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.