Saturday, October 25, 2008


The cats finally came home yesterday. Eric and I were there early, first in line to pick them up, despite a small delay. At 9:15 am, we were stopped for a random breathalyzer. Eric says this routinely occurs on his commute to work. You know you live in a country of alcholics when they stop you at 9:15 am and ask the question, "Have you had a drink in the last 15 minutes?"

Anyway, the cats spent yesterday settling in. Leroy made periodic juants out from under the bed, and both cats checked out the balcony. I'm trying to figure out if they can be trusted out there without leaping to their deaths. They have been through some recent trauma.
Last night, Eric and I met up with Anna and Reza and Stefanie and Jake at a Russian restaurant. Anna ordered some amazing appetizers (called entrees here), and vodka was consumed. It was a really good time, but now we're up and trying to get on the road out to Bondi for the Sculpture Walk with some friends, hopefully followed by brunch. My brain hurts. Now I know why Anna can consume so much alchohol and not feel hungover -- it must be the Russianness.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I did my first mini-biathalon tonight: 4 km run followed by a 300 m swim. Despite having awful weather, including unseasonably cool temperatures and rain, it was really enjoyable. As the stragglers at the rear, Kate and I met up with a Canadian girl who was also moderately lost and spent the race with her. We finished around 29 minutes, 2 minutes of which was spent convincing myself that my heart hadn't stopped when I jumped into the icy pool. Races are every Thursday evening for the next 20 weeks, and next week begins the free drinks and nibblies after the race. Everyone I talked to tonight was super friendly, so the social hour should be another good way to meet people.

As Kate and I were walking to the train station through The Domain, we saw the influx of bats from the Harbour that I've read about. It was just at dusk, and I happened to look up to see hundreds, maybe thousands, of huge bats flying overhead. Freaking awesome.

After I dropped Kate at Martin Place to catch her train, I continued on to Wynyard. Just in April I walked from Martin Place to Wynyard at about the same time in the evening, but I was a bit lost and a little scared that I wouldn't find my way. Now I'm confidently striding about Sydney CBD taking a look in a shop window here and there. It's almost inconceivable that that was just over 6 months ago, when Eric and I hadn't even started packing.

Some new vocab for you: Cossie is short for swimming costume, which is what Aussies and Brits typically call a bathing suit. When I was instructed via email to race with a cossie under my shorts, I wasn't sure if that was some kind of rocket or what. And to rock up somewhere is to turn up there, as in, "I'm going to rock up to work around 10 am tomorrow after boot camp." Kate thought it was an American saying, which is funny. Apparently it was a really hip saying 7 or 8 years ago in Britain and Australia, but you still hear it multiple times a day.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sometimes I can't believe we live here...

Friday morning before work I went for a swim in one of the public pools in The Domain, a large park in downtown Sydney. It’s a heated outdoor saltwater pool overlooking the harbour. After a lovely swim, I walked to work through the Botanical Gardens and past the Opera House. I mean, seriously.

On Sunday, Eric and I did the Spit Bridge to Manly walk. It's about 9.5 km and skirts the edges of two peninsulas that overlook Sydney Harbour. Sometimes you're walking along the beach, sometimes you're hiking along a high cliff, and sometimes you're meandering through the bush. We saw giant lizards and tropical birds, as well more of the mysterious tree-bound dirt mounds that we saw in the Royal National Park. We're going to have to figure out what those are and how they stay aloft. When we got to the Manly end of the trail, we walked along the beach for a while and watched the surfers brave the cold water. Now we're looking into surf schools...

Sunday night, Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister, had a roundtable with random citizens, allowing them to ask unscripted questions about the economy. Since the current "crisis" began, he's been on television every night taking really tough questions from the reporters who aren't afraid to express the hostility and fear that many people feel right now. Eric and I are astounded with his accessibility and don't think the Australians even realise how unusual this is to some of us -- they just expect their elected officials to be directly accountable to them. I can't remember any US president, and certainly not the current one, opening himself up for regular television grilling.

Yesterday I stopped into the clinic near my office to make an appointment for an exam. In the US, I typically had to make an apppointment 4-6 weeks in advance. When the receptionist asked whether tomorrow morning or afternoon would be better, I almost fell over. I guess the people who say that universal health care would cause people to have to wait forever to get an appointment might be off! As usual, the Australians were amused by my surprise. They all think our health care system borders on barbaric anyway.

Last night was our second trapeze class. We now know three tricks: birdsnest, half angel, and mermaid. Today the tops of my feet are raw from wrapping them around the ropes. Don't let the clowns fool you -- circus work is hard!

At least we're building up the calluses, because tonight we're finally headed climbing for the first time in many months. Our local climbing gym is the largest in Australia with over 100 top ropes and 250 routes: I can't wait!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Grandma Bessie

