Thursday, April 14, 2011

Got some bragging to do

I have two fantastic kids.  And I feel like bragging about them because they deserve some recognition for being interesting, curious, independent, sensible, kind, and responsible people.  I also have two fantastic step kids. I'm not really entitled to brag on them but totally appreciate the warm glow when their Dad gets to.

I won't say I've never had a moment of worry with my kids, but it's been pretty smooth sailing and I've never had to post bail.  This is even more wonderful given they are both actual adults now. 

See, it's easy to brag on our kids when they are little unformed balls of potential wonderfulness.  We can imagine and project our own instinctive recognition of their superior qualities.  Then they become older and we admire their athletic or artistic or academic prowess and vie with other parents (though we don't admit it) to have the most accomplished kid on the block.  We focus on the positives and shelter them to some extent from the consequences of the bad stuff that happens.  We are still enjoying their potential more than who they actually are because we provide a buffer between our little darlings and the real world.

And then at some point we have to let go.  Parts are super easy -  not yelling "clean up your room" out of habit is priceless.  Dragging out of bed to attend the pine car derby at 8AM on a Saturday morning is not something one misses much.  Parts are super hard.  Wondering how they are doing when you haven't heard from them for days and hearing parts but not necessarily all of the story when things go wrong.  Finding out after the fact how they dealt with a major problem.

And that's when we get to see how our kids chose to fulfill all that potential we always knew they had.  

So now comes the story about how my incredible kids have become interns at the White House and are working to solve global food shortages plus earning more money at their tender ages than I earned when I was forty.  Nope. 

And I am perfectly, completely, and utterly fine with that because better than any of that, as adults, they are interesting, curious, independent, sensible, kind, and responsible people. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

So here's the deal

I haven't posted since December and I can come up with several reasons and an excuse or two thrown in for good measure.

My last update was in December - in the middle of a three week visit by my daughter and her gentleman friend plus the holidays, plus our anniversary.  All these occasions were happily a great success.  We enjoyed a delightful Christmas Day at our friend Robbie's house complete with turkey, dressing, pie, dirty Santa swap, and an hour or two in the swimming pool confirming that Christmas happens in the full heat of summer in Perth.  Laura and Evan had a good road trip up north of Perth and kangaroos and Aussie beers were thoroughly enjoyed. And Mike and I had a delicious bottle of New Years Eve champagne that did double duty for our anniversary. 

But (first excuse) Mike and I both woke up feeling less than stellar on New Years Day, and the one bottle of champagne was not to blame.  Fortunately Laura and Evan were on their road trip and managed to miss our initial bout of cooties.  We were somewhat less snorty by the time they returned and kept our distance so they were mercifully spared. 

On Jan 8th we bundled them on to a late night plane back home...and then stayed on call for 5 days while they were stranded at LAX through Snowmaggedon 2 or whatever they called the storm that shut the Atlanta airport for nearly four days.  Staying on call meant calls at 3AM every night organizing hotel rooms, checking airport status, notifying Laura of changes and further cancellations, and eventually giving up and booking them on alternate flights via Houston and Knoxville plus counting on Evan's parent's being willing to brave the snow to drive two hours to pick them up.  This actually worked and Delta has even issued a refund to my everlasting surprise. We have vowed Never Again on winter travel through Atlanta.  Last year similar drama occurred on her trip this direction so none of us feel up to facing a 'third try is the charm' gamble.

While I spent the wee hours of each morning dealing with travel dramas, Mike quietly got more and more ill.  I realized this when I went to breakfast with the girls one Saturday and came home to discover he'd actually taken himself off to the doctor.  Now, we've all seen the man cold video right?  The Man Cold .  This was worse, and all my tender ministrations and murmurs of "poor little bunny" proved ineffectual.  Antibiotics were required and cough medicine was acquired.  Right about the time he started to improve, I came down with it again.  Even more cough medicine was purchased, and despite invitations and grand plans we ended up watching the Australia Day fireworks on Jan 26 just the two of us with a box of tissues and a home made pavlova.

