El albergue

El albergue

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Heating up the holidays

What a strange holiday season this has been. Normally, Christmas is full of coats and scarves, carols and pageants, Christmas decorations and tasty food out the wazoo. And New Years has always involved cozily long dinner parties with lots of games and heart felt toasts when the ball finally drops.

Well, we DID go to a carol extravaganza, put up the tiniest touch of Christmas decorations, and eat at least one special meal. And we DID cheer when midnight finally came and the New Year started with a bang. But there were no hats, coats, scarves, or fires by which to curl up with a blanket and cocoa.

Rather, it has been HOT! I mean, I know we’re in the southern hemisphere and all that jazz, but still, it feels just a tad bit strange when Christmas is just around the corner and New Year’s right on its heels and you can feel the sweat rolling down your back and the sun slowly toasting your skin a darker shade of brown.

Hold on a second here! Who changed the thermostat?! What is this silliness?!!! Ah well, we have made the best of it that we could, haha.

Christmas Day dawned a little cooled by light rain and brightened by a surprise Christmas tree that sprang up in the living room over night. We opened presents and left them strewn all over the floor as we skyped with bundled up family back home in California. We ate popcorn and had a Christmas movie marathon on the couch, and then made a wonderful Christmas dinner of lemon pepper salmon, mushroom risotto, and mango salad, the lightness of the meal in pleasant contrast to the humidity of the day.

Santa came for a midnight visit!

Boxing Day (Dec. 26) we took refuge inside, hiding with our fans from the summery world outside to relax together and discuss the origin of this distinctly British Commonwealth holiday. Oh ok, so the discussion didn’t last much longer than it took to look it up on Wikipedia, but who’s keeping track?

New Years Eve definitely started out warm, but I was determined to join the hordes camping out all day to see the famous Sydney fireworks. Kali had to study, so after lunch Zach and I packed up a backpack full of food and sundries and sweated our way to the train station to join the constant stream of pilgrims going to stake out ideal spots in the many parks with views of Sydney Harbour and the Harbour Bridge. Our destination: Blues Point Reserve, just to the northwest of the Bridge.
Good conversations with a friend help pass the time, whatever the glamour of the place :)

We were prepared for a full day in the sun – hats, sandals, shorts, plenty of water and sunscreen. Bring on the heat, baby! …ehem… strangely enough, a couple of hours into our grassy vigil, brisk winds brought mounds of clouds scudding across the sky, blocking the sun and even dusting us with a light sprinkle of rain, all of which made me wish I was wearing pants!

Yay for cards!!!

Well, fast forward a number of hours over the interim of eating m&m’s, reading, playing cards, napping, and chatting, and the fire works finally came, brilliantly lighting up the velvety black of the lowering nighttime clouds and startling the flying foxes swooping about over our heads. With explosions of color coming from five different points along the Harbour as well as the Bridge itself, it was a fiercely beautiful sight indeed.

All the chill we had been feeling earlier soon disappeared as we wove our way through the immediate mass migration towards the train station. Tucked tightly against our neighbors on all sides, we found ourselves in the middle of rather effective insulation, as it were.

Finally home, we rinsed off the grime of the day and fell into bed, windows wide open and fans full force… and we slept.

All a tad bit different from our normal celebrations back home and a fair bit warmer than the holidays should be, but good nonetheless.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Our time in Middle Earth

Clean. Pack. Train. Wait. Plane. Customs. Hotel. Dinner. Sleep. Day 8 of Mom and Dad’s trip was basically all about the camp shift from Sydney to New Zealand.

There. That’s taken care of, now on to the more exciting stuff of the next day…

Day 9 started with an incredibly tasty Full Kiwi breakfast at a cute little country café along the road. It was so hearty! Bacon, eggs, baked beans, sausage, hash browns, lightly roasted tomato, toast, orange juice, and coffee filled us to the brim and primed us for the day. …mmmm…

Already happy, we kept going from oohs to aahs as we drove past miles of lushly green rolling hills dotted with frolicking lambs and peaceful cows, intermittently partitioned off by stolidly massive hedges, and backed by stately forest growth. So beautiful.

