Date Night at the Opera House

The highlight of the “us” time afforded to us by having the grandparents visit, was Daniel’s and my date night last Monday. Our 10th anniversary is coming up next month, but since we won’t have child care on our anniversary, we decided to celebrate early.

We had gotten tickets to see a symphony at the Opera House. I’d heard that while everything shown at the Opera House is good, opera is what’s really special there… but honestly I didn’t think my emotions could handle anything with a story line (especially the story lines of most operas!) I get very emotionally engaged in movies/films/stories and, after all the stress I’ve been through the last few months (moving here, plus some family stuff), putting my heart through the tragedy and drama of Macbeth just seemed masochistic. So a symphony it was.

My mom was wonderful enough to start her babysitting gig an hour early so I could get ready in peace. It was so nice to feel like a woman again, and not just a mommy! I could actually wear a necklace for once, which as all moms of toddlers/babies know is usually only to be done with a piece of junk jewelry that you just want to get rid of because it will be yanked on within moments of putting it on. Even though plenty of people don’t dress up for the symphony, we definitely wanted to – dressing up is fun! (Well, I think so anyway, and Daniel doesn’t mind appeasing me). When we moved here back in August, I’d packed a formal dress but hadn’t brought any shoes. So someone at church here loaned me a pair. They were great… at least appearance-wise. Comfort-wise is another story. After walking down the hill for only about 10 yards, I realized I could have been a special episode of “Alias,” with Marshall prepping me for a mission by explaining his genius in disguising a torture device as a simple strappy heel. Those shoes were brutal.

The bright side is that it was warm enough for me to go barefoot most of the way to the restaurant. Needless to say I was glad I hadn’t worn stockings.

After we arrived at the restaurant and I’d had my coat “cloaked” (!), we were seated. We had decided to get cheaper seats at the symphony, in compensation for getting a more expensive dinner beforehand. Guillaume at Bennelong (the restaurant that is attached to the Opera House) had been our first choice, but we discovered that it’s unfortunately closed on Mondays. Although we were at first disappointed, I think this ended up being fortuitous because we then made reservations at Aria – an incredible restaurant right next to the Opera House. So instead of eating in the Opera House, we got to eat while gazing at the Opera House, which in my opinion is much better! And we didn’t just get a tiny peek at the Opera House either. Someone once said that when eating at Aria, if you were any closer to the Opera House you’d be in the audience, and they were right! It was the most spectacular view. Daniel requested a table with a view and we got the best seat in the house – dead center in a wall of windows, looking right out onto the Opera House, the bridge, and the harbour.

The view from our table.

When we were seated, the waiter/sommelier/__? asked if we’d like wine, so I asked what red wines they had. She responded by asking what kind of wine I like … and … crickets. I had to confess to her I had no idea. So she helped me out by asking if I liked something lighter, mentioning a rosé, and I said that sounded great. Nothing like letting everyone know up front that you NEVER eat somewhere as sophisticated as this. But I’m sure they all knew that anyway, the moment I handed them my $5 wool/polyester coat to cloak. Sweet.

The rosé was perfect.

I tried to remember things I’d heard before like “start on the outside and move in,” when it comes to all those pieces of silverware. Or, “let the host put the napkin in your lap and push in your chair,” etc. Neither Daniel nor I knew what to do with our elbows the entire meal, though. We always rest our elbows on the table at home (even though I know that’s considered rude by many people), but tonight it felt so noticeably out of place. And… is that just when your food is on the table? or if they are removed is it then ok?

At the next table were two couples who seemed to have traveled a lot together (their version of the game “What place would you visit again?” was so long and filled with names of countries I’m so unfamiliar with, that I can’t even remember an example to share with you). They seemed about a million times more comfortable in a restaurant like this than us, and they also knew a lot more about wine than us. This made for fascinating eavesdropping. They had particularly carrying voices (or at least one man did), so I didn’t really feel guilty about this. One interesting thing we learned (in addition to tons of intricate and imaginative ways to describe wine, or exactly where each of the cheeses on the cheese plate came from), was that Aria’s Head Sommelier (wine person) had been awarded Sommelier of the Year by the Sydney Morning Herald this year, which is apparently huge. And the restaurant has also won several awards for its wine list (?). Not that I’m the kind of wine drinker who is able to really appreciate something like this (see above). Apologies to all my friends out there who would have done that list justice! (But it could have been worse: if they were an award-winning brewery, I wouldn’t even have wanted a sip… I know, go ahead and shake your head at me. Beer just tastes like bitter, dirty water to me).

Daniel and I were a bit confounded by the menu, despite having looked it over online ahead of time. There was a list of entrees, but then another list that said “main courses.” I thought entrees were main courses! Apparently in Australia, they are appetizers. So we eventually decided on our main courses and then chose to split an entree. We almost got the Peking duck but it included “shaved abalone” and Daniel was a little scared of that. So instead we selected “Kurobuta pork belly with pork croquette and caramelised apple.” Would you believe it was really good? Crisp on top, with a creamy almost lard-like something between that and the meat – I know that sounds horrible but it was actually good. (However, the stomachache I had later that night makes me think my stomach does not like digesting pig stomach. Which… makes sense when put that way).

That’s right – no photos of the entree or main course. Had you been there, you would have thanked me for finally telling Daniel he wasn’t allowed to take any more photos of our table or our view after the 5th snapshot of that wine glass.

But the best part – by far the best meal I have ever had in my life – was the lamb. Oh that lamb! I’ve never tasted anything like it! The menu called it “roasted rump with ricotta gnocchi, pumpkin and mustard fruit purée and a sage and balsamic sauce.” I call it amazing. I couldn’t decide what made it more life-changing – the texture or the flavor. It was so rare that it hardly seemed cooked at all. Probably what they call seared (but they said it was roasted? I don’t know). But although I would have expected not to like something like that, it was amazing! The flavor was incredible. It did have the slightest hint of a recognizable lamb flavor, but mostly it just tasted like something else entirely. Something wonderful. And the texture! It was silky and smooth and firm – kind of like sashimi. But what might have been even more delicious than the lamb were the dabs of potato-y, creamy, cheese-y stuff, layered on top of some of the finest puree of sweet potato I’ve ever had (I guess that was actually the ricotta gnocci and pumpkin, but I was experiencing, not studying for a written test). There was also this cube of some kind of herb-y thing, breaded. I definitely tasted parsley but I wasn’t sure what else. It was a bit too strong for me, and I let Daniel finish mine since he really liked it.

It was the most I’ve enjoyed a meal in … a really long time. We agreed that our previous disdain for ritzy meals like this one, where your plate is enormous and the amount of food on it is laughably small, was probably either because we hadn’t savored those meals enough, or because the food wasn’t really very good. This food was good food, and I didn’t want any more than the tiny amount on my plate. It was a good deal less food than we’re given at most places we usually eat, but it was just the right amount because I was savoring it and it was so rich and good that I wouldn’t want anymore than that.

