Tag Archives: travel

Family Fieldwork V2.0: Notes from the Field

The last three weeks zoomed by on this little island, and we are wrapping up data collections and switching over to conference mode for our last week in Hawaii.

So how is it going? The short answer is fairly well. We (I) spent a huge amount of time prior to arriving carefully selecting a house that was suitable for kids and grandparents, planning travel to arrive a few days early so we could adjust & set up, finding local stores and restaurants, sussing out activities for them, and packing items like power outlet covers and night lights so we could quickly “baby-proof” the beach house. These efforts paid off, as the children made a fairly smooth transition to life in Hawaii. We had a very long day of travel and arrived after their bedtime, so thankfully they were tired enough to sleep until 5am local time the first morning (that’s 10am in Virginia- they usually would wake up at 7:30). Joey was good to go after that. Blake had a few tough nights and we had a little more trouble getting his nap schedule on track, but we are now cruising along with a good routine for everyone. The team agreed that the most crucial piece of planning to everyone’s happiness was the house – easy walk to the beach, bedrooms for everyone plus a lab, and a spacious backyard safe for the kids to play in.

We got into work relatively quickly, sorting out instruments, unpacking gear, and connecting with local colleagues. We had tank experiments up and running within days. Weather kept us off of the water longer than we had hoped, but we managed to start collecting in-water data within a week of arrival and are now on track. Our first week was very busy and the boys started asking for more time with us. Thankfully we crossed off a few big hurdles early on (tank experiments!) and were able to adjust our schedule so that we had a fun family activity with them every few days. We are living in Kailua on the windward side of Oahu, so grand adventures like kayaking, hiking, and swimming are easily within reach for morning play before nap.

The boys love spending time with their grandparents, and the beach is a few minutes walk from our front door, so in general their days are spent playing in the sand, swimming in the surf, and enjoying our luxurious backyard complete with banana trees while Simon & I work. When the weather keeps us off the water and/or we are able to schedule half a day off, we take them further afield to different parts of Oahu for hiking, beaches, tide pool exploration, and a couple of memorable boat & kayak excursions.

We have almost completed our data collections, both in water and in tanks with collaborators at the University of Hawaii. We have a few instruments still taking data that we need to pick up early next week before we ship our equipment back to NRL on Thursday, but otherwise we are starting to clean and pack gear. In terms of work, we have shifted to preparing our presentations for the ASLO Meeting this week. My talk is tomorrow morning, so I’m finalizing the details of my powerpoint presentation today while Simon takes the kids on a rock pool adventure (apparently the sea urchins were their favorite animal). We are also taking care to back up data, start running codes for quality control, and organize our notes and photos from the trip.

A few highlights from our time here include Joey’s growing knowledge of sea animals. After reading a couple of books about sea turtles ingesting trash by mistake, he has led us on quite a few beach clean-ups. Blake is now walking confidently on grass, sand, and rocks. Both boys love to play in the ocean, and scramble around on dark black lava rocks in bare feet with smiles on their faces. We are very happy with our decision to bring them along, and are immensely grateful to the spoilers (Grammy & Papa) for caring for the boys so well and on an ever-changing schedule while we take care of our fieldwork requirements and juggle work needs with family time.

Prepping for Departure to Hawaii Tomorrow!

Everything is wrapping up in DC as we prepare to fly to Honolulu tomorrow. Inevitably a few fires popped up at the last minute, but in general we’ve been quite organized as we prepare for our great family fieldwork adventure.

Our scientific equipment was shipped on Monday, which meant we spent a good chunk of last week packing. We’ll pick up two pallets of scientific equipment, ranging from a hydrophone array and underwater spectrometer to lab and office supplies, on Thursday in Honolulu.

Our personal gear was mostly packed the prior weekend. Since we are traveling to a different climate, I was able to pack everyone’s clothes well ahead of time. There are a few last minute things to add to the suitcases tomorrow morning (the baby monitor, my electric toothbrush, and the kids’ water bottles for example).