Finally, after a little backroads detour, we made it to the heart of Middle Earth! Hobbiton awaited us.

It may have been a little nerdy of us, but oh boy howdy did we thoroughly enjoy our tour through the jewel-toned heaven of Tolkien fans everywhere. The tour guides were wonderfully friendly and maintained their sense of humor even in the face of a surprise squall that caught hold of our umbrellas and blew them all over. The dozens of hobbit holes were perfectly adorable and fit so well into the rolling topography around them. The gardens were all exquisitely manicured into hobbit-yness, with an incredible attention to details most obvious in the faint footpaths that had been trodden down to and from the laundry lines filled with gently swaying hobbit clothes.

As a fitting end to the tour, the whole group stopped by the Green Dragon for a complementary beer or cider, finding refuge from that squall that had taken us by surprise. Even though it had only been a front during the filming of the Lord of the Rings movies and even burned down for one scene, the tavern had been rebuilt into a cozy, fully functioning retreat in which to prop up one’s feet with a stein in one hand and not a care in one’s head.

After bidding adieu to Middle Earth, we turned our heads once again towards the south, continuing on until we got to the Anchorage Resort Motel by Lake Taupo. Dinner on the outside patio of Dixie Brown’s, with blankets wrapped around our laps and heaters glowing from above, and we went to bed at the charming little motel happy little campers.

Monday, December 23, 2013

City Tour

A few weeks seem to have interfered with the telling of my parents’ visit, and Christmas is now practically upon us… oops. Let’s get back to that, shall we?

So, the seventh day of Mom and Dad’s stay was dedicated to a walking tour of the city. That’s one of the things I love about big cities with high tourist traffic – most of them have really great free walking tours that are generally very informative in a personable way and allow you to pay whatever you are able to. This one we took around Sydney was no exception. The guide was a friendly local who herself had been all over Europe and so knew what kinds of things would be interesting to us poor foreigners.

This public art exhibit from some year gone by has remained
to poetically remind passersby of the empty space left by native
birds forced from their habitat by encroaching developments.

She showed us the model of the city at the Customs House, dished the dirt on the old Governor Macquarie who thought enough of himself to get his name put on every other street and building, explained the Australian coat of arms, and illustrated the beauty of the impressive Queen Victoria Building with her brief history of its development. She also told several stories that we found particularly interesting and amusing.

The QVB - not bad for a shopping center, eh?

The first was this: Long ago, the staff of the old Hero of Waterloo pub used to lure poor sailors in and start giving them free drinks until they were dead drunk. Once unconscious, the unlucky fellows were trundled off to a ship down at the nearby docks. When they groggily woke up, they found themselves basically kidnapped and forcibly conscripted for hard labor aboard the ship. Bummer!

The second had to do with the Opera House. Apparently, the original designer never got to finish overseeing the building of his brainchild because a new ministry refused to pay all the rising expenses. He resigned and returned to his native Denmark with all his family. He was not invited to the grand opening and his name was not even mentioned until years later when he got asked back to oversee the remodeling of a few interior sections. That’s rough!

So pretty... 

The third story was a bit more positive and made us smile… One of the first hospitals in Sydney was actually funded and built by rum merchants! England refused to fund one for the young colony, so the governor convinced all the merchants to build it in exchange for control of the local alcohol market. Who ever thought rum would be the answer to one’s health problems? Haha.

Martin Place, here uniquely decorated by a public art exhibit,
has been the stage for several famous films, including
The Matrix and Superman Returns.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Zoo!!!!

Early morning Day 6, Mom and Dad and I were off to Taronga Zoo, which is just a ferry ride across the harbor from Circular Quay. Coming from all the great zoos in California, we weren’t super sure how this one was going to stand out for us, but by the end of the day, we were really glad we had gone.

Although we didn't get to hear its fun chuckle, the kookaburra was so darn cute and fluffy!

