Thursday, December 25, 2008


A little picture diary of our Aussie Christmas:

6:30 am - Good morning ... ahhh, lovely sun on the back deck.

After peeling the neighbour's cat off our screen, I set out the morning tuna nosh.

9:00 am - Time to wake Brian with breakfast in bed & presents ... some from me & some left by Santa after I went to bed. Let the sunshine in!

Here, says still under the covers Brian, open this first .... hmmm, looks like Santa ran out of wrapping paper ... wait a sec, that looks like hair ... OH MY GOD ...

You actually did it! I never thought I'd get my most fervent Christmas wish. This is the single BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER!!!! As I lay in a weeping pile on the bed ...
Check out the mugshot ... that chin hasn't seen sun since 2001!

Noon: OK, time to get ready to head to my coworker Andy's house. He kindly invited us over for Christmas lunch with him, his wife Tracey & his kids Lewis & Megan (oh, also his parents & their friend Denise with her son Cooper, Megan's adorable little boyfriend)

Megan shows Brian her axe ... perhaps they can jam sometime?

Present time for Andy ... big fan of Heineken I see.

5:30 pm - I can't stand it anymore, my board's in the car, we are under 10 minutes from the beach . ....

Brian's had a beer or two, so I drive ... on the other side of the road ... for the first time ... woo hoo ... not so bad ... kind a fun ... don't be scared ...

6 pm - OK, so I turned right when I should have turned left ... but we're here now. Avoca beach (my favourite) ... hey nice lady can you take our picture? Thanks ... OK ... gotta go get changed!

Ahhh ... what I've been waiting all day for ... a Christmas surf!

Paddle out, sit & wait, dangling your feet in the warm water, smell the salty air ... relax ... Oh, here comes a wave turn to the beach, paddle, paddle, paddle ... here's a bit of proof that I can actually stand, neither skillfully or gracefully mind ... perhaps that will come!?!

7:30 pm - Time to head home for a nice warm shower & pyjama time with popcorn & watching South Park on the laptop in bed.
Merry Christmas to all & to all a good night!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Never Ending Story

Ok, I give in - I'll do an entry. I must admit Steph is so good at writing that its a tough act to follow. But what the heck, here goes. I think for my first installment I'll go with something over the top and quite extraordinary. Honestly, the story you are about to read is completely true...although if you think otherwise I don't blame you one bit. In fact if I didn't experience it first hand I'd find it hard to accept as not being embellished.

The saga began when we were getting everything in order for the trip last summer. The plan was to finally get a laptop for the trip so we could stay in touch with everyone back home and so I could use it for songwriting and music composition. There were other priorities at the time and we were overwhelmed with the preparations as we'd never done something like this before. Oh ya and I rarely do things well in advance. It would be fair to say I tend to do things at the last minute sometimes in frantic fashion. The thing was, after extensive research, the computer that was best fit for our needs, the MacBook Pro, was rumoured to be plagued by a graphics card issue. So should we take our chances with it or wait until the next model came out and purchase it in Australia? Only problem with that is we're coming back to Canada so getting a North American computer is a bit of a priority thus waiting wasn't really an option. My good pal Bill pointed out that if I was going to get it I should order it soon as its getting close to crunch time. Oh did I mention I also tend to not do things the easy way? Of course the model I chose had to be ordered as a custom build and little did I know that meant in Shanghai. I spoke with Apple on the phone and there was enough time for the delivery so the order was placed. Cool thing is, on top of the educational discount I receive through the school board, Apple also had a free printer & iPod Nano promotion going on - sweet! Everything was fine and I could get back to the rest of our preparations right? Wrong. 

I made a call to Apple to see, if the order hadn't been shipped yet, if they could cancel the additional protective sleeve for the notebook. I had found a sturdier more heavy duty bag instead. Turns out not only had the order not been shipped but there was an error made by them and my order had a hold put on it. Seems they forgot to mention this minor detail to me. Ok, this is not good as its now getting really close to departure but its still possible assuming everything here on in goes as scheduled. Did I mention its sometimes bad to assume anything? The UPS flight that my computer was to be shipped on was canceled with no explanation. Just like that its over. So as the computer was shipped out of China to Alaska it flew right over my home down to St. Louis over to New Jersey up to Markham, ON and then reached Calgary the day I boarded my plane. As I was on my way down to San Francisco the package arrived in Richmond to be dispatched to New Westminster. Great! 

At least I had an iPod to listen to on the 18 hour flight. Thank you Mike for loading it with interesting songs!

Ok so here's the plan, I'll just have to pony up and have it shipped over to Australia. So my sister Barb went to get a quote from a courier, the thinking is its going to cost in the $100-150 range. Apparently not, based on weight I was looking at $300 abo and thats before insurance! So before I pony up $400+ to ship this thing I call Apple to see if there's anything they can do as they ship computers all over the world. The solution I'm provided is to return the computer, get a refund and then order the computer form Australia and get their free shipping. Sounds great! I'm even assured I can still get my North American model which is a bonus, all I have to do is call Canada and order it over the phone. Simple right? Wrong. Turns out this is not the case, Apple will only ship a computer to the country it was ordered from meaning if I order it through the Canada center it must be shipped to Canada and there's no chance of having a North American computer shipped to Australia. *groan* This is more of an issue with German or Japanese people living in Aus as they cannot get those models sent here either. Thats a bigger deal for them as those computers have different keyboards whereas it turns out the only difference between CDN and AUS computers is the power supply. Ok, so if I order the Australian model Apple will ship me the Canadian power supply when I return home plus they kicked in a discount to help offset the higher prices of electronics in Aus.  Sounds fair to me and the bonus is Apple just released a brand new line of notebooks so I'll be getting the latest model (free of the previous model's nVidia graphics defect) out of all this waiting. The customer service rep kicked in a FireWire cable I now needed to buy for the new model which was a very nice gesture.

