things that make me which I had weapons mounted on my car while I drive to and from work.)

But today!


A car was turning left from a no left-turn lane. Not just the wrong lane, but at an intersection that doesn’t allow left turns! And there’s a cop car coming towards them from the other direction.

The cop goes through the intersection, and the car goes ahead and turns left.

I think to myself, WTF? But at this point, I’ve turned right and am driving away.

Until I glance in my rearview mirror and what do I see?

Another cop car, coming from the same direction that the first one came from, turn right after the car that illegally turned left and pull them over.

I hope the cop gave that sucker a big fat ticket. πŸ™‚

In the same vein as the true friends post…

Every once in awhile, you innocently get a glimpse into the depth of feeling and care that exist between two people who are absolutely right for one another and who love each other so much. Example:

James F was offered a job today, taking a lot of stress out of his life over being unemployed and trying to support Cara while she finished school.I was with him when he got the offer, and he was so ridiculously happy and excited about it.

The number one reason?

Health care benefits, not for himself, but for Cara. To the point where if they didn’t offer it to a domestic partner before they got married, he said “we’ll be going to a courthouse with you and John”.

That, my friends, is a happy man because he can take care of the woman he loves.

And he has a job.

My sister graduated from Harvard today with a Masters in Higher Education.

And promptly got a job offer.

I couldn’t be prouder of her and her accomplishments of the past year!

A lot of people have been graduating recently.

A person I know peripherally has graduated from 8th grade.

A person I used to know well in college and still keep in touch with defended his thesis last week, and was out here applying for post-doc positions this week. This was actually great timing–I got together with some other college buddies from the area, and we all hung out and reminisced, eventually shutting down two different bars. (Come to think of it, this is probably why I’m so exhausted this week. Good times.)

Another person I know here just defended her thesis today.

James F just graduated with his teaching credentials this past week–the party starts in a little over an hour!

Plus, a number of my classmates are aiming to graduate this year, and are probably walking at the ceremony here in two weeks.

Biggest and most important of all, my sister graduates next week with her masters degree from Harvard.

I wish them all big congratulations, and luck in all their future endeavors.

Overall, this is giving me hope that some day, I might join their lucky ranks. Maybe even in the not-too-ridiculously-distant future!

I can be pretty good at keeping secrets in some ways.

Not when it comes to John, which is probably a good thing for our relationship. But if I’m asked to keep things a secret from him, I can and will. I’ll keep secrets even beyond the circumstances or people for which they’re being kept, though I suppose that at that point, the secret isn’t worth much.

In this sense, I love to know the gossip, but once I know it, it doesn’t go much further. John’s not going to share it with people, and in any case, I get a good amount of my gossip from him. I also get a lot of trade secrets and work secrets from him. Those can be hard to keep within our circle of friends from his work, but I do my best.

Perhaps the thing I’m best at keeping secrets about is from myself with respect to how I really feel, not how I want to feel. I’m pretty good at thinking I’m doing okay until something comes up that sets me completely off-balance. Then I’m forced to concede that the outlook isn’t quite as rosy as I’d like to believe. Ah well, we’re probably all like this, much as we don’t want to admit it.

But every once in awhile, a secret comes along that has me wanting to jump up and down and scream and tell the whole world. A week or so ago, I was given just such a secret. It’s driving me nuts not to be able to tell someone, anyone, beyond the few people who also know. And it’s such a wonderful, delightful secret.

Thus, I’m bursting with this news that I can’t share with anyone.

But, oh, yay, such wonderful news it is!

(And no, Brat, I’m not pregnant. Note that it’s not my secret, it’s just one that I’m keeping!)

Arizona went 19 and 13 this year, and 9 and 9 in the Pac-10. They had some quality wins, but a number of not-so-quality losses, too.

Common consensus was that they needed to go far in the Pac-10 Tourney to make it into the NCAA Tourney this year.

They lost their first game.

So when Sydney schedule her house warming party for today, Sunday, from 3-8pm, I figured I’d have something to do to keep my mind far away from the Selection Show.

So we went, we drank, we ate, we played games, we talked, we laughed. We had a great time, and met some really fun people, as well as reconnected with some others. We met Sydney’s new boyfriend, admired her new place, and talked about exploring her new town. We left behind some cake and pasta salad but came home with some tri-tip and some brownies. It was a lovely afternoon.

Upon arriving home, we lounged on the couch for awhile. We did the dishes from the afternoon of cooking some stuff to take to the party. We laughed at the cat when he put his head in my water glass and then got it stuck momentarily. We talked about the upcoming week, with me reminding him to remind me of my doctor’s appointments and him reminding me of his days off.

