Letter #12: 1 December 2014

1 December 2014

G’day Mates,

This letter will definitely be shorter than last week’s.  No trip to Tassie, no animals (well, one, but his name was Tom and we’ll talk about him later), and few adventures.  But we still managed to entertain ourselves.

Tori and Steve left Monday morning so I spent most of Monday (and a fair bit of Tuesday) writing up the Tasmanian adventures (5400 words don’t magically appear on the page).  But much of the week was just plain blech weather, so it was OK to stay inside and write and work.  OK, Monday – write and work.  Tuesday, work and write.

Tuesday night I did get a little break for trivia at the Oxford Tavern.  Michael and I drove in and after a bit, Chrissie and Other Mark and Michael’s work colleague, Martin, joined us.  ‘Fraid we were far from the money, but surprisingly I spent way more than I thought I was going to spend.  When Michael and I got there I bought the first round, a schooner of James Squire One Fifty Lashes Pale Ale for him, and a pint of cider for me.  I’m not sure what the brand of cider is, but it is clear and colourless.  It looks like club soda, but definitely doesn’t taste like it.  And it certainly doesn’t cost like it.  I gave the bartender a 50 and got back a 20, a 10 and 3 coins.  It seemed an odd amount of change, but I still struggle with the money here.  (Please don’t let my clients know that their accountant struggles with money.) When you talk to Australians about money, they’re aghast – “Is your money still all the same colour?  And the same size??  How can you possibly keep it all straight???”  Here, the notes are all slightly different sizes and definitely different colours – 5s are purplish, 10s are blue, 20s are orange, and 50s are big and yellow.  But I struggle here with the coins.  They start at 5 cents, get larger through the 10 cent, 20 cent, and 50 cent, which are all silver in color.  They then switch to gold color, where the $1 coin is larger around but thinner than the $2 coin.  But that’s where I have my troubles.  First I still often forget whether the 1 or 2 is bigger, but more disturbing is that, because so much of your change at the till comes in the form of coins of $1 and $2 denominations, you can have a handful of coins that actually amounts to some real money, not like your 57 cent handful of coins in the US.  [By contrast, I have no trouble with the coins.  It is my considered opinion {and I have probably considered it more thoroughly than is really necessary} that the two-dollar coin has to be the smallest but the most substantial.  From as early as I can remember, two has been my favorite number and this is largely because it is just more concentrated, more whole, and more complete than any of the other numbers.  It also has a deep bluish tinge and a clear tone whereas a number like three has a brownish-orange cast to it and to the extent that is has any sound at all there is only that faint discordant jangle.  This explains a great deal, doesn’t it?]

OK, but back to the bartender.  He hands me my change and my brow furrows momentarily and I take my drinks back to the table, and Michael and I talked about this and that, but I kept thinking about those three coins he handed me, and only one of them was gold, and I think it was the bigger around gold one, and I’m sure one was a 20 cent piece and how could those two drinks, one of which was only a schooner forgoodnesssake, have cost so much?  He must have made a mistake.  It was still a bit quiet in the pub, and he was just wiping down the counter, so I went over and asked how much the drinks were.  “The schooner was $6.20 and the cider was $12.50.”  I don’t know that I’ve ever paid $12.50 for a cider, and I’m sure if I have, the atmosphere was slightly more upscale than the Oxford.  Note to self, drink this one sloooowly and savor every sip.  A few minutes later, just as Chrissie and Other Mark showed up, the bartender came over and apologized.  “A pitcher’s $12.50.  When you ordered the pint I should have just asked if you wanted a pitcher, cuz it’s the same price.  I wasn’t thinking.  Too much time in the sun today.  So here’s the rest of your pitcher,” and he hands me a jug of cider, two-thirds of the way full.  So I had to switch from sipping my cider to slugging it.  Don’t want to leave a half-full pitcher there on the table!

The quiz at Oxford is pretty fun.  There’s a 15-question Round 1 with a 5-question, multiple-choice express round (true/false, taller/shorter, capital/non-capital, Simpsons/Family Guy, etc).  Then there’s a break while you puzzle out Cinema Dyslexia – work out the film from the anagrammed title.  Round 2 is another 15 questions, followed by the MegaExpress Round with 10 multiple choice questions (dead/alive, male/female, Canada/America, NFL star/rapper, etc).  Both times I’ve been to the Oxford, the express round answers have been the same on the pre-printed sheet, just the question changes each week.  But I was excited to be possibly the only person in the room who KNEW (not just guessed) the right answer for “Humptulips” on the river/lake question.  Weren’t my teammates impressed!