We have detailed lists of data collection objectives, listed by priority. We have fancy schedules & dive plans that will inevitably be modified by weather. We also have children’s books and toys, a tiny snorkel set, and two little wetsuits. We have plane tickets for six people. We are, for all practical purposes, ready.

Both Simon & I have been chipping away at preparation tasks for the past month, and I have to say this is possibly the best job we have done to date with trip prep. We are both excited and anxious for family fieldwork v2 to go well!

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Pro Tip: Bungee diapers/inserts & wipes to car seats before placing them in gate check bags.

Curious what we are taking for the kiddos? Two car seats (bundled with compostable diaper inserts and wipes), one double stroller, and two baby hiking backpacks (packaged as a stroller). About five days worth of clothing, with extra layers for wind, rain, and warmth after a swim. Cloth nappies for Blake. Wetsuits and lifejackets. Snorkel set for Joey. They each have a small carry-on bag packed with their favorite toys, books, and stuffed animals. All of our personal belongings have miraculously made it into three checked bags.

More soon! For photo updates follow us on instagram @adventuretoddlers. Next stop, Honolulu 🙂

Family Fieldwork V2.0 – Hawaii!

We ticked off a major bucket list item recently with our first Freeman & Freeman peer-reviewed scientific paper. Another is on the horizon, our first joint family fieldwork adventure with kids in tow!

This expedition has been years in the making, from applying to proposals & gathering funds, sussing out a timeline, and making a plan where we could bring the boys, caregivers, and still get our work done. Here’s what is going to happen & how we got there:

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Our destination (more or less)

Me & Simon (the science team), Joey & Blake (the nuggets), and Grammy & Papa (the caregivers) are flying to Honolulu on February 1 for one month. We are staying at a rental house by Kailua beach, a short drive from the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base and Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay, where Simon & I will be working. In addition to space for the six of us, the house has a semi-attached “in-law suite” that will serve as our lab.

It all started with a NASA proposal two years ago that I developed with my postdoc advisor, to inform the HySPIRI satellite mission during an expedition to Hawaii. NASA will fly over the Hawaiian Island chain with hyperspectral remote sensing imagers to simulate HySPIRI data, and during the same time a science team will be collecting data on the ground to validate and test the imagery. We are on the coral reef team. My question is how well coral reef health can be determined from some of the highest quality satellite imagery, utilizing the relative proportion of coral and fleshy macroalgae as the metric of health. This proportion can be detected from space with the correct sensor, and is a well established indicator of coral reef ecosystem state. A healthier reef has more live coral, and a more degraded reef has been overgrown with fleshy macroalgae.

The Freeman & Freeman paper that came out in December was a thorough investigation of passive acoustic indicators of coral reef state in the Hawaiian Islands from our 2012 fieldwork. One of our most interesting finds was that different acoustic signals come from reefs with lots of coral (healthier reefs), versus reefs with lots of fleshy macroalgae (more degraded reefs). We were very interested in testing this further, and seeing if we could use remote sensing & acoustics together to improve the overall ability to determine coral reef state from afar. When Simon started his fellowship as a federal scientist in June, he was given start-up funds and has been able to dedicate part of them to his own, complimentary experiments in Kaneohe Bay in February.

The timeline was heavily constrained by flight time for the NASA aircraft and instruments, but thankfully it was confirmed with enough advance notice that we have been able to get all of our coordinating pieces into place. Simon requested and scheduled his experiment. My parents were able to take a month away from work & home duties, which meant that we could bring the boys. We can’t express enough gratitude to them, as neither of us would be willing to leave our kids for a month right now. The kids, in turn, are so excited for a month on the beach with their grandparents:

We have dreamed for far longer than we have been parents about conducting joint fieldwork and having our children along, a-la Rosemary and Peter Grant style. What an incredible experience for them – an opportunity to live in a new place, enjoy a new culture, and learn about the diversity of the natural world. Not to mention lots of QT with the grandparents. We are beyond excited that this is happening, and can’t wait to share it with you over the blog-channels in the next few weeks.