It was certainly one of the most contemplative meals I’ve ever had, and it was an incredible experience overall. Eating something so fabulous that I literally savored every single bite. While gazing out the window at something as exquisite as the Sydney Opera House, which truly is as much a work of art as it is a functional building. It’s like a sculpture. And with the setting sun letting the sky relax into a deep blue it was just … unforgettable. I remember saying to Daniel, “What am I going to do after I take the last bite?” And yet when the last bite did come, I was ready. Actually I wasn’t ready for the meal to be over until after the petit fours they brought us, complimentary.

Three for each of us - a raspberry coulee, a toasted coconut one that was incredible, and a truffle with coffee sugar on top. Oh my gosh, they were amazing. I had half of each teensy one and it was enough for me (except the dense, nutty, mild coconut one - I ate all of that).

Then I was done and really just didn’t want any more. It was the best example of feeling satisfied I may have ever felt in my life – I felt that all of me was satisfied: my taste buds, my stomach and my soul. (Obviously food can’t thoroughly satisfy all of the soul’s needs, but I think our souls can feel a satisfaction from experiences of beauty and savour.) My whole body felt happy.

And then.

The concert.

Oh it was wonderful too.

Our blurry and illicit in-the-concert-hall shot, moments before the music began.

We were seated in the very front row, just to the conductor’s left. I was immediately below the 1st chair violinist, and I loved it! I know it’s not the best seat in the house because you can’t see the entire orchestra and your neck has to strain a bit from looking up so much, but we both loved getting to sit so close to the orchestra that we could really see them up close and watch them play. We were close enough that I could watch their eyes moving across the page as they read the music.

The 1st chair violinist was incredible. All I could think when I watched him was how relaxed he was. Every minute movement he made was completely relaxed and completely efficient. It was exquisite. Looking back and forth from him to the violinist behind him (who also looked like she was very comfortable with what she was doing), the difference between their hands and faces was palpable – whereas her fingers tightly held the bow, it was as though the bow was part of his hand, growing out of it. And his face – completely relaxed the whole time.

But I have to admit, my favorite musicians were the ones who really got worked up, the ones who may have expended excessive energy and strain through their faces or by shaking their heads to the beat, but their passion just inspired me and made the music come alive for me. They were really feeling the music, and I couldn’t help but be moved by it.

As soon as the performance began I found myself falling in love with the cellos. The sound pouring from that section was so buttery, so low and mellow, I couldn’t help myself. I’d never noticed the cello before. And then I fell in love with the violins – so sweet, so light. Sometimes pinpricks of light, sometimes sweeping swings of melody. Then I fell in love with the conductor – a jolly little Irishman who obviously loves nothing NOTHING better than music. He conducted that orchestra with not just his arms, but his whole body and face. He was so much fun to watch – he marched with a scowl on his face when the music called for it, he laughed, he grinned, he danced. I think I’m making it sound more unconventional than it actually was – he wasn’t weird. But within the realm of normal I was fascinated with how engaging he was to watch.

I was struck with how personal and interactive it is to see a live performance. It helped that we were in the front row, but several musicians and I made eye contact throughout the evening, which reminded me that they were humans too, not just performers on the stage. I know that we the audience were touched and influenced by their energy, but likewise they seemed influenced by our energy as well (through applause, etc.). The music grew forth from the unique group of us who were there, both those playing it and those listening to it. I felt like I was part of that performance. Funnily enough, we heard later that this particular performance was recorded to be used on the radio. Nice. Too bad I didn’t sneeze or something. Then I could say I’d been on national radio in Australia.

I was also struck by how amazing humans are. I watched the women, thinking about how I’ve been blown away lately by how amazing women are in the capacity of being made to recreate life in our bodies – to nurture babies, grow them, nurse them, etc. And then here are these female musicians who can not only recreate and sustain life, but they can produce this incredible, fabulous music! Human beings are just amazing! And while some of them were beautiful people, most of them were not. One woman had a leftover mama tummy like me, but her playing was amazing (she was 3rd chair violin) – who freaking cares about leftover mommy tummy when you can produce beauty like the sound of that symphony! (And likewise, for each of us who has created a human life of course.)

I loved the physical element of it being a live performance. I was aware, when the trumpet soloist was playing, of his breath – how it was directly producing all that sound I was hearing. I could hear him take in his breath sharply in between. I was in awe of his command of his airways – able to measure and economize every breath to produce such amazing sounds: long, short, soft, loud, quick. Not to mention what I saw his fingers doing. That goes for all the strings at various times too (I couldn’t see anyone else). It felt like such a gift being given to me by the musicians – a very physical gift born out of their bodies with sweat, muscle and breath, and given freely to us, to do with what we wished. We could listen to it, ignore it, remember it, let it touch us, block it out, judge it. It was very beautiful to be given such a gift, and so freely.

Of course, there were other things I could say about the evening too. Like sitting and listening to live music afterwards at the Opera Bar, while Daniel got dessert. Or the fact that we left the house late at the beginning of the night so we missed our ferry. Again. Or the fact that I spent half the evening barefoot (including a fuh-reezing walk home at the end of the night) because of those torture instruments on my feet. I don’t know how something so small and insubstantial as a shoe can cause so much pain in my foot. Plus it fell off constantly. Yeah, that was glamorous. Or the fact that we really didn’t know what we were doing at that restaurant. Or the fact that, when we went to pick up my coat from the cloakroom after the symphony, it had actually closed and the staff were going home for the night, carrying my coat on a hanger down some stairs on their way out because we were so late in coming to get it (it had only been like 10 minutes so we’re not sure why everyone clears out so fast?)

But overall? This evening was amazing. I’m so lucky to have a husband who treats me like his princess, not to mention every day in which he serves and cherishes me. Here’s to 90 more anniversaries together, my love!

Kind of a bad shot, but it shows the moonlight on the water, which was such a magical part of the evening.

Intermission

Dessert at the Opera Bar - churros, strawberries and toasted marshmallows with melted chocolate.

At the end of the night, waiting for the ferry home.

Daniel's fake "asleep" face didn't really fool anyone.

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Tap tap. Is this thing on?

So I guess by now you’ve figured that either we’re dead, or we have been really enjoying grandparent time, seeing as we basically haven’t touched the blog in 2 weeks. (It’s the latter, in case you were worried that there are blogs in the after life.) We just got home a few hours ago from the Great Barrier Reef and while I enjoyed being completely unplugged while there, I’m also looking forward to getting caught up and reconnected.

So, on the off-chance that anybody is actually still reading this, we’ll try to get some updates posted soon. Now that Nana & Papa are leaving tomorrow we will return to having no social life and plenty of time for writing. :)

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Enter Grandparents

Nana & Papa are here! (For those of you who don’t know, that is my mom and stepdad.) They arrived on Friday morning and will be here for 2 weeks. This is awesome on multiple levels.

1. It’s good to see them.

2. It’s good to see anyone from home!

3. It’s especially good to see Naomi see someone from home, especially family.

4. It’s a great excuse for us to do lots of fun things we haven’t done yet, like visit the Great Barrier Reef.

5. It’s very nice to have 2 more sets of eyes and arms to take care of Naomi. This includes babysitting. Ahh yes. Love that part.

