Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

We arrived home last Friday (on 11/11/11!). Adjusting back has been somewhat easier than expected – a 21-hour time difference between CA and NZ sounds horrible, but when you realize our days are in 24 hour cycles… this means our bodies only have 3 hours of adjusting to do in terms of the time of day (aside from the fact that we gained a day, but in terms of sleep that doesn’t matter). It’s a bit rough to get back into the daily grind though, just as it usually is after a vacation.

We’ve really enjoyed spending time with family and friends again…

Amma & Appa greeted us at the airport (when we finally arrived 3.5 hours after we expected!) We were all so glad to see them! Our international flight made it all the way to San Francisco before having to circle for a half-hour due to weather delays on the ground. Then our domestic flight from SF to LAX was delayed 3+ hrs for the same reason. I was certain we would just be on an airplane forever. Nonetheless, we actually did end up disembarking in LA and there has in fact proven to be life outside of an airplane/airport.

It took attaching some things to the bike rack, but we crammed all of us and our luggage into their car!

I was so touched by the love waiting for us at home. Emily, one of our friends who had looked in on our house for us while we were away, had homegrown flowers, fruit, dinner, dessert and this sweet note waiting for us.

Daniel's parents had bought groceries and made sure we had some basics on hand so that a pre-breakfast grocery trip the next day was not required. Such a relief! (Not that I had thought of anything like groceries before I saw this, but I was relieved to realize what I would not have to do!)

The suitcases that exploded in our formerly tidy bedroom. Um... HOW did we ever get them closed?? The funny thing is that I took this picture because it looked so bad to me when we first got home. Little did I know how much worse it would get when all that stuff got half-sorted through before I got too tired to finish the next day, so this whole area was a disaster zone for a few days, with clothes and random objects strewn everywhere, and is only now sort of close to being normal again...

Naomi occupying the box in which my parents had sent us some things to help us get re-settled. (And talking to them on the phone.)

The next day, Daniel parents and brother and sister-in-law came over to hang out with us, have lunch and look at pictures. Naomi was in heaven with so many familiar faces, and a buddy to play blocks with. :)

Saturday night we hung out with some of our friends, and Naomi was thrilled to be with her friends again. Special dress-up session, styled by 3 year-old Zoe.

Uncovering the hidden jungle gym in the living room.

I jotted down some of my first impressions upon returning to the US:

1.  Why is everything on the right-hand side?? Cars, escalators, people walking on the sidewalk… it is so odd for that to feel weird to me but it does! Getting used to driving on the left, looking that way before crossing the street, passing people on that side of the sidewalk, etc., was something that happened so subtly that I didn’t even notice it, but now that I’m back it was the first thing I noticed. And it has been the hardest thing to get used to again. I didn’t drive much in Australia, so driving hasn’t been very hard for me, it’s when I’m walking or running on the sidewalk that I keep almost running into people because I instinctively veer to the left instead of the right.

2. Our condo is HUUUUUUUGE! Each room has a big empty space in the  middle of it, AFTER all the furniture is already in the room… I didn’t realize how accustomed I’d become to the tininess of our apartment in Sydney.

3. Naomi has SO many toys! Way more than she needs. Interesting.

4. I feel very mixed up about seasons and weather. Yes, chill and rain should be appropriate for mid-November, but I just came from fresh spring. Even though that felt wrong too, this feels strange as well. It’s like nothing feels right!

5. What happened to all our daylight?? Suddenly darkness is falling by 4 pm or something ridiculous like that, and it is taking all of us by surprise. The days had been growing longer and longer in the Southern Hemisphere, so it was weird to have everything suddenly snap to almost-winter.

6. It feels nice not to be a stranger anymore. Not that I see someone I know every time I walk into Target or something, but there are people nearby who know and love us. We belong here. Even the fact that we are citizens feels different. The Aussies we came across were so incredibly welcoming to us, but there is a sense of identity coming from inside of myself that is different here than it was there.

7. I don’t exactly feel jet-lagged. More like jet-fuzzed. This is gradually getting better, but especially the first few days we were back, everything felt so hazy and off. A sandwich? At 4 pm? Why not. Naomi getting zucchini bread with almond butter for dinner? Sure. The soft gray weather only added to the fuzzy effect.

All in all, it’s good to be home.

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Qtown Adventures: Paragliding

If you want to skip the story and just watch the 4-minute video I made of my experience paragliding, scroll to the bottom of this post.

After Naomi’s adventure on a bungee trampoline Wednesday morning, I was scheduled for a paragliding flight that afternoon. I was really excited, as this is something I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve always loved bits in movies or nature documentaries when the camera zooms over a landscape, and love the “Soarin’ Over California” ride at Disney’s California Adventure. I’d heard that paragliding is a bit gentler and less risky than hang gliding, since a parachute is a lot softer and more forgiving than the rigid frame of a hang glider, so I figured paragliding would be a good way to get my first taste of flying.

We’d tried to pick the best day that week, weather-wise, but in New Zealand the weather changes so quickly it’s very unpredictable. And wouldn’t you know it, the one day forecasted to be without rain that week, was the one day it did rain. But I didn’t let it stop me. And the flight was amazing!

There were a few options for paragliding in Queenstown – one from the top of the gondola here in town (so the flight was over cityscape), and another from nearby Coronet Peak (so the flight was over mountains, hills, streams and fields). I chose the latter because it sounded more beautiful. A van picked me up in town and drove me to the peak. Daniel and Naomi followed in our rental car, so they could watch me take off.

On the 30-minute drive to the peak, it was fun to talk to the others who came from as varying places as Switzerland, Korea, Sweden and India. I especially connected with the Swiss girl next to me, who reminded me a lot in personality, looks and of course accent, of my Swiss friend Annette – this girl’s name was even Anita! That was kind of funny. For both of us, it was our first time paragliding, and we were both excited.

It was raining when we left town, which was disappointing, but I’d decided I’d go rain or shine if the pilots deemed it to be safe. I’ve never been paragliding, so it’s not like I could be very disappointed since I have nothing else to compare it to!

When we got to the peak it was still raining. Not very hard, though. The only really bad news was that we were absolutely surrounded by clouds – it was just white everywhere, and you couldn’t see anything below. I didn’t even feel nervous about running off the side of a mountain because I couldn’t see anything below it! And the idea of running off a mountain is definitely something that I think should make me at least a little nervous. It didn’t take too long for things to get set up, and soon Daniel and Naomi arrived, also bringing Anita’s boyfriend in the car with them since he also wanted to watch. Some members of our group were signed up to hang glide, so the hanggliders were all set out.

I met my pilot, Petr. (That’s not a typo – I’m not sure where he’s from but there is only one “e” in his name!) He got my harness on, which was somewhat similar to a rock climbing harness… except it had a huge booty attached! Turns out this was my seat – kind of like a backpack but with a big pooch at the bottom, and once we were flying I was to squat back into it and sit in it like a chair. He told me that I would be in front (!) and would need to run quickly because if I didn’t go fast enough the parachute wouldn’t catch wind and we wouldn’t take off. No pressure! He said we’d just runrunrun, until we were running on air. That sounded pretty cool, but also a little scary. We did a practice run, which Daniel caught on video so I can forever remember how silly I looked, because I was trying to go fast but was mostly just bobbing up and down. Petr told me to bob less and pull more, like an ox pulling a cart. I tried that on our real take-off, but in the video I still mostly just look like I’m bobbing and flailing.

I was really glad Daniel and Naomi were able to be there. We told Naomi that I was going flying, and I was mildly concerned at how she would feel when she saw me run off a cliff, but hoped that Daniel could explain to her that I was having fun. Anita and I took a peek over the edge we’d be running off, and realized it wasn’t as scary as we initially thought, since it was actually a slope rather than a sheer drop-off, and it briefly leveled out about 30 feet below into another small hill. We also noticed that we were starting to be able to make out some things in the valley below, and some neighboring peaks, so the clouds seemed to be lifting a bit.

