A happy & four & 1/2-some

A happy & four & 1/2-some
Michael, Karen (Sevan) & us

Sunday, April 25, 2010

KEEP UP THE CONNECTION: I'm in the wilderness here!

I suppose my taunting you about still being in winter (last post) is going to haunt me.... It is now late fall. The falling leaves are beautiful, along with the colorful sunsets after work. But winter shortly follows. Then it is quite cold when I walk to work in the morning, and dark when I return home. And I am alone.

Yes, Nick has abandoned me again (four months in Atlanta and Saudi Arabia). He came, changed the cuisine around here, upgraded my transportation (now an old Mercedes), talked me into joining his Dragon-boating team, and basically left me with high expectations. Now life is very different; it's back to peanut butter and jelly. -Nick was complaining about no job prospects when three jobs fell in his lap, all at the same time. The two he chose are more his "thing": the overseas adventure as a contractor for the military, and teaching at Sydney's illustrious Macquarie University, part-time. Congrats Nick; too bad Kathy.

Well, back to my birthday, back in February. I really was excited to go camping. Never done that on my birthday before. It was a holiday weekend too. Alas, it was one of the rainiest weekends in seven years here in Oz. In fact it was quite a rainy late summer and everything was much greener than normal. With patience, we finally got out to go camping about a month later, only we went separately.

I went with a group of native French speakers, friends of our friend, who are now our friends; you know how it works. Naturally, it was a good test of my French skills which are weak. But I did pick up a few words here and there. (Beautiful language.) -I felt sorry for Nick, as we had the most fabulous food on the most fabulous beach imaginable. Let me describe: the caribbean (only colder water) and gourmet salads, marinated artichokes and eggplant, variety of cheeses and breads and wine (not for me, thanks). Lovely. The place is called Jervis (pronounced Jar-vis) Bay and is renown for it's beauty.

Nick was obliged to attend a "Bachelor-Backpacking" Trip. Naturally, they took whatever food they were willing to carry. Nick tried to keep things light, due to his knee problems, and feeling sorry for him, the others felt obligated to fed him their scraps. The hike was typical Australian, straight up and straight down, crossing several streams. Nick had economized on his clothing also. So on the last crossing, he decided to take off all his cloths (minus his boots and hat) to keep the few remaining clothing dry. CAN'T YOU JUST PICTURE THIS?!! (I have tears in my eyes, and am rolling with laughter as I type this.)

One last outdoors adventure, and I will head to the city, Sydney. (Trying to keep your interest.) But the highest peak on the continent cannot be ignored, Kosciuszko. (Yes, that's the way it's spelled on the map.) Knowing full well that Aussies go straight up hill, we decided to take the longer, less vertical logging road to the peak. I was rather disappointed. It was all treeless and rather boring except for an old shelter and the continent's highest toilet! (Nick, as many of you know from experience, cannot let that opportunity "pass"!) Nick headed back the same route, but my friend and I wanted to see what could be seen from the other side of the mountain. We discovered that most people doing the summit, go by way of the ski lift. That's cheating in my opinion, so we hiked below the lift. As we endeavored the decent, I could understand why the ski lift was so popular. The groomed path had individual stairs that were three feet deep! It was a real workout on the knees and I thought I'd never get down. But, again, fabulous scenery.

SYDNEY, probably the most famous city in all of Australia, yet not one of our favorites, until we stayed there for a week. Believe me, driving in Sydney is the worst. There are tolls everywhere, and without a good GPS, you get completely turned around and usually head the total opposite direction from what you intended. But, staying in the Central Business District, and relying on public transportation isn't so bad, not bad at all. Basically the bay is what makes Sydney so beautiful. Therefore any walk along the coast, or ride on a ferry, walk over a bridge, or visit to a beach is marvelous. There you are; poster-like snap shots everywhere. They also have the elegant old Queen Victoria Building, the Patty and Rocks Markets, and the beautiful Botanical Gardens with the Opera House, the crowning jewel of Sydney. We were there for business (Nick's teaching job), pleasure, and also for Nick's close friend's wedding. (Nick met Jo teaching in Cyprus and they hit it off magnificently. -Ally's from Canberra originally. She's smart, vivacious, energetic and totally down to earth.) The wedding was done to the nines. What a pleasure it was. --Imagine the most beautiful young bride, a nervous handsome groom, and a cloudy, but rainless ocean setting, and you'll have the picture. The food was out of this world, and we also met some of the most interesting people. In fact, an elderly woman, Janet, was the owner of the radio station we loved in Tassie. What a small world.