Another excuse I have for not updating is one I'm stealing from a friend because she brought it to my attention last week and it's true.  It is because, after two years here, Perth feels like home.  We've adjusted and as a result things don't seem nearly as unusual.  The weather is good. The water is lovely. Things are expensive. Kangaroos are darling. I've even eaten Vegemite without gagging.  As the weirdness has worn off  there is simply less that seems interesting enough to share.  The actual day to day of living, working, and keeping house is routine as it is everywhere in the world.

My third excuse is my favorite. I mentioned my Christmas gift in my last post. A Kindle.  Immediately dubbed "My Precious" I have had more fun playing with it, shopping for books, showing it off to friends, and just using it than I ever would have guessed.  I've purchased one as a gift for a friend already because I love it so and think everyone else I know should love it as well.  Yes I am late to the Kindle e-reader movement and just sorry I didn't figure it all out much sooner. That might have spared you rants about the cost of books and dearth of library offerings.  Time previously spent blogging has been spent scouring Amazon for free classics, favorite authors, and out of print offerings.  True, I'm not doing myself any favors staying up past midnight every night reading but fortuitously the Kindle lends itself to being propped on those tiny ledges on exercise machines.  As a result the gym and I are even becoming reacquainted.  It's been both intellectually stimulating and a veritable boon to my physical health and well being.  Honest.

But stay tuned...adventure is just around the corner complete with photographic evidence...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Random Catch Up

Yeah yeah...I know it's been over a month.  What can I say?  Mostly just didn't want to bore anyone with the day to day which is pleasant as all get out to experience but rather dull to document :-)

Suffice it to say that things are going well - we had a lovely trip to New Zealand in mid November, touring the South Island - Christchurch, Queenstown, Te Anau, Lake Wanaka, Franz Joseph, and the Tranz-Alpine train ride from Greymouth to Christchurch.  We had a trusty Subaru Outback to drive and by the time the trip was done were both ready to start shopping for one of our own.

Highlights included a 4.9 earthquake at 3AM our first night - we each woke up and thought the other was having a seizure until I reached out and touched his arm, realized he wasn't shaking and said "huh - it's an earthquake".  Fun to experience a mild one though I'm pretty sure it'd get old very quickly as the poor folks in Christchurch can attest.  The drive to Queenstown past Mt Cook was gorgeous with blue skies, fluffy white clouds, and lupines in bloom everywhere.  This made me very happy, and we were lucky enough to catch a perfect view of the mountains as we made the trip.

Lupines at the Church of the Good Shepherd
Mt Cook
Queenstown is always fun to visit (but I wouldn't want to live there!).  We found ourselves awake at 4AM which resulted in a lovely dawn walk around the shore front, watching the sun rise over the lake.  Te Anau was a favorite for both of us - a fantastic b&b with a full view of the lake and mountains from our bed didn't hurt.  The weather was rather damp which discouraged the hiking we'd hoped to do, but made for fantastic waterfalls pouring off mountains all along the drive to Milford Sound for a morning cruise.  I believe it really was Mike's favorite part of the rimmed peaks with cascades gushing from every side.

Milford Sound

Road to Wanaka from Queenstown
The drive to Wanaka over the highest paved road was excellent with the view back down over Queenstown a highlight...surreal almost.  We enjoyed another great b&b there which had a fun happy hour and enjoyed a lovely meal on the foreshore.  I had the venison - managed to eat venison all but one of the days we were in NZ and would cheerfully go back and eat venison every day.

Deer Snacks - take that as you will

Franz Joseph glacier was pretty...a lovely evening in outdoor cafes looking up at the snow covered peaks and glaciers, then a warming dip in a private outdoor hot tub under the stars.  Glaciers do however leave me cold...I appreciate natural wonders more than most but for some reason glaciers...meh.  Must be my natural aversion to cold at work.