Ok, the new machine is ordered, built and on its way - can't wait for this powerhouse to arrive! What are the chances that it will get to my door before we leave for our trip to Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. Well, we all know by now what the odds of that happening are so I make a request for the package to be delivered by TNT the day after I arrive home. Perfect! So we get home from our stay at Surfer's Paradise & Maroochydore and I'm tracking the package as its due to arrive the next morning. If something didn't go wrong I'd have actually been concerned and lo & behold I wasn't disappointed. TNT inadvertently sent my laptop in the wrong direction and not just a little bit either. To put it in context, imagine a package is shipped from Richmond to Squamish and instead of then delivering it to the home in Squamish they sent it to Kelowna. That pretty much sums it up, but "corrective measures" were underway so I wait again; at this point what's an extra day.

Next morning, there's a loud knocking. I hop out of bed and make my way towards the front door and the anticipated glow of TNT's bright orange truck and courier uni. There it is! The man placed the package on the floor by my feet and I'm to sign for the package. No problems right? Ahem. So the guy makes like the wind and blows off towards his truck as I pick up the brown box. Gee, this feels a tad light for a computer. I know Apple strives to make thin light products but could this be right? A sense of uneasiness quickly flashes through my entire being as I quickly open the box. I run towards the door and fling it open...he's gone! ...and I've signed for this! This which is a box of pieces of cardboard and styrofoam! Amazing how loud silence can be when you're having a panic attack. I don't know what to do here so I call the guy who was helping me w/ this order in Australia. He's not there, so I email  him. Can't wait any longer this is killing me. How much money did I spend on this cardboard again?  Was TNT and Apple going to pin this on me since I signed for this? Who checks packages before signing? it even allowed?

I call a general number at Apple and start explaining myself. I get transfered to another person who hears out my story. She's going to need photographs. I have a digital camera - check - but it won't connect to the Dell computer in the house here. I've already taken the photographs but I'll have to get them burned to a CD in order to forward them to Apple. So in the car I go, probably not the best state of mind to be driving but there's no choice at this point. No shop in Gosford can burn my photos to a CD so I'm off to Erina. Got it! Back home and the photos are sent off. Upon further inspection I can see where they took out my packing slip and found out what was inside, carefully cut open the box, removed the computer then resealed it very well. You needed to check carefully to see this thing was tampered with. Where had this been done? Was it someone over in Shanghai before it was on the plane? Was it someone here at TNT? Was it related to the computer being mysteriously sent 5 hours in the wrong direction? Was it just too tempting sitting there at TNT's depot while I was away? Was it my deliver guy?

So Apple gets back to me later that night...I'm going out of my mind. Its been escalated to Apple's theft investigation team and meanwhile she already had placed a new order for the same machine to be sent to me right away. I can't believe this, what a relief! She was very apologetic and said she would be in contact with me the entire way through this to make sure this one got to me safely. Ok so if it hadn't already, this was fast becoming the single most difficult purchase I've ever made in my life. It could have been much much worse depending on how Apple was going to handle this theft. I've had things stolen before but never before they were even in my hands. I swear buying our condo was an easier process than this was turning out to be.

So after waiting another week, I get a call from Apple that its on a truck on on it's way and sure enough there's another knock on my door. There it is again, the brown box. This time I hold it before signing. Its heavier, much like Metallica's latest effort. I still don't trust it. I place it on the table almost afraid to look. I open it. Light burst forth. Angels sing. Its not a Cardboard Pro afterall, its a computer! 2.53ghz of raw goodness! A screaming hard drive and is loaded with RAM. I boot it up and its beautiful...for now. Click here for pictures of the theft evidence and the replacement machine. My rep at Apple calls me up again that afternoon to confirm it made it here alright and I'm happy with it. Hellyeah! She was also so nice to offer me a gift for my troubles and sends me out a wireless bluetooth mouse, very nice! 

I've got to say, throughout all my troubles here, Apple's customer service has been top notch = A+! I've never experienced such good quality customer service. Even if the problems weren't their fault they took responsibility and ensured that I was happy with the results. They were communicative and treated me with respect throughout. Not once did they ever insinuate that I was connected to this theft in any way whatsoever. Even if they had I could have understood that. Compare that with the customer service Stephanie and Jacquie received at the Thai House in Metrotown where they found several flies in their food. In the end the manager accused them of planting the flies to get a free meal or something. To make up for it he offered them a bowl of ice cream! Fail. But I digress, I decided to name the new computer Murphy after everything that has gone wrong in this tantric process of a purchase. Perhaps I was just tempting the Gods because in an ironic twist of fate (remember how I said I was unsure of the previous model due to faulty graphics?) after one week of normal use the graphics goes on the fritz. *deep breath*

I then call AppleCare and go over everything with a tech, I can either take it in to the Apple Store in Sydney for diagnostics/repair or since its so new I can just return it and have a replacement sent out. Now this machine was otherwise perfect in every way so no way in Hell that I'm going to give it up and risk other problems after all I've been through and also don't want to be waiting yet again for another shipment. Off to Sydney I go. Yep, needs a new motherboard so I leave it there for a few days to have this problem fixed. Oh they need to order the motherboard so its going to be a bit longer, ok. So back in to Sydney I go to pick up my hopefully now perfect computer. Would you believe, not only was the problem not fixed but it actually seemed to now be worse?!? Calls were made from the Genius bar to Apple Care then my prior customer services rep got on the phone and yes a replacement machine was now going to be ordered. Wow. This time I kept the faulty machine to use until the new one arrived which was acceptable by me. The amazing thing about all this is I've been using Macs since '96 and never once have I ever had to get a single repair done let alone anything like this. I suppose I was due. Was this order jinxed from the get-go? Do I dare name the new one Murphy II? Apple has now sent me that original protective sleeve I canceled before our trip. All these discounts and gifts are very generous and and appreciated but all I want is resolution. Tolkien couldn't write this stuff, oh wait yes he could!