And now back to the real world. I feel like I work, work, work. But at least the time goes by so quickly. I'm so grateful to have my phone connection (Magic Jack is highly recommended) and SKIPE so I can keep connected. It's my lifeline, especially for the next four months.

Keep in touch!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The great outdoors--

A friend reminded me that I haven't added anything to my blog for a LONG time. Yes, it's been 4 months. -Didn't think you cared! So, for those of you who do care, I will try to catch up and not bore you at the same time! -A difficult task. The most interesting things to tell you must certainly be Australian in nature. But I need to throw in a little regarding family status to make some sense of it all. Otherwise, I suppose you could just read a travel book, right mate?!

As you may know Nat came to stay with us in July. He is in between college and his new career, Lieutenant in the US Army. He got a part time job at the Embassy, and I enjoyed seeing him on a different level. He and Nick abandoned me for 3 weeks and went to SE Asia. I was very jealous, but I was told they'd make it up to me! They had a great time, until they got sick on some raw eggs! That will teach them!

November, the highlight was Tasmania! We took the ferry over with our old clunker station wagon and camped around the island. We were able to circle the island and see the most beautiful spots! There are many debates about Tassie and New Zealand, and which is better. My vote is for Tassie, as that's all I've seen, but I'm content with that. The eastern ocean was a gorgeous turquoise blue, with yellow and green moss on the rocks and white sandy beaches. The center of the island had some lush green rain forests, and the tallest flowering trees, 200 feet high and about 8-10 feet in diameter. There was a most beautiful waterfall there surrounded by beautiful green ferns and mossy rocks. Then in the south, the old Penal Colony at Port Arthur was so fascinating historically, but at the same time, it was artistically located with the ruins reflecting in the deep blue inlet. Finally, Cradle Mountain National Park, the Grand Tetons of Australia. Breathtaking. -One week is too short for all this!

While we were traveling we listened to an unusual radio station. The DJs were old foggies and one lady sounded like she was loosing her dentures! We got a kick out of one song in particular. It went: "With her head tucked underneath her arm, she walked the bloody tower!" (In reference to Ann Boleyn!) We had to look it up when we got home and get a copy. It's on a CD called "Halloween Classics" in case you're interested.

We were able to fly Adri, Meridth and 3 month old grand-daughter, Uschi over for 2 weeks, early December. It was wonderful to hold, cuddle and coax smiles from that new grandchild of ours, finally! We showed them the sights of Canberra, when Uschi wasn't sleeping. Mer and Nat saw the special Impressionist art exhibit a short walk away. Adri enjoyed the view from the top of the Parliment building, snapping away with her camera . And we all loved the War Memorial (truely one the very best I've ever seen - huge with the ships and airplanes in the building surrounded by movies of the actual action.) Then we took everyone, 7 of us in that old beat-up car (and guess who got to sit in the back seat with luggage and groceries surrounding every inch of her body?!) all the way to the Gold Coast, Queensland. We had no idea it would take 17 hours, 6 of them were accented with a screaming baby, and who could blame her?! We met up with some old friends, the Dillons, who've we've kept in contact for about 40 years! They were the same fun, easy to get along with, Dillons. It was great to see them again. And at 80, John led us in our morning swim thru the ocean breakers! Lil has recovered from cancer, and certainly does very well herself. We also had a memorable walk thru the rain forest and botanical gardens up at Mount Tamborine with the cicadas serenading us along the way. Of course the time went too fast, and before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye. Nat's goodbye would follow in another month. This is tough emotionally!