We got to see so many different kinds of animals, a lot of them different from ones back home. There were the little platypuses that we almost didn’t get to see because they are so shy. There were sleepy kangaroos and wallabies sprawled out in the shade to avoid the growing warmth of the late spring sun. There were tons of brilliantly colored birds strutting and swooping through the aviaries, cocking their heads at us from their perches on branches and rocky ledges. There were echidnas trundling around among the leaves. There were nimble mountain goats standing at attention all over the steepest of steep rock faces, tantalizing the snow leopard behind the fence nearby. There was a pygmy hippo happily munching away at a pile of straw, with his buddy the cottontail rabbit contentedly nibbling beside him. There were crocodiles, a tapir, and several animals I don’t even know the names of.

Such a funny little pair...

We went on a tour down Big Cat Lane, the zoo volunteer leading the small group imparting tons of information about the zoo itself and the individual animals we saw. It was almost like they were people to her, each with its own story and personality.

We unexpectedly got to watch the bull elephant being put through is paces from afar as we ate our lunch – that sucker is strong! And the Seal Show was lots of fun too. It never ceases to amaze me how intelligent some animals are and how incredibly gifted they are in ways we humans could never hope for. The best show though was the Bird Show. Looking out over the harbor with the city for a background, it was amazing to watch the different parrots, raptors, etc swoop around at their trainers’ command. The finale was especially breathtaking, with flocks of white and black cockatoos sweeping the sky in perfectly coordinated strokes of color.

I just barely managed to capture the very end of the show. Can you imagine a better view for it?

On our way out of the zoo, we came across the enclosure for the female elephants. At this point we were a bit tired out by all the walking and sunshine and noisy, sunscreen-smeared children running around in baseball hats, but we arrested our rush home to sit and watch as three of these huge creatures played like little kids in their special pool. They were pushing each other under, sometimes two ganging up on one, rolling around and swimming to their hearts’ content. The smallest one, although an adult female like the others, was particularly mischievous, constantly provoking the other two to hold her under. Even underwater, she continued to impishly wave the very tip of her trunk over the reverberating waves. It was soothing to watch them playing together, miraculously changed by the buoyancy of the water from lumbering behemoths to weightless ingénues indulging in the simplest of impulses – play.

One last look over the zoo as we rode the Sky Safari cable cars down to the ferry, an evening view of the harbor and the city as we motored through the waves, a little bit of shut eye on the train, and soon we were back home for dinner with my brother and sister-in-law – stir fry and pear pie for all!

Happy day :)

A little trip to the opera

On the fifth day of my parents’ stay in Sydney, the three of us got all dressed up and headed out for a day on the town… Here are a few of my favorite highlights.

Big surprise! Food is at the top of the list!

Highlight 1: lunch at Portabello Café in Curcular Quay.
With a lovely view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, this little spot was perfect. The gulls pattering across the umbrellas overhead were eyeing our food, but ah well, they had reason to. We had a superb Artichoke Panini that just leaked deliciousness and a Smoked Salmon Panini that amazed with its savory delight. But the best part was the Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart. The chocolate shortbread crust was delicately crunchy. Then came an oozing layer of salted caramel, a creamy chocolate filling airier than custard yet more solid than mousse, and crystalline chunks of caramelized pecans. Oh heavens.

This picture does not nearly do it justice.

Highlight 2: South Pacific at the Opera House!
One of Mom’s dreams came true this afternoon, as we stepped into the lovely Sydney Opera House to pick up our tickets and find our way to the correct auditorium with our seats tucked away into an upper corner. It was a great musical, and we had a lot of fun letting the actors sing us away across the seas to join in with Nellie Forbush, Bloody Mary, Billis, and all those other unforgettable characters. I think my favorite song was “Gonna wash that man right out my hair.” It’s just so dang catchy!

Look at that happy face :)

Highlight 3: Dad’s superb chivalry.
To get to and from our seats up top in the Opera House, we had to ascend and descend a cozily carpeted staircase that twisted about between landings that all kind of looked the same. Now, as we were heading out during intermission to walk around a bit and enjoy the scenery outside, we happened to be in front of an older couple. We reached a landing with a door, and Dad, being the extreme gentleman that he is and thinking we had come to the way out, kindly swung it open with a gracious smile on his face. It wasn’t until Mom and I started laughing at him that he actually looked behind the door he had just opened to see… a closet! A slight look of confusion passed over his face, and then he sheepishly swung the door shut as the three of us gave in to a terrible attack of the giggles that lasted until far after we were all the way down the stairs and outside. Even now, almost two months later, just the thought of this brief episode still makes me want to laugh hysterically. So funny!