It wasn’t until John idly flipped back to the TV and Sports Center came on that I thought to check.

And then, there it was. Arizona. A 12-seed.

I don’t know by what grace they got in, but they did.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, come Friday, we’re dancing!

After having successfully justified my paycheck, my work and (it seems) my very existence yesterday to the four people who will someday (soon?) determine that I am to be the recipient of a fancy little piece of paper bearing my name and the letters “p”, “h” and “d”, I’m feeling pretty good.

No more health stress, no more work stress. Life is good.

Now I’ve just to got finish up the discussion section of the paper that they decided was “interesting” and “amazing” and “very cool” and get it to my boss within the next couple of days.

Piece of cake.

At least from the cloud I’m standing on. πŸ™‚

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Day 5, Wednesday

Wednesday was our shark dive day. Most of our group had signed up to do the dive, and no one else from the resort had, so it was just us rushing through breakfast to get an early start. We had to head to a dive site near the mainland to meet up with Aqua Trek Divers (I think), the group that does the shark dive. They have two divemasters who hand-feed the sharks. What you may not see is that they wear chainmail under their dive gloves. Not quite such a trick in that case, but still pretty impressive.

It was a beautiful day–sunny, puffy clouds, and the wind from earlier in the week was mostly gone. We all did our pre-dive set up and checks, and no one seemed too nervous. Even Cara, who’d only decided at the last minute to do the dive, was pretty excited.

We were relaxed enough that, at one point, our group of 10 or so actually did the “spontaneously all break into the same song” thing.

On the way to the school the day before, one of the songs we’d thought of singing was “You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin'” from ‘Top Gun’ (the only good Tom Cruise movie ever made, btw). We all actually knew enough of it that we could get through it, and some of us even had the voices for the highs and lows in it (Bay-bee! Bay-bee!–You know the part I mean). So, on the boat that morning, someone, probably James F, randomly started, and before we knew it, we were all singing along, with all the voices and everything. All the way through. It was pretty cool, and something you only feel like happens in the movies, but we really did it.

It became the song of the trip. Which, based on what later happened, was pretty funny.

So we got to the shark site, appropriately named “The Bistro”, only to find the other boat there and already jumping in the water. Our divemasters gave us a thorough briefing, emphasizing that we’d be perfectly safe, and off we went. We pretty much drifted straight down to about 60 feet (with a brief detour by John to rescue Shelly’s camera from where it had accidentally sunk following an accidental removal from the camera bin), and then swam down a ledge to about 80 feet of water. There was a shallow coral wall with a rope running across it, and we positioned ourselves sitting along the wall and holding onto the rope.

The Aqua Trek guys had two large trash bins, the lidded kind that you see for apartment complex recycling (or at least, that we have for that purpose), full of fish heads and guts and various other unwanted parts from one of the local fish factories. They were pulling out chunks and hand-feeding anything that came near.

There were two nurse sharks, probably 6-7 feet or so in length, nosing around on the bottom. At one point, one of them swam up and just stuck his head inside the trash can, inhaling whatever he could. It was pretty funny, and the divemaster had to push him back out.

There was also a big silver tip, maybe 8 feet in length, circling the area. He went right over the heads of the people next to us, although he didn’t seem concerned with us at all. All the divemasters had large metal rods to poke the fish away when they got too close, which was a bit reassuring.

Aside from the sharks, there was a large maelstrom of fish circling the feeding area: black jacks (sort of like giant tuna), a giant napoleon wrasse, a giant grouper with an entourage of golden trevally (or “yes fish” as we took to calling them). Theoretically, there was also a lemon shark (I may have seen it, but it’s pretty much identically to the nurse shark, so who knows) and some bull sharks in the distance (never saw them).

Seta, one of the divemasters, took Rae out to touch one of the nurse sharks, and after he brought her back, he took me out. And…the sharks promptly swam away. He put me back in line, we waited, and then we tried again. No luck. “Next dive”, he signed to me.

After about 15 minutes, we headed back up the slope to the Japanese fishing trawler wreck that was under our boats (but our boats were still on the surface, thankfully). Here, we found a tiny banded pipefish, and spent some time swimming along the wreck. We found a little jellyfish, which the divemasters signaled ‘don’t touch’, and watched it for awhile. There was also a yellow margin moray hiding in the rocks looking for extra fish handouts.