Less than a week later there's yet another knock on the door. Its TNT with a brown box. I'm typing on this new machine now and can only hope three times the charm...well four if we count the original unit that got left behind in Canada last August. Amazing, it took all the way until December to get this thing sorted out. Well December here has the same sort of weather as August back home so its all a blur. Ya nothing seems to come the easy way for me but it usually works out in the end so I can live with that. Life of Brian.

Now to start recording some new music...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A change of scenery

For this last week Brian & I have been Sydneyites (Sydneyers? Randwickians?). We’ve been staying in the area of Randwick, house-sitting for a colleague while she’s in chilly Scotland for Christmas. Right now Randwick feels rather geographically close to heaven. It’s a 20 minute walk to Bondi Junction & an 8 minute train ride to work. I can leave the front door at 8 am & leisurely make it to work well before 9 am, including a stop for an insanely chocolatey hot chocolate at the Lindt cafĂ©/store outside of the Martin Place Station. *sigh* I cannot sufficiently express how much I appreciate not having to do The Commute. Although to be completely honest, I have fallen way behind on my reading, but it seems a very miniscule sacrifice indeed.
The best part of this stay though for me has been that we are not only sitting a house ,we’ve got ourselves a dog too! Ohmigosh … how much do I miss the demands for food & affection, the slobbery tennis balls, muddy/ soaking wet running shoes & bad breath? … wow, so much actually!

Rosa is a 4 year old black lab. She went through the seeing eye dog training from a puppy, but unfortunately, she wasn’t academically inclined. She didn’t make the cut in the end, perhaps due to her complete devotion to her stomach & things she can put in it & ways she can get at things she can put in it, etc. She is a wonderful companion dog to my co-worker’s daughter though. She’s very gentle, obedient & loves belly rubs more than any other dog I’ve ever met.

Another cool thing about Randwick is that it’s even closer to beautiful beaches than where we are up on the Central Coast. Of course, there is no free parking & the beaches are all super-busy (Yes, I said free parking! We’ve never paid to go to a Central Coast beach. Can you imagine parking directly in front of a heavenly beach … for free?!? Well, we were shocked anyway, that does not happen in the Lower Mainland … or perhaps anywhere in North America now) Rosa’s favourite beach is Clovelly (rhymes with belly, nice symmetry). There’s an off-leash park there next to a tidal rock pool where she can fling herself into the ocean after her beloved tennis ball. It’s an 8 minute drive from the house.

A bit north of there is Bronte Beach (about a 10 minute drive). We parked there on Saturday & were going to do the walk from Bronte beach to Tamarama & then Bondi. Dogs aren’t allowed on the beach but there’s a nice high sidewalk that connects them all, with a great view from above. It actually turned out to be quite hot (low 30s), so we only made it to just past Tamarama when we ran across a bunch of dogs splashing around in more tidal pools at Mackenzie’s Bay. Lots of fun was had by all.

We walked back to Bronte & went to one of the many cute outdoor cafes across from the beach. We got a table outside, with Rosa tucked beside Brian’s chair & had a lovely ve getarian lunch. Well, Rosa was tucked under until the food came & then she rested her head beseechingly on Brian’s leg for the rest of the meal. I’m sure we’ll get the drool out of his shorts eventually.