Greymouth was a nice stopping point (I won a free beer in the brewery by balancing a coin on a floating lemon - best beer ever!) and the train across back to Christchurch was very fun.  Nice to take a break from the driving at that point.
I won!
Scenery from the train
We had a lovely uneventful trip back to Perth and immediately googled residency requirements for NZ - discovering to our chagrin that Mike is over the age cut off.  This means we are about to embark on a not so subtle campaign to get one of the kids to move there so we can slip in under a family visa deal :-)

Lately we've been enjoying having my daughter and her friend here.  We had an Aussie Christmas (swimming, heat, and flies) and now have sent them on a road trip to Shark Bay for the next several days.  True geology students that they are, they actually packed a rock hammer!

And I got a Kindle for Christmas :-)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A day in the CBD

Mike and I decided to spend Saturday in the CBD (Central Business District).  There was an art installation I really wanted to view and it's always fun to wander around the city.  I remembered to take my camera so what follows is mostly a pictorial record of our afternoon. 

We got up and indulged in the luxury of homemade pancakes because we do have the best pancake recipe ever which was generously shared with us by the Yallingup Resort and Spa.  About once every six months pancakes sound perfect.  With bacon from Reid's organic butcher up the street.  Yeah baby :-)  Happily replete we headed towards the train station around 11am and arrived in 12 minutes time at the Perth station.

The train station straddles the dividing line between the CBD and the Northbridge area with convenient walkways and bridges and tunnels leading either direction.  We headed CBD side in this instance...exploring where a brand new exit lead us. 
Turns out it popped us out in a shiny new building right next to the Herdsman grocery. Remember that last blog post about the prices of things? Well here are a couple of pointed examples in digital form: $1.79 ear of corn and $30 six pack of grape juice.

After exiting Herdsman we made our way to the main Murray Street/Hay Street mall areas.  These are two pedestrian only stretches of downtown that fill up with buskers and shoppers on the weekend.  And sadly yes, already the Christmas decorations are up.

 Everybody likes Target, even in Perth
 This odd and rather tiny tooth garbed person walked through one shopping area with us

 I was surprised by the decorations featuring a demure Virgin Mary and son on rondelles over the streets.

In an underground food court I spotted the following three shots.  First of all...Mexican and PASTA?   Secondly, I love that patrons get real china and utensils even at the most pedestrian food court.  And the tables are bussed for you.  As a product of self serve America I inevitably feel guilty leaving my rubbish out for someone else.  Thirdly, $9.50 for a bowl of fast food chili?  As Mike said scornfully "it probably was mostly beans too".

Pleasing juxtaposition of modern/construction/traditional 

 Street performer gathering a crowd.  There was also an opera singer, one of those 'statue' performers, a guy with a wee baby in a stroller playing an accordion, a guy playing a Chinese zither, and a rally in support of equal rights for gay marriage.

Crossing over the bridges into Northbridge we passed the Art Gallery of WA, currently hosting the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice with some fabulous and iconic abstract and surreal pieces.  Picasso, Mondrian, Ernst, Arp, Duchamp, Giacometti...gorgeous stuff.
 Public space in front of the gallery
 And the point of the trip - the Dachshund UN.  The installation lasts 45 minutes utilizing dachshunds to represent the UN Human Rights Council.  It is magic! :-)

As an added bonus we saw another performance piece called "We Will Build Our Own Mountain".  To be ecologically correct patrons could pledge to skip one shower a week for 40 weeks to offset the water used to build the ice structure.  Awareness of water issues is key.

We finished up downtown, came home for a bit of a breather, and then headed out to the ballpark for the evening game - Perth Heat vs. USA Allstars. 

It was a good day.  

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Savvy Shopping - about that Thanksgiving Turkey

Ok, I've been contemplating this post for some time but haven't posted it because it's a bit whiny.  In fact, I've had it sitting in my editing list for a month or two but today something finally prompted me to finish it up.  The price of a frozen turkey.