John was headed off to look at the screw (the propeller, I think “screw” is the right term, if not, haha anyway), and I was set to follow when James F grabbed my fin. I turned around and he signaled “come back here”.

Then, as I watched, he asked Cara to marry him!


There was “you and me” pointing, then “buddy up” signaling, and finally he pantomimed a ring on his ring finger. She kind of looked at him funny, so he did it again. This time, there was a definite response of “really?” He nodded. She squealed. It was really funny and romantic and awesome. They “bumped regs”, then actually took out their regs and kissed, then cleared their masks and checked their air like good little divers.

At that point, Aaron handed James the ring from his whistle (it was like the ring off of car keys), and it fit perfectly over Cara’s gloved hand. And as any girl out there knows, that rusted ring of metal is going to mean more to her than any expensive rock James could ever buy.

James had been talking about this with me for awhile, and I knew he had no money for a ring but that he wondered if he found the perfect time and place, would that be enough? My answer was OF COURSE!!! And of course it was!

The divemaster who was filming us on the shark encounter even caught some of it on video, and James M snapped a couple pictures. When James F looked over at me for approval, all I could do was nod, smile, and fold my hands over my heart (I wasn’t sure the smiling was evident around the reg). That, too, is on video, and it’s pretty funny.

It. was. perfect.

Which is why “You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin'” was such a funny song for the trip. πŸ™‚

Back on the boat, we again congratulated James and Cara, verbally this time, and I assured him, when he asked later, that it had been perfect. He told me that, as we were getting ready for the dive, he’d decided to do it. He wasn’t sure how or when, but he was going to do it there, underwater, on the shark dive. Wasn’t Cara glad she decided to do that dive?

Even after that, there was still more diving to do!

On the second dive, we stopped at the 60 foot wall, and faced the same cyclone of fish around the two trash cans of food. I’d teased Delana, one of the divemasters, about not seeing the bull sharks and thinking he made them up, so he came and got me out of line and took me so I was on a line perpendicular to John and all the other divers. The maelstrom was right ahead of me, and behind it (relative to the other divers) there were a number of bull sharks.

Now, bull sharks are pretty man-hungry in that they can swim up fresh water rivers (most sharks can’t), and often do, and tend to munch on people bathing in those rivers. So before the dive, I was a bit nervous about them. However, this was just ridiculously awesome.

Right in front of me were about 5-10 sharks, several upwards of 10ish feet. I could see the divemasters holding out fish heads, and the bull sharks circling in for the feast. I stayed their with Delana for the whole 20 minutes, and it was amazing. I felt a bit bad afterwards that John and Company didn’t have as good a view, but that didn’t really diminish my excitement. The black jacks, napoleon wrasse, yellow margin moray, and lots of other fish were still there on this dive, but all my attention went to the bulls.

Afterwards, we poked around in the coral at about 20 feet, working on getting out some of the nitrogen we’d accumulated on a long safety stop. Seta signed to me at one point why hadn’t I wanted to go touch a shark. I signed back that I’d SEEN the sharks! After the dive, it was back to our own island, and all along the way we kept reliving the experience.

The only thing to mar it was that the famed tiger shark hadn’t shown up. Apparently it was an “off” day for her. Oh well, this means we just have to go back and do the dive again, right? Gee, darn!

Back at the resort at lunch, we spread the word about the sharky engagement, and after James and Cara had gone to get ready for the afternoon dive, asked the managers if they could arrange for champagne for a toast at dinner. We met back up with James and Cara at the pool, where we laid in the sun waiting for the afternoon dive time. A couple people came up to congratulate them, and James kept remarking that he hadn’t done anything worth congratulating! My point was, the congratulations were for their love.

The afternoon dive was much more relaxed, and after the excitement of the morning, we were A-OK with that. We went to a site called Seven Sisters, which had 7 shallow coral heads that we swam around. There were many more white and purple nudibranchs, blue ribbon eels, black and orange flatworms, and a purple and orange fringed nudibranch. We also saw a reddish-brown scorpionfish, which turned to stone color as it swam, and some magic coral.

Magic coral, you say? What’s that? It’s coral covered in polyps that retreat when you touch them, so if you touch a small part of the coral, all the polyps retreat along it’s length in a rippling effect. It’s pretty cool to watch, although we tried not to torture the coral too much by doing so.

Back at the resort, we lounged by the pool and had our daily happy hour cocktails. James F had rescued a diver’s light on the night dive the night before, and the diver offered to buy him a drink. I quipped that he’d narrowly beaten me to the light, and he didn’t drink. I meant it as a joke, but the diver bought both him and me a drink. Happy Sarah!