Within only a few minutes, Petr told me to come get strapped in. He said he could feel a gust coming, and before I knew it he was telling me to run – to the right, now more straight, now we’re at the edge of the mountain and suddenly there’s no more ground for my feet to run on! I don’t remember much else except that I could see all these trees and streams and farms below me. There was no feeling of falling or a drop, just a seamless transition from the earth being just below me, to the earth being waaaaaaay down there!

Then Petr told me to lean back into the seat and I got situated. I looked down and all I could see were beautiful green trees and mountainside! The view was absolutely gorgeous – we were soaring right over cascades, rock formations and wide green fields. The clouds were completely cleared below us, and my view wasn’t impeded a bit. There were however clouds behind the mountaintops all around me, which just made them look more mysterious and stunning since they are a deep black color and the contrast with the white clouds was incredible.

Midway through the ride, Petr asked if I wanted to steer a bit. “Um… Okay!” There were some straps hanging down that attached to the outer edges of the sausage-shaped parachute, so turning was as simple as lifting one hand and pulling down with the other. After I’d gotten the hang of it, it struck me somewhere in the back of my mind that if I pulled too hard on one side, the ride could go from pleasant to unpleasant, very quickly. But I didn’t let myself think about that for long.

I was surprised at how still it was up there, not windy like I thought it would be. And like I said before, there was no feeling of falling – just floating. Or rather, sitting, since the big booty attached to my pack turned out to be a very comfortable seat. It was actually kind of hard to realize that yes I really am up here in mid-air! It felt more like the time when I was 7 years old and got to sit on a stationary bicycle in front of a green screen at Universal Studios with E.T. in the basket on the front, while someone snapped a picture.

The one moment it finally did feel real – and my favorite part of the whole flight – was when Petr asked me if I wanted to take some sharp turns near the end of the flight. I said yes and whooaaaaaa! We were going 90 degrees to one side, then the other! Then I could finally see the ground below more clearly, and then too was when it really sank in: if not for this parachute and the strings holding me to it? I would be free-falling hundreds of feet to my death! That was scary and also thrilling.

Overall the words I would use to describe the flight were peaceful, quiet and beautiful. There were some thrilling moments – like taking off and also the sharper turns near the end. But overall it was a really restful experience.

I realized as we approached the drop zone (or, landing zone – this one happened to be a huge happy face mowed into the grass, visible from hundreds of feet in the air), that Petr had prepped me for taking off, but hadn’t said anything about landing. As we got closer, he told me to stick my legs straight out in front of me, and that we would just slide in on our bums. We glided closer and closer to the green fields and I saw hundreds of bright yellow dandelions turning up their faces to watch as we slid onto the ground. This was a special little piece of serendipity, reminding me of a painting I had done after a special experience with God 5 years ago, of something related to that experience: a little yellow dandelion watching a paraglider soaring in the sky.

All in all, paragliding was a great experience, and I am so glad I did it. I am so ready for hang gliding! – I would love to see more directly below me, and felt that my lap was sort of in the way of my view (when hang gliding, you stretch out face down as you soar, rather than sitting upright). I would also be interested to try gliding over a cityscape, and am curious how the experience would be different on a clear sunny day. Next time!

Oh and Naomi? Turned out she was not worried at all – she thought it was great! A few times since then we’ve even caught her running around the room with her arms out to the sides saying, “Mommy! Flying!” :)

[vimeo clip_id="31688731" height="" width="650" title="0" byline="0" portrait="0"]
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Qtown Adventures: Bungee Trampoline

On Wednesday, Naomi and I each had our own adventure. Daniel’s got canceled, but he made up for it by going out down to Milford Sound for the day and taking pictures of waterfalls and penguins. (See the post and video about my paragliding adventure here.)

Naomi’s adventure took place in the morning: jumping on a bungee trampoline. And boy did she get into it! When we first arrived I thought, “Hm… We’ve driven a half hour to get here, and what if she won’t even let the attendant strap her in? What if she hates it?”

I should not have worried.

The only complaint from Naomi was that she couldn’t go higher (and the attendant tightened it up about as high as it would go, so that the girl was probably at least 15-20 feet in the air!)

All set to go - her ticket (note the NZ way of spelling "bungee") and her weight (in kilos) on her hand. I did not like them writing on her baby skin with that big old marker but managed to wait til after the jump to wash it off!

A few practice jumps while the bungee gets set up.

A little background: one of Naomi’s favorite games is to “jump high!” with Daddy (“Dupp high!”). This involves a series of little moves they’ve developed on their own, mostly centered around him holding her by her waist and bouncing her up and down on the sofa – they have the “jump and spin” move, the “whoa” move and … a bunch of others I don’t know about. It is her absolute favorite thing to do. Well, next to watching videos of Baby Luke (her cousin) or her Uncle Andy climbing on rocks. Recently, if we seem busy with something and she is wanting some attention, we’ve noticed that she just blurts out a random string of all her favorite things, hoping that one of us will latch on to any particular item and say yes. So we hear, “Dupp high… veedyo… bebe yook… outside… makid time…” (In order, that is: jump high, watch a video on Facebook, watch a video of Baby Luke, go outside, have naked time.)

So with how much she loves bouncing up and down with Daddy, we thought she’d enjoy a trampoline with a bungee that would let her jump as high as she wanted. We told her before we left that she was going to get to jump high, and she was looking forward to it the whole way there.

Getting hooked in. Note the look (tongue = determination and excitement!)

There weren’t any other customers at the trampolines, and that worked to our advantage because it meant Naomi got about 20 or 25 minutes jumping, rather than the 15 minutes we paid for (that and our Welsh attendant was super nice :) ). Naomi watched the attendant setting up the bungees with fascination.

Starting to jump.

Then when it was time to strap her into the harness, thankfully the attendant invited me to get on the trampoline too. So there were no problems getting on, and we let Naomi jump a bit on her own, but when she realized that the bungees could lift her up some, she wanted to go higher and higher. So I pulled her down and let her soar! She loved it!

Loving it!

When she saw how much Naomi was enjoying it, the attendant asked if she’d like to go higher. So we asked Naomi, and heard a very clear, “Uh huh!”

Flying higher

She kept wanting to go higher, so the attendant tightened the cords a few times. She didn’t have enough body weight for gravity to pull her back down to the trampoline against the tightness of the cords, so every few bounces I’d pull her back down to give her more momentum. After the cord had been tightened a few times, if I didn’t grab Naomi in time she eventually stopped out of my reach, suspended in midair above my head!

When she finally had to get off, it was clear that Naomi had absolutely loved the bungee trampoline. I’m so glad she got to do it!


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Hello from New Zealand!

Just a quick post right now, seeing as we finally have Internet after a HUGE deprivation which lasted … 3 days? Oh my. That’s not actually very long and I can’t explain to you what an eternity it has felt like. Pitiful. I guess it’s harder when my main creative outlet requires Internet (blogging) and when all my connectedness to friends and family does too. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself. :)

We are in Queenstown (southern New Zealand) until Friday, when we fly to NZ’s North Island where we’ll spend another week before coming home. We really like New Zealand! It has a very wild and unique beauty to it. I liked a quotation I read by Ian McKellen, the British actor who played Gandalf in “Lord of the Rings”:

Everything here is more magnificent. The landscape is familiar in the sense it’s been formed by rain – just as Tolkien’s Oxfordshire was – but the vegetation is unusual and the mountains seem so much sharper. If you’re looking for what the poets used to call ‘the awful’ – a sense of awe – that is what you find in New Zealand. And it’s wild in a way that England isn’t wild.