 

The Annual Honeymoon

We’ve written about our vacation deal before – we promised one another before we were parents that every year we had dependent children, we would go on at least one vacation without them. So far we’ve managed to pull it off, and one of our friends started to use the term “annual honeymoon.” It is a perfect description of why we do this.

The point isn’t to get away from our kids – we adore them both, and we love spending time with them. The point is to spend time focused on ourselves and each other. You know – what we used to do all of the time before we were Joey’s Mom and Blake’s Dad. We had full lives with hobbies and activities. We’ve been fortunate enough to find ways to carry on most of those hobbies with our little explorers, but in some cases it just can’t be done. Scuba diving comes to mind (and will be featured in the 2017 honeymoon…!).

That’s why we have the annual honeymoon. Special bonding time for me and Simon, to keep our relationship happy and healthy so that we can best serve our family. Special bonding time for the older and younger generation, where the grandparents are given full control and the grandchildren receive exotic treats like juice for breakfast, pet fish, and all the educational toys they can get their little hands on. It is always hard to leave, but wonderful to come home well rested and energized to hear of their adventures at the Grammy & Papa resort.

We have been long due for a honeymoon, as our last was a dive trip to Raja Ampat, Indonesia in December 2014/January 2015 (it was a big enough trip that we counted it for both years). Blake arrived in December 2015 – making it tricky to plan a trip in 2016. Fortunately, a good friend planned a New Year’s Eve wedding in San Diego and gave us the perfect excuse to fly as a duo at the end of the year, just after Blake had cleared his first birthday.

In our four day trip, we visited old friends, favorite restaurants, and re-lived many of our graduate school dates. (Most of them involve take-out burritos and a hike on cliffs overlooking the sea). We had hours of time to talk to one another without interruption. We didn’t worry about nap time or bedtime, and slept late in the morning. The wedding was beautiful. It was time and money well spent. There is truly nothing better to come home to than my sweet boys’ smiles and hugs.

Oh, and Dory the pet fish lives at Grammy and Papa’s house now 😉

 

Family Fieldwork v1.0: North Carolina Edition

One of our long-term dreams as a science family is to take on “family fieldwork.” The idea is that Simon & I would conduct joint or collaboratory fieldwork in the same location, and bring along our kids and caregivers for them. We are so excited to have the opportunity to do just that during the month of February when we will return to Hawaii. In the meantime, Simon had a short work trip to Nags Head, North Carolina last weekend and we were able to put together a mini-version of family fieldwork to try it out.

We visited Nags Head to facilitate collection of large, fresh, whole pelagic fishes including tuna and wahoo. These fish subsequently traveled with Simon & a colleague to San Diego for high resolution scanning in an MRI machine. The resultant data are a key first step to Simon’s newest project at NRL developing a fish-inspired autonomous underwater vehicle.

November is the tail end of the season for the fish of interest, so a three-day window was allotted where Simon could assess the daily catch from his vendor fisherman and pick the specimens he wanted, then carefully package them for shipping to San Diego. Time was critical as he wanted to ensure the fish were whole fresh specimens (fresh is better when it comes to MRI) and never frozen.

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The beach in front access across from our rental house – a highlight for Joey & Blake

The fish collection window fell over a holiday weekend, so I made plans to join Simon and bring the boys & their grandparents along for the ride. We rented a house in Nags Head across the street from the beach and brought along a stroller and sand toys. Overall, everything worked. The kids and I made it home safely, Simon is in San Diego proceeding with data collection from the fish scans, and the grandparents are still excited about our trip to Hawaii.

That said, we learned quite a few things to operate more smoothly next time!

Our children are still very young (3 years, 10 months) so having a safe space for both of them to play indoors is critical. When we travel to Hawaii I’ll bring/buy extra outlet covers, baby gates, pop-up toy storage, and doorknob covers.