However, picking them up from the airport was marred (heavily, at first – at least for one of us, I’ll let you read on and figure out whether it was Daniel or me) by arriving at the airport via train, only to discover that there is an additional fee to enter the airport if you arrive by train. Well, actually we knew that there would be a fee. But what we didn’t know, and the part that made me furious, was that the fee? Was $18/person! And for Mom & Sher to simply leave the airport on the train? $12/person! And that doesn’t include paying for your train ticket – that’s just to enter or exit the airport! That my friends is the definition of a rip-off.

Our other option was to get back on the train, go 2 stops up, get off, and take a bus back to the airport; then catch a bus with our visitors (and all their luggage) in tow (on a rainy, chilly, blustery day), to another train station. Not really something we wanted to put our visitors through, since they’d just been on a plane for the last 20 hours or so.

After giving some dirty looks to the girl behind the counter; then reigning it in enough to realize it’s not exactly her fault that she works for greedy, blood-sucking bums; then taking some deep breaths and finally praying… I was able to set it behind me.

And then we found Nana & Papa, and things got a lot happier.

Even though Naomi had been talking excitedly about Nana & Papa ever since we told her that morning that we were going to see them today, she was very shy at first and played hard-to-get.

But Naomi could only tolerate a few minutes of that before her excitement got the better of her and she was dragging Nana by the hand to go look for Papa (who'd gone looking for us before we arrived).

After that they were pretty much inseparable.

Finally finding Papa!

Of course Papa had to wait his turn to pass through the shyness barrier as well, which involved being shown her shoes a few different times.

We managed to make it home in one piece. Then we got to open a few gifts – Tara, you’ll be glad to know my mom managed to smuggle mild cheddar cheese over here. It is delicious! Also some almond butter – mmm! That was a special treat. Naomi got a few things too – some new pajamas (she only had one set of pajamas that fit her since at home she usually just sleeps in a diaper, but it’s colder here and that one set was getting awfully worn). The new ones have monkeys on them and they are a Big. Hit. She also got a new “baby” to add to her family of stuffed animals.

"Boo" or Bear.

The "ee! ah!" jammies.

To help keep Mom & Sher awake and get their bodies used to the time zone, we decided to go out that afternoon. We took the ferry across the harbor to Circular Quay and the Opera House.

Mom, on the ferry coming in to Circular Quay.

In the reflection of one of the windows at Guillaume at Bennelong (the restaurant that is part of the Opera House). In the lower half of the shot you can see the tables and chairs inside the restaurant.

On the way home, riding on Papa's shoulders.

On Saturday, after a relaxing morning, we went to the nearby park. Or at least the rest of the group did. I stayed behind to pack a picnic lunch and by the time I met up with everyone else (lunch in tow), the wind had grown so frigid that none of us really wanted to eat in it. So we left. It was a shame as it was a really beautiful day – deceptively warm-looking with all that beautiful bright sunlight bouncing everywhere. If you could subtract the wind, it would have been perfect. The wind also made an interesting affair of the sky-writing we saw as we walked home. The pilot appeared to be attempting to write something like “RUOK?”, and he seemed pretty skilled at it too, but the letters kept getting blown away or misshapen, within moments of his writing them. It was kind of an odd message to write in the sky anyway.

We actually ended up eating outside in the end anyhow, along a row of shops and cafes we passed on the way home. There, a building was blocking us from the wind, which allowed us to eat out in the sunshine. The fun ended when a cloud of something sting-y (bees? wasps?) descended about 2 feet from us, and we high-tailed it out of there.

Trying on Nana's jewelry (all of it), and putting on make-up (or at least pretending to).

At the park with Nana.

After Naomi went down for her nap, Daniel and I took off for a “date” while Mom and Sher stayed back at the apartment to nap themselves, and be with Naomi. For our date, Daniel and I went on a tour of the Opera House, which I’ll write about in more detail later.

 

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Traveling Salesman, Minus Dwight & Michael

Part of my job here in Australia is sales, which I find somewhat amusing since that’s one of the things I thought I’d never do in my life. Fortunately I’ve watched The Office so I know how to do sales right. In fact, my first sales trip was a bit like an episode from that TV show.

This was my first time trying out GoGet, a car sharing service which just so happens to have cars parked across the street from our flat. Very convenient. You swipe your smart card on the windshield, the car unlocks, and the ignition key is waiting for you inside. You’re automatically charged based on how long you use the car, and how many kilometers you drive. When you’re done you bring it back to the same parking spot, ideally on time.

Nearby GoGet car in its special parking spot

Smart card reader in the dashboard which unlocks the car

Within the first 5 minutes I had drivers honking at me. I’m not sure if it was my slow, erratic driving, or the windshield wipers which I kept turning on every time I tried to turn on the blinker since the controls were opposite. This brought back memories of Herbie, my Honda Civic of college days which would activate the windshield wipers randomly. Aussies, it seems, aren’t afraid to honk when they’re annoyed.

It had been over a month since I’d driven any kind of vehicle, and that was back when I lived in a country where they drive on the “right” side of the road. Whenever you drive in a new country there are unfamiliar signs and traffic patterns to get used to, and of course roads you’ve never been on. But I think driving on the other side of the road is perhaps the biggest adjustment to make.

I managed to make it on to the fast-moving harbour bridge without much incident and was immediately presented with a confusing array of lanes to choose from: one was painted red (which I think was for busses), a couple split off at one point for no particular reason, and some other lanes seemed to be used for oncoming traffic at certain times of day (I was hoping that time of day wasn’t now). Then I saw warnings about unmanned toll booths. I was somewhat reassured to hear a beep as I passed through the toll booth area, hoping this meant my crossing was legal, even though I didn’t have any idea if my car was paying for me or not. When I got to the other side I was again presented with confusing lane choices, but I somehow happened to pick the right one, leading me on the futuristic-feeling raised highway above the Circular Quay train and ferry station below. I must confess I spent more time than I should have staring down at my iPad which was tracking me on google maps. My entire journey would have been much harder back in the dark ages before GPS.

The first dive shop I visited was already familiar with our products and how to order them, so there wasn’t a whole lot they needed help with, though I was able to show off our cool underwater video light which they hadn’t seen. I also bought an insanely expensive (because we’re in Australia?) scuba tank from them for use in my pressure pod (more on that later). Perhaps the most significant part of my visit was being taught a new Aussie word: dunny. I made the painfully obvious mistake of asking where their restroom was. As soon as the word came out of my mouth I knew I should have said something less American, like toilet. They laughed at me (in a nice Australian sort of way), and the guy told me I really should have asked for the dunny, which is sort of slang for outhouse. I guess it made sense in this context since their “bathroom” was outside in a different building.

I was glad to see that my smart card was still working as I got back to the car to head off to the next dive shop (as much as I love technology, I also have a nagging sense of distrust for it). I arrived early and lugged my weapon-sized Pelican box of demo gear inside.

My gun case. At least that's what the Australian customs officials were convinced of when I entered the country. You can't blame them for thinking that.

All my demo gear.