He articulated my thoughts exactly.

You can see Queenstown in the southwestern 1/4 of the South Island, and Coromandel and Auckland (where we'll spend most of next week) on the neck of the North Island.

New Zealand is considered by many to be the “adventure capital of the world,” and Queenstown is called the “adventure capital of New Zealand.” So there is no end of bungy jumping, sky diving and other thrills offered here. I’m actually quite impressed with their creativity. Some of the more unique things I’ve seen advertised here include a luge (wheels, not ice), acrobatic flights in an airplane, whitewater sledging (a little kickboard type thing you hold onto through river rapids), river surfing, or guided quad or dirtbike tours.

Well, of course Daniel and I want to enjoy some of this adventure business, but having a toddler in tow makes that a bit tough. So we decided we’d each get some time to do an adventure on our own while the other watched Naomi. We’d planned to each take a day, but decided to each take one half of the same day when we discovered upon arrival that the weather forecast was for rain all week except Wednesday. :( (True to our experience in Australia, however, it seems that the weather likes to flaunt its independence in the face of all the forecasters and yesterday was super warm and sunny, while today may have been gray but not a drop in the sky. We’ll see how tomorrow ends up.)

Tomorrow is our big “adventure” day. In the morning Daniel will head out on a jet boat for 6 hours, which is a really fast boat that can go through water as shallow as a few inches (due to where its motor is located or something), which means it can go far up some of the beautiful river gorges here. Then we’ll swap and in the afternoon I’m going paragliding! I’m so excited – this is something I’ve always wanted to do. Thursday Daniel’s going to do another adventure – a Nevis Swing, which makes a 300-meter arc (about 1000 feet), at speeds of up to 75 mph. I might do something else too but haven’t decided yet. There is a tour that has a series of ziplines that sounds pretty cool.

Tonight we enjoyed a chat with some of our friends from home who were having a Halloween party. That was a lot of fun, because we got to see all their Halloween costumes (and wish that we were there too!) Here in New Zealand, Halloween is acknowledged but it’s a very very small affair. I almost didn’t know it was Halloween yesterday, except that a cart that sells meat pies was selling a pumpkin pie on special in honor of Halloween (I didn’t buy it but I suspect it was hunks of cooked pumpkin in a savory pie, rather than the custard kind of pumpkin pie we in the US are used to – no other countries seem to do that kind of pie).

Another highlight of today was visiting the nearby aquatic centre. I had resigned myself to no swimming for the next 10 days because there wouldn’t be any local pools in the vicinity where we’d be, but then I learned there is one here in Qtown, and that it also had a fun kids play area, so we went there for the morning. I got a bunch of laps in and Naomi had a great time in the play area and lazy river. She’s not super crazy about water (apart from baths), so today she made a lot of headway by blowing bubbles and kicking.

Now I’m off to watch some Lord of the Rings for the evening, while Daniel is out taking photos. We are smack in the middle of LOTR territory, but it’s hard to appreciate it when it’s been forever since I’ve seen the movies, so I thought I’d revisit it. On our drive here yesterday we passed through Wanaka, next to the alps which Gandalf flew past after being rescued from Orthanc; and also drove past the River Anduin and the Pillars of Argonath (which of course were digitally added but the scenery is still the same). This was also where scenes from Eregion were shot from the Fellowship’s journey. Nearby are the Remarkables (a range of peaks), which played the part of the Dimrill Dale in LOTR 1 (where the Fellowship fled after they lost Gandalf).

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Things I Will Miss…

We leave Australia in only 2 more days. Mostly I’ve been feeling happy, because I’ve really missed family and friends, but of course all the things I will really miss have started to pop up too. Some of the things I will miss the most:

1. Patak’s Butter Chicken – Oh.My.Gosh. This stuff is amazing! Our whole family adores it – you buy the paste and add ingredients to make this Indian chicken dish called Butter Chicken. It is out of this world. The recipe calls for butter. And cream. And boy is it good. I’m totally bringing home as much as I can in my suitcase.

2. The Opera House – Every time I see it, especially if I haven’t looked at it in awhile, I feel lighter inside. It is just so beautiful. I especially love seeing it from the side, as we ride the train back over the bridge from the city.

3. Bangkok Sidewalk Thai Restaurant – Discovered this place when my parents were here, by ordering takeout on their last night here. Changed my life. No way to bring this stuff home in my suitcase, or else I would.

4. All the playgroups during the week – I found that the closest playgroup doesn’t usually even charge people – they just have tons of toys and cars and baby dolls with strollers and seesaws for the kids to play with, and Naomi always loves it. We have somewhere to go every day of the week, all are within 5 minutes walking distance, and most days it doesn’t cost. I’ll really miss that!

5. Our local playgrounds – There are 2 playgrounds we take Naomi to the  most – one is 5 minutes away, one is about 10. She likes the further one better because it has swings and is next to a big field that’s popular among dog owners. It’s also next to a big neighborhood garden, which is so neat. At home we have several playgrounds within walking distance – at least 15 minutes, though. And most of them are honestly kind of trashy – not as in poor quality (though some of them are that too), but as in lots of trash on the ground.

6. Darling Harbour Playground – This place is amazing. I need to write a post about it – water park, zipline… we love this place. It’s a 20-minute ferry ride away, so when we go we go for the whole morning, but it’s fantastic. I’ll really miss that.

7. The Zoo – Such a great zoo, especially the gorillas! I’m so glad we got season passes so we could go there as much as possible. It was somewhat hard to get to (an hour each way, with ferry transfers and stuff), but that’s easier than it is to get to the San Diego Zoo from our house in CA. :)

8. Our elevator – I don’t really like the elevator in our apartment building, because it still tries to get me each time, getting stuck about 60% of the time, or leaving a 10-inch gap between its floor and the hallway floor by misaligning itself when it opens its doors. But. If I can’t live on the ground floor it’s super nice to have an elevator to take up and down. Not really looking forward to the stairs we take to get up to our front door at home…

9. The swimming pool – I will really miss having only a 10-ish minute walk to the indoor swimming pool here. It means that a 30-minute workout can really mean only being away from home for about an hour rather than 2 hours at home (because of the 20-minute drive on either end back in CA). I also like getting to swim indoors – no sun exposure (thus no need for sunscreen!), plus when doing the backstroke it’s so nice to have lines to follow on the ceiling! I hate getting tangled up in lane lines back home when I’m trying to just guess what direction “straight” is!

10. Riding the train solo – Last month I started seeing a physiotherapist for my back (which has helped a lot). It was the first time I’d really gotten out of the house by myself and I loved it! I always looked forward to those appointments – especially if they happened at rush hour – because I loved to observe all the different kinds of people on the trains. It was fascinating. I will miss being able to just hop on a train and see so many interesting kinds of people. Los Angeles’ metro system also puts you around pretty interesting kinds of people, but it’s a lot further from where we live.

11. Free laundry! At home we pay an arm and a leg for our community laundry machines – it’s been so nice to have our own machines here.

Things I will NOT miss:

1. Hearing the yells and hoots of teenage boys during lunch hour from the courtyard of the boys’ school next door.

2. The smell of cigarettes that still occasionally haunts our apartment. Yuck.

3. All the extreme hills surrounding our house. Especially when we have to walk everywhere.

4. Paying $16 for 5 bananas. That just wasn’t right. I saw the price per kilo and knew they were big bananas but there was no scale and I was in a hurry so I just grabbed the bunch and gagged over the receipt later. Australian banana plantations getting wiped out in the storms earlier this year just were not good timing with our visit.

5. The olive oil here tastes weird – distressingly strong. That is so random but such a bummer when it’s the only kind of oil you have in which to cook (I later got some canola too, and now mix them).