This past weekend was REALLY hectic because of the aforementioned time crunch on getting the fish into the MRI as quickly as possible. We were only in Nags Head for three days. In addition, we had extra people coming and going from the house. This was definitely stressful for the boys. I was reminded (again) that we need to keep everything as simple as possible for them, and preserve their routine. I think things will be easier in Hawaii since we are there for a whole month, and they’ll have more time to get settled and used to the family fieldwork norm.

On the same note, buffer days are really critical for kids. I had a free day with them after arriving in Nags Head, and spent another day with them at the grandparents’ house in Williamsburg before returning to our home in Alexandria. That extra time really helped them re-group and stay happy.

The final challenge with family fieldwork is delineating my time between work and kids. At home, I never work when I’m with them – I reserve all work things for when I’m at my office, or when they are asleep. This is a harder line to draw with a shared house in a new place. We are still piecing plans together, but now will prioritize a clear schedule of work time as well as a separated office space in the house that the boys will not usually be allowed to access. I’m glad a have a few more months to brainstorm before we go so that V2.0 Hawaii Edition gets off to a smooth start!

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Time with Grammy is always special. We love that family fieldwork gives both our kids and our parents extra special memories together.

On Traveling Without Baby

We used to travel as a couple all the time - that's when we made the vacation deal in the first place.
We used to travel as a couple all the time – that’s when we made the vacation deal in the first place.

We told you about our ‘vacation deal‘ that we had made before Joey was born, and we recently tested it out. The deal was that every year when we had dependent kids, we would go on a vacation as a couple and on another with the kids. These had to be ‘real’ vacations, a bit of a vague term, but we both agreed that an overnight trip locally did not count.

When I say we tested it out, I don’t mean we went to stay at a B&B a couple of hours away for a few days. Simon & I left Joey in the excellent care of his grandparents for nearly two weeks while we traveled to the exact opposite side of the world to go scuba diving for a week. It took us four days to reach our destination (Raja Ampat, Indonesia) and three to get back.

Now we usually travel like this, which we also love.
Now we usually travel like this, which we also love.

We returned home safely and on schedule, well after Joey’s bedtime. The next morning we were eager to get up with him and spend as much time with him as possible. He was only mildly impressed that we had returned, showing more interest in his toys and the dog (possibly the best feature of the grandparents’ resort). After getting re-acquainted over the weekend, he was willing to return to Alexandria with us and get back into the groove of everyday life. Our previous nanny actually left for a full time teaching job (we got this information in Jakarta on the way home), so we got extra time with Joey last week working a split schedule. (We all like his new nanny very much!)

Now that you have the background, this is our executive summary:

The vacation deal is awesome. 

Going on an adventure as a two-some allowed Simon & I to enjoy our favorite activity together – scuba diving. This simply would not have been possible with a one-year old along. It felt very luxurious to transit through airports and go about air travel without a small child. We could talk at leisure, sleep when we wanted, eat at the same time, go to the bathroom when we wanted… More importantly, the vacation did exactly what it is supposed to – we both came home relaxed, happy, and strongly reminded of what is important to us (our family, the ocean, & exploring). The first few days were the hardest, partly because we were just sitting on airplanes. Once we realized that Joey was very happy with his grandparents, we were more relaxed about enjoying ourselves. It was a very special bonding time for the three of them too, and the grandparents’ were hesitant to relinquish him when it was time to go home.

What worked well:

  1. We had several days at the grandparents’ home with Joey before and after the trip to help him adjust. I think this helped everyone.
  2. Traveling over a holiday (New Year’s) meant that my dad had time off of work to help more with Joey and that we didn’t miss as much work.
  3. Lots of updates – my mom was amazing about sending us photos and updates every day.
  4. Do something you couldn’t do with a baby. Had we been lounging on a beach and swimming or hiking and camping I would have felt terrible, since these are activities that Joey really enjoys and participates in.