Good times, good times...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Blue Mountains

Day four was a Monday, so Zach headed off to work and Kali to study, leaving me and my parents to go exploring on our own. Since we were in the middle of a continent full of gorgeous countryside, we felt we had to get in on the goodness and go visit the nearby Blue Mountains for a little bit of a hike.

We sort of hit an obstacle first thing in the morning though… the strap on Mom’s adventuring shoes had broken the night before! She tried performing emergency surgery with a suture Kali had in her bag from a previous class, but no luck. Happily for her though, Kali’s athletic shoes fit her well enough, so with those shoes on loan she at least had something to trek about in.

Oh no! Not working! The needle is getting all bent!

All ready to set off, Dad took the wheel. He got the swing of driving all backwards pretty quick. Mom and I might have had to let out a “Stay left!” once or twice, but there was no one coming at those moments, so no big deal. Besides, we made it to our destination all in one piece.

The first sight that greeted us was a beautiful observation point built out over the edge of the valley rim. With wide, open spaces and plenty of benches, it was obviously designed to handle crowds of tourists even bigger than the ones currently mingling about with cameras dangling from their necks. There was even a really nice tourist shop where Mom happened to find some good hiking shoes that fit her well and were on sale. Take that, you silly broken shoes!

Off either side of the observation deck, lovely trails curved away into the trees. They were really quite nice, very well maintained, and easy to walk along. The first one we took, to the left, brought us to The Three Sisters. This rocky promontory, according to one Aboriginal legend, is three beautiful sisters who were in love with three warriors from an enemy tribe. The girls’ tribe wouldn’t let them marry the enemy, so the warriors brought all their fighting power to try and take the girls they loved by force. A holy man turned the sisters into stone during the battle to protect them, planning to revert them to their natural form once everything was over… but he died, wounded, and no one else knew the secret of changing them back. So, they have been stone ever since, tragic figures of love lost.

So sad, isn’t it? Don’t worry though, no more sad stuff from here on out. I promise!
The Three (not at all sad or lonely) Sisters

Hiking back to the observation deck and away to the right, we turned aside at every opportunity to go check out all the little lookout points. At each spot, we looked down the sheer cliffs, whose roots disappeared far below in dense forest on the valley floor. And when we looked to the sides, we saw the cliffs continuing round in unbroken line like monolithic guards keeping watch over their leafy domains.

Along the way, we also had to make frequent stops to take in the beauty of the plants and rock formations on the sides of the path. It was just so different from hiking around back in California, although it did sort of remind me of the Grand Canyon in a way.

Those aren't palm trees - they're fern trees!!!

Besides The Three Sisters, the thing we had most wanted to see was Katoomba Falls, but we never found the trail that takes you directly to it. We did get to see its soft, gurgling precursor, the Katoomba Cascades, but we only just managed to get a far-off glimpse of the thin stream of the Falls itself as it went hurtling down the cliff into the trees below.

The Cascades was so refreshingly cool.

It would have been nice to get closer... ah well, still lovely!

At that point, it was time to head back, so we trekked to the car at record speed, found our way to the highway, and made it to the apartment in time to make dinner for Zach and Kali, ending a beautiful day with a beautiful meal.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A little wine and cheese

Day three was a beautiful day! We rented a car to go wine tasting in the Hunter Valley, and it was my parents’ and my first time in an all backwards car – right side driver, driving in the left lane! EEEEK!

There is something all wrong with this picture...

Aside from the vehicular craziness, we had a wonderful time. After a quick stop at the great Hunter Valley info desk for maps and suggestions, our first stop was Pear Tree Winery. It was great! Especially the “Sticky Pig” Pinot Gris and the Tipsy Moscato. The Tipsy Moscato also came in a really neat bottle, so of course we had to buy one.