This is also making me think of all the things I’m looking forward to when we get home:

1. Our friends! I so so miss our friends, and miss Naomi’s friends. She has definitely adjusted to being here and is doing much better with her anxiety than when our first month here, but it’s obvious that she hasn’t really connected with any kids here. I know everyone says 1-year olds only “parallel play,” and aren’t really capable of playing with others, but Naomi definitely felt more free around her friends back home (most of them are older kids, but she really responded to them being kind to her and just loved buzzing around when they were all playing). I can see here that she’s just now becoming more comfortable at the playgroups, but it’s always a new group of kids every time we go. And she still talks about all her friends back home by name, so I know she misses them.

As for me, it’s been tough to stay connected with my friends due to the time difference. I’m so grateful for Skype and Facebook and Google Voice, because it has allowed me to stay MUCH more connected than I would have been otherwise. But mornings are usually busy here – usually I try to get Naomi out of the house. Then we’re home by noon and by then it’s already like 6 pm in California, so I only have about 3 hours in which to call anyone. That sounds like a lot of time but when I’m also trying to get dinner made (during nap time), it doesn’t always work that way. Plus, evenings are when I most want to connect with my loved ones, and can’t do that here because it’s the middle of the night there. And there’s just nothing like being nearby. So I think it will be really nice to be back in our community.

2. Our family! Wow do I miss our family. I’m so glad we’ve been able to Skype several times with Daniel’s parents, and talk to my parents and sister+family on the phone, but it’s not the same. (And of course it was AWESOME having my parents come visit! But then they had to leave… :( )I’m so so so glad we will be home for the holidays – I can’t begin to think what it would be like to have Christmas over here. I know we’d adjust and all, but I’m really looking forward to being with family.

3. Our church! We received a wonderful gift from God when we came to Sydney, when Daniel’s boss picked an apartment that “happened” to be a 5-minute walk from an Anglican church. We decided to pick that church and stick with it, rather than checking out others, and I’m very glad we did. I think I might have made only one real connection here if it weren’t for that church and all the really welcoming young moms who reached out to me and included me, and I’m so grateful for that. I loved having people I could trust around my child, I loved getting to go to a midweek Bible study, and I loved the few times we got to take communion (they don’t do the high church thing of taking communion each week, to my regret). But. I reeeeeeeally miss our church. I miss the people, I miss the building, I miss the beloved crucifix behind the altar. I especially miss taking communion, and I miss really getting to relax in a worship service because of how much fun I know my child is having in the nursery (as opposed to, here wondering if she’s crying and having separation anxiety). I also miss something silly: at coffee hour at our church back in CA there are usually doughnuts or some goodie, but there is also fruit and bagels with PB or cream cheese. AND the tables are normal height so toddlers can’t just snatch things! I know it’s not a bad thing in itself but it has annoyed me to no end that the coffee hour here in Sydney WITHOUT FAIL has at least 4 kinds of really rich cake sitting out on a very low table, plus cookies and other sweets. Of course Naomi gets frantic for these things, it’s right before lunch, she’s never satisfied with just one, it’s right before naptime so she gets a sugar high… etc. I’ll be glad to have the kind of stuff at coffee hour that I’m used to. :)

4. Disneyland! Naomi is finally old enough to appreciate it, and I can’t wait to take her next month with my family.

5. Friends and family! I really really miss them. :)

6. Cheddar cheese! …when it does not have to fall under the category of either “mature” or “tasty.”

7. All California dairy products – My mom noticed this too: something is up with Australian dairy products. The cheese tastes different, the butter tastes different, the eggs taste different, the chicken tastes different. I’ve gotten pretty used to it, but it’s more like I tolerate it. I can’t wait to get back to California’s cheese, butter, milk and chicken!

8. Eating out for reasonable prices. Enough said.

Some of the things I hope to “bring” home with me –

1. I’d love to walk to places more. I really liked that about our life here in Sydney (although it will be super nice to at least have the option of taking a car if the weather is bad), and although I did walk a fair bit for errands in CA before coming to Sydney, I’d like to do it even more now, if I can. We have a Target AND a Vons within about a 10-20 minute walk of our house, so I’d like to make more use of that walking opportunity.

2. Definitely going to stick some Patak’s Butter Chicken paste in my suitcase.

3. I remembered how much I love swimming. Although I used to swim laps often, since Naomi was born I have hardly gone at all (mostly because it’s so much work to get to and from the pool I use in CA). But now that I’ve gotten back into swimming more regularly, since our pool here in Sydney is so close, I realize how important it is for me to do. I feel so much better, stronger and healthier, and I really enjoy being in the water.

4. A deeper appreciation for the friends and family so close to us. So many people don’t have family close to them, and especially with a young child this is particularly meaningful to me. I don’t think I appreciated it as much before we came here. Kids Naomi’s age change so much and so fast, and I’m so glad that our family gets to see that when they are pretty close by. I’m also so grateful that Naomi has such loving and close relationships with her grandparents on both sides, and I really want to nourish that. They are wonderful people and I want her to know them! It’s also so wonderful to have friends that I really enjoy and – as a young parent – whose parenting styles I really respect and admire. It’s tough to be a young parent – you are shaping this little life in so many ways, and it can be very lonely because it’s a very demanding job. The other parents around you end up being such an influence on you, and I’m so grateful to have people around me who are parents I want to be like. That is a huge blessing, and I don’t receive it flippantly.

5. Less reliance on toys for Naomi’s entertainment. We didn’t bring many toys or books with us to Australia. We did check out library books to extend our collection, and we always pick up little “toys” here and there in the form of used containers or boxes that she likes to play with, but as far as toys she really didn’t have that many while we here. And it was no big deal! She did ask to watch videos of her friends and cousins on Facebook at LEAST 4 times a day, and asks to use the iPad at least as much if not more (so that’s a struggle), but for the most part I realized that we really don’t NEED all the toys that I used to think we needed for her. I’d always heard that – buying kids more toys doesn’t make them happier it just makes them want even more toys – but I guess it was really good for me to actually experience the truth of that. It meant I had to be more proactive about getting out of the house with her, but that was good for both of us!

6. Bible study – I’m not sure how feasible this will be, due to the wider geographic spread between me and all my mom friends back home (as compared to here in Sydney), but I really enjoyed the midweek Bible study here. It was a women’s Bible study and they provided free child care during it. I would love to start something like that up back home. I also know that most of my mom friends are busy with homeschooling, and may not be able to participate in something like this (plus I’d have to figure out the child care part of it), but I miss being in the Word with others more.

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Brisbane – Part 2

I wrote previously about the majority of our time in Brisbane – not some of my happiest memories from our time here in Australia. But, our last day in Brisbane really was wonderful. Daniel’s conference was over so we got to spend the day together as a family, and opted for the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. We weren’t sure how overpriced and touristy it was going to be, but it ended up being one of the big highlights from our entire time in Australia!

Bats! So creepy to watch them squirm around beneath their thin, latex-like wings.

This cockatoo was awesome - he was trained to say "Bye bye" and "Hello." Naomi loved it! She still remembers it and talks about it when we see other cockatoos.

Galahs, or rose crested cockatoos - from the front these beautiful birds are mostly that gorgeous pink color you see on their heads. I guess they're really common in Sydney but I haven't seen them much.

Rainbow lorikeets - Daniel had one as a pet growing up. They had a feeding time for the lorikeets, where you could hold a stick with a cup of feed in it and hope they landed on you to eat. It didn't really work out that way, but there were tons of squawking lorikeets everywhere anyway, which was cool enough.

One of two big highlights of the day was getting to hold a koala. Naomi was soooo looking forward to this – she even wore her koala shirt that day! He was a sweet, sleepy adult male (as most male koalas are – they sleep 20 hours a day!) He smelled very strongly of eucalyptus oil mixed with kind of a dusty dung smell. A bit odd.