This particular dive shop didn’t actually have much of a connection with our company yet, so this was more of a “real” sales encounter. Fortunately I didn’t have Dwight or Michael to mess things up, so it all went fine. Maybe also because I don’t know anything about sales so I basically just talked candidly about our products, and answered questions. This was a rather big dive shop, and I’ve already received some follow-up response which is encouraging. I guess the only complaint I encountered was that our dive computer doesn’t have “Aussie” but only “English” as an option in the settings.

For whatever reason most of my problems happened on my way home. I guess what started it was going to Costco. Because of this rare situation of having a car, Katie and I decided that I’d stop by the one and only Costco in Sydney on my way back so that we didn’t have to lug a huge backpack full of Costco goods back on the bus and train like we did on our first visit (it’s quite far from where we live). Having never driven in the area, my calculations (despite help from Google) on how long it would take me to get there were way off, and so I arrived with about 25 minutes to shop.

Twenty-five minutes is never enough time to shop at Costco. Especially when the exceptionally small parking structure is completely filled and you spend precious minutes trying to park. And then you wait more precious minutes for the elevator (er, I mean lift) to arrive only to find out it’s not working. Then you walk inside to find the busiest Costco in the world (mostly filled with Filipinos, by the way), and some of the worst crowd control I’ve ever seen. So I was madly running through the crowded Costco trying to find what we wanted, all the while watching the minutes go by. By the time I got to checkout I knew I was going to miss the deadline for returning the car, so I frantically started to figure out how to extend my booking to avoid the late penalties. At first I tried GoGet’s website on my iPhone, which as it turns out lets you do just about everything EXCEPT extend your booking. You have to do that by calling a phone number. What!? That’s annoying. Especially when you have terrible phone reception. Don’t ask me why I could use the Internet but not make a phone call. All the while people were cutting in front of me in the checkout line, something which the person behind me was quick to point out (but I have to add that it was again done in a mostly polite Australian manner). I must have tried calling over a dozen times without success, and finally gave up. I was in such a hurry that I left my shopping cart behind and ran with all my groceries down the long ramp (the lift was still not working) and back to my car. Fortunately I did remember to pay.

I decided to start driving in the hopes that I would miraculously get home in time, or finally get through to extend my booking. At this point I looked down at my iPhone to see “No Service” which completely baffled me since I was now outside and I knew I had service earlier. I tried some basic troubleshooting (while driving my car, which is not such a great idea), and finally got it going by powering down the phone completely and “booting” it back up. Android fans are allowed to be smug at this point.

I immediately started calling GoGet but they were (oddly enough) having difficulties with their phone system so it kept kicking me out. By this point I decided I’d best pull off to the side of the road before I caused an accident, and I spent a good while trying to get through on the phone. I finally managed to extend my booking, 5 minutes before my time expired. Fortunately no one else had booked my car for the next hour.

During this whole time due to traffic, wrong turns, and finally just pulling over, I had only made it a couple kilometers away from Costco. It was way past lunchtime, and I had skipped the Costco foodcourt due to my time crunch, despite having been looking forward to that all day. “But hey, now I have an extra hour on my booking, so why not go back to Costco for lunch.” That was my thinking, so I did and enjoyed a piece of pizza. I even picked up a very berry sundae on my way out since I deserved it for all my hard work.

Back on the road, things started going downhill again pretty fast. This was despite the added entertainment of the windshield wipers going off every time I tried to use the blinker, since apparently blinker habits are hard to change. Traffic was terrible, making me regret that return trip to the Costco food court since I was now worried for a second time about getting the car back in time. Then I realized the gas gauge was at 1/4 tank, and the rules state you can’t bring the car back with 1/4 tank or, you guessed it, more fines. Fuel costs are supposed to be included in the use of the car, so if you do have to fill up they provide a gas card for you to use. That sounded great, except I couldn’t find one in the car. So, another call to GoGet. This time my phone worked first try! A friendly agent told me I had to pay with my own money, and get reimbursed. Ok, whatever.

I was just about to pull into a gas station when someone out of nowhere cut in front of me, and I slammed on the brakes. I barely avoided the collision, but my very berry sundae turned into a very very big mess. It was no longer between my legs, but now splattered all over the floor of the very new GoGet car. Huge mess. Plus, I hadn’t been able to eat much of it yet. Dude, this stinks. I guess that would be an understatement.

Fortunately the gas station had a windshield washing station, so I spent quite a while cleaning off the floor mats in the car with water, and using up a tree’s worth of paper towels. This was all done rather frantically as I was now even closer to missing my second car dropoff deadline.

With the mess taken care of, I fumbled around in the car to figure out how to open the gas tank door, and then ran inside and waited in line to pay since the gas pump didn’t have a way to pay. Then I realized that here in Australia you pump first, then pay. At this point I couldn’t help but start laughing at my situation since it seemed everything was going wrong, and there was no end in sight. So I ran back out to the car and started pumping, hoping that I wasn’t pumping diesel, and then wondering if maybe I was supposed to be pumping diesel. It was at this point that I noticed the car behind me, who had pulled up moments after me. They were done pumping, and were just sitting there watching me. Was it for the entertainment value? I didn’t know, but I knew I had more important things to worry about. I ran back into the service station for the nth time and paid. When I got back to my car to leave one of the guys in the car behind me started yelling at me for taking so long. Huh? Why in the world was he waiting for me? He could have backed up and driven around me this whole time. I mumbled something about not knowing he was waiting for me, and tried to pull out of there as fast as possible.

Traffic was now even worse. A quick check on Google maps indicated there was no way I was going to return the car in time. I couldn’t believe I was going to miss my second deadline, but there was nothing I could do but call up again, and extend my rental again. Of course, not too long after extending my rental for the second time, traffic cleared up. I ended up getting home only 5 minutes after my second deadline, which means I wasted like an hour of rental time (you can only rent in blocks of 1 hour). But this was still better than the fines of bringing it back late.

By this point I was just happy I hadn’t crashed the car, which was the only thing I could think of that would have made the ordeal worse. But overall I actually was quite upbeat about my day. I guess that’s partly because I enjoy adventure and the unknown, but even more so because the dive shop visits went well.

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The Farmer Wants a Wife

I have to confess that I like a little reality TV in my life. I’m not talking about most of the shows  out there that might come to mind first, consumed with backbiting and stealing other people’s boyfriends. I honestly don’t even know the names of most of those shows, or what happens in them, because the few episodes that I’ve watched are just too uninteresting to me. But there a few out there that I actually enjoy.

“America’s Biggest Loser” intrigues me with the internal/emotional work that the contestants go through and also the competitive/sports side of me really likes the physical challenges they go through and watching the trainers do their jobs.

“Amazing Race” is our household favorite, and (after about midway through the season, when a lot of the “drama” has been eliminated from the race) Daniel and I LOVE living vicariously through the racers’ trip around the world and all the challenges and victories they face. It always opens up interesting conversations for us about how we would have approached the various obstacles (or at least how we think we would have approached them, from the very unrealistic and non-sleep-deprived perspective of our very comfortable sofa).

“Expedition Impossible” was a pretty good summer substitute for AR, though not as fun (we left the country before it finished though so please no one spoil the ending for me).

Sometimes I like “Survivor,” but often it’s too trashy for my taste anymore.