Pear Tree was a beautiful place, full of beautiful people :)

Next, a quick stop at the Smelly Cheese Shop to pick up some lunch goodies, and then on to Audrey Wilkinson Winery, where we got to enjoy a 360 degree view of the valley below. That, plus some great shiraz and a fun pink cheese with our picnic, really made the afternoon.

Our last winery of the day as a tiny family-owned one called Mount View Estate. The girl in charge of the tasting room set out cheese and crackers for us to go with the different wines we tasted, which were many and delicious. Two that really stood out to us were the Late Harvest Verdelho (amazing!) and the Cerise (such a delicately light red wine)… so of course we bought some before heading back to Westmead for BBQ steak and salad for dinner.

Mountain View might actually have had my favorite wines of the day...

Good wine. Good food. Good day.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Market Day!!!

Gotta find our way to the market!

On my parents’ second day in Sydney, we went to one of my favorite things in the whole world – a giant farmer’s market. We got off the train at Flemington, followed the line of people snaking over an elevated walkway that disappeared between two huge aluminum-sided buildings, and all of a sudden we found ourselves in the middle of the Saturday market scene.

First, we had to pass through a big flea market with lots of 2nd and 3rd hand stuff. I bet you could find just about anything you wanted there. Stereo? Check. Pots and pans? Check. Engine tools? Check. Babies? Check. Just kidding! But seriously, there was a lot there.

Weaving our way through all the wares, we entered the eye of the storm. Imagine a huge warehouse with massive doors open to the sunshine, and tables and booths crowded into every inch of floor space, covered with leafy piles of greens, ruddy groupings of apples, dusty pumpkins, exotic mushrooms, and so much more. Throw in at least a hundred vendors, a few of them testing out the strength of their lungs as they shout out prices for their boxes of produce over the hubbub of several hundreds of customers talking, excuse-me-ing, and discussing the goods they see in such messy splendor before them. All that noise rises up into the metal rafters far overhead, gets all stirred up together, and comes echoing back down to add back to the already confusing mix.

So much fun!

How could you not love this place?!

There were, of course, a few other things on our plate for the day, like the artisan market we went to in The Rocks with Zach and Kali later in the afternoon. This market, although a fair bit pricey, had tons of fun things to see. My favorite part was talking with a goofy licorice salesman as Mom searched for a nice picture to take home.

Just a few too many options...

Also enjoyable were going to the new city campus for Hillsong Church, grabbing dinner with one of Kali’s classmates and his wife in Chinatown, and watching the weekly fireworks in Darling Harbour. A little stroll around the Harbour, an extra big scoop of gelato from a friendly server, and a really cool little water park made the day complete.

But the best part was definitely the market at Flemington.

Sure do love me some fireworks

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Parents in Paradise, Day 1

I just realized the other day that although this blog was in large part created to document travelling adventures, I had utterly failed to write about the biggest trip in my recent life. Maybe it was just the overwhelming number of days and experiences to write about that made me put it all off and forget about it… Whatever the reason, over the next couple of weeks I will be posting about the 16 days I spent with my parents as they travelled around Sydney and New Zealand.

Their first day here, Mom and Dad were troopers. They made it all the way out to the suburb where I’m living with my brother and his wife, navigating a new (to them) public transit system all by themselves early in the morning, and even though eyes kept drooping and feet were hurting, they made it through a fairly full day of activities.

Kali took us to campus before her classes started, so we got to go look around and see a little bit of the University of Sydney. It’s a really nice campus, with large green spaces and a fun mix of modern and old-style buildings. In fact, it kind of reminded me of my alma mater UC Davis with how open and green it was… although the mixed-in Harry Potter-esque buildings were a deal more stately than ol’ Mrak Hall.

It was interesting to walk through Graffiti Tunnel and see all the layers and
generations of paint applied by students down through the years.

The Quandrangle - so cool!

After a surprisingly delicious lunch at a rather unprepossessing hole in the wall called Darling Thai, we headed to the train, getting a little humid along the way from the surprise shower that spattered us all over with big, sloppy, dripping drops. Not enough though to dampen our spirits.