Wednesday was work work work all day.  But Wednesday night I went to Writers’ Group at the genealogy society.  Maree who leads the group is so funny, and no nonsense, and says exactly what she’s thinking.  I met her first at the society meeting in October where she was part of the group that met for dinner before the meeting.  I liked her then.  As part of the society’s 30th birthday that evening, she was one of the speakers, and her talk was so funny I liked her even more.  And after a couple of nights in her writers’ group, I’m totally smitten.  This will be one of the many friendships I shall miss when I leave this place.  [I know at this point everyone is shouting, “Okay, that’s Mary’s Wednesday but what did Mark do?!  We want to know about Mark’s Wednesday!”  Well, I looked for Lebanese bread.  This was much more involved than it sounds and really quite trying as I struggled to make Siri understand that I had seen it recently for sale someplace within a 4.8 km radius of the house and that the store that had it was next to a tire and auto center, possibly affiliated with K-Mart.  We did eventually find it {and ate it! {the bread, not the tire and auto place}} and that evening while Mary went to writers’ group I took a nice long non-trying walk around the neighborhood.  Faithful readers will recall that “Council Cleanup” is where twice a year residents are allowed to leave a pile of stuff they want to be rid of in front of their house and the council workers {much like county workers in the US} can be scheduled to come and take it away.  In the interval between the piling and the taking away, the pile is there for the picking and on my walk that evening I found a box of wine glasses that someone wanted to be rid of and I selected two nice ones to bring back to 16 Ocean View Street.  I also read some more of my current book, “A Fortunate Life,” by Albert Facey.  I recommend it!  That was pretty much my Wednesday.]

Thursday I wrapped up my accounting work for the week, and began preparations to host a crowd for a good ol’ American Thanksgiving in Woolooware.  Tori had brought me canned pumpkin and canned cranberries when she came.  Had to settle for the canned stuff as the Department of Agriculture is quite particular about letting fresh produce and potential pests advance into Australia fair.  But there remained plenty of items to purchase for the feast, so we went to the mall.  We were able to get some of the items there – an aluminium foil turkey roasting pan and a large rectangular and some smaller rectangular foil pans for extra stuffing and whatever other things we might need pans for.  I also found some black construction paper (Mark had been out earlier in the week and found the other colours we needed but no black, and it took two craft stores at the mall to find it.) But I’m afraid aluminium pie pans were nowhere to be found.  Not at The Reject Shop. Not at Aldi.  Not at Target (same as US).  Not at Woolworths (different from US – it’s a grocery, not a Five & Dime.)  Thank goodness for friends.  We cobbled together what we needed – a couple of actual pyrex pie plates plus some pyrex lids for casserole dishes that would suffice to bake a pie in.

I went to trivia Thursday night, but there wasn’t one question about pilgrims or the Mayflower or anything American.  What’s up with that?  But Chuck and Alison had recently returned from a trip to Paris and then on to San Diego, so it was interesting to talk US impressions with them.  They had been in the US for Halloween and the mid-term elections.  [Both were pretty scary, as I understand….]

Friday I set to work baking – one apple, one pumpkin and two pecan pies.  And crafting – toilet paper tube turkeys and pilgrim men and women (hence the need for the black construction paper.)  PilgrimsI’m sure it would be impossible to find Thanksgiving decorations at any time here in Oz, but at the end of Spring, nobody’s thinking of the harvest-Indian corn-pumpkin kind of decorations so you make what you can, with what you’ve got.  I got the pies baked but with the turkey, beer and other ingredients chilling in my small refrigerator there was no way I was going to squeeze four pies in there.  So I called my friend, Kath, apologetic to once again be looking for something, but did she have a little room in her refrigerator for a couple of pies.  “Not a problem, Mary, I’ve got room.  And don’t hesitate to ask, that’s what we do in this family.”  Love that woman! Pies

We’d accepted an invitation for Friday night, just so I would have something to write to you all about.   Under any other circumstances I would have declined, but these days, when some odd or unusual or uniquely Australian event comes across our path, even though we might not be the target audience, if someone is gracious enough (or dumb enough) to invite me, gosh darnit, I’m going!  And so it was for Friday.  You’ve read about our Househunters International adventures.  When you go to an open house, there’s always someone at the door with a clipboard to record your details – name, phone and email.   I get several texts every week about this or that house on the market that would be just perfect for me. (Yeah, perfect if I had an extra million and a half just lying around.)  And Tuesday I got an email from adele@highlandproperty.com.au – “client christmas party – highland property agents would like to invite you to join us for drinks, canapes and entertainment to celebrate christmas and thank you for your generosity and support throughout 2014.  friday 28th november, 6 pm-8pm, in the highland property auction room.  rsvp to adele.”  Are we clients?  Hmm… I’ve been to several open houses. I don’t know if that quite qualifies.  But let’s see – I’ve got 20 coming for Thanksgiving dinner Saturday and you’re giving me an opportunity for free food and drinks plus something to write home about?   Hot damn! Yeah, adele, we’re in.