Oh, totally as a side note, every beach we went to in Sydney this weekend had at least one topless woman tanning. These were young ladies as well, not the swarthy European women of advanced age, smoking & hacking their way across the beaches of Cancun. Brian quite enjoyed the scenery, if rather more circumspectly than the Aussie blokes (these dudes stare with quite a bit less subtlety than Canadian men … I don’t know how they aren’t all suffering from whiplash)
Anyway, I was kind of sad we never made it to Bondi that day. It was to be a bit of a scouting mission. I wanted to check out the famous Bondi Beach before attempting a surf there. Where to park? Where are the best waves? Will I be the worst surfer there? Etc. However, I was wide awake on this sunny Sunday morning & after taking Rosa for an hour long walk in Queen’s Park (also nice symmetry … oh, for those who don’t know we live across from a Queen’s Park at home in New Westminster), I decided to harass Brian into driving me to Bondi with my board. I figured at 8:30 am on a Sunday people would be either getting ready for church or sleeping off a hangover (which I myself had intimate knowledge of from my staff Christmas party on Friday night … but that’s a whole other blog entry). We zipped down (15 minute drive) & were able to find parking (not cheaply I might add) & made our way down to the beach. The waves were OK, not too big & quite steady, even though it was a bit windy. I just stood there & watched a group of about 20 surfers riding the waves. Oh dear, they look pretty good. They’re all over the sandbar where the waves are breaking. There are even more surfers over at the south end of the beach, but too close to the rocks for me. Back to the surfers in the middle, acck, I’m intimidated, oof … look at those 2 guys crash into each other fighting for a wave. I don’t think I’m ready for this. After some gentle prodding from Brian (& many of you may know how gentle Brian’s prodding can be when he decides you should do something …), I decided maybe I could work up my courage by walking the beach.
I walked from the south end with the still drinking groups of backpackers, the sparring kick boxers & the shirtless & shiny-chested young male soccer team jogging purposefully. Then to the north end, with perhaps 200 screaming nippers. I think I’ve mentioned before that Surf Lifesaving is a family activity & they start them young. The kids doing the training (racing on the beach, swimming & paddling, etc.) are called nippers. I guess Sunday was a swarm day.
By the time I got back to our towel somewhere in the middle of the beach, I took a deep breath, put on my wetsuit & picked up my board. OK, here we go. The water’s beautiful & almost more green than blue & quite warm. I jump on my board & start paddling to the edge of the crowd. There are flags set up where people are supposed to swim & there’s no surfboards allowed. I can squeeze in to the outside of the flags & still be on the edge of the group of surfers.
Oh, it’s lovely out here. I love being on the water. Here comes a wave … hah, I caught it … didn’t even try to stand, but fun nonetheless. Dude, I’m surfing at Bondi … I can tick that off my list! I caught a few more waves. Once during the surf one of the crowd meandered over my way … as I’m riding high (on my belly still) another board comes careening towards me. I start to say I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry etc. when I realize the dude is on his belly too & he’s coming right at me, with no control … he’s worse than me … HEY … get the hell out of MY way, I was here first … you should be the sorry one, punk … as I steer my board to the right, out of his way. Er … ahem, I can see how people can get aggressive out there.
Anyway, the swell started to go down a bit after about 40 minutes with long breaks between breaking waves & the wind picked up, so it was time to go in. Brian, brian, brian, wake up …I surfed at Bondi … woo hoo, OK well I didn’t stand, but when we come back in January, I definitely will … time for a huge breakfast!
After we ate & went home to change, we caught the train downtown & spent the afternoon at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the Rocks in Sydney … very cool. Then we had a nice dinner & trained it back home in time to pick up Rosa for an outdoor movie in Centennial Park. This is a huge park in the middle of Sydney, almost like Central Park in New York or Stanley Park in Vancouver. It’s a 2 minute drive from where we were staying, but took another 10 minutes to find the movie screen in the park. We laid out our blanket (Brian also rented this super comfy beanbag bed to lounge on) & spread out the picnic of peanut M&Ms, popcorn, chips & TimTams (with the health conscious bottle of water, of course) & laid back & watched Pineapple Express (funny movie, if you’re interested). I was pretty proud of myself for laying on a blanket in the dark with all the usual creepy crawlies on the ground & the bats overhead … I barely even noticed … perhaps I’m turning Aussie after all this time. Rosa only barked once during the gunfire portion of the movie, but copious amounts of belly rubbing settled her down. Then home & in bed for 11. Nice day overall … city living is pretty cool.
We’re heading back to Narara today *sigh* as someone else is paying to stay at the place over Christmas, but we’ll be going back to Sydney for 2 weeks in January. Look out Bondi … standing in ’09 … yeah …!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lesson learned

Australian Lesson # 3,482:

When eating pizza in the dark while watching a movie on TV, don't assume that the olive-shaped item on your shirt has fallen from the slice you're holding ... it actually may have flown in from another location all together.

Australian Lesson # 3, 483:

Always keep mouthwash handy for accidental beetle chewing incidents.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Best.Surf.Ever ... (or best yet anyway!)

This morning was awesome ... your first time always is .. right!?!
I stood up on my surfboard ... woo hoo!
I had a lesson at 10 am at Umina beach (fyi, pronounced you-mine-ah).
My instructor Kelly had given me a surfboard to try a of week or so ago with the idea that I'd buy it. It's a 7'6'' foam and epoxy board & it's purple, so very girlie & cute. It's a bit beat up as it's used, but it rides nice & light in the water. I'd been out twice with it & sort of went "meh" ... I was just as bad on it as the 8 ft I was borrowing for lessons, so maybe I'll get it.
Last Wednesday (extra day off after our trip to Brisbane), I tried it out for an hour or so at Umina & the surf was almost totally flat. I got a lot of paddling practice, but I didn't catch a single worthwhile wave. As I was leaving I passed a group of school kids coming down to the beach & overheard this one little kid pipe up "Oh, those waves are crap!" Wiser words have never been spoken young surfer dude.
Then on Sunday I met the WowGirls (a group of women I've joined who gets together & surfs ... oh & also bellydances, drums, kayaaks & yogas, etc ... an all-around very cool group of people) at Shelly Beach. It was brutal. It was a full moon high tide, ie. very high & the wind was blowing straight into the beach. The waves were breaking right at the beach & there was tons of them & they were huge. I was thrown up on the beach so many times I was carrying perhaps a pound of sand in my wetsuit & about half a pound in my left eye. Again, not a great test of the board, except to find out that it can sure take a beating.
But today ... I was like Goldilocks ... it was just right!
The waves were big enough to be challenging & small enough to be managable even by a spazz like me. They came in groups, so if you missed one you could catch one of the next ones & with short flat time in between the wave groups to paddle back out. They also broke well before shore ... overall, sweet. I got up on the second wave I caught ... granted I looked like Kermit the frog when he announced guests on the Muppet Show ... you remember, flippers in the air waving around, skinny legs juking, mouth wide open ... well, that was me. Standing up sure helps control the wipeouts, you just kick the board out front when you lose the wave & then fall back or to the side. Beyond the intense saltwater sinus flush, it's a good way to go.
I ended up staying for another hour and a bit after the class with a couple of the women in my group. We couldn't stop ... it was too good, despite the raw knees & elbows ( I really should have bought a full wetsuit instead of a shortie). I probably would have stayed out a good deal longer but my board decided to show me how sharp it's fins could be. Somehow I fell forward off a wave & my board got behind me & sliced my big toe as it sailed by. Actually, it was more potato peeler than cheese grater so it was quick & clean. Despite the stinging pain ... Yesss! ... my first surfing injury! So big smiles as I limped over to Brian on the beach.
We then got to meet the lifeguards as we asked to borrow a bandage. Most of the lifesavers here are volunteers & set up like a family day at the beach, including picnic baskets & their kids, etc. They were pretty bored at the time, so three of them attended to me & laughed at the silly Canadian with the goofy grin stuck on her face. Their kids were all oohing & ahhing over the blood as it was being washed off. I made so many people happy today. No stitches required even, who could ask for more!?!
Oh, needless to say, I now own my own board, so I will be terrrorizing the beaches up and down the Central Coast from this day forward.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