This summer I got caught up in “Love in the Wild.” I know, you might judge me for watching a dating show. I justify it by the fact that they’re out in the jungle doing challenges together, plus they are seeking long-term relationships, so it’s deeper than just a fling. But I admit it was borderline soap opera-ish. Guilty.

Despite enjoying these shows which I think are for the most part harmless (and some even worthwhile), I can sometimes find myself feeling too sucked in, wanting to unwind from their tentacles. One of the things I sort of looked forward to about our time in Australia was being away from all of that. And for the most part, I do find myself spending a lot less “low-quality” screen time here (I still am on my computer but it’s usually blogging or Skyping or writing).

But.

I do still need to unwind sometimes. And TV is good for that. Especially when you’re in a foreign country. I’ve never lived overseas very long before, so I haven’t had a chance to discover this but it’s actually really interesting to channel surf in a foreign country. Of course getting out in the culture itself is the best way to learn about a culture, but when you’re tired and just want to curl up, foreign TV can still give you a taste of the culture and daily life here (or at least what people are interested in). I did watch a bit of TV when I lived in England for a semester, but I couldn’t understand half of what was being said, so I lost interest very early on. Sorry Brits. (No need to be ashamed though, of course. You gave the world the Bodleian Library for crying out loud.)

Poh.

So one night a few weeks ago, Daniel and I watched Aussie TV. It was fascinating! I made Daniel watch the last 10 minutes of some cooking show about a woman named Poh (?) who travels around Australia cooking unique specialties from each region. She dived for oysters and then ate them fresh. Or something like that. I thought it was interesting. Daniel became absorbed in something on his iPad.

Then another show came on – a game show. I can’t remember what it was called but it seemed to be a kind of music trivia show for people in the music industry. Most of them seemed to be famous Australian musicians from all backgrounds – one was an opera singer, one was part of a wild rock band in the 70s/80s, etc. They were on teams of 3 but the show seemed more about their interactions with each other, the audience and the show host, than about winning, and it was pretty amusing. Especially if you don’t know much about the culture, this was an interesting way to learn. The trivia questions were all about Australian music, but also music as it relates to Australian politics, current events, history, etc.

The last show we watched was my favorite. It was actually a reality show! But the reason I like it is for how non-reality-TV it is, in every way. It is called “The Farmer Wants a Wife.” And it is adorable.

There are a bunch of guys who are all farmers. And they all want wives. And there are a bunch of normal-looking, normal-sized girls who want to be those wives. I’m not sure if they have any say in which farmer they are matched up with, but at the point we jumped into the show, they all had dreamy looks in their eyes as they gazed at their farmer.

One of the farmers even looked to be in his late 50s, and his “ladies” were all in the same age bracket. I don’t think anyone would watch a dating show like that in the US. But from all appearances, this show is huge here.

When we switched it on, each farmer was narrowing down his gaggle of probably a dozen girls, to his favorite three, and these 3 would go out to his farm and stay a few days (all of them together, the farmer with all 3 girls). The different activities they would do on the farm were geared toward discovering which of the girls was best suited for the kind of life the farmer had on his farm and the specific work he did (ie. one was a dairy farmer, one raised sheep, one was fruits/vegs, etc). So qualities like being resourceful and adaptable really made some of the girls stand out, because the farmers are seriously looking for women who will make good helpers for them in their life work.

It seemed like prior to this episode there had also been a relationship aspect to the show – who was attracted to whom, who connected with whom, etc. So it wasn’t like they view marriage as slave labor or something, or like dating here is a lumberjack competition, with a winner picked purely on the basis of how fast she chops that wood. But it was so sweet that they all kind of seemed to come at it with the view, “Well of course all these girls are beautiful and kind and sweet – I’d be lucky to marry any of them! But which one will be the best helper for me?” Such a far cry from Hollywood, where dating shows seem to be mostly about a guy trying to find the girl with the hottest body and the least brattiness.

I have since seen billboards referring to an Australian version of “Biggest Loser,” but… I don’t think I need to go there right now. I think one show is a enough for me.

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Grocery Delivery Service Saves Woman’s Life

…Or at least my sanity.

Some of the gals I’ve been getting to know at church were a bit taken aback to realize we have no car here, and one of the first questions I kept hearing was, How do you get your groceries? This made me feel a bit better about the struggle I’d been having with that task – finding what I need, having to constantly run down to the store and then truck heavy bags back up our steep hill. (I may not be keeping up with my usual exercise routine very well, but living in Very-Hilly-Kirribilli is possibly making up for that.) Not to mention racing after the toddler grabbing at all the brightly colored candy on those wickedly placed low shelves because the stores are too tiny for shopping carts like she usually sits in.

I’d heard people mentioning grocery delivery service but figured it must cost an arm and a leg. Finally someone told me it’s quite cheap, and that most moms around here use it. So I looked into it this weekend. Both the major grocery stores here offer it (Woolworths and Coles), at a cost of $5 and $9, respectively. $5?!? Someone hit me for not looking into this sooner.

I placed my order around 8pm last night, and at 9am this morning, it was all sitting on my kitchen counter. I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.

It was incredibly convenient to use a website to shop (especially as a foreigner, because of how lost and overwhelmed I usually feel staring down all those aisles). I could search for things I wanted by typing the item into the search window rather than wandering the store. I could sort by product so I could compare prices and quality without worrying that I was missing some on a different shelf. I could easily discover that they did not carry a specific brand, rather than (again) wandering.

The one drawback is that they didn’t have much description for each product, so choosing some products involved a bit more guesswork. I didn’t buy any decongestant because I just couldn’t tell which one was right for me. And I now have about twice as much laundry detergent as we will probably use in our time here, since I pictured 875 grams of detergent being a lot less than it actually is. And the can of coconut milk I ordered is about 1/4 of the size I expected.

But whatever. I got about 9 bags of groceries this morning, carried inside my front door for me. I did not have to carry them, I did not even have to pay the $5, because first delivery is free! I am one thrilled ex-pat.

Now if only I could find applesauce in bulk…

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The Blue Mountains

Early Friday morning we took a train 2 hours west into the Blue Mountains (I keep having to correct myself on it being west, not east, since I’m so used to living on the west coast where you always go east to get to mountains). Part of Australia’s Great Dividing Range, the Blue Mountains actually aren’t all that high – about 3000 feet. But it was still significantly colder there than in Sydney – I wasn’t warm enough the whole day. :( (Remember that amazing $5 coat I scored at the Kirribilli Market last week? Turns out it’s not really warm at all… probably good that I got the deal I got, and didn’t pay more!)

They are called the Blue Mountains because of the unique blue haze above them, deeper than anywhere else in the world. At first I thought they just looked hazy and normal, but later in the day I could really see the beautiful blue, and it definitely looked deeper and lovelier than I’ve seen anywhere else. The reason for it is eucalyptus trees release an oil vapor into the atmosphere which, along with dust particles and water vapor, scatters blue light in the atmosphere more than any other spectrum color. The Blue Mountains are covered in eucalyptus trees, so I guess that’s why they’re so blue.