Our adventuring goal for the day was to explore the Royal Botanical Gardens. We walked north up The Domain, full of wide fields and huge old sinewy trees, then stopped for an hour at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which really merits at least two or three hours to fully visit just the free exhibits. We finally made it into the Botanical Gardens and got to see a few of the areas before Mom’s feet could handle no more, at which point we sat for a few minutes in the lovely little herb section before heading over to catch the train in Circular Quay.

These trees looked like the perfect place for hide and seek.

So many plants!

I really liked these flowers... they smelled so wonderfully sweet too.

"Go away for a minute and look at those flowers, Laura. Please, please, please just let us sit for a while!"
Once home, we made dinner for Zach and Kali and had a little bit of family time in the living room before Mom and Dad shuffled off to their bed, telling me over their shoulders that although I had been a horrible slave driver during the day for not letting them nap even once, they were now going to sleep, so there.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Waiting Game

When one moves to Australia for a year with the Work Holiday visa, one has lovely dreams of cuddling koalas, trekking through gorgeous jungle, exploring the streets of world-famous Sydney, and easily finding a job when needed to keep the journey rolling. One does not generally think about how such a move goes when the job is needed in order to finance even the beginning of the trip. Or when such a job is hard to come by.

When the list of jobs applied for keeps getting longer, and replies are few and generally negative, one single interview seems like a beacon to which cling all one’s hopes and dreams. That interview might become a second interview… ecstasies of joy threaten to burst out from the more sensible restraints of a common sense saying the goal is not yet fully grasped. …and then comes the final negative. A bit of a blow.

But hey, that blow may be ameliorated by another hint of a working possibility in the near future. And if the near future doesn’t come for a couple more weeks? One must hunker down, so to speak, laptop at hand and finger on the pulse of several career sites, applying here and there and just about darn well everywhere. Hoping for a nearer and surer relief.

Go to the gym. Do laundry. Apply for jobs. Clean. Make food. Read. Apply for jobs. Make food. Wait for replies. Apply for jobs.

Wait for replies.

Seasons pass and mountains fall, and still one sits and waits.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Kitchen Time

Ok, there was too much magic happening in our kitchen the other day to keep it all to myself. Seriously, so much good stuff! Delicious! I simply HAD to share these ideas and let the goodness out.

First, Breakfast Hash. Zach and I teamed up for a tasty breakfast, sautéing pumpkin, red bell pepper, onion, and cilantro into a gloriously warm hash, which we then served over whole grain toast with a beautiful egg over easy as the crowning glory. A little Parmesan grated over the whole, and it was the perfect follow-up to a morning at the gym.

Then for lunch… Hot Cabbage Salad with Sausage and a Yogurt Lime Sauce. Yes, that’s right. HOT cabbage salad. Weird, right? Wrong! Ribboned cabbage lightly sautéed into a mixture of thinly chopped carrots and celery is great, especially when dressed in Greek yogurt, fresh lime juice, and a few of the earthier spices. Slice in some piping hot Mexican-style sausage (or what the Australian grocery store calls “Mexican”), and you’ve got a hearty, flavor-packed meal in a bowl.

That same day, some friends were coming over for dinner, which occasion we took as permission to kick it up a notch. Enter baked brie. A delightful thing, especially when topped with a generous portion of plum jam and gift-wrapped in the toasty brown, buttery goodness of puff pastry. Mmm… the jam melts, the cheese puddles, the pastry dough is pure heaven…

Ahem, sorry about that.

Anyway, course two of dinner. Soy and Brown Sugar Beef with Asian-esque Salad. Those thin slices of salty barbecued goodness went perfectly with our bright salad filled with enoki mushrooms, carrots, bell pepper, been sprouts, chopped peanuts, shreds of mint, and a tart sesame ginger lime dressing. Match made in heaven.

…And then heaven actually came to Earth in the form of lovely apple bread. Kali and I saw the recipe online the day before and decided it must be done for the betterment of our lives. It was just so much fun to make, spiraling apple slices and strips of dough around and around, and so much more fun to eat, with brown sugar glaze oozing down into all the cracks. And it was even better the next day, once the bread had time to really absorb the glaze.... mmmm.... so yummy...