Naomi was very hesitant at first.

Naomi was super excited about the idea of petting koalas, but when she was actually face to face with one, she was pretty overwhelmed. This shot also shows that koalas have two (!) thumbs. I guess if you sleep in trees with no hammock, you want a firm grip.

BUT, after she had a stuffed toy koala to hold for herself, she got much more brave, and LOVED snuggling the toy "dahdah" (koala).

She even got brave enough to pet the real koala!

This experience was such a highlight for Naomi that she has talked about it approximately once a day in the 2 weeks since. “Dahdah! Pet dem! Dahdah! Mommy hold dem!” (Koalas – we pet them and Mommy held them!) I’m glad it was so positive for her even though at first she didn’t seem real thrilled about it.

Then, the second highlight of the day, was getting to just hang out with kangaroos. Our jaws kind of dropped when we realized that the “kangaroo enclosure” was this enormous grassy area where we could all go in and just mingle with the kangaroos. The only rule was not to pet the joeys, but at first I was sure they meant we shouldn’t touch any of the kangaroos at all. I mean, they’re kangaroos. But when Naomi ran right up to one, and no one said anything, we just went for it. Later, when a group of school kids came in and acted like it was the most normal thing in the world to pet and feed kangaroos, I realized it really was fine. Such an amazing experience. There were gray kangaroos, wallabies and red kangaroos all in the same area.

I think red kangaroos have such exquisitely sensitive and wise and beautiful faces.

Petting a wallaby. Wallabies and kangaroos are quite similar, but wallabies have much shorter arms (and eat with their hands), are smaller all around, and have different tails. Kangaroos bend down to eat off the ground rather than picking things up with their hands, and use their seemingly more muscular tails as a third leg in the sense of balance when they jump.

The kangaroos were just lying around everywhere, and were so comfortable with us just coming up to them and petting them.

I couldn't believe how similar kangaroos' and koalas' paws were! Koalas distinctly have 2 thumbs and 3 fingers, whereas it seems that kangaroos just have 5 claws on their paw, but other than that the padding, the claws, the fur quality, texture and unique coloration (underlayers and overlayers of fur) are really quite similar.

Several of the females had joeys in their pouches. Some were small enough that the red tails were wet-looking and very small; others seemed almost ready to come out on their own like this one (and probably often do come out on their own, just napping in the pouch). We learned that female kangaroos can simultaneously produce two different kinds of milk, one kind to feed the newborns in their pouches, and another to feed older joeys that hop around. Their gestation period is only 33 days, but they can also pause a pregnancy if they are already nursing 2 young, to forestall the 3rd young'un until the oldest is ready to stop nursing. Pretty handy skill if you ask me!

Petting a kangaroo.

Other animals we saw in various parts of the sanctuary (in cages, not in the kangaroo enclosure, as several of these animals can be somewhat dangerous):


These large lizards (probably almost a foot in length) were found all over the grounds, just like we're used to seeing smaller lizards around in the US. A little surprising!

A tawny frogmouth. It's not an owl, but looks like one (and is distantly related). I think they're much cuter than owls - kind of like cartoon versions of owls.

Kookaburra! Every time I see these birds up close I am surprised again at how large they are. They are the size of a (very) small dog!

Dingoes! Naomi was very excited to see "doggies" there, and Daniel commented that since these were the only dogs he knew of while growing up in the village, this is always what he think of when dogs come to mind (rather than domesticated dogs, like I think of).

After we got home from the koala sanctuary, and Naomi had her nap, we decided to head back to the playground Naomi and I had visited by ferry earlier in the week. They also have a really neat man-made beach there, and Naomi had really wanted to swim before but we hadn’t had her swim clothes. We had a wonderful time hanging out there and at the playground.

Once again, in her favorite position: lying down in the sand playing. :)

Working on a big sand project with Daddy.

On the see-saw with Daddy.

Little monkey.

My other little monkey. :) Like father, like daughter!

Heading back to the hotel on the ferry.


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Brisbane – Part 1

The 6 days before Ayers Rock, we were in Brisbane for a work-related conference for Daniel.

Learning from Mom and Sher's experience, this time to the airport we opted to take a taxi instead of the train. Obnoxiously enough, it probably cost the same amount to take a taxi and got us there in half the time and with much less hassle. I highly recommend anyone arriving at or departing from the Sydney airport to choose a taxi over the train - it is worth it!

Enjoying the Rugby World Cup on the flight.

Naomi really wanted to try the airline earbuds on. We didn't even have them plugged in but she didn't care - she loved "using" them!

Aaaaand this is why you let your toddler play with the cheap airline earbuds rather than your own expensive earbuds. Because she will somehow manage to destroy them.

We arrived in Brisbane and drove around in our rental car awhile as Naomi napped in the car. We drove across the major bridge in Brisbane, the Story Bridge. It was neat, although of course a lot smaller than Sydney’s Harbour Bridge. I found out later that they actually have an unusually high suicide rate there because the bridge is not very well-protected against people jumping off it. The railing along the pedestrian walkway is high enough, but the railing along the motorway is below the waist, and so a lot of people just stop their cars, get out and jump. So tragic. But also kind of confusing to me, when it seems they could quite easily string up some nets between the motorway rail and the edge of the pedestrian walkway (only a distance of a few feet), which might at least discourage people or slow them down enough to get some help up there in time.

We got to our hotel, which had a really nice view of the Brisbane River, Story Bridge and the CBD (Central Business District).

Breakfast on our balcony.

Our beautiful view.

So anyway, on to what we did in Brisbane. Alright, I have to be honest. This was not our most fun trip, so I will probably skip the majority of the time in Brisbane and just mention the highlights for you, because you probably don’t want to read details of a 4-day stretch of me pulling my hair out in a non-babyproofed hotel room with no toys, no transportation, and no places to walk to with a toddler, while it poured rain outside.

So instead, I’ll just put up a few pictures of the one afternoon out of the four which contains my best attempt at a good attitude, and then get on to our final day in Brisbane, which actually was a ton of fun. After one day of mostly staying inside the hotel, I braved going out with Naomi. I wasn’t sure where we were going, but it had to be better than that hotel room.

I look like I'm having fun, right? Tricked you! I am not. I'm trying to fake it for my child, who actually IS having fun. And thrilled about her jacaranda blossom. I'm actually really peeved at the fact that it's STILL raining and that I only have a raincoat instead of an umbrella because I'm getting all wet.

Then, right after I took that shot, and was taking a few shots of the river to show how freezing and cold and gloomy and awful it was, I saw this:

And that made me feel like I could really afford to try a bit harder to have a better attitude. If they could zip around and have fun, I could try to enjoy the day a bit more. And, if nothing else, at least I wasn’t out in that icy water!

So I walked onward with Naomi and the stroller along the riverside walkway, hoping to find somewhere – anywhere! – she could get out and play. Nothing. The entire walkway had nothing but a single chain, drooping about knee height, between it and the river 8 feet below it. Not the safest place for a toddler to play. There were tons of shops. That were all closed. And restaurants. And then, there was a set of stairs. Hooray! We followed the stairs and found this area:

We stayed here for the next half hour, playing. And I’m not kidding, the area you can see in this photo was IT. It was a teeny-tiny corner of landscaping beside a big university lecture hall. Right next to a side road, which proved difficult when cars zipped in and out and Naomi thought it was fun to dart out into the road. But this was still better than the hotel room. And thank goodness Naomi was desperate enough to actually find this area fun for a little while.

And, apart from a few rainy dips in the outdoor jacuzzi, that was the extent of our “outside” time for a few days.

Oh except two other times. One morning we visited Daniel’s conference with him for a little while. This was pretty fun.

Daniel at the eScuba booth, displaying their underwater cameras.