My family and friends both here and in the US have gotten used to (and probably bored by) my rantings about the cost of living.  Yes, the company does provide a cost of living allowance which certainly helps, but we were notified that in July our allowance would be adjusted on the principle that after living here for 6-12 months we would become "savvy shoppers" with a keen eye for a bargain.  In other words, instead of shopping at Randalls or Publix, purchasing full price items, we'd have identified bargain stores and how to take advantage of sales.  In other words - we'd fill up at WalMart and Costco type places.  This resulted in about a 30% decrease in the allowance at a time when the AU dollar had gone from $0.65US to $0.99 US - essentially parity - so a real double whammy reducing our buying power significantly.

And here's the thing, there is no WalMart or Costco type place in Perth.  No big bargain warehouses where we can buy 18 toilet rolls at rock bottom prices. I suspect the calculation is based on eastern Australian shopping where such magical places do exist.  And, even if we could, we have no place to store said items.  Large quantities of my kitchen gear languish in the storage room in the basement as it is since there is no room in the kitchen.  The pantry consists of two pull out vertical drawers.  The fridge is about half the size of the typical US model.  We can't buy in bulk even if we wanted to.  Although I suppose I could stack the canned veg on top of our bedroom dresser that sits in the living room (because it won't fit in the master bedroom).

Regardless, ever the good corporate citizen I've been searching for bargains.  This means hitting the farmers market on Saturday mornings for fresh fruit and produce.  But even there I pay $7 for two sweet potatoes. I have come to the conclusion that there are no bargains to be had in Perth.  This was verified the other day when I cheerfully announced to Mike that I'd just had my car cleaned inside and out and was thrilled that it only cost $50.  He looked at me sideways and said, "you know that costs about $15-20 in the US right?".  I was all "no way!".  He just continued to look at me funny.

So, to prove I'm not crazy, y'all tell me how these documented prices compare, okay?

Back to my turkey - this got me today since it's just about Thanksgiving time.  Frozen Turkey - $60 for a 16-18lb, $50 for 10-15lb and $37.99 for a 7 lb. model.  When was the last time you paid more than $0.68 a pound for a Thanksgiving turkey?

We found a box of Grape Nuts on sale the other day.  It was marked down from $25 to $19.99, sitting on the shelf next to a box of Captain Crunch for $20. I  passed on the cereal but paid (happily) $10 each for jars of Goya Salsa Verde to make enchiladas.  You can sometimes get Dr. Pepper here...but you have to really want it - $2.50/can.  A bottle of water at the gas station runs from $2-$4.00 and I snap up Coke Zero (AU made) when I find it at 2 bottles for $5.

Like to drink?  A case of Corona (which oddly is EXTREMELY popular here) is $50-60.  Cheapie Australian beer runs $45/case but you can find the odd deal for $35/case if you are sharp, uh, make that savvy.

Entertainment?  I have mentioned before that movies are $17 (matinee) and $26 for a first run on the weekend.  But concerts make my eye bug out.  Three Dog Night and The Turtles concert - $145/each (this concert was canceled, no doubt because people wouldn't cough up the $$ - lets face it, their demographic has reached retirement age!), Michael Buble outdoor concert tickets are $140 General admission (no seats). $220 for a seat.  George Benson outdoors at Kings Park is $429 for 2 people, plus cost of any concessions and parking - so the evening easily runs well over $500.  I'll groove to the sweet tunes on CD thanks.

Clothing - sigh. It pains me. Purchased a pair of very cheaply made cotton shorts at Target this week for $35 - based on the construction I expect they'd be about half that in Houston. Shoes are Payless quality at Nordy's prices.  I was very happy recently to find a pair of shoes for a special occasion for only $80 - they are sitting in their box with the lid off so the plastic smell can off-gas before the event. They smell just like a barrel of west Texas' finest.  Finally broke down and purchased some upper body undergarments this week...decent middle of the line range for $70/each, but I did have a lovely woman make sure I got a good fit so that was worth it.

Mike suggested I include his dry cleaning from this morning.  One shirt, one pair of pants - $14.

And before this post gets even more ranty than it already is I offer the final, yet most damning, proof - I recently had a conversation with a notoriously cheap Scottish transplant to Perth who is giddily planning his retirement in the US because everything is so cheap there. :-)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Norcia - here be monks.