When we visited Grandma Bessie in July, she made it clear that she felt like she'd done enough in this world and was ready to move on. I would say that she was right about having done enough, from freezing to a mule in Northern Minnesota to moving to Colorado with her mother and (gasp!) boyfriend, Franklin, during WWII to marrying that boyfriend (phew!) and building a home and a family with him on top of a hill in Wenatchee, Washington. She never stopped going. When we visited her this summer she was still volunteering at an old folks home, a category in which she never placed herself, even in her 80s, and running up ladders to trim trees or fix window blinds.
The first time I visited Grandma Bessie was just a few months after Eric and I started dating. She picked us a giant box of apricots and baked us a big bag of chocolate chip cookies to take on the drive home with us. During our drive to Yellowstone the next day, Eric and I ate nothing but apricots and cookies -- the first time I've ever had as many apricots as I wanted. What a treat!
When we got home, I sent her some pictures from our visit since her most recent picture of Eric had been his high school graduation photo from six years before. She wrote back, signing her name "Eric's Grandma Bessie." I think she wanted to be clear that while she thought I was a nice girl, I'd have to earn my way into the family. I knew I'd made it when one of the long letters she wrote us closed with, "Love to you both, Grandma Bessie." She wrote us a lot of nice, long letters, and every one was a treat to read...even the ones where she harassed us about having moved to Minnesota, a state she was glad to escape.
Although she was always concerned about her figure, Grandma Bessie seemed intent on ruining ours. Every Christmas, we received the most tremendous box of goodies you can imagine. Seriously, our freezer was full of baked goods to last us through Easter at least each year. Every time we went to visit, she made us amazing meals, all involving large quantities of butter. I'm still not impressed with liver, though...but she knew Eric loved it, and she loved Eric A LOT.
This is the first major family event we've missed because we're living on the other side of the world. We're probably going to miss a lot of weddings, funerals, births, and graduations over the next few years, so I guess this feeling of separation is something we'll have to get used to . That being said, I don't think anyone was excited about our move as we travelled around this summer as Grandma Bessie was. She loved to see new places, and she loved that we were off on an adventure.
There are just some people who you feel lucky to have known, and I think one of the little gifts I got from being with Eric was being adopted by Grandma Bessie. I never felt happier than when sitting on her porch staring out across the valley, listening to tell stories about the farm or building the house or driving through Alaska. I'm really sad that I won't get to visit her again, but when she told us she was ready to go this summer, I don't know why we wouldn't have assumed she'd get her way. She generally did.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Giant horse projections, oh my!

Last night was the opening gala for the horse installation in Erskineville, including horse and cart rides, booths about the history of horses in our village, and giant horse projections. Friends gathered at our house prior to the big event for champagne and nibblies, intrigued primarily by the opportunity to learn what giant horse projections might be. I mean, this was advertised as a family event. We almost missed the event all together given that we averaged one bottle of champagne consumed per person. It was really cool to see all of the different ways people made their horses. One person made a seahorse, which I thought was pretty clever. In terms of artistic ability, the horses ranged from "I beat this lump of clay with a hammer" to "I'm a professional artist." I'd say mine was at the 70th percentile. The evening as a whole was pure 90th percentile -- we had such a great time with everyone, and since people were still here at 2am, I'd assume they had a good time as well!

In other news of the bizarre, there are two circus schools within 2 km of our house. We definitely live in the coolest village in Sydney! Eric and I start flying trapeze school tomorrow. At the end of our nine-week course, we're expected to be able to create a routine and perform it in a show. Eric is winging a bit about the show; I think he's going to feign an allergy to lycra. Anyway, PreVisor had better be nice to me as I'll soon have a whole new set of marketable skills.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mom, what's a bogan?

We had a very nice Labour Day camping trip, even though it rained considerably more than it was sunny. Our new tent stood up to the test, though. Our companions were all British, so it certainly didn't phase them. We even learned a new word: Bogan. This is Australian for Redneck, and there were plenty of examples riding mini-motobikes sporting mullets around the campground. Oh, and a "campground" here is basically someone's oversized backyard in the bush. Not quite what we're used to, but still somewhere to sit around a fire drinking beer.
Everything outdoors here is called "the bush." The Southern Highlands, the particular section of bush we visited, was lovely. Lots of smallish mountains covered in green meadows and gum (eucalyptus) trees. Most trees here are some variety of gum tree. They don't grow very close together, and their leaves are a kind of mossy green instead of the leafy green we're used to.
The first morning, Eric and I went for a stumble and came upon a large number of kangaroos - my first sighting of Australian wildlife outside of Taronga Zoo. They are everywhere, particularly in the morning and at dusk, essentially the Australian equivalent of deer. As wild animals, the are a little skittish, but they just hop a little ways away and then stare at you. In the picture above you can see a mom and joey, who probably couldn't get away very quickly, and a number of kangaroos hopping away in the background. These guys were smallish with fluffy ears, not the big red kangaroos that you typically see in pictures.
The gang also went further down the winding dirt road through the mountains to the Wombeyan Caves. In the picture above you can see the creepy door we had to put a token in to pass into the cave. It was a pretty standard cave, lots of bats, but it was a nice diversion from sitting under the tarp in the rain.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Two big events this week:

1. We received our nine boxes of "stuff." Now all 495 pounds of it are scattered around the house in little piles. It's like moving in all over again!

2. I visited the cats in quarantine for the first time. Leroy isn't doing very well. He didn't seem to respond to my being there at all, and he kept shaking. He seems totally distraught. He's been losing weight for the last year or so, and he's all bones now. I told his caretaker, Josh, that I was concerned that he'd be too freaked out to come out of his little hut to eat. When I called on Thursday, Josh had weighed them to make sure Leroy hadn't lost weight since coming in. I thought that was really nice of him. He's very patient with my calls, and I try not to take too much of his time...Otis, meanwhile, is still just too fat to groom his own butt. They get out 25 October, and I just want Leroy to make it long enough to be comfortable at home.

We're going camping this weekend, Labour Day, with two other couples and another guy. The last part of the drive we'll go on to get there is described here:

Sounds nice, huh? We're expecting rain, so we may do some exploration of the caves...or the vineyards. The website for the campground, which seems to be run by some very interesting people is here:

I recommend checking out the "Brian teaches horse riding" toward the bottom...We'll come back with some stories, I'm quite certain!