Naomi got to play with one of the underwater cameras on display. I was nervous despite Daniel's belief that she couldn't hurt it. Then I saw a photo of the camera being run over by a car (and surviving unscathed), and realized she probably couldn't hurt it. Much.

Since Naomi was very popular in our brief time at the conference, her love of stickers was capitalized upon for a little free advertising for Daniel's company's product.

The other time during our first 4 days in Brisbane when Naomi and I got out of the hotel was not so fun, at least for me (Naomi had fun). On Sunday it stopped raining, so I actually attempted to take the ferry to a park a few miles away. I ran the half-mile to the ferry landing pushing the stroller, hoping I could make the next ferry, only to learn that the ticket counter took cash only so I had to run the half-mile back (up a horrendous hill – what is it with Australian cities and insane hills?), get my cash, run the half-mile again, and proceeded to pee my pants (don’t ask). Nice, huh? Then I got on the ferry and found that the lady taking the money couldn’t break a fifty and I needed something smaller. I about cried. Seeing the look on my face, she said she’d just let me ride for free, but that I’d have to find some change for my return trip later. Then before I got off she sort of hesitantly asked me if I’d been swimming. I said no, and she pointed to my pants which on closer inspection VERY clearly showed what had happened. Of course, knowing that my dilemma was obvious to everyone just, you know, made everything that much more special. Despite this, I played on the playground for another hour or so with Naomi, because there was no way I was going to deprive her of some actual playground time when the poor thing had been cooped up for 3 days. (Besides, no one there will really remember me later… unless I do something stupid like blog about it, right?) So I got nice awkward stares from the other parents, and had one of the most humiliating days I can remember.

So I realize I’m sort of biased when I say I won’t remember Brisbane very fondly. It’s not exactly Brisbane’s fault, it’s just … what happened.

That said, our final day in Brisbane was really spectacularly good. More about that in the next post.

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Ayers Rock, Day Three – Uluru

[Well, it’s almost a week after these events now, because Daniel’s computer has died (again) so not only is processing photos almost impossible on my super-slow machine, but I have almost no access to this blog because it is needed by Daniel to do his job. But I’ll do my best to keep up!]

Our last day at Ayers Rock was possibly the best day, and if I could do things over I think I’d do it on our first day instead of our last. On our last day, we actually went to Uluru (Ayers Rock) for the morning, and I ended up wishing we had about 6 more days to spend just exploring it.

We were up and at ’em before dawn again, while the golden full moon was still well up in the sky. We drove over to Uluru to watch sunrise. It’s funny because there is just SO MUCH space out there, that we felt almost completely alone for the whole 30-ish minutes it took to get there, and even while parking. Then we noticed that there were about a dozen enormous drowning-bee-like tour busses parked in the lot. Then we got out and headed for the sunrise viewing spot (the name of which, I might add, was in the local language and must have had over 30 letters all jumbled together in one word: I have NO idea how one should attempt to pronounce it!). And suddenly we realized there was a mass of a hundred or more people up on the viewing platform!

Naomi and I parted ways with Daniel so he could get the best shots and we could just piddle along. Naomi again made a beeline for the nearest place to lie down in the dirt and play, and this meant I could enjoy the sunrise. It was exquisite. The viewpoint actually directs your gaze to Uluru, rather than to the sunrise, so the sunrise is behind you. The resulting view is incredible. Uluru is made of the same red minerals as the surrounding dirt, and it practically glows in the already-red sunrise. It was really breathtaking.

Plus, this was my first time really getting a good look at the rock at all, because on the first two days I’d only seen it from a distance. As we drove around it to the sunrise viewing spot, I’d been really impressed at what varied topography it has. In most pictures I’d seen, it looks like a pretty flat chunk of rock – kind of like an enormous fluffy pancake that God accidentally dropped in the middle of the Outback. But driving around it you realize that its other side has huge divots and arms spreading out which look more mountainous than pancake-like. In addition, the thing is just huge. There’s really no way to convey how this impresses you when you’re not standing there looking at it, but it really impressed me.

This is actually the moonrise, caught by Daniel the night before.

On this particular morning, since last night had been full moon, this meant that the gorgeous globe of a moon was still hanging just above the horizon beside Uluru, sinking below the horizon as the sun peeked over. It was really lovely. Actually I noticed that the moon was still visible for about 5 minutes after the blood red sun had made its emergence, which I think means there was lots of haze or something?

It kind of put a damper on the experience to be surrounded by the massive crowd, as everyone has their own way of enjoying something like this, and many of them were enjoying this much more loudly than I would have preferred. But, with a toddler, I’m sure I was louder than some of them would have preferred so I guess that’s just life.

There was a beautiful rest area near the viewing platform (identical to the one at the trailhead for the previous day’s hike through the Olgas, complete with even more awesome hand-carved benches), and this was actually where Naomi planted herself – in a garden right beside it.

As the crowd began to thin shortly after sunrise, and Naomi continued her fascination with the dirt, she acquired an enormous international fan club. One problem we have actually when we travel is that a lot of people take her picture without asking, especially East Asian tourists (I think they tend to be more camera-happy in general, and also I think they’re more struck by her fair skin and blonde hair). I’ve struggled to know how to respond to this, since I don’t really like the idea of my child’s face being taken away to who-knows-where, to be used in who-knows-what-manner, but on the other hand we put her picture up online so that’s sort of exposing ourselves to the same thing. Anyway, thankfully this time she mostly had her face down by the dirt, scrutinizing it and getting her nose all smudged with red dust, so I don’t think anyone was taking pictures of her face.

After awhile Daniel met up with us again. We got some family shots and then left the viewpoint to get up closer to the rock. Uluru is actually almost 6 miles in circumference, and about a mile and a half long, so you can spend a lot of time looking at it from various angles. In retrospect, I wish we’d taken one more day to do the hike that encircles it from ground level. But, being short on time, we drove around it instead, stopping at a couple different points.

The first stop we made, and the longest, was at a spot known as the watering hole. It’s located on the particularly bumpy side of the rock, and has a 1-km trail leading up to it and partly into the folds of the rock. There were several neat spots along the way in to the watering hole, like a cave where the Aṉangu (the tribe of Aborigines in that region) used to sleep, and another little cove absolutely covered with multi-colored hand paintings. I enjoyed that. There was also an area a bit further away from the rock, where printed signs told the Aṉangu’s traditional story of how Uluru came to be, while a recording played the sound of some Aṉangu people singing the story in their own language, and someone translating it. I’m not particularly interested in myths, to be honest, but Naomi insisted on staying by the “songs” as long as I would let her and was very upset when we left. The style of music reminded me a lot of the music of the Indonesian people group in which Daniel was raised (and the two peoples actually look almost identical, and are almost certainly distant relatives of each other).

Eventually we made our way to the watering hole. Unfortunately a tour group was already there, which added to my sense of dismay at how overrun by tourism the spot seemed to be (especially since animals still use the spot for water). On the other hand, it meant we learned more about the spot than we otherwise would have, which was nice. A video camera was set up there, where the park staff monitor how many animals still rely on the spot for water, and which kinds. Interestingly, the main pest they have in that area is the camel, which is not native to Australia but was brought by Europeans and released into the wild. Since camels can drink something like 25 gallons of water in one sitting, they can potentially devastate a drinking spot like this for other native animals.

The watering hole.

We left that area and drove all the way around the rock after that. I must say, I think Uluru is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I could spend a really long time just contemplating it, with all its pits and caves and patterned striations and rivulets of black lichen. Like the Sydney Opera House (but better of course), it’s a different rock from every angle.


I find it fascinating that even though this rock looks absolutely enormous, the majority of it lies underground. Also, what the heck is one rock doing staying that big? Why hasn’t it broken down like other rocks? Does it take steroids or something? Is it protected by an invisible force field? Technically it is considered an “inselberg,” which is an island mountain left after the other mountains around it eroded away. The fact that it is one completely homogenous rock with no joints, means there is no scree which just adds to its elegant beauty.