On Saturday (November 15th) I woke up early and realized I had to finish reading a book as it was due at the Gosford Public Library & I couldn’t renew it as someone had a hold on it. Oh, I felt so powerless having no public librarian pull at all … Anyway, after speed-reading one third of one of those huge fantasy door-stoppers and picking up major plot points, snippets of dialogue & absolutely no scenery or descriptive prose, I was ready to trot down to return my book.
It was a nice day & Brian was up for a walk so we headed out. Partway down Showground Road a car came towards us that was notable. It was covered with lights, garlands & writing. It also had a floppy ragdoll Santa Claus precariously perched on the top of the windshield. The driver gave us a wave as they drove by & we waved back thinking … hmmm … interesting … they were awfully excited about the holiday a month and a half away & do we know them!?!
We continued towards town & as we got closer we saw a couple of people wearing matching clothes & carrying instruments. There often are events in the centre of Gosford on the weekend so we assumed a band had shown up to play for something or other. Then we saw a few more people also carrying instruments and wearing different colours. Then we saw a whole group of people carrying instruments & wearing complete Asian headdresses & costumes. One person handed us a Falun Gong pamphlet (a block after the Jesus pamphlet guy got us), so perhaps the costumes were Chinese, but they looked kind of Thai or Indonesian with the intricate & ornate headdresses. It was like being in a musical version of the Warriors … all the gangs were out, dressed in their colours, packing tubas and ready to rumble.
Finally, we got to centre of town & our questions were answered … it was the end of the Gosford Santa Claus parade & we were entering the surreal. There was a big stage set up and there was quite a line-up presented. First there was the local Town Crier dressed in full on Ye Old English wear. Next to him was Santa Claus visibly suffering in the humidity. Then there were 3 or 4 more of the elaborately costumed Falun Gong supporters. Peering from behind them was what I thought was a large blue bulb of garlic, but Brian supposed it was a creepy drop of water. For a mascot, he actually had a bit of a sinister look about him as he scanned the crowd from behind the line of peaky gold headgear. We actually saw the blue lump on the ground later with a sweaty young man wearing bright blue tights sprawled out beside it. We asked him what he represented & it turns out Brian was right, he was Whizzy the Waterdrop. Water conservation is a pretty big deal here, so he was there to browbeat the public into turning off their taps. Well, I was sold.
Here’s a picture of Whizzy in better days.

I’m not quite sure what contributed to his decline, but the change was quite remarkable. The Whizzy we saw that morning had developed an over-bite with large, elongated front teeth, his eyebrows were bushier & closer together thereby increasing the intensity of his gaze quite a bit & he was much faded in colouring. Quite sad really … perhaps a doomed affair, leading to depression & a few lost years at the bottom of a bottle? Who can tell?
Oh, there was also a full marching band playing while a large koala mascot in a Santa hat was dancing around.
It was all a bit much to come across by chance. As we walked around a bit I spied … nooo … they are packing up the outdoor griddles … we missed a pancake breakfast! Argh … will there ever be any other outdoor breakfast event I enjoy more? Never! We did scoop up some left-over free juice boxes though.
We decided then to head to the library & have some lunch at a nearby cafe. By the time we finished lunch, the town square was virtually empty. If the bouncy castle had not still been set up it would seem to be just a humidity-induced hallucination. So this is Christmas in Australia so far … interesting!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sydney @ night

The other night Brian & I were able to do a couple of distinctly Sydney-esque activities & it was kinda fun. A little background first …
I work in a very central place in downtown Sydney (or Sydney CBD as it’s called … oh, central business district … Aussies love their nicknames but also their acronyms). Our next door neighbour is Parliament House, which is the state legislature. All sorts of interesting things go on there. Quite often there are protests & rallies, etc. and there can be packs of reporters milling around when interesting things happen. I’ve found Australian politics to be quite interesting, particularly lately.
Soon after I started working here the premier had to step down over a privitization scheme, which brought the hordes of reporters to the sidewalk in front of our buildings, so it kind of caught my radar. Three days after the new premier came into power there was a bit of a scandal in his party to shake things up a bit again.
This is perhaps one of the funnier incidents of political shenanigans I have ever heard about. Brian almost choked on his chai latte while reading about this one in the local coffee shop. Here is a link, but be warned it’s a bit graphic, as they don’t hold much back here journalistically speaking, but it is also frickin’ hilarious!,22049,24327251-5001021,00.html

For those of you who read it … comparatively, Canadian politicians are a bit boring … no!?!