Christmas came and went. Nothing more interesting to say about that. It is not the same here and seems so low-key that it's hardly noticable.

We've had a few other short trips thru some beautiful countryside: the Great Pacific Highway and Kangaroo Valley, both south of Sydney: picturesque. We went somewhere in the interior with the Young Men/Women to rappel off the cliffs (ab-sailing is what they call it here). We also swam and crawled up a river and over and thru some waterfalls. Got scraped up a bit, but worth every boo-boo. This weekend we went to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and saw IN THE WILD: a koala up a tree, wallabies, emus, a platypus, and 2 red bellied black snakes. (The lady Ranger told us they were of the most poisonous snakes in Australia. Could that mean they are the most poisonous in the world?!?) And it slithered it's way right across our path! Anyway, we saw a lot, and enjoyed all of it. I have asked Nick to take me camping or back-packing for my birthday next week. (Never had a birthday in the summer before.)

The outdoors is the greatest here! So sorry you're still in winter!!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

After you read this blog, you will probably wish you were here!

After you read this blog, you will probably wish you were here!

Nick, unemployed as he is, has taken up a serious study and practice of various cooking techniques. The past several weeks he has explored and tantalized us with his repertoire of gourmet foods.

Last weekend it was several courses of Middle Eastern food. Everything was homemade, of course. The appetizers consisted of hummus, tapinaide, coffee eggs with a cumin salt mixture, brie and crackers. (There was an attempt at homemade pita bread which has been better.) The main course consisted of various marinaded lamb and chicken pieces, Pavlov (Asian rice with currents and pistachios), Moroccan carrots (marinated in a pepper sauce), a delicious cauliflower and fennel dish, homemade bread and Greek salad. I did feel that we were eating at one of the best restaurants in town (and much cheaper, of course).

Week before was a Mexican theme, to include homemade tortillas (yummy! -never buy them if you can get Nick to cook them for you), rice, marinated flank steak and chicken, chorizo, tofu chili (not bad at all, in fact excellent), fresh salsa and guacamole, refried black beans made with lard, and homemade bread.

A while ago, Nick stated that he had the desire to learn to bake. He promptly baked wonderful breads, along with sweet rolls, bear claws, brownies, cookies, tortillas and pita breads. A few "wrinkles" needed to be worked out, but perfection is not far away.

We have been seriously considering him setting up a "dirty-water-dog" stand in the Embassy area where there is a real lack of places to eat. (The little Mexican food trucks gave us the idea!) --Unfortunate, confounded Aussie restrictions!

You may be wondering what I've been doing. I have been perfecting my ability to recover from physical challenges. We have just had two holiday weekends in a row (Aussie and US Holiday) and I spent them both challenged by my body.

-First I pulled my back out at church saving an innocent female toddler from an vicious male toddler; I had to be carried out with Nick and Nat on each arm. I didn't move for days.

I got cocky, due to my quick recovery, and the next weekend, I went roller blading around the lake. I was just 10 minutes out, going full stream, feeling so good, when I saw some problematic "P"s: pebbles and people. Just after that thought, I instantly hit a "P", learched forward mid-air for 5-7 feet and found myself flat on the cement just in front of several "P", spectators. A kindly Middle Eastern man, half my size struggled to assist me in getting up. (I was twice his height.) After several minutes rest, I assessed the damage. Only a scraped palm, I thought, and I continued on. About half way around the lake, I could feel my knee and other hand stiffen and swell. -Getting back wasn't as easy as I thought. I stumbled back to our apartment, in pain.