After that we were approaching check-out time at the hotel, so we wistfully left Uluru and drove back. Then it was onward to the tiny airport where we had about a 20-minute wait. Unfortunately, Naomi conked out as we pulled into the airport parking lot, which was still about an hour before take-off (with a 3-hour flight at midday, we were obviously hoping her nap could overlap with that). We roused her and hoped she could stretch it another hour and then sleep on the flight. No such luck. She became extremely hyper in the airport, and although we tried lulling her to sleep a few times over the course of the flight, this only seemed to let her reenergize for new bursts of frenzy. Love it when that happens.

When we finallyfinally arrived in Sydney, we remembered that a Qantas strike had been going on there all day, including the ground crew that transfers the luggage off the planes. Sweet. As we made our way to the luggage carousel, we saw tons of really long lines waiting to board their Qantas flights, with apologetic flight crews announcing that the rest of the crew was having to clean the plane which was taking longer, and that there were no meals (catering staff was also striking). Thankfully the strike was scheduled to end about a half hour after we landed, so we did get our luggage eventually. Then we got a taxi (whereupon yet another taxi driver tried to convince me that children over one year of age do not require a car seat – what is up with these taxi drivers? As if I’m going to buy that!) About 30 seconds after we got Naomi strapped into her car seat, she conked out again, this time for good. It was only about 5 pm, but after her long napless day, she stayed asleep for the rest of the night even after transferring her into her own little bed at home.

I was surprised at how relieved I felt to come back to Sydney. This whole trip has made me realize how ready I am to give traveling a rest for awhile (of course, this is only one half of Daniel + Katie talking… :) ). I hadn’t expected to feel that our travels were “over” until after we were back in California, but getting back to our apartment here in Sydney actually did feel really restful and familiar.

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Ayers Rock, Day Two: Hike in the Olgas

I mentioned yesterday that we were planning to stick to Sydney time while here at Ayers Rock, since we’ll only be here a few days. This leads to all kinds of interesting things like eating lunch at 9:30 or 10 am, Naomi going to bed at 5:30 pm, and all of us rising for the day at 4:30 am. Odd. But also kind of fun (at least for a few days).

Particularly the early rising part is fun when you’re out in a place like Ayers Rock, because everything is so peaceful out here, and it’s the kind of place where you wish you woke up earlier so you could watch the sun rise (but, if you’re like us now that we have a toddler, you usually take all the sleep you can get). But, when the latest you hope your toddler sleeps til is only 4:30 am, you’re giving yourself plenty of leeway for sunrise.

So this morning we were all up at 4:30, eating cereal out on our patio. It was a beautiful cool morning in the dark, with the exception of the tour busses rumbling by like bumblebees crawling out of water. I know that’s kind of a weird analogy and probably won’t help anyone but me picture it, but I just realized that’s what they look like, the way their external rearview mirrors hang down on either side of the windshield. Maybe we can get a picture for you.

We were out the door by 5:30, heading for the Olgas. This was a somewhat last-minute change of plans, since I had really been wanting to climb Ayers Rock, the largest monolith (rock) in the world, and the original plan was to head there early this morning to try to get most of the climb done before it got too hot. We’d heard that it’s PC not to climb Ayers Rock, but that a lot of people do it anyway, and I really wanted to. But then last night as we sat out on the porch in the rain, we were talking about it more. I realized that if I climbed it, I would just be contributing toward something I am already concerned about – namely, the attitude of Australians (or Westerners) toward the Aborigines (a separate post in itself. Suffice it to say here, I don’t know enough about this issue to really have a well-informed opinion one way or the other, but I’ve heard enough questionable things about how Aborigines have been treated since Europeans arrived 200 years ago that it’s something that causes me concern.) So, I decided I didn’t want to climb Ayers Rock.

Instead we drove to the Olgas, a cluster of rocks that are huge in their own right, just not quite as big as Ayers Rock.

On our way to the Olgas, we stopped at a viewpoint right before sunrise so Daniel could get some shots. It was a beautiful morning (haven’t I already said that about 5 times? Sorry), and Naomi enjoyed playing in the red red dirt while I watched the electric sun poke its face out above Ayers Rock through some eucalyptus trees. It was nice to be out in that delicious cool, fresh air that I miss from super-early runs or backpacking. It was also really nice to be surrounded by silence, and made us both realize how much more “city” Sydney is than where we live in California (which, granted, isn’t the middle of nowhere, just not as loud).

See how red the dirt is? This photo has not been post-processed at all!

Her favorite place (and position) to be in, during our time at Ayers Rock.

Then we headed to the Olgas, where of course it took us forever to get going on the hike because we kept getting delayed by things like making sandwiches, putting on sunscreen, getting hats, getting chapstick, getting an extra water bottle… etc. But once we got going, the going was good. After about the first 20 minutes I actually thought Naomi had fallen asleep, she was so calm and peaceful back there on my back.

Daniel in the cool rest area at the trailhead, relaxing on the gorgeous natural-wood benches.

Our hike took us through the Valley of the Winds, which was a gorgeous hike, and we both think it was probably a lot more beautiful and interesting and enjoyable than climbing up Uluru would have been. (Although I have to admit, when we saw the Rock the next day, it looked like a pretty cool climb – a lot like the end of Half Dome when you go straight up the rock holding onto a cable.)


These bleached-white grasses whipping in the wind were a pretty contrast to the red soil and rock.

I can tell you why it’s called the Valley of the Winds – that place is WINDY! Hiking down into the valley I wondered a few times if I would be blown over, since I was moving as well as carrying a toddler on my back. It made for nice hiking over all though because it kept things cool even though the sun was scorching from a very early hour.

This picture shows the texture on the rock.

Naomi actually enjoyed the entire hike from the vantage point of the Beco (carrier), which was a shock to us since it took us about 3 hours total and she didn’t get out at all during that time. She did sleep the last half hour or so, but prior to that she was just mostly silently enjoying the view. So that was a lot of fun. We’d kind of given up hiking for the most part these last 2 years because she obviously can’t keep up on foot and doesn’t usually seem to like being in the carrier that long. But we all had a great time this morning.

You can see in this shot the striation and layers of sediment on the rock, crossed by the vertical lines of water stains and algae lines from past rainstorms.

I would have loved to see the water cascading down these caves/bowls during a rainstorm! Each cave was probably at least 10 feet high.

The red rocks there reminded both Daniel and I of a mix between Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks (for the redness and the narrowness of the canyon we hiked in), and Joshua Tree (for the rounded and unique shape of the huge rocks).

Thanks to one of our rest stops coinciding with a guided hiking group, we discovered this spot on the rock where Aborigines sharpen their hunting knives.

In many places we saw boulders or mud clods like this - not sure if they are rocks imbedded in rock, or rocks in soil but they looked neat.

Someone we met along the way said kangaroos are often viewed in the canyon in the early morning hours, which would have been incredible to see, but I think it was too late by the time we got there, and we didn’t see anything.

The end of the hike was tough because we thought we were about an hour closer to the end of the hike than we actually were, and we were trying to encourage Naomi to stay awake so that she could a more solid nap in the car. But ultimately we got out of there and ate as much salty food in the car as we could get our hands on… which meant we almost finished a bag of Chicken flavored potato chips. Don’t ask me why anyone came up with that as a flavor for potato chips but it hit the spot after a long hot hike, although we would have preferred crackers to chips. Oh well. Salt is salt.

We got home and chilled out in the hotel room a bit. Naomi got very absorbed in some big secret project involving the locks to our luggage and my makeup bag. Then we put her down for a second nap (since the first had been very brief and floppy, since she was in a carrier on my back and I was hoofing it up a mountainside), and we both took a nap as well. After that, we headed to the pool.