End the night with some fresh sprigs of mint to make mint tea, and that, my friend, is what you call a successful day in the kitchen.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A really tough day

Today was incredibly tough. Rough. Difficult. Oh man. I had to endure the horribly ugly coastline near Sydney as I spent some time on a walk with a friend. Ugh. Terrible views. Just terrible. Whatever you do, don’t ever EVER go on the walk from Coogee to Bondi. If you want proof, just look at these pictures. Need I say more?

Coogee Beach is such a mess. My goodness.

That giant pile of rocks that looks like the product of a
megalithic hammer is so not cool.

I look completely unhappy.

What a burden... sigh...


Monday, October 7, 2013

To be a little three year-old

This afternoon I was starting to feel a tad bit… not depressed… rather, uncertain… yes, I think uncertain would be the correct term. Yes. This afternoon I was starting to feel a tad bit uncertain as to what exactly I am doing here in Sydney. It all started when I was organizing my monthly budget and realizing how little money I truly have. I’m not exactly broke, but with no job in my hand and no immediate promise of such, I could see my slim accounts quickly dwindling away into nothing in the fatalistic world that had popped up in my head. Enter uncertainty. Enter worries and cares.


I finished organizing my budget, bemoaned the dire straits I am in to my sister-in-law (thank you, pessimistic fatalism of the moment), and went on to other chores to put my brain to some practical use. Since I was planning on writing up all the adventures I’ve had with my parents during their two and half weeks’ visit, I started looking through my journal.

And here is what I found – a complete opposite to my oldy, moldy, worrying state of mind. I found an entry I had made after wandering about on a rainy day nearly a month ago, an entry that made me smile again as I read it.
Have you ever noticed how rain is completely exhilarating? A friend recently told me a story about standing on a ferry deck in a rain storm, battered about by winds and drenched to the bone by slanting torrents, and how it made her feel full to the brim of life and energy, ready for any adventure. I could tell by the light in her eyes and the delight in her voice as she retold the experience that that moment was something she remembered often and with relish. It was a spice that continually brightened the flavor of her most commonly simple days and added that extra dash of something special that made her best days even better.
As I walked through the streets of the center of Sydney yesterday, I felt a little of that spice. My walk had started a little wet, but no big deal, I had an umbrella. Besides, I felt the need to move my legs about. 
After a bit, I found myself feeling rather like a meandering column of unrain. It wasn’t that I wasn’t getting wet. On the contrary, I soon lost track of the intermittent pattering of drops on my exposed left elbow, and the increasing fervor of the rain quickened the dampening of my black jeans. I even had water seeping through my boots, which made me smile like a little three year-old as I was able to justifiably give up all attempts at adult avoidance of puddles and just plant my striding feet wherever I pleased.
 No, I felt like a column of unrain because as I peeked out from under the rim of my little red umbrella, it seemed like I was looking out through a magical lens at a different world from my own. I felt separate, like a disembodied observer, able to take note of all the tiny little details that made this different world so… different. And all those tiny details thrilled the three year-old inside me.
 The tug of the wind on my umbrella was a game. The smell of wet flowers was a delightful perfume. The water flowing across the path was a sea worthy of the most intrepid of adventurers. The splashes made by all the fat drops of rain hitting the puddled-up pavement were so many millions of bright and delicate crowns growing and falling in the blink of an eye and fit for the gayest of the fairy kings.
 I was a little child, gazing out at a dream-filled scape, thoroughly delighted.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Oh the places you'll go

Dr. Seuss was on to something big when he wrote Oh the places you’ll go. I mean, every person has this big adventure waiting expectantly for them just around the corner. What is it going to be? That’s the thing, you quite simply don’t know. You have to wait to find out. There are some things that we can guess at or assume, but for the most part the details are never very clear, always a little bit hazy. But oh boy howdy do you know that life is sure going to take you places and lead you to things you never would have guessed would somehow show up on your radar.