The next two days, I practiced the art of self-remedy: ice, hot baths, salves and bandages. My knee was scraped and puffy, the palm scraped, and most worrisome, the left wrist was swollen and red. It took Nick and friends both those days to convince me to go to the doctor and have it checked out. After 6 hours of excruciating waiting in an overcrowded waiting room, we found out it was only sprained, scraped and bruised like I thought. But Nick can now sleep easy.

So what am I doing this weekend, you might ask? Same DARN thing. Sitting and lying around trying to recover. This time it was the flu. -Haven't had it for 15 years and it's truely miserable. I think I'd rather take falling off the rollerblades....

As far as roller blading: I have determined not to let it stop me. I will be out around the lake again, soon as I can stop all this recovering. But maybe I'll look for that safely gear first.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

One of the great things we've learned to appreciate down here are the sports. I generally subscribe to the theory that lousy places to live are the best sports towns. Look at Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago as examples. The weather there is unlivable most of the year and there is not much to do but eat, drink and watch ball games. My view results from living in the West most of my life where there is plenty to do, sports-wise, besides watch other men run around a field or court. Take Los Angeles for example, where you can occupy your time for hours and hours, day or night, driving on the freeways. So little time is left that Angelinos can't hold an NFL team for any period of time. Nobody can get to the game.
Australia, as in many fields, ignores the norm. Here some mammals lay eggs and refuse to suckle their young and the winter sun wanders in the northern sky. There are many participatory sports and outdoor activities which Australians enjoy, but they love their spectator sports. There is cricket, two kinds of rugby, soccer, and an indigenous game called Australian Rules. They follow horse racing as many Americans follow their choice of religion. Seldom attended, but generally bet upon as a pathway to salvation; financial as opposed to spiritual, but what is the difference?
In my shallow analysis of this phenomenon I come up with a few thoughts. Australians love the struggle, but are uncomfortable with a long term conflict. In other words, they love the bloke who fights, despite all odds. His success in the fight is almost irrelevant. This does not mean that they do not play to win. It is that they appreciate the battle, the process, as much as they appreciate the victory, the outcome. As products of a social experience which required cooperation for survival, they are distasteful of stinginess, self-serving, long term grudges, and anything else that interferes with the common good. People who achieve too much at the expense of others are not lauded, as they are in the States, but roundly and justifiable condemned. Sports, especially team sports, fits this ideal. The team works together for the good of all. The fight is intense, but once it is over, the victors and losers celebrate the battle over beer.
Australian Rules exemplifies this. It is a home grown sport, invented to keep cricketeers in shape during the winter. Why that is necessary is another question you might ask if you've ever seen a cricket match, but we will forgo that discussion at this time. The name, Australian Rules is an oxymoron and misnomer, since only immigrants and bureaucrats are interested in rules in Australia, and the rules in Australian Rules appear to be only guidelines. The game is a great sport providing insight into Australian character. Eighteen players per side swarm the oval, which is a huge paddock of grass. During the game the players appear to be infected with a personal space disorder since they elbow and shove each other in an effort to keep the other bloke away. The game is intense, nonstop, for four quarters of officially twenty minutes each, but most quarters run as much as thirty minutes before the siren blows. Once the final siren sounds, the players pick themselves up, pull the grass out of the teeth and other gaps and shake hands all around.
This behavior is found in the most rabid fans also. Nat and I attended a game in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago. The St. Kilda Saints, who had an unbeaten record up until that point in the season, were playing the Essendon Bombers. We were right up in the rafters of Etiham Stadium. Next to us was a family of Bomber barrackers. (You don't root for a team in Oz. It has a very bad connotation). The youngest son was cheering for his team with all the emotion that only the sports-obsessed can possess. Behind us was a lone male wearing St. Kilda colors. We've all sat near someone like him. He is in his late forties. His life revolves around his team because there is nothing in his life of significance. His wife, if he is still married, or his mates, if any, do not go to the game with him because he is so obnoxious in his enthusiasm that he embarrasses anyone in his vicinity. We kept waiting for this guy and the little kid to get into a punching match, since they were so vociferous in their support. St. Kilda was defeated at the end of the game by the narrowest of margins, with the outcome of the game unsettled until the last minute. No fights after the game. The insane St. Kilda fan commented to no one that it was a good game and left the stands with a somewhat strained smile on his face.
The other thing that sport appeals to is the Australian sense of humor. This is something that requires a lot more observation and thought on my part to begin to describe it. Humor in sport is found at times in the expressions of the announcers and is quick and cutting. The praise is not faint, but it can sound damning. In a car race, one of the drivers cut across a portion of the grass infield in an effort to gain position and avoid a collision. The announcer congratulated the great agriculture work by the driver and his sponsor, John Deere. In a rugby league match, between the Parramatta Eels and the Penrith Panthers, one of the rookie players was doing an active job and involved in several key plays. The announcer, who I suspect was a fan of the opposing team, likened him to a little puppy, always chasing after the ball and annoying everyone. "You'd like to kick him," the announcer commented.
The recent Ashes cricket series between Australia and England was amazing to watch. The matches were broadcast live from England, which meant that you had to watch it from the late evening to the wee morning hours. I'd like to devote time to describing this great experience, but due to the late hour of the games and the incomprehensible nature of cricket, I haven't a clue what went on. However, the ads during the afternoon tea break and the morning drink break were great. My favorite was one by Victoria Bitter, which showed a celebratory parade of local clubs marching in a small country town under the banners of their common interest. The ad showed several groups. The best included "Men Who Claimed to Have Punched a Shark". The announcers introduced the group as "dozens of brown wetsuits." "Men Who Peaked in High School" included Paul Pasco, "forgotten but not gone," according the the announcers. "The Manscapers," were guys who used razors "where no razor has gone before." Under the banner of "Men Who Didn't Read the Instructions" were gentlemen with their arms in slings, heads wrapped in bandages, and necks in braces. The comment from the announcers was that here were men "who went in with their eyes shut, windmill punching." I think the best was "Blokes Punching Above Their Weight." The marchers were a bunch of genetically challenged guys on the arms of some very attractive women. I can identify with this group.