Today we sampled the pool at our own hotel, rather than the pool we’d tried out yesterday. This pool had the advantage of much nicer surroundings, but the disadvantage of having no kiddie pool. In fact the pool didn’t even have steps down into it – it was a do or die situation with ladders only, descending into a minimum of about chest-level water. Yikes! And not only that, the water was icy. It took me – no exaggeration – about 10 minutes to ease my way in all the way up to my neck. Once I got there, I lasted about another 4 minutes and I started to feel chilled inside, so I got out. Daniel took the braver route of jumping in, but he got out within moments as it was just so cold. Naomi put her feet in but that was all.

Happier out of the water than in it.

We were all shown up by a young Aussie family who got in quickly and apparently effortlessly – including their 6-year old daughter who was doing handstands and cannonballs, and her 8-month old brother who kicked and put his head under! I sure felt like a wimp. Naomi was very interested in the baby, and reminisced about her much-adored little cousin Luke (“BabeeeeeYOOK!”), who is the same age (and a video of whom we’d just watched for the umpteenth time a bit earlier while I was cutting her fingernails.)

Then we walked over to the same deli we got paninis from yesterday and ate dinner. Aaaaat 3:45 pm. Yup. This time there was more selection so we got a bacon and egg panini, a chicken and avocado baguette and a pumpkin salad. The pumpkin salad was pretty good, but I thought maybe it would change the way I want to use pumpkin at home and it didn’t really. It had feta cheese and pine nuts and spinach, with some kind of mustard vinaigrette – good but not great. Naomi actually ate some pumpkin, but then gagged it out when she hit a spicy piece of mustard.

Starting to be pretty good at drinking out of a cup.

Then Naomi completely lost herself in one of the planters of red dirt, digging and digging and digging, and eventually just pouring dirt onto various body parts and rubbing it in. It was pretty glorious.

Then it was home for a bath and bedtime. Tomorrow we finally head home (to Sydney)! It has been a long week.

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Uluru (Ayers Rock) – Day One

We flew in to Yulara today (posting this a few days after it was written, to include pictures). Yulara is the town near Uluru, the famous rock in the middle of the Australian Outback which is also known as Ayers’ Rock. The trip has made for several firsts – our first time in the Northern Territory (did you know that Australia has 5 states and 2 territories? I’ve heard often that they have 7 states, but NT and Canberra are both territories, not states. Not that I know what the difference is between a state and a territory …) It’s also our first time in the Outback – aka the “Red Centre”! (My husband posted on Facebook that he was headed to the Red Centre and I had no idea what he was talking about. Well, once you land it makes perfect sense – the dirt here is a beautiful bright orangey-red! It looks just like the soil of Uganda to us.)

Australia's "Red Centre," from above. The dirt everywhere really is, not just red, but shockingly red. I felt a little jump inside every time I saw it.

It’s very hot here (32 C, which doesn’t mean much to me except that I know average body temperature is about 37 or so? This felt super hot to us!) When we first arrived, Naomi was understandably antsy to get outside after having been on a plane for so many hours. This was noticeable in many ways, including the way she thought everything she saw out of the car was a playground and demanded that we go out to it. :) We did manage to find a playground on the resort center which is the lonely vestige of Westernized life out here – truly the only pocket where you have air conditioning, groceries and petrol (gasoline). However, the playground was not at all suited for someone her age, and, combined with the fact that she kept getting sand in her sandals but the sand was too hot to walk on barefoot, the playground was kind of a flop. But the pool and kiddie pool right next to it were a big hit! We all enjoyed cooling off there.

We headed back to our hotel, and for the first time in months had a real appreciation for air conditioning! The funny part is, when we were walking out of the airport to our rental car, I realized I felt like I was finally home for the first time in almost 3 months! Southern California is truly a desert – and today I realized that Sydney is not in the desert, so coming to Yulara feels very familiar. :) I think the fact that CA is desert also makes desert less interesting to me. It’s not really worth “going to see,” since it’s just “normal.” I know that sounds kind of snooty, and I do really appreciate being able to be here seeing the Australian desert, but it was interesting to me to realize how familiar it all felt.

The other odd thing about the Northern Territory is that they are 1.5 hours behind Sydney time. Um…? Not sure what the half hour is for, but ok. So since we decided to just stay on Sydney time since we’ve been traveling around so much, it means Naomi is going to bed at 5:30 pm! Nice! However, it also means that we’re trying to go to bed by 7:30 or 8 pm. AND that she will probably wake up around 4:30 and we have to be ok with that because it will feel like 6 am to her, which is acceptable. Oh well, it’s only for 2 mornings. Then we’re back in Sydney – finally! I am looking forward to being back. And then two weeks there, and then 2 more weeks of nomadic life in New Zealand, and THEN we’re home. I feel a bit wearied from all the moving around.

This refusal on our part to adjust to local time does mean that meals are a bit dodgy. Today we were wanting to eat dinner around 3:30 pm. There actually was a deli that was open, so we enjoyed some paninis – an egg/bacon one, a pizza one and then … an “Outback panini.” When I queried, I was told that it contained spinach, roasted red pepper and kangaroo! So of course we tried it. Good, but as the spinach tasted strongly of fish this was my initial impression of what kangaroo tastes like, which was odd. Anyway, it was basically like beef.

A kangaroo panini.

Naomi had a meltdown there, so while Daniel took her home, I picked up some groceries. Food is ridiculously expensive here – comparable to the prices we faced in downtown Sydney when we first arrived. But I was braced for it and just bought some peanut butter and bread and cereal. And I had one of those awkward moments that I haven’t had since I first moved to England for a few months in 2000: the grocer was scanning all my items through while I stood there watching, wondering why she was letting them all pile up to the point that there was no more room… and then she glanced at me and asked if I’d like to purchase a bag. No, not really but since it’s either pay $1 for a bag or somehow carry all my groceries back in my arms, I said yes. And then she handed me the bag and I realized I’m supposed to bag them myself. Oops.

Nighttime is really sweet here in the desert – after Daniel got home from his airplane flight over the rock Uluru (!), we went out on the verandah and enjoyed the pleasance of cool/warm night air that only comes after a hot day. I like that and kind of missed it back in CA by skipping out on August summer. Then the lightening started, and the thunder, and then the rain! It was a warm rain, though, and we stayed out for awhile. We both love a good rainstorm (although one of us prefers to be out in it while the other prefers to be snuggled up inside), and the fact that we had a corrugated tin roof over our patio just made it ten times as good. :)

We were up eeeeearly to fly from Brisbane to Sydney, then Sydney to Ayers Rock. Here Naomi (still pajama'd) was engrossed in the safety presentation that the flight attendant was giving.

This must have been on our 2nd flight, as Naomi is finally dressed. Here she is demonstrating for you her new favorite pose: imitating adults who lean on a wall, with one foot crossed over the other. She practices it whenever she can.

Naptime finally came (note the bundle on my lap), on the 2nd flight (3.5 hrs). After getting up before 4 am, it felt like forever. I'm watching a movie. I enjoyed what I caught of this one, but on our flight home, the movie was pretty scary, and showing on screens above every few seats. We weren't able to turn it off and Naomi did NOT sleep on that flight, so she was watching it some. Thankfully I don't think she was really scared by it (although I was!) because she didn't really know what she was seeing.

After landing in hot Yulara out in the middle of the Northern Territory.

Filling out paperwork for our rental car. Naomi fit right in.

Enjoying a little light reading. I find her selection ironic.

The 4-seater plane Daniel flew in over Uluru and Kata Tjutu (the Olgas).

Uluru - Ayers Rock

The Olgas.

Another view of the Olgas.


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