For example, when I was a freshman in high school, I remember very clearly my very first Spanish class. I had a really great teacher, and he strongly encouraged all his students to go as far as they could in the Spanish courses available. Pretty frequently throughout the year he would point up at some project posters two girls had made for his AP Spanish class a few years before and remind us that they were white kids who knew no Spanish beforehand and had worked so hard that they actually went on to major in Spanish in college. He intended it to be motivating, but I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed at such a prospect and thinking, “There is no way I would ever be able to even come close to doing AP Spanish, and much less major in Spanish once I reach college. No way.” I looked at those posters and envied those girls their linguistic prowess.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, what did I end up doing a few years down the road but major in Spanish! And not only did I study it in grammar classes, I studied literature! And composition! And history! And culture! And art! I even went to Spain and spoke with the people there! And they understood me!!! I formed friendships, ordered food, interacted on a professional level, and even got asked sometimes if I was Spanish. What?! This wasn’t supposed to be something I could ever do, remember?

Heck, I even went to Italy and had conversations with Italians, me speaking Spanish and them speaking their own tongue, and we could communicate just fine! Crazy!

And now, just having finished two whole years of living and working in Madrid, Spain, here I find myself in Sydney, Australia, planning on a year’s stay. True, it’s an English speaking country (although complete mutual comprehension can still be a slight issue), but never when I was younger did I think that I would end up out here for longer than maybe perhaps a couple weeks’ visit.

Even at this moment I have no idea what this year is going to bring. I have a location. I have a hazy idea of what I might like to do (work a bit here, travel a bit there). But the exact details are so elusive that I really have absolutely no idea how things are going to go. I find myself full of expectation, waiting for the next adventure right around the bend, the next place or experience that might possibly rival Dr. Seuss’s imagination in unexpected beauty and strange piquancy.

Oh the places you’ll go… where might I be going?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A little sleep, a little slumber...

Good morning… afternoon? Um, what time is it?

That’s basically how I’ve felt these past weeks since leaving Spain. Oh wait, it’s been over a month already! Um, can someone tell me again what time it is?

After the first mentally sfoggy 10 days back in the States, playing at tourist in New York City and Philadelphia, I finally made it back home to my parents’ house in California, where I pretty much promptly fell into bed… and I’ve scarcely left that cozy little nest since. No, I lie. I did in fact do a two week stint filling in for Dad’s summertime assistant doing irrigation tests. But I slept every time we were in the truck, so it was still like being in bed… sort of.

There were so many times when I thought of things I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about hamming it up for the second graders the last two weeks at school as Doctor Vapor during their science class experiments. I wanted to share the smile I got from repeatedly encountering a bubbly little girl on the walk to the train who was so incredibly proud of her English. I wanted to paint a picture of all the beautiful things I got to see, eat, and experience during my time on the East Coast. I wanted to ruminate on the sweet joys of a family getaway at the coast for my little sister’s 21st birthday.

But rather than write, I’ve slept… nights AND naps!

Oh delicious hours spent in the world of slumber! You may take away my ability to do anything at all productive, but I’ve so been enjoying catching up on all the moments I missed with you during the past year of fulltime running around and busyness.

Ahem! …um… What time is it? Can I take a nap yet?

Friday, June 28, 2013

This is the end

It’s so strange. In three days, I and two of my best friends here in Madrid will be flying home, leaving behind two years of life and experiences. So much has happened. So much has been seen. So much has been said. So much has been eaten. So much time and happiness. So many people and friends. So many places and things.

We have lived here. LIVED.

And it is coming to a close. This season of our lives is ending. Admittedly, I could very well see myself coming back here in the nearish future, but this moment in my life can never be repeated. This wonderful group of friends would be disbanded throughout the world. I wouldn’t be in this memorable little apartment with our lovely landlady and friendly concierge. I would have a different job. It would be different.

And so here I am in my little one-butt kitchen, waiting for one last baking project to finish up in the oven. This evening we’ll have one last picnic in the park. Tomorrow we’ll go on one last excursion outside the city and have one last little group dinner. On Sunday we’ll have one last day at church and one last lunch with a huge group of friends. Early Monday morning we’ll go on one last drive through the city as we head to the airport, and then take one last look at the place that has been our home as we sail up and away towards far off lands.

And it will be finished. Over. Done. And gone.