Then, before dinner, the waitress brought out the champagne. It was pretty obvious right from the beginning, but after everyone was served, I stood up and made a toast to James and Cara and invited everyone to drink to their love. It was sweet and wonderful, and I know they both appreciated it, even though they were a bit embarrassed at the time. I told Cara afterwards, when she offered to help pay, to think of it as an engagement party!

After the toast, the manager stood up and congratulated them. Then he made an announcement that bowled us over. For getting engaged while AT the resort, they were gifted with one of two options: Come to the resort for the wedding, and have the entire Fijian ceremony and everything FREE, or come after their wedding and stay for a week in the honeymoon suit for FREE. Both easily a $1000 value. Wow.

We all promptly informed James and Car that we were coming on their honeymoon with them!

The last part of the evening was the traditional Fijian kava ceremony. Kava is a slightly narcotic drink made from a root that is ground into powder. It looks sort of like muddy dishwater, but it tastes like peppery or spicy tea. Not like chai, but spicy tea. It’s not something I’d enjoy every day, but it was interesting. John was made chief for the ceremony, and there was a lot of clapping involved. A minute or two after drinking, my lips and mouth went tingly-numb, and about five minutes later, feeling came back. That was about it. Maybe it was the alcohol (2 happy hour drinks, 3 glasses of champagne), or maybe that really was all, but I didn’t feel anything more. James F reported that all the kava did to him was to make him very relaxed and sleep very well that night. So maybe that was it. It was still a pretty cool ceremony.

All in all, probably maybe our best day in Fiji.

And we were all glad they found that lovin’ feelin’. Awwwww!

Part 5
Part 6

Part 1
Part 2

Day 4, Tuesday

Again with the early morning wake-up and the drums and the mountains of toast and fruit and all sorts of goodness to fill our bellies with, then off to the reef. Just another day in paradise, really.

On the way out, we had 5 dolphins come and escort our boat for about 10 minutes. We caught site of them behind us in the distance, racing to catch up with us, leaping through the waves. When they did eventually catch us, they swam in the waves at the bow of the boat for awhile minutes, playing in the water. They were very graceful, but disappeared as we approached the reef. We never saw them underwater, but to see them above was pretty damn neat.

Our first dive was at Three Thieves. This was hilarious for several reasons:

Earlier, on Sunday, Rae had accidentally taken Cara’s weight pouches (they go in the BCD pockets to hold the lead), and James F had been giving her a teasingly hard time about this ever since. As we all dive with pretty much the same BCD, and thus have the same weight pouches, the only way to tell is to label them. Luckily, someone had brought along a sharpie. Then, Monday morning, one of the guys in our group had been a bit preoccupied (his wife was sick for the first couple days while we were there) and had accidentally taken and PUT ON Rae’s wetsuit. Her girl-cut, girl-colored (we get two stripes while the guys get one) wetsuit! More thief jokes. Begin cross-dressing jokes. So to take us to Three Thieves to dive was just asking for trouble!

The dive was 3 large pinnacles that we swam among. Spiraling up them was pretty cool, but swimming across the chasms between, where the bottom dropped off to 80-100 feet? Was like flying. And that, folks, is one of the many reasons I dive. It’s one of the coolest, most ever-changing experiences you can have on this planet. We found a large octopus (hopefully I’ll have some good pictures in a bit), more white tip sharks, several lobsters (mmm, lunch…), more of the swimming black-and-orange flatworms, more of the purple-and-white nudibranchs, cowrys, unicorn fish, leaf scorpionfish, lionfish, banded coral shrimp. The list just goes on and on and on.

The coolest thing by far, however, was finding the cleaner shrimp. One of the divemasters beckoned me over and showed me two little shrimp just sitting on a ledge. He gestured to them, then took a deep breathe, took out his reg, and opened his mouth near the little guys. And who would have guessed, but the hopped right in and started cleaning his teeth!!! I gave it a try afterwards. Two, actually, as the first didn’t work–I don’t think I was quite close enough to get them to jump in. But the second time was the charm–it felt sort of like having a bug walking on your arm, or grass brushing against you. Only it didn’t really tickle, and it wasn’t really a poking feeling, and it definitely wasn’t gross to think of them cleaning my teeth. I suppose it was like being very gently cleaned by little tiny shrimp. Basically. Get the idea? And it was so freaking cool! John also tried it, as did Nate. We couldn’t convince Shelly to try. Ah well.