So anyway, my interest in politics peaked & wanting to get to know my neighbours a bit better, I signed Brian & I up for this class called “A little night sitting” from 5 - 7 pm. It was an intro to the New South Wales political system, including a tour of the Upper & Lower house (they have 2, kind of like Parliament & the Senate in Ottawa), a Q& A with a couple of politicians & a tasty selection of biscuits (cookies, in Canadian).
The talk on the political system was a bit dry, but it is interesting to note that when Australians vote they don’t just tick off one person, they can rate the candidates, i.e. You put a 1 by the lesser of two evils, a 2 by the more evil of 2 evils & a 3 by the guy with the nose hair, etc. I can’t imagine how long it takes to count the votes as it’s not just who has the most votes, but who has the highest ratings. Oh, & also you have to vote or pay a fine … it’s mandatory! Everyone over 18 is registered to vote & if you don’t, you have to pay. Interesting idea …
We then went over the Upper House, as they were in session. They were discussing some legislation to do with fences. “Hedge rage” was mentioned & Robert Frost was quoted (good fences make good neighbours … or something like that), so it was kind of interesting. Then we went over to the Lower House where they were discussing adoption legislation in a much drier way.
After that we got to ask a couple of politicians questions. One of the guys was a back bencher in the opposition so he had many snarky comments about the government … it seemed a bit petty after a while actually ... so that was familiar politically anyway.

We wrapped up with a raid on the remaining cookies & Brian & I headed over to Hyde Park where they were having a Night Noodle market. They had all sorts of booths set up with different types of Asian cuisine. They had big lanterns & lights in the trees, wandering drums & a Chinese dragon. It was packed, but we were able to find a couple of free chairs to enjoy our Thai noodles & a Himalayan plate of noodley goodness. There was an organic ice cream booth that we visited too … fig, honey & pistachio ice cream rocks, by the way!

All in all a good evening … There is always something going on in the city & quite often I’m tempted, but then think … ugh, that means a later train, late getting home & I have to work early again the next day, bitch, bitch, etc, etc… It’s good that Brian makes the trip out for these things or I probably would talk myself out of them. It’s actually made me think about how little of this stuff I do when I’m home in Canada. There’s always stuff going on in Vancouver, but I always have a million excuses why I never go … perhaps this will change when I get back!?! I hope so …

Friday, October 10, 2008

A little homesick

A couple of weeks ago a co-worker of mine asked me if I was homesick. I actually had to think about it for a second ... um, actually, no. There was no time to think about home, too many new things taking my time & brainpower. I asked Brian the same question & he felt the same way.
Perhaps it's that we're settling in a bit or we just missed a few major events at home, but it's kind of hitting me now ... there's some people I really miss.
On October 2nd it was Brian's Mom's birthday. I happen to be pretty lucky in the mother-in-law department. Marie is the peace keeper, the wisdom & the heart of the family. Hopefully, you had a good birthday ... we miss you & love you lots!
In an interesting coincidence my sister's husband also celebrates his birthday on the same day. He's up in chilly Flin Flon right now ... loving every minute of it though, no doubt. Happy birthday Brent ... hope you had a good one too!
On October 9th it was a very special day for our favourite 3 year-old (Wow, I can't believe he's 3 already!). A giant Happy Birthday to the big little man Dylan. For those of you who haven't met our nephew (Brian's sister's son) he is a firecracker ! He has an infectious smile and endless energy. It is impossible not to jump up & do some Happy Feet with him when he gets going. His last two birthday parties were at a place called Wonderland in Abbotsford. They have rides & games & all sorts of flashing lights & noise, etc ... talk about kiddie Nirvana. We will certainly miss this year's party & watching Dylan tearing around & whooping with glee. I'd also be interested to see how much cake to face smearing will be going on ... he certainly improved from 1 to 2! Enjoy your day Dylan, we'll be thinking of you ... lots of imaginary hugs & kisses from Auntie F & Unca Brian!
Also & this one really got me ... we got a letter in the mail from the wonderful couple looking after our bulldog, Mojah. It included some pictures ... *sigh* Oh, we miss that silly girl so much!

Friday, October 3, 2008

My hero!

