Sunday, May 27, 2007

Three parties in two days!

On the night of May 27th, Kieran exclaimed that he thought it was pretty cool that we got to have three parties in two days - and indeed it was! What made it all the nicer was that Shami, my brother Ian and his kids, and my friend Alex, were all in town for the festivities.

It all started on May 26th. Sean's birthday is the day before mine, and Jeanine had us all over for a lovely dinner, and of course birthday cake!

Birthday dinner for Sean Birthday boy

Surprise! The next day, I expected to have a relaxed and low key birthday. Caitlin, Jamie and their kids had a big pot-luck luncheon to attend at their Quaker Meeting, and would be gone for most of the morning and afternoon. So I thought it might be nice to have a laid back brunch with my parents at the Kendal dining hall, where they live. So I suggested this, and the plan was on. Little did I know what I just set ourselves up for!

I walked in to my parent's place, with Shami and Alex right behind me, ready to go to brunch. All of a sudden there was all this commotion and yelling, and there were all these people. Caitlin was there, and I wondered "Why is Caitiln not at her event?" And then it all came together. They were yelling "Surprise!" and believe me I was SURPRISED! They threw us a surprise baby shower. I was caught utterly off guard, as was Shami. Even my cousin Annette and her two girls Elizabeth and Cecilia were there. They had all put together a lovely brunch... and I got to eat those tasty quiches Caitlin had so painstakenly prepared for the non-existent pot luck. I was so touched that everyone had done this for us. I have never been so surprised or felt so special.

There was food, family and much merriment. And gifts, of course!

Surprise! Gifts at the baby shower
Below left: Elizabeth and Cecilia drew a picture of a "baby shower" on a card for us! Right: Opening gifts with the kids.
A picture of a baby shower Opening gifts with Kieran, Mariah, and Shannon

My mom added all sorts of small touches, including little necklaces, small party favors, and a basket of handmade fabric fortune cookies, into which she stuffed little bits of advice for the baby. Everyone picked one, and we took turns reading them out loud.
Favors and fortunes
Some examples:
"Put everything in your mouth. The rotten stuff is the tastiest and will get a big reaction from mom and dad."

"If you feel the need to spit up, wait until your mother has a clean shirt on."

"Parents sleep too much. You must correct this by waking them as often as you can."

Opening fortunes
Ian reading the note from his "fortune cookie".

I read the very last one, which, as luck would have it, turned out to be the sweetest of them all:
"You are the center of the universe: the sun, the moon and the stars all shine on you, and you can reach out to everything"

Reading out fortunes Papa reading to girls
Above: Shami reading his fortune, and Papa looking at photo albums with Shannon and Molly.

Sisters through thick and thin... it is my turn to be thick! Caitlin is always a wonderful support for me.

As if this was not enough, there was another celebration in the evening for my birthday. We all gathered for a meal together.

There were so many people, that we all couldn't fit around one table!

Birthday dinner for Meghan Birthday dinner for Meghan

Two wishes Dinner was, of course, followed by birthday cake. There were two this year! My favorite, angel food cake with strawberries and cream, as well as a chocolate one for the chocoholics in the group. As a result I got to make two birthday wishes this year!

Birthday gift More gifts followed, including this beautiful hand quilted table runner my mother made for me. It now brightens up our living room here in Sydney.

It was an exhausting but wonderful day. One that I will remember for a long time! Thank you to everyone who made it so special for me.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

More pictures from Ithaca

As promised, here are some more pictures from Ithaca.

Gardening Although she has four kids and unending activities, Cailtin still finds the time and energy to work on her flower and vegetable gardens. One morning I helped her mulch a small patch in front of their shed.

The kids keep busy with all sorts of activities. Kieran plays the Sax in his school's band. Here he is, practicing before school. Notice his outfit... Caitlin bought it for him from Fab India, in Delhi, back in February. Shannon is also posing in her Indian outfit, a gift from their new Indian neighbors.

Kieran and Shannon Kieran in the marching band
Left, Kieran and Shannon. Right, Kieran marching with his school band during the annual Ithaca Festival Parade (front and center, in the blue shirt and red croc shoes).

Shannon on stage I was lucky enough to be in Ithaca for Shannon's dance school's annual performance extravaganza. It was quite an amazing show. Here she is (in front) dancing her Jazz number. She also danced ballet and tap!

Devon and Kieran were once again in their school's annual musical play. Unfortunately I was not able to stay long enough to see the performance, but I heard that they both did great.

More pictures of the kids:

Girls in chairs: cousins Mariah and Molly.
Best cousins

Out for a stroll Petting a horse with Grandma
Left: Mariah heads out for a stroll; Right: Petting a horse with her grandmother.

There were some cool nights, but also some scorching hot days. One hot day included a trip to the local pool, where Devon and Kieran had fun with their orca whale.
Riding the Orca

Up a tree Basket case?
Left: Up a tree; Right: Basket case?

Below: Shannon, Kieran and Eamonn having fun on the slide.
Traffic jam

I'll post about the baby shower soon!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Visiting Ithaca

Meghan and Mariah I had a wonderful trip to Ithaca. While it was ramping up to winter in upside-down Australia, in Ithaca it was spring. The lush green of May was wonderful to see. The lilacs were in full bloom, and looked and smelled so good!