Next, it was off to Sea Fan Coral, which had (who would have guessed?) lots of sea fans. Lionfish, black-and-orange flatworms, cowrys, a reddish lionfish (not brownish like the commons), blue ribbon eels, large anemones that would retreat upon contact. Best of all, maybe, were all the little anemones with the anemone fish. I spent a long time putting my hand out nearby them to try to get them to defend their anemone, but apparently a blue-gloved hand is just a little too threatening–they never would fight me off. They did, however, tend to attack the lens of James M’s camera when he took pictures of them, probably due to seeing their own reflections. It was pretty funny. And then on the way back, the dolphins swam by again, although they didn’t escort the boat for nearly as long.

We had the afternoon off because we were planning a night dive, and we all decided to go on the tour of the local school. We arrived while some kids were having track-and-field time (and good lord could some of those kids do the long jump!) and while the little kids were having singing time. They sang all sorts of nursery rhymes to us, both in Fijian and in English. They were impossibly adorable children, and all the little dances they did with each song was so cute. Especially when one of the songs contained the lyrics, “Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds” (and that’s it) and the dance involved making a hut shape with their hands, then mimicking wings, and finally shaking their hips hula-style. It was hi-larious! Pictures to come, I promise.

In return, we were asked to sing to them. We obliged with “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (both of which they knew better than us, it turned out) and “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” (they loved the yelling part of that one) and “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” (Shelly did it in Japanese, which was a huge hit, and which they picked up incredibly fast) and finally “Baby Beluga”. James F led this one, and it was so fun to start to watch them copy his movements to go with the words, unintentional though they were. I love that song. We’re working on a recording (and possibly something to play it on) to send to them.

Afterwards, we took tons of pictures of them, and of us with them–they all loved being in front of the camera, and we’ve promised to send them all sorts of pictures, as well as the lyrics to the songs.

Then one of the teachers took us on a tour of their new school building, which was built with a grant from the EU and which will soon be furnished with a few computers thanks to another foreign teaching grant from some other nation. The school was so charming, and we so wanted to help in someway (computers were beyond us, although Aaron did get into a deep discussion of how to network them with one of the other teachers). We asked the teacher leading the tour for a wishlist of supplies, which she gave us–it’s things like glue and paper and notebooks and pens. All simple stuff that a lot of kids take for granted in this country. Needless to say, all of us who were on the trip and are so inclined are getting together a huge package, not only with the stuff they wanted, but lots of fun stuff too.

ADDITIONALLY (and here’s where my faith in humanity has been temporarily restored), upon hearing that several of the kids had qualified for the regional trackmeet but that the school didn’t have quite enough money to send them to the mainland, people in our group donated several hundred US dollars (so several hundred and then some Fijian dollars) to the school to ensure that these kids could go and would have water bottles and lunches and whatnot. It was such a generous outpouring, on top of volunteering all sorts of money and supplies to be sent upon our return, that I was so amazed. Truly, we had an amazing group of people go with us on this trip. I am ridiculously proud of all of them.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to linger at the school and watch more track practice as we had to get back in time to leave on the night dive. And finally, finally, we got to see the sun set into the Pacific ocean. No green flash, but reds and oranges and yellows and purples like you wouldn’t imagine. Very picturesque, with reflections all stretched out on the water and on the sky and on all the island mountains. If I could have captured even a little of perfection and essence of that scene with a camera, I would have, but I think it was just something you had to be standing their watching.

On the night dive, it was back to Pearl Reef (same place as Day 2, the infamous current dive, although it wasn’t so bad at night). We found slipper lobsters (think something that looks like the tail-end of a lobster–all plated, or possible like a horseshoe crab without the tail?), a red lionfish, more tiger cowrys–one completely out of it’s shell, more banded coral shrimp, two twin-spotted lionfish, huge clams, an undulated moray, and many sleeping fish. All you could see of these last guys was just little tail tips sticking out of rock crevices. It was very cute. Pictures to come, I promise!!

It was a pretty spectacular night dive–over an hour long, plenty to see, not too cold. The reef was a bit crowded with so many people on it, but not too bad right up until the end when we were all hanging out under the boat. James F, John and I were almost the last ones up–we debated staying down longer, but dinner awaited us when we got back and hungry stomachs won out over inquisitive diving.

And besides, after dinner and sleepy time? The shark dive!!! Like kids on the night before Christmas, we all were off to bed early to bring morning that much faster.

Part 4
Part 5
Part 6


January 2019
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