Be prepared for a frightening adventure tale ... one with thrills, chills & as always, an embarrassing moment or two!
It all started last night as I was waiting on the curb at the train station for Brian to come pick me up. If you've read previous entries, you know about The Commute. I do walk to the train station in the morning, but Brian picks me up in the car at night. I usually don't get home until around 6:50 pm, so it's dark already & I'm pretty hungry & grumpy, so a walk home is sort of off the table at that point.
Anyway, so I'm standing there waiting & looking at the time on my cell phone ... hmm ... Brian's a bit late, that's unusual (actually, that's not sarcasm, he's been pretty punctual lately). By this time most of the commuters who got off the train with me have already been picked up, however, there's still a car or 2 parked at the curb waiting. I look up after a couple of blasts of the horn to see the Berry mobile (the white station wagon that is ours to use while we're here) pull up to the end of the line of cars, angled a little out on to the road. Hmm ... As I open the door to get in I'm saying:
"Brian, you don't have to honk at the car in front of us to move, I'm getting right in ... how rude, nag, nag, etc."
Silence from the driver's side.
I start to curl myself into the passenger seat as I shut the door & I hear a quiet:
"You don't want to be in the car right now"
Now let's be honest here, for anyone who's been in a relationship for over 15 years, over 7 of those married to the other person, your first thought is ... Oh no, you farted in the car ... couldn't you have waited, *sigh*. Right!?! OK, if not, well, I guess we're just kind of gross.
Anyway, as I'm sniffing the air and thinking the car actually smells really pleasant, I look over at Brian. He has a sheen of sweat on his forehead, which isn't too odd as it was 35 degrees out earlier that day & still quite warm. However, combined with the frozen rictus of a grin, white knuckle grip on the steering wheel & the glassy-eyed gaze dead ahead I became a bit worried. I followed Brian's stare & directly in front of Brian's eyes on the windshield is the biggest spider I have ever seen in real life ...
I should stop here and mention that we have been having car/spider issues for a while now. Apparently, since spiders like warm dry spaces, cars are ideal places for spiders to live. We had spotted one or two seemingly living in the side mirrors of our car. We would see them running over the roof of the car & up and down the windows every now and then as we would be driving. My heart would skip a beat or two, but they seemed harmless through the glass. We are taking a road trip to Canberra this weekend though so we thought we'd wash the car & our hitchhikers would have to find another home, as we were sure we wouldn't be getting gas money out of them.
Back to the car, where I'm frozen with fear. I look at this gigantor of a spider & terror trickles down my spine as I realize the spider is INSIDE the car, literally having a stare down with my husband. I actually don't even remember getting out of the car as I watch Brian roll the car a little forward out of the lane of traffic, as the car in front of us moves up a bit. Honestly, I have no idea how he has the presence of mind to actually drive in this situation. Then he seemingly calmly gets out & meets me on the curb.
Brian says:" So I got the car washed today, looks nice, huh?"
Stephanie, giggles hysterically ...
B.: "Yeah, I was driving here and about a block or 2 from home He (meaning the impossibly large Huntsman "the Australian tarantula" spider, check the bottom right-hind side of the spider chart in an earlier post for a visual, currently sitting alone in our car) crawled up from the dashboard & stopped directly in front of my face ... I could see his fangs, his beady eyes ... I think he's pissed."
S.:"aack ... aack ..."
Brian:"Yeah, he's really pissed. What should we do?"
At this point there were a few commuters still standing around waiting for rides & must have thought it very odd to see two people standing, staring horrified into their car, instead of driving away to the Curry House for a well-earned Friday night dinner. To be honest, I didn't much care about them at that point ...
Not to sound boastful but I'm actually usually a pretty quick thinker. In a library school management class we took this personality test that labelled me a problem-solver & most of the time that's pretty accurate. I have to admit though, in this situation, ... nothing. Standing there giggling, while shaking my hands (as you children's librarians might put it ... shaking your sillies out) and kind of hopping up & down ... yeah, not my proudest moment. OK, deep breath ...
S. babbles: "Well, I'm not getting back in that car until He's gone ... what should we do ... hmm, we need a bowl to cover him ... I don't seem to have one in my purse, teehee, who carries a bowl in their purse, teehee ... Oh, I know ... I'll go back in the station & ask the ticket counter guy if he has something."
B., quite cool-headed, but doing his share of giggling:"Hey, there's an oil funnel oil in the car, we could use that ... do you have anything to cover the bottom of the funnel?"
S., frantically searching purse: "Yes, here's the printed instructions for our road trip tomorrow. Well, here you go ... good luck!"
We continue to stand there & stare at the car as we realize the next train has let out & more commuters are pouring out on to the street getting rides home, etc. Perfect, now there's an audience of Australians watching silly Canadians watching their car. Despite this, my brave knight Brian draws a deep breath & opens the passenger side of the car & gets in. He sits for a moment gathering courage and figuring out how to smoothly place the funnel on the window without first hitting the dashboard and alerting the spider to our conspiracy.
Brian makes his move ... I run to the front of the car to make sure the spider is indeed trapped in the funnel. He's there & if we thought he was pissed before, well, now he's downright furious. He's kind of hurling himself at the sides of the funnel & then he starts to crawl towards the hole at the top of the funnel as Brian's slipping the paper under it to cover the big opening. I can no longer watch as the sillies overtake me again & I'm flapping my hands like, er, well, someone flapping their hands. Anyway, Brian jumps out of the car asking for another piece of paper to cover the top hole. Even though there is no way that big of a spider could fit through the hole, we're both thinking perhaps his fangs could fit, or he has super-spider power & can squeeze himself through the hole (well, maybe only I was thinking that, but it seemed valid at the time).
I was able to find a small brochure for Floriade (the botanical garden show we're seeing this weekend in Canberra: ) in my purse & flung it at Brian while skipping away, unsure of the Houdini-like characteristics of this spider. Taking a moment to look sheepishly at the woman and smiling over at us, Brian walked confidently across the street to deposit our nemesis in some bushes. Quickly retrieving the funnel & papers, he ran back across the street & jumped in the car. After repeated assurance that the spider did indeed end up on the other side of the street I got in. Shaking with relief & laughter, we sped away.
S.:" I bet he's going to wait until next Tuesday when you pick me up at the station & leap under our car like Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear & follow us home"
B.: "There's actually lot of white station wagons around, I think we're safe"
S: "Let's just hope he didn't get our license plate, *phew* ... Now let's get some curry, my big brave man!"

To sum up I highly recommend spending time with your significant other in a place where all you have to rely on is each other. It won't take long for you to remember exactly why you decided to hook up in the first place. I'm pretty lucky ... I live with my very own superhero!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gangs in Australia

On our first weekend here, Brian and I took a trip to our first beach. It’s called Terrigal. It was a little cloudy and a bit cold, but the beach was lovely. It’s quite a long beach with sand like golden brown sugar (the best kind to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with, by the way). The beaches here don’t seem to collect as much debris as Vancouver beaches. There’s no driftwood & very little kelp that washes ashore, so they’re really almost pristine. We had a walk down the beach to where it ended at some rocks. We climbed over them (I only fell once on the slippery rocks … just like our first date where I fell on the rocks at English Bay in Vancouver & Brian doubling over with laughter, ah, yes, just like that … ). We came to another smaller beach called the Haven. It was where fishing & scuba diving boats came in. It was a nice sheltered area. This is where we saw the gang …

Right next to the spot where small boats were pulling ashore there were big pillars in the water with the largest pelicans I have ever seen perched on top. As we got closer the pelicans flew off the perches & landed on the beach. Moments later a small boat puttered onto the beach & disgorged a few enthusiastic sport fishermen. It turns out that is exactly what the pelicans were waiting for … We saw them slowly strutting along the beach, exuding cool confidence. I absolutely love this picture, especially the guy closest to the camera. The placement of his right foot adding an elegance to his bad-ass walk. (For some reason it reminded me of West Side Story, where you have the Sharks & the Jets … the oh-so tough gangs skipping around & using jazz-hands. ) You see their disdain for the fish carcass on the beach. They’re too cool for that … they only stop for fresh meat!