The flight to the other side of the world was long, but seeing my family made every second of it worthwhile. I was sorry to leave Shami in Washington DC, where he continued on to his conference in Green Bank, but I was eager to continue on my way to the Syracuse airport. My flight got in around midnight, and Caitlin and my mom volunteered to make the long, late night drive to meet me. We chatted the whole way back.

Reading to Mariah Since we got in so late, it wasn't until the next morning that I got to see my sister's kids... Devon, Kieran, Shannon and Mariah. It was great to see them all! Mariah, Caitlin's youngest (soon to be three), changed the most since I last saw her nine months ago - but she remembered me well. It was such a treat when a sleepy Mariah ran straight to me and wanted me to read her a book! My parents also came over, and we all had a good time together.

With Ma and Da With Ian, Molly, and Eamonn

It was especially nice that for the Memorial Day weekend my brother Ian and his two kids, Eamonn and Molly could come down from Canada. We missed my sister-in-law, Wei, however, who sadly was not able to come. It was great to have all six of my nieces and nephews together at once. Also, my good friend Alex travelled from Boston to see me. It felt great to spend time with everyone.

It was too bad Shami only had a couple of days to spend in Ithaca, but he made the most of his time there, including work and play. I don't have any pictures of him working, but I do have a couple of him playing...

We play with the Wii Swing with Molly
Left, playing a video game on the Wii with Devon and Kieran.
Right, giving Molly a push on the swing.

One evening we enjoyed having dinner with friends at the ABC Cafe, an old Ithaca favorite.

At the ABC cafe
From left to right: Chris, Bill, Geri (almost 8 months pregnant here!) Nicole, Schultzie, Meghan, Shami, Jeanine, Sean and Bruce.

Hand-me-downs I did a lot of shopping while back in the US, since things can be so expensive in Sydney. It was fun to buy things for the baby! There were also boxes of baby hand-me-downs from Caitlin, as well as from Ian and Wei, to sort through. Throw in the great gifts we received at our baby shower (I'll post about this soon) and we ended up with quite a collection of stuff. On the eve of Shami's departure, Caitlin, Alex, and my mom helped me sort through the piles in order to send as much back to Sydney with him as possible!

Baby Bjorn practice
Shami practices his parenting skills as he gives a doll a ride in a hand-me-down Baby Bjorn!

More pictures from the trip are coming soon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Green Bank observatory

The Green Bank telescope: front view
As you drive out towards Green Bank, in rural West Virginia, cell phone service fades away, and most of the FM dial hisses with empty static. In a world awash with radio noise, the 13,000 square mile National Radio Quiet zone is an oasis of silence. And in its heart sits the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank radio telescope, part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. At 100 meters in diameter, the GBT is the world's largest fully-steerable single dish. (It is much larger than the 64 m Parkes telescope, and while the 305 m Arecibo dwarfs them both, Arecibo is not fully steerable.)

The Green Bank telescope: back view The Green Bank telescope

The massive telescope also has a rather unusual design: it is an off-axis section of a much larger parabolic surface. Its view of the sky is not obstructed by the usual support arms or receivers, leading to wonderful performance characteristics. Each of its two thousand and four surface panels can also be individually adjusted, allowing the telescope to precisely focus radio waves as short as 3 mm in wavelength. However, the unusual design means that each panel is unique, adding cost and complexity, and the telescope is so massive that the track it turns on has repeatedly buckled, leading to shutdowns and expensive repairs. That's what construction by the lowest bidder will do, I guess...

Meanwhile, in spite of the maintenance issues, the Robert C. Byrd telescope (named after West Virgina's powerful senator, like most other large projects in the state) has become one of the most productive radio telescopes in the world. Nestled in the Allegheny mountains, far away from the rest of civilization, it provided a serene backdrop to our pulsar workshop.

The Green Bank telescope

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Time Travel

We went on a short trip to the US this May: Meghan visited family in Ithaca, and I went to a workshop at Green Bank before joining her there for a few days. The first step, of course, was dealing with paperwork. I needed a visa, and the required documentation grew to quite a thick pile! After a delay that tested our patience, the visa finally arrived two days before our departure.

Starting with Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe (or even earlier), travel across the international date line has always been interesting. ('Around the World in 80 Days', anyone?) When we flew to Australia for the first time, we simply lost the 15th of August. On this trip back to the US, we got that missing day back by living through a very looooong 19th of May.

Below, Meghan demonstrates how to time-travel: we left Sydney at 1300 hours (1 pm) on the 19th, and arrived in Los Angeles well in time to connect for Washington DC at 12:45 pm on the same day...

Leaving Sydney at 1300 hours Connecting at Los Angeles at 1245 hours

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Happy Mother's Day!

We celebrated our first Mother's Day this year, in anticipation of Meghan becoming a mother in a few months! After a laid back day, I treated Meghan to dinner at the revolving restaurant on top of Centrepoint Tower, the tallest building in Sydney. We enjoyed a leisurely trip around 360 degrees of the Sydney skyline and admired the twinkling city lights as we had dinner. There are big, exciting changes afoot in our life, and this was a chance to share a relaxed and leisurely moment for the two of us...

On our deck Centrepoint tower
Left: "Mum" and "Bub" (we're picking up our Aussie lingo); Right: the Tower.
Below: The Sydney skyline at sunset from the Manly ferry.

Sunset over the Sydney skyline

High above Sydney
Above: Us at dinner, high above the city.
Below: Views of the city (blurry, because the restaurant was moving!)

Darling Harbour and Anzac bridge from above The Sydney harbour bridge from above