Just not many of them any more.  I think they said they are down to eight now, but they are recruiting if you're interested.  New Norcia is a monastery located a couple of hours north east of Perth. This link  A Short History will fill you in on the details that I omit, but the short sweet story is that in 1847 a couple of monks came to Australia from Spain and founded the Benedictine order of New Norcia in the great wilderness of Western Australia.  It's always mentioned as a place one must see when visiting in the Perth area and one hears of the fabulous New Norcia fresh baked bread and hand pressed olive oil.  So, given the excuse of a visitor from the US, Joyce,  my pal Robbie and I agreed that it was time to get up there to see what's what.

All this time I imagined that going to New Norcia would be a matter of driving to a town and then finding the monastery.  I had no idea that the whole town IS the monastery...the town plus about (if I remember the tour guide correctly) 22,000 hectares of surrounding land.   For some reason it struck me as very odd to be tooling along the main road and then suddenly happening upon a cluster of old style buildings and some paddocks with sheep.  One of those "blink and you might miss it" situations considering there is certainly no traffic light in town. 

We arrived at the museum and guest tour center for the 11AM tour and joined about 20 other eager tourists ready to delve into the history of Spanish religious settlement in WA.   Our guide ushered us like a herd of ducklings across the main highway (which in rural WA is a two lane road) and we started our tour at the first of several chapels.  We saw lots of chapels that day and what impressed me most about them all was that the majority of the wood work was done by one monk - he built alters, pews, tables, benches...the man was prolific.  There is also painting in most of the chapels, sadly though in it looks as if modernization is occurring and some of the original frescoes have been wall papered over.  Still, there is plenty to look at.

Our Lady of Guadalupe pictured below.
Most interesting engraved drawing on the main chapel walls.  Where else do you see disciples pictured in astronaut garb, Native Americans, or Japanese women?
The image above is inside this chapel.

This is a door at the girls dormitory entrance.  I found myself wondering if the young ladies of the day appreciated it in the slightest?

 Chapel in the girls dormitory.  Puts my dorm at Northfield Mt Herman to shame...shame I tell you!
 Detail of chapel dome.
Sheep that help keep the establishment solvent.  The monastery has always had to be self sufficient. 

Ale on offer at the hotel - a gorgeous old creaky venue suitable for weddings or a light toasted sandwich lunch.  We ran into a couple of fun women in the ladies room here and chatted for 20 minutes.
We enjoyed our visit and were lucky with both the weather and the wild flowers.   The flowers had started to bloom and the fields of what we think is canola were stunning on our drive up and back.  We finally had to just pull over to take some photos.  This is the remains of a former local agricultural hall...and this was also the view that captured Joyce's imagination most.  She wandered around through the bush taking photos, heedless of the warning "beware the bull ants".  A few minutes later she started shrieking, dropped her camera, and yanked her pants off unceremoniously to her ankles. That's what happens when the bull ants find you.  Up the pants first, and only THEN do they start biting.  If only I'd had the camera ready...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Nasty Sharp Pointy Teeth

Mike and I took another great adventure up to Darwin in the Northern Territory. Well, I can call it a great adventure but the reality is he had a business trip there to discuss the highly romantic 'electronic taking of inventory' in the warehouse.  He called spur of the moment and asked me if I'd like to go with.  Of course I said yes, because there could indeed be spectacular adventure involved.

Somehow the notion of a Territory in a big modern country is odd...makes one think remote, wild, uninhabited...things that sure, you know are part of the whole Australia experience, but as an American you expect to be more like rural Wyoming.  You know...thinly populated but still one of the gang.  I'm not sure that's the exactly what the NT is like.   Here, find out more 

The Northern Territory has a population somewhere around 220,000 hearty souls in a land mass two and a half times the size of Texas.  Texas is pushing a population of 26 million and there is still PLENTY of room.  Wyoming - one of the most desolate places I'd ever experienced, has a population about double that of the NT.  You get the picture.   There aren't many people around.