We left the house by 6:30 am, and it was kind of fun to bake breakfast bread the night before so we could take it with us, and get up before dawn and get going. Reminded me of the super special mornings when I was a kid and we would get up in the dark to drive up to Disneyland for our annual trip. Of course, I was not feeling that way the night before when the house still had to be cleaned, breakfast made, clothes packed, laundry finished, shower taken, etc., but I was glad later.

We had one train transfer, in downtown Sydney, at the circle of purgatory called “Central Station.” It’s where people in wheelchairs and parents with strollers are sent when Australia is really sick of them, because not only is it massive and poorly labeled, there are no elevators. Anywhere. And there are about a million stairs – you have to walk down a few flights of stairs to get off your train platform into the station, then you have to walk back up another few to get to your connecting train. You probably also have to climb a flight or ten in between. Ok, ten is an exaggeration. But when you have luggage and a stroller, it’s a lot to manage.

We survived Central, and got onto our next train with time to spare. We found seats upstairs, since we’d be on this train for 2 hours. We spent most of the ride reading to or playing with Naomi (or keeping her out of trouble), but when we were able to peek out the windows, we could see the scenery changing and getting much prettier.

One of the big things I noticed this weekend was that it finally FELT like Spring to me. For the last month (we’ve been here a month already!), I’ve certainly noticed that it feels colder and that the days seem shorter, but since we’re in such a big city, that is all the Spring I’ve experienced. But out in the mountains, there were actually trees and plants everywhere, and with cherry blossoms, daffodils, and smells I can’t describe better than just “Spring smells,” it finally felt like Spring. That was really nice.

Me and some spring-y looking wattle. I'm not actually giving the tree a hug, just pulling the branch down. I do like wattle, now that I know what it is, but ... not that much.

We got off the train in Katoomba. Fun name, huh. I believe it is an Aboriginal word for waterfall. And we did see the waterfall – Katoomba Falls. Here’s a video of the view we saw from a tram, and then the view from a cableway which took us down into the Jamison Valley below:

And here’s a photo Daniel took showing Katoomba Falls:

Katoomba Falls

It is a really beautiful falls – referred to as a bridalveil falls. It was long and lithe, delicate but tall. We saw it from the glass-bottomed Skyway tram at oddly named “Scenic World,” where we spent most of the day. I kept thinking that sounded like a theme park, except that it was supposed to be more along the lines of a national park – hiking trails through forests and past a waterfall and stuff. There were things like the Skyway tram, the scenic cableway, and a train, but the employees kept calling them “rides.” We thought that was kind of weird. Later we found out that they have a roller coaster in the works, which would make it more like a theme park… sort of. But the roller coaster has been under construction for 27 years and the owners have still given no target opening date. Interesting. I guess it’s the subject of a lot of controversy and rumor, as to whether it’s “an appropriate attraction” or not. It is also ironically (or not) the first Australian designed and manufactured roller coaster, so I’m not sure if that is somewhat related to the safety concerns.

The highlight of the day – of the whole weekend, actually – was seeing a lyrebird in the wild, putting on a show for a nearby female.

Male lyrebird

Boy are these guys amazing! I’d seen a video of one on YouTube before – lyrebirds are famous for being able to imitate almost any sound they hear. Here is what Wikipedia had to say (I know, I know – Wikipedia. I caved):

The lyrebird’s syrinx is the most complexly-muscled of the Passerines (songbirds), giving the lyrebird extraordinary ability, unmatched in vocal repertoire and mimicry. Lyrebirds render with great fidelity the individual songs of other birds and the chatter of flocks of birds, and also mimic other animals, human noises, machinery of all kinds, explosions, and musical instruments. The lyrebird is capable of imitating almost any sound — from a mill whistle to a cross-cut saw, and, not uncommonly, sounds as diverse as chainsaws, car engines and car alarms, fire alarms, rifleshots, camera shutters, dogs barking, crying babies, and even the human voice.

The male lyrebird we saw did imitate a kookaburra – in fact when he first flew down in front of us, and I didn’t know what he was, I was a bit confused why he was clearly giving off a kookaburra call, but was clearly not a kookaburra. It wasn’t until later that another passerby was remarking how special it was that this lyrebird had flown down right in front of us, that I made the connection. I believe he may also have been imitating a chicken, as the call sounded like that a few times, but I’m not sure. The other sound he made a lot (kind of a zapping sound) sure makes me curious. It sounds like a video game or gun or camera or something. Does anyone else recognize the sound, or have a guess at what it is? Another bystander said that he himself had done a lot of bushwalking, but had never seen a lyrebird put on a performance like this. We felt very privileged.

Here is what Daniel caught on video:

You can see the lucky female pecking around in the background during part of the video. I felt kind of sorry for the poor guy – he really seemed to be throwing his heart into that song and dance, while she was basically ignoring him. Typical woman. And also, sorry about the loud talking over part of the song. I don’t see Daniel get annoyed very often, but he was pretty annoyed with those people. They not only didn’t notice the lyrebird or the significant crowd of people huddled around listening to it, but once they did notice it, the dad wrote it off as a peacock and wanted them all to get going, not realizing what a special treat they were passing up.

Here is another great video of another lyrebird, courtesy of YouTube:

Interestingly, the lyrebird is also featured on the Australian 10-cent coin:

So, Scenic World was cool. Naomi napped through the lyrebird and our walk through the forest. It was called temperate rain forest, and Daniel and I both felt like we were on the distribution trek again. Except, as he pointed out, “It sure would have been an easier trek if we’d had this great boardwalk!” We were elevated above the rocks, roots, leeches and mud by about 4-10 feet the entire way, and it was such a smooth path that we pushed our sleeping toddler in her stroller on it for 1.5 hours.

Using the plastic rain guard over the stroller muffles sounds and helps Naomi sleep longer, but I must have startled quite a few people and made them wonder why I was pushing R2D2 through the rain forest.

We got little sneak peeks at the Three Sisters through the tremendous overgrowth of the bush – those are the famous three pillars of rock in the Jamison Valley. We also enjoyed seeing some of the historic pieces of machinery left behind from the coal and oil shale mining work that went on for about 15 years in the 1880’s. Most impressive was a large bucket used to carry coal out of the mines: it had a wheel where it would run along the cables, and when I spun the wheel it moved silently and perfectly smoothly, even after 130 years out in a wet rain forest! As the little sign by it said, it was a great testament to the skill of the German craftsman who fitted it, and to the quality of the lubricant originally used on it. We laughed that our little stroller has a nagging squeak in one wheel after the mere 6 months we’ve used it. Go Germans!