"Ushi" to "Kenny"

When you are complaining about the heat, just think, it’s still winter here in Australia! (Well, nearly Spring.) -I got to avoid some of the chill when I was in the states…ahhh, summer warmth! I left Nick with a bad back, and Nat (here for a long visit) acting as his nurse.
I had training in New York. Now don’t feel sorry for me, but I did feel bad I didn’t have company. NY is great! Then, thanks to my sister Tina, I decided to make several stops before heading back to Oz.
I loved seeing Meridth and Ed in San Francisco. It turned out to be only 2 weeks before she gave birth to our 1st grand-daughter, Ushi, her nick-name! (I nearly gave birth, when I nearly missed my train to SLC!) -Barely made it with 5 minutes to spare, thanks to Ed’s quick thinking. The train ride thru the Sierras was beautiful. Loved every minute of it, except arriving in Salt Lake at 3:30 AM. Thanks to a sweet brother for picking me up at that ungodly hour.
I had several reasons for going back to Salt Lake; among them, Bri, our good friend, arranged for me to get my crown done. I also had the 40th Highland High School Reunion. –What a nostalgia high! (Everyone was so friendly; no old clicks.) Had a lovely breakfast up Emigration Canyon with Ron and Sally and got to go up to our old cabin area up Provo Canyon with cousin Jenny and several old college friends. Beloved Wildwood; I feel a real connection there.
Both Tina and Allyson were recovering from major back surgery. I didn’t help much, but was glad I could see them. (Hope it’s not in the genes!)
Vacations are always too short, and I hated to go back to work. But, I had a perfect send off at LAX from my dear friends the Ablemans who drove down there just to meet me in between flights!
Don’t want to forget a visit Nick and I had a month before my trip, back in early July. It was my old high school friend, Debbie’s daughter, Whitney Blair. She was in Melbourne doing an internship, so we asked her to come up to Canberra. –She was a blast. I told her if she didn't marry my son, I would adopt her!