Somehow assuming there would only be a dozen people in the room, we didn’t want to arrive too early, but there was no worry of that – by the time we arrived the room was packed!  Champagne, beer and wine flowing.  Waiters passing canapes including norimaki rice rolls, cheese puffs, meatballs, scallops, and crackers with some herbed creamy cheese and beautiful smoked salmon rosettes on top. Yum!   The duo in the corner, he on the guitar, she with the vocals, entertained with stylin’ hits from the 90s to today.  I worried a bit that we might be pounced upon by hungry agents, but they were surprisingly laid-back.  We talked a bit with jonathan eyles, (highland  property agents, whether by email or via business card, apparently doesn’t believe in capital letters) an agent in his mid-20s, born and bred in Cronulla, mostly about our (imaginary) long-term plans to return to the Shire in our retirement.   He suggests we not buy right now – the market’s a bit high and unstable but perhaps we might be ready to buy 12 months from now? Um, yes, let us think about that and get back to you. There were lots of clients there. [I can quantify that if you like {and if not, just close you eyes until you get to the next right-bracket}; there were ~5.2 people per square meter of floor space.  By contrast, Montana has about .0000027 people per square meter.  I would have opted for Montana if given the choice.]  One couple I met had spent several years living in Japan where he worked for an American-Japanese joint venture.  They had two kids about the same ages as Garth and Emm and it was interesting to compare experiences of living abroad with teenagers.   Another woman had her fingers crossed – her house will be on the auction block on December 14.  I told her in the US, given the winter time and the holidays, the real estate market really slows down in December, but she said here, summer weather trumps the holidays so the sales are still hopping and deeds are changing hands throughout the Christmas season.

Saturday we got up and got the bird in the oven.  StoveSmall oven, medium-sized bird – came with no giblets and the neck still attached, and definitely not the Fred Meyer loss-leader on the weekly grocery ad.  This Tom was a $68 prize.  As I was stuffing him, the kookaburras in the gum tree in my yard laughingly taunted me to just try to roast him for a feast!

We’d borrowed so much from Michael and Tony – I’ve got a table with four chairs in my dining room and another smaller table and 2 chairs in the kitchen.  I’ve got 4 full-sized dinner plates and a few smaller ones and 4 each of knives, forks and spoons.   So Michael made several trips over with chairs and tables and crockery and cutlery.  Mark and I emptied the living room of its few pieces of furniture – a love-seat, 2 easy chairs and a sideboard with the TV on it, and we set up 2 tables in the living room and 2 smaller ones in the dining room.  One thing we do seem to have a great deal of however, is glassware – I easily was able to come up with 40 glasses for wine and water, but there were probably 15 different styles of tumblers and stemware.  So I set the tables with orange plastic tablecloths and toilet-paper pilgrims and turkeys [I made the toilet paper tube turkeys!!], and a mishmash of glasses and they made quite the festive arrangement.   My mother was a wonderful hostess and always set a beautiful table – I have many memories of my 8- or 10-year-old self ironing cloth napkins and learning to place the knives with the blade facing in toward the place setting, and using Tabasco sauce in the mashed potatoes so they would be fluffy and white and have no black flecks in them.  But I just had to let all that go and trust that my friends down here would overlook the minor faults and appreciate the love and tradition of the feast.  And that they did.

Guests arrived and we talked about the traditions of Thanksgiving and what things would be like in America, and what we did the same down here, and what we might do differently back home.  We gathered hand-in-hand to share what we are thankful for.  Greg and Other Mark even managed to download the Seahawks-49ers game to watch – it ain’t Thanksgiving without some football.  But I realized afterwards that something I just took for granted, that on Thanksgiving you eat at 4 pm, (sometimes it might be 2 or 3, but never noon or 6 or 7 pm!)  came as a totally foreign concepts to the folks down here, probably more odder even than making pie out of pumpkin.  Much as you try, it seems you can’t possibly explain all the traditions you’ve lived with your whole life, handed down from your parents and grandparents.  Dinner’s at 4.  It just is.