When Naomi woke up, we were by this bronze statue of a miner with his pony. She immediately insisted, "On! On!" and wanted several pictures taken with the pony. The only bummer was that, being bronze, he was too cold for her to hold onto for very long. She kept saying, "Hot! Hot!" :)

We had taken the cablecar down to the bottom of the Jamison Valley, and hiked part of the way back up. Then a “train” took us the rest of the way. Now, when I say “train,” you probably think “choo-choo” right? Tracks that run along relatively flat ground in a steady, orderly way? That’s what I thought too. Not this train. It was actually a funicular, and not just any funicular, but the steepest funicular in the world, at a 52-degree incline over a distance of 415 meters. I always think that giving the degree of the slope makes it seem about half as steep as it feels, and that is definitely true with this slope. It felt really steep. (As a side note, why the heck did they call it a train? I looked up trains on Wikipedia and nowhere on the page does it even mention funiculars. Not even under the category of “other types of trains.” And seriously, if Wikipedia doesn’t call it a train it is not a train. Right?) Anyway. Did I mention that this funicular went straight up the side of a cliff? And that it went really fast? And that it was not enclosed? And that we were just seated on benches, with no seat belts or railings or sides? I totally thought I was going to fall out. It actually felt more dangerous than a roller coaster, and I wasn’t even in Southeast Asia! We were pretty impressed by their lack of attention to safety. The guy literally said, after allowing a moment for us to board, “Alright folks, we’re going to leave now,” and just as he said “now” the train shot backwards and then vertically up the side of the cliff, and I’m not exaggerating. I held Naomi tight and Daniel gripped our stroller and backpacks and we were both slightly surprised we didn’t lose any of those items on our way up the cliff side. It made a little more sense of why the employees call all these things “rides.” Here is the video clip:

But maybe even scarier than the “train” (for me), was our encounter with two pied currawongs: these two humongous, hungry, aggressive crow-like birds that stalked us from the moment Daniel pulled his peanut butter sandwich out to eat while we walked through the forest. You may laugh at me (my husband did), but it caused me a LOT of anxiety to have them stalk us for about 10 minutes. We were walking quickly, but they kept up with us by flying from branch to branch to get as close to his sandwich as they could, even trying to swoop by and grab it out of his hands. They were probably about 20 inches long, so you can agree or disagree with my description of how huge they were, but I’ll have you know that they are known for hunting the eggs of other birds and even eating juvenile birds. Bullies. The two going after us were hulks of birds, with powerful-looking beaks that were large and slightly hooked on the end, and I kept picturing the moment in the movie “The Passion,” when the thief on the cross who mocked Jesus looks up into the face of a crow who has landed on his cross, and who then proceeds to peck the man’s eyes out. These birds looked just the same as I remembered that one, and with how aggressively they were trying to get our food, I kept squinting my eyes shut for fear that one of them would peck my eye out. It didn’t help that their eyes are quite evil-looking. Look:

What the photo does not show is that that pole he's standing on is about the diameter of my arm. Homeboy was HUGE.

I eventually made Daniel walk about 10 paces behind me, since he refused to put his sandwich away (or even kind of hide it!), and one of them continued to stalk me, even though I wasn’t eating anything. Horrible experience. Go ahead and laugh, but I’m still shuddering over it.

To make up for that, I’ll show you this photo Daniel took of a Crimson Rosella sitting on a eucalyptus branch:

Crimson Rosella

Anyway, after such an eventful day, we were exhausted and headed to our hotel around 4 pm. Unfortunately, after a really cold day during which all I could think about was the jacuzzi that awaited us at our hotel, we arrived to find out that it wasn’t working! :( Instead, I made myself a hot bath which was a wonnnnnnnderful substitute. In fact, after getting in I proceeded to fall asleep in it. I did not drown, but Daniel was a little worried when I told him about it later. I was intrigued with the fact that the bottom of the bathtub remained cool to the touch even after it had been filled with hot water for almost an hour. Maybe it’s made of iron? Still enjoyed my bath though.

We got burgers at a nearby cafe and turned in early. We all decided to try traditional “Aussie burgers,” which include beetroot (basically just beets, but they call it beetroot here), a fried egg and a pineapple ring. Interesting, huh? I thought it was pretty good, but ended up taking out my pineapple halfway through as it made it all too sweet. Daniel had actually tried a traditional Aussie burger last week at Hungry Jack’s (the Australian branch of Burger King), and I had loved that one, so I guess it just depends on who makes it. Kind of sad that I preferred the BK one to the homemade one, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Aussie Burger at Hungry Jack's (aka HJ's), the Australian version of Burger King

Also at this cafe we bought some breakfast things since, although our hotel provided breakfast, it did not serve until 8:30. With a toddler who wakes by 5:30 at the latest, that was not going to do it for us.

The hotel boasted central heating but as it turned out, not only did the heaters not really get very warm, but they also shut down in the middle of the night. Our little early bird woke us before 5, Daniel went out to take pictures of sunrise, and Naomi and I ate a breakfast of raisin bread and peanut butter (“puh-buh”). The raisins hiding in the bread (“Boo!”) were a big hit.

Daniel came back by about 7, since the  morning light hadn’t really been hitting the Three Sisters like he’d hoped, and then gave me a break during which he and Naomi played and I stole another nap. We had to check out at 10, which meant we were stuck with our luggage for the day. On top of that, we were both pretty wiped so Day 2 didn’t hold as much eventfulness. We walked to a lookout point from which you could see the whole Jamison Valley, Katoomba Falls, and the beautiful Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters

While Naomi took a short nap, Daniel checked out some other falls, and I sat and took some quiet time on a hillside. I was struck with how truly elegant and beautiful eucalyptus trees are. We bought lunch at a cafe on the little main street in Katoomba, but then had them pack it up for us, as we only had a few minutes before we had to catch our train by the time the food arrived. We were greatly relieved to get to the platform just in time for the train, as trains came only every hour. The train ride got pretty long, mostly because Naomi had only gotten about a quarter of her usual nap that day, but we all made it back in one piece.

We were all feeling extra-tired by the time we got on the train home, and that made one of us especially goofy. It wasn't Daniel or I. But with a girl that winsome, it's hard not to have fun.

It was a gorgeous sunset when we arrived at Milson’s Point train station and walked home, and in a funny way I felt relieved to be back home in Sydney, even though I’d enjoyed the quiet and the exquisite beauty of the mountains. I hadn’t missed the smell of smoke in our apartment, or the concrete or the noise of the city per se. But it was still nice to be back in our own little home, and the brilliant gold sunlight creeping up the white walls of our apartment and spreading over the silvery water outside our window was just icing on the cake.

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Lavender Bay

Last week Daniel had to get up reeeeeally early for an online business meeting (it started at 4 am. Yeah.) It was supposed to go for several hours, so once Naomi was awake and we’d eaten breakfast I got us out of the house. We walked to nearby Lavender Bay, which is two towns east of us. That makes it sound far, but it’s really not. It’s slightly less than a mile away (one nice thing about running a pretty consistent 10-minute mile is that you always know about how far away things are when you run to them: case in point, the week before I’d run into the heart of Lavender Bay in about 10 minutes). On that earlier run, I’d noticed another park there, and this one had swings (Naomi’s favorite) and an extra-long slide, which our nearest park lacks. So I decided to take her there.

We had a really sweet, relaxed and fun Mommy-daughter morning. No special stories, just a special time. I thought I’d share some pictures.

Naomi, showing you a grassy cattail-ish thing we found on the ground on our walk to Lavender Bay. I should know the name for it, but I can't remember.

 

Lavender Bay actually has lots of lavender planted around town, so much that I could actually smell it as I was walking around! I loved that.