……If you liked “Napolian Dynamite”, we have an Australian Movie we recommend: “Kenny”. It’s a sleeper, a “B” budget movie that may surprise you with it’s touching character development. But keep in mind, it’s about a professional out-house cleaner! What could be more interesting!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"This move makes me crazy!"

Moving internationally is full of pit-falls. When we accepted the position in Canberra, Australia, we never realized all it would entail. Moving is for the birds. (Speaking of birds, the birds here in Oz are unbelievable. But that's another story.) Back to the move.

A move is like having a child, miserable when you're going thru it, but soon forgotten when the fruits of your labors occupy your time. But least we forget, we want to acknowledge all our friends who helped us with a vast assortment of tasks, everything from throwing together a wedding to storing Nick's Harley...true friends who showed their true colors. We hope we can repay the debt.

I arrived in Australia in April. Nick followed about a month later. The initial reason for his delay was his class at the University. But it certainly helped to have him there, in San Diego, to tie up the multiple loose ends. He also got a chance to see the kids and more of his family and friends. (I was indeed jealous.)

It's been a real adjustment for me. First of all, it's winter, again. I love warmth and sunshine, and I get less and less of it everyday. Then I found out I lost about 10 grand a year in pay, I work harder than ever (even more than expected) and everything here is about triple the price of something similar in the states. Those of you who know me well, know that that must indeed be a BIG adjustment! --But the outdoor beauty of this place reminds me that I am indeed lucky to be here. I love the walk to the Embassy, and our bike rides on weekends and around the lake are breathtaking.

Nick on the other hand, hit the ground running. He loves this place called Oz and hardly makes a complaint (except to get employment- which is his next goal.) In a matter of days, he had scoped out all the bakeries, the best pie shops, the best candy, and got us hooked up with the proper channels to watch Rugby, and AFL (Australian Rules Footie)- our favorite! We've been to several live games, and I can tell you that between the fast pace and athleticism of the players, and the crazyness of the fans, you will never be bored. Nick credits my interest to the tight fitting uniforms. -Not true! They are cute, however.

The people in our ward extended themselves to help us with rides and dinners and bicycle pump-loans right from the beginning. We've found the ward to be quirky, down to the earth, and full of interesting, lively people. Nothing boring for us. Nick had been here only 2 weeks when an investigator we'd introduced ourselves to, asked him to baptize and confirm her! Afterward, I heard someone whisper, "He doesn't waste time, does he?!"

The weeks have flown by and I'm thinking the next three years will do the same.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


This is the first blog from Oz. If you are not a direct descendant of Kathleen and me, or have an unnatural amount of spare time on your hands and are an indiscriminate blog reader, you probably don't want to be here. This blog is in direct response to, and an attempt to reduce, the nagging of our children who feel that phone calls and an occasional email is not enough. I can understand that since Kathleen attempts to use the telephone as a control device over people whom she never could control much in the first place. And as you children know, I try to avoid any phone conversations over three minutes because they generally become more meaningless the longer they go. My grandchildren understand that principle since they won't talk on the phone at all, except in monosyllabic responses to bland inquiries of their existential state of being. (E.g., "How are you?", "Good." - I mean really, is this conversation on either part?).
We will try to post items which are informative, entertaining, insightful and heartwarming. But remember, our attempts to do such things in the past have generally failed. How many "Family Home Evenings" do you all actually remember us holding on a Monday night? But our intentions were, and always will be, good. It is just the follow through that sucks. We will try to post journal entries or memories of the past. That is kind of a joke in the first place. Kathleen is the journal writer. Any attempt that I have made at a journal has been a nauseating failure in so many ways. But a I have a fairly good selective memory and believe in the axiom that the older you are, the better you were.
Well, I can see that I have exhausted your attention and my abilities for the time being. We'll try to post something soon.