I have so much to be thankful for here among these people – a home to live in, and dishes and kayaks and tents to borrow, and trivia nights, and invitations to dinners and plays and ballets and Wanderers games, and travel advice, and genealogy research to do.  I must admit I was a bit blue after everyone left Saturday night.  Part of it was missing the kids – Emm was with her grandparents in Riverside and Garth and Alica were hosting Melinda and Alica’s family, and it was the first Thanksgiving in 24 years that we haven’t been with our kids.  But it was more than that… we’d been so looking forward to having everyone to dinner – we’ve been talking about Thanksgiving since before I even arrived – but now that’s done, and the calendar page has turned to the first of December.  Soon Melinda will be here and then it will be Christmas and New Year’s and then we’ll be on a plane home and I’m starting to realize that once again, I’m really going to miss this wonderful life I’m leading here.  I know I’m going back to a wonderful life in Seattle.  But I’m just a little greedy and I want both lives.

Sunday morning we woke up, and were probably a bit tired and might just as well have lazed about all day on the couch, but it’s really only a loveseat, not at all comfortable for a full day of lounging, and as I said in the last paragraph, we only have five more weeks of summer, so we better make the most of it!  So we each squeezed a small thick $2 gold coin and a larger 12-sided 50-cent piece for all they’re worth and had the world’s cheapest date.  The Opal Card is a rechargeable transportation ticket, good for the trains, buses and ferries.  There are some special benefits to the Opal card over just paying as you go – there is a bit of a discount with the card, if you make 8 trips in a Monday-Sunday period all the rest of your trips for the week are free (we haven’t hit that one yet!), and best for us, you can travel all day on Sunday for $2.50.  So we got on train from here to St. James station near Hyde Park.  Only apparently part of the reason Sundays are so cheap is because there might be trackworks on and you might not be able to get to St. James.  And you might sort-of find out about this when you’re on the train and the poorly enunciating, Australian-accented conductor announces on the semi-functioning loudspeaker that passengers for someplace and someplace else and someplace else should disembark at some station and change to some other line.  So we got off at Town Hall, rode another train to Central  which the platform reader board had said was going to Martin Place (near St. James) but  the actual train announcement  and reader board in the car said only Circular Quay, so we got off at Central, but as we read the 17 stations listed on the monitor for that train, and finally saw Martin Place in the revolving list of names, the doors to the train we’d been on (and should have gotten back onto) slid shut and we were left on the platform.  Oh, but there’s a bus to take you around to the stops that are closed due to the trackworks, if you can find the street where the bus is and the spot on that street where it stops, and if the bus isn’t full and actually does stop.  But haven’t we done this waiting-for-a-bus thing before? Oh bother, let’s just walk the rest of the way.  And so we did.  And it was a lovely walk through Hyde Park, seeing the ibises search for grubs in the grass amongst the bikini-clad, sun-worshipping Sydney-siders.

We reached the Art Gallery of NSW just in time for their free Sunday film series.  This week we saw the first colour Mickey Mouse cartoon, “The Band Concert,” and “Don’t Look Back,” a documentary about Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England.  Perhaps a film student would appreciate the pioneering cinematic style, or a die-hard Dylan fan could appreciate hearing “The Times, They are a Changin’” seven times in 96 minutes.  I’m afraid I nodded off a bit, but I’ll blame it on the tryptophan in the turkey.  [Not me! Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Donovan all enclosed in a single grainy black and white frame? Are you kidding? It brought me right back to when I was seven years old, living in Altadena, California where we sometimes saw the old lady with the leopard print coat out walking her ocelot.]  Not only is the film series free, the museum is, too, so we squeezed a bit more entertainment out of the afternoon and looked at some paintings and sculpture.  We found $1 chocolate waffle cones at Maccas (the silly nickname they have for McDonald’s down under). Opera house from Manly ferryAnd then, since we’d reached the maximum Opal cost for any Sunday we took full advantage and rode the MV Narabeen across Sydney harbour to Manly.  We managed to snag a seat up top, right at the front of the double-ender ferry.  That lovely view of the Opera House from the water, for free?  Can’t beat it.  It was late enough that we opted to stay aboard and ride the boat on her return to Circular Quay.  We moved to the formerly-stern-now-bow of the vessel and watched as 1100 surfers and sunbathers, having spent the day at Manly beach, crowded aboard, filling the ship to the gills.  November’s weather here is nothing if not changeable and by our departure from Manly there was lightning to the south and rolling seas as we passed the Sydney Heads and the opening to Port Jackson.  Sydney weather from ferry Nov 30Soon there was enough rain even for a Seattlite to retreat indoors.   We caught a train home in time for some Thanksgiving leftovers.  Trains, movies, boats, snacks and art for $3.50 each.  Quite a day.

I’ll sign off here, and let Dr. Roddy do his magic.  3800 words, nearly 6 pages.  And I thought we’d be writing about a dull week.

Until next time,

Mary [and Mark]

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