And interestingly, wandering around Darwin, I noted that the mix of people hanging out in the CBD consisted primarily of cotton clad European backpacker types who cleverly arrive to satisfy their outback longings and checking another continent off the list in the location closest to the inexpensive beaches of Bali.  This is a very good plan indeed. From Perth it is a 4+ hour flight.  Further proof there is just nothing close to Perth.

Getting off the plane felt like hitting the Houston summer again.  Heat, humidity, and a touch of funk in the air.  It started to rain as we arrived and ended up pouring rain for several hours - giving us the opportunity to settle in to our club level room, take a misty photo of the bay, and figure out that one channel worked on the TV, the bedside lamps were both broken, the A/C needed service, and it takes 20 minutes for the hot water to make it to the 10th floor.  :-)  The rain broke eventually and we wandered out to see the town and source some dinner.  We walked up one side, down the other, then over to the casino/beach area for a fruity tropical cocktail and finally down to the yacht club harbour where we scored a nice Thai meal and enjoyed the sunset.

I'd cleverly booked us a tour for Sunday morning.  Pick up at 6:50am was prompt and we were joined by 9 other bleary eyed tourists for a day of natural wonders.  These natural wonders were indeed delivered by our rather jaded driver but at the cost of about 12 hours and over 450 km of driving.  Good way to get the flavour of the place but perhaps not the most relaxing.

Our travels took us to the fabled Jumping Crocs!!!! of the Adelaide River.  I confess, I had zero interest in the freaking saltwater crocs since I find them scary as hell, but they were part of the tour so I was trapped.  Turns out they are actually very awesome and while still scary as hell, pretty neat to see live and in person.

These are fierce bad crocodiles. 
Most of them had missing limbs and ugly gashes healing up on their crusty flanks.

Our dampish croc excitement done, we headed to Litchfield National Park to view the exciting termite mounds (anything for fun in the NT).

And then to the highlight of the day, swimming in a gorgeous rock pool fed by two waterfalls.  You can see little people heads bobbing in the pool to the bottom left of the photo.
But here again, there are freaking salties!  Our guide regaled us with tales of the last poor innocent Japanese girl taken as we approached this delightful swimming spot but assured us the authorities cleaned all the crocs out after every wet season before they opened the pool to the public.  I was not as comforted by this as I might have hoped but figured any crocs had had a choice of tasty human morsels in the hours before we arrived.  I sneakily checked out the pool by pretending to enjoy the rain forest, giant banana spiders, and flying foxes before I dipped a toe in.

We toured several different waterfalls, and swam in some other rock pools before heading back to Darwin.  I reflected on the experience and decided I am just enough of a princess to not be keen on outdoor adventures anywhere that saltwater crocs live.  Perhaps it was an early childhood reading about horrible deaths that continues to haunt me, but my immediate reaction to anything associated with crocodiles is *shudder* and "no thanks".

Safely back to civilization and cleaned up we managed to snag a table at a really lovely restaurant in town serving indian/malay themed dishes along with tasty exotic cocktails to my amusement.

Mike had to work Monday so I kept myself busy wandering around the areas of town we'd missed on Saturday and doing a bit of shopping since the prices seemed a bit more reasonable than in Perth. The aboriginal art galleries were gorgeous and had a far better selection of art than anything I'd seen in Perth. This kept me happily busy until my feet started yelling upon which I retired to the hotel room and read my book.  It was a pretty day at last which meant the sun was out with a vengence - something my lily white winter skin is not up for.  Here are some miscellaneous photos...
Church - the original stone facade remains but the rest of the building was blown away (along with most of Darwin) in cyclone Tracy Christmas 1974.   I liked the contrast of the modern and old.
Government House above, Parliment below. 

Extra attractive Coat of Arms on the Parliament building and public art in the surrounding area.

And lastly - a fantastic boat that I watched for a rather long time from the hotel balcony.

Tuesday morning Mike took care of a few more business items and we had one last wander around town before heading to the airport.  I think Darwin is a great jumping off point for anyone wanting adventure in the Kimberly or Kakadu but as a destination in and of itself, once was probably enough...mostly because they have those creatures with the horrible nasty sharp pointy teeth :-)