If you sometimes envy the photos Daniel takes of our trips, let the above out-of-focus photo make you feel better. This is what trips would look like if I was the one taking the pictures. Actually, scratch that. We wouldn’t have any photos because I just wouldn’t get around to taking any.

The super-duper slide!

Naomi wasn’t altogether sure she wanted to go down it. Once she climbed up to the top, she said she wanted to hold my hand. Then she wanted me to ride it with her. Then not. Then she just went for it, all by herself! But, after mustering all that courage, this is how the ride on the slide turned out:

It didn’t end up being fast… at all. It was either her rubber-soled shoes slowing her down, or the early morning dew making it sticky. But it didn’t matter, she immediately wanted to do it again, and did it at least 3 times before moving on.

After leaving the park, Naomi helped me push the stroller along the bay. We stopped here to eat a snack.

The steps we ate our snack on were right on the water - picked out by Naomi of course!

It was a bit nerve wracking for me because she kept wanting to get right next to the water, exclaiming at the bubbles and the splashing, and I was trying to find the right boundaries to let her have fun but meanwhile keep her out of the icy water!

The final event, and high point, of the morning was watching this large black Labradoodle playing fetch with his master in the water.

These are two other random shots that weren’t from Lavender Bay, but I thought I’d throw them in anyhow.

Daddy and Naomi exploring the roots of a large ficus tree at the Botanical Gardens.

One morning, this cockatoo was drinking from a puddle on the roof across from us. We thought he looked like he was about to whip out a top hat and break into song and dance.

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General Update on Us

Little peeks into what each of us has been up to lately:

Naomi

1. Is coloring. We are finally to the point where the crayons are scribbling on the paper a bit more often than they are being pulled out of her mouth by a parent. Slow but sure.

2. Is the only member of our family who is a member at the City of Sydney Library. Kind of a long story but when we had to show proof of residency things got complicated, and for some reason the librarian suggested that if we just created a membership for Naomi instead, it would solve the problem. So we did. We went tonight and picked up 7 new books for her. She was so excited about them that she asked to read each of them one by one tonight before bed (we usually only read 1 or 2 books at bedtime). Just in time because we only brought about 7 books from home and have been reading them over and over (and over!) for the last month.

3. Verbal explosion at 20 months – check. Every day we are hearing new words. Some of them more humorous than others (ie. I am starting to realize how much I say the following: “Oh man!” “Oh boy!” “Oh my!”) We are loving this time with her.

4. Suddenly never sleeps past 6 am anymore. The new norm is 5:30 am. What’s up with that? Mommy and Daddy are not excited about this.

Daniel

1. Is fascinated with photographing the Opera House from every angle. As one person said, “It’s the only building that never looks exactly the same, so there’s always something new to look at.”

2. Spent the evening last night tracking down a FedEx package, the low point of which found him walking through a dark abandoned park looking for some warehouse. He found it, got his package, and then took a taxi home. Katie was very relieved when he finally walked in the door at 8pm.

3. Is enjoying the new degree of variety in his job. He went through a training session yesterday for how to dissemble and repair scuba regulators (which are the complicated breathing apparatuses used when you scuba dive). Suffice it to say that a 6 hour training session was not enough to make him feel fully trained to teach others how to do this complex and crucial-that-you-get-it-right task. He’s also dealing with customers more than he did stateside, which is mostly a refreshing change from the IT work he usually does, but also more stressful at times. He and I both like that he is at home most of the time (Naomi likes this too), but the flip side of that flexibility is that sometimes he’s suddenly called on to work an extra hour or two, or to get up at 4 am for a phone call – yuck.

(As a side note, I married such a wonderful man. Yesterday he was contacted (about 5 times) by a female customer (and her daughter, separately) who were furious (to put it lightly) at the problems they’d had receiving an order they’d placed last week. Did he get defensive? No. Did he even get very stressed? No. He handled it with such grace and also did a lot to solve her problem, treating her like a queen through it all. I am so proud of him.)

Katie

1. Cooked pumpkin for the first time. Yum! Pumpkin soup, baked pumpkin and other pumpkin things are a well-loved part of Australian cuisine. I first had baked pumpkin in Ireland, and have wanted to make it myself ever since. I actually steamed this one up, but it was delicious in a chicken and pumpkin stew we had for dinner last night.

Such a beautiful shade of one of my favorite colors!

2. Shopped at the Kirribilli Market last Saturday. Kind of like a huge garage sale meets etsy.com, and since I waited late enough in the day I got some really awesome deals – like this coat for $5 (???). The seller was desperate to get rid of all her stuff, and I couldn’t believe I found it on a rack labeled “$5”. Also scored a coloring book for Naomi. Big hit, and the fact that the first 5 pages had already been scribbled in seemed to only make her more interested in coloring in it. Score.

3. That new brand of butter I bought last weekend is better! Hooray! The eggs however still taste gross to me. I don’t get it. The “tasty” cheese is still not tasty to me, but I am surviving quite well on mozzarella and feta. Have not yet ventured out to try any others. Maybe soon.

4. Am still getting used to having our own washer and dryer (albeit in a community area downstairs). Left clean laundry in the dryer for almost a week last week. Oops. Then, 5 days after remembering that, remembered I’d left a few items to hang on the community clothes line. Oops again. Someone had nicely shoved them off to the side, but nothing had been stolen. Australians really are very nice people.

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National Wattle Day

So it turns out that Daniel scored big-time by coming to Australia for September. Not only did he get Father’s Day in June in the US, he’ll get a second Father’s Day this Sunday in Australia.

And 3 days before that, September 1, is National Wattle Day.

What?

We’ve been looking into it online for about 10 minutes now, and we still aren’t sure what wattle is. But maybe that’s only because we keep dissolving into laughter. We found the Wattle Lady:

The name of this photo is "Maria 60th Small." Huh?

Apparently, she is responsible for Wattle Day. But what is wattle?

We found her home page, wattleday.com. But it doesn’t exactly say what wattle is. I guess any good Australian is supposed to know. It says,

National Wattle Day is celebrated throughout Australia on the 1st September each year. The day was originally conceived as a day to demonstrate patriotism for the new nation of Australia by wearing a sprig of wattle.

So that’s a clue… it’s a flower? The one she’s wearing in the picture?

If you scroll to the bottom of the page, however, things get a bit clearer:

Wattles are natural pioneer plants. They are the first to germinate after fire or flood. Being nitrogen fixers they help enrich the soil and provide protection for other seedlings growing underneath in a natural succession of the bush.

So I guess they are plants.

I click on the “History of Wattle Day” link and I finally have an intelligent understanding of wattle (found amidst other amusing phrases like “The Wattle Club,” and reference to a speech entitled, “Wattle Time: or yellow-haired September.”) Yes, it’s a flower, and I believe it is the national flower. It’s an acacia, and the word wattle comes from the green sticks used to reinforce walls made of mud and clay (since acacia branches are flexible and well suited to this). Apparently there are various species of wattle, and although the Golden Wattle was selected as the official flower, any genus of wattle is considered patriotic.

There you have it. And I didn’t even have to consult Wikipedia!

Happy Wattle Day!

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