What I would have changed:

  1. Travel to a closer location. I realized as we were on day three of four getting to Raja Ampat that if Joey were in an emergency situation it would take us days to get to him. Next year we’ll go somewhere a wee bit closer to home

There you have it. As always, you have to do what is right for your family. But if a setup like this sounds fun, exciting, and relaxing to you – it probably will be. It is worth jumping over the initial hurdle to make it happen. All three members of our family are much happier as a result.

Jakarta Layover

Car-free day in Jakarta, seen from our room at the Hyatt. Vendor carts with red roofs are on the lower right.
Car-free day in Jakarta, seen from our room at the Hyatt. Vendor carts with red roofs are on the lower right.

After about 36 hours of travel, we made it to Jakarta with all of our things! Simon had a free night at the Hyatt (any Hyatt…!) so we decided to take advantage of that here. What a great choice. This is by far the nicest hotel either of us have ever stayed in, and the staff are amazing. Before we could even ask (upon checking in at 2am), the concierge insisted on setting up a late checkout at no charge – for 6pm the next day! We were able to get access to the ‘club,’ which included a delicious and diverse breakfast buffet including fish soup, congee porridge, eggs made to order, croissants, and european cheese. Our room came with towels wrapped as kissing swans on the bed, gourmet cookies in a box, and an amazing bouquet of fresh flowers. I’m a little surprised we left at all 🙂

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Us in front of the Indonesia National Monument (MONAS)

After a well deserved shower/bath and sleep, we enjoyed our fancy breakfast and decided to explore the city. Today (Sunday) is car-free day in the city, where a large section of street starting at our hotel and ending at the Indonesia National Monument is closed to cars.

Simon's pick of the day - a brace of bunnies being carried to market
Simon’s pick of the day – a brace of bunnies being carried to market

Street vendors abound, as do locals on bikes and on foot. This enjoyable break from total traffic jam occurs every Sunday morning. We had a pleasant walk up to the National Monument, which has a nice park around it, also filled with little street vendor carts, children flying kites,

Taxi fare from the airport to our hotel. 1 US dollar = 1243 Indonesian Rupiah
Taxi (‘taksi’) fare from the airport to our hotel. 1 US dollar = 1243 Indonesian Rupiah

and an impressive array of characters (adults in costume) including sponge-bob, winnie-the-pooh, nemo, and quite a few more that we didn’t recognize. We enjoyed walking around the city, and have been pleasantly surprised at how nice it is here. There is relatively little crime, lots of beautiful lush vegetation, friendly people, and fairly few tourists. We were notably the only white people around, but received relatively little touting. We were surprised when children in the park wanted their photo taken with us!

Simon doubles up in front of MONAS
Simon doubles up in front of MONAS

Well-fed and well-rested, we are ready to take on our last flight before we finally arrive at Papua Paradise in Raja Ampat tomorrow. We depart Jakarta at 10pm, and after a couple of stops arrive in Sorong at 6:30am. From there we will be collected by boat, and in the water as soon as possible.

IMG_0871Regarding travels without baby: At this point, we both are feeling like the trip was a good idea. We do miss Joey, but can’t deny the luxury of being on a plane without him. He has been a champion about air travel so far, but I can’t imagine him enjoying the slew of flights we went through over the last two days. As a couple only, we were able to do things like both eat our in-flight meal at the same time, sleep as long as we wanted, and watch our choice of program on the little televisions. Of course we talk about him endlessly and are delighted to be receiving cute photos of him having fun at the grandparents’ resort. We notice every child under the age of 6 and smile at them. Fortunately, that sentiment has been received as kind and not creepy here. It is really pleasant to have down-time as a couple, too! I don’t think either of us realized how busy we have been over the last few months, but it is wonderful to have a break.

*We were not involved in the missing AirAsia flight. Our local flight is on Srijawa Air, which is not affiliated with AirAsia. Thank you to those who have expressed concern.*