Apparently there is a filleting station on the shore & the birds perch up high & look for fishing boats to come in. They then alight on the beach & stalk over to the drain & wait for the fish blood & guts to come pouring out … yum!

It might seem silly but we got out of their way as they came along. I don’t know if you can tell the scale, but they went up to my waist in height. I’ll tell you that’s one gang I won’t be messing with!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's off to work I go ...

So far I have been thoroughly enjoying our Australia exchange. The job is rewarding & challenging, the beaches are beautiful and there are plentiful supplies of Tim Tams, etc .... The only downside is The Commute. Yes, it gets it's own title as it is such a major part of my life now, one I'm not really used to & don't think I ever will be. I take a train from Gosford, on the lovely Central Coast in to downtown Sydney every day, five days a week. The train takes an hour and a half each way. I am basically sitting in one spot for 3 hours every day. For those who know how slothful I can be (for those who don't ... well, I am pretty lazy!), you might think this would be a wonderful, relaxing time ... not so!
You're packed in beside at least one person (I always try & get the 2-seater, but sometimes have to settle for the 3 seats in a row, which is one of Dante's levels of Hell if you're the person stuck in the middle) & if you're lucky your neighbour's not a giant, wearing too much perfume/cologne, or fallen asleep & snoring loudly. If you're not lucky they're all 3, on both sides!
I've actually taken up reading on the train, which is kind of awesome, as I haven't had this much time to read every day since I was a kid. I do still get a bit of motion-sickness though & have to set the book down at every station due to the braking/swaying thing.
One other part of my commute is also good & bad. I actually have to get to the Gosford train station from my house. I can pay $1.80 & take a 5 minute bus ride (not news to most people who know me, but ... I'm as cheap as I am lazy), of course that's too much money. So I walk to the station every day, which takes me anywhere from 25-30 minutes, depending how distracted I get on the way. This means I usually get up around 5:15 to be ready to leave the house by 6:15 to catch the 6:49 train, so I can be at work before 9. Yes, all of those times are in the a.m. It is actually worth taking the extra time for the walk though. It is quite peaceful & quiet & a nice breath of fresh air before the train ride. Below is a little picture journal of a trip to work ... I believe these pics were taken on a Friday in early September.

Here is our Australian home, i.e. the Berry residence. You may notice the curtains on the right indicate the boys great love of Star Wars, pretty cute. You may also notice behind the white curtains on the left, that if you listen very carefully you can hear the oh-so gentle snoring of Brian catching up on about 20 years of little to no sleep (oh, being able to hear Brian snoring is a joke, there is no audio attached, but trust me there IS snoring going on!).

Here is where I take a right turn & head down our street, Maliwa Road, kinda pretty actually.

At the corner of Maliwa & Showground Road there's a marker on the side of the road. We thought it was perhaps a helpful marker for growing children. It's actually there so you can measure how much trouble you are in when the road floods.

Here is the Narara Creek (I think), I walk over it on a bridge. It's really pretty when it's not all scary & floody, etc.

Here is Showground Road with really nice hills covered in trees in the background. They look so beautiful, but apparently are where all the snakes & spiders come from, so are actually quite evil really.

Further up Showground is a bit of an industrial area. I can't really say why I love "Dicker Motors Smash Repair", but I do. There is something much more endearing about the word smash, rather than crash, which seems dissonant to me.

Well, my goodness, who wouldn't want to live a 15 minute walk from a dog track!

Ok, here's the train station ...

My train is listed on the 3rd panel on the right, the one to Central. I get off at Wynyard station. If you look close though it also says my train is due out in 3 minutes ... oops, I better get through the turnstile & down the stairs ...

Yay ... there's my train ... plenty of time!

The train ride is the train ride ... as it is, as it ever was .... *sigh* ... no pictures, too sad ...

Here's the first sight as I get off at Wynyard station, a little known coffee shop, um, I think It's called Starbucks, if I remember correctly.

I walk up Hunter Street for a few blocks, between 10 & 15 minutes, depending on lights. Here's my library on the right.

There is a cafe attached to the State Library called Cafe Trim. Interesting name, I even had a little Beavis & Butthead giggle when I first heard it. But apparently everyone here knows that Trim was the name of Captain Cook's cat. There's even a little statue of Trim on the outside of the Mitchell Library next door. (Oops, it turns out that everyone but me knows that Trim the cat actually belonged to Matthew Flinders, who circumnavigated Australia with him.)Anyway, I go there a couple times a week when I need a green tea ... we get an employee discount!

Here is the front door. I just flash my security pass to the guard & I'm in.

Now entering the lobby. There's a very colourful tapestry hanging on the wall on the left, but I couldn't seem to get an unblurry picture of it ... maybe it's too vibrant ... teehee.
I take the stairs on the right past the desk down to the reading room & off to work I go ...