Letter #13: 8 December 2014

8 December 2014

G’day Mates,

Countdown, one month left to go.  Before I get started on the news of the week, I must attend to something left out of our last report regarding Thanksgiving.  We’ve only got two tiny little ice trays and we had lots of beer and wine and soda to chill so last Saturday morning Mark went to the store to find bagged ice to bring home.  He gathered a cart full of groceries and brought them to the checkout counter and while he was there, he asked the clerk where he might find ice.  The clerk just gave Mark a puzzled expression, so Mark took that to mean he hadn’t heard him, and so said a little louder, “Where can I find ice?”  The clerk still wasn’t getting it.  Mark finally realized he needed to add the letter to the “O” to the word.  “Oice?”  Then your man got it – “Oh, yeah.  Over at the BWS.”  Then Mark was a bit puzzled until the clerk pointed to the beer, wine and spirits store just outside the entrance to Woolworths.  Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi!

We’ve had a week of warm, humid weather with lots of lightning and thundershowers.  Just about every day we had some showers and some evenings we got quite the light show!  Mark had planned another overnight hike Monday, but deferred it until Tuesday due to the forecast.  I’ll let him report on the hike.  [It was the Coast Track again.  I just couldn’t get enough, though I think that now I finally have, at least for a while.  2 CoastTrackSemiDetatchedPointI got started pretty early Tuesday morning, walking to the train station and taking the train down to Otford, a little station and not much more, at the southern end of the Royal National Park.  The train pulled away. I shouldered my pack and made my way from the station, along some back roads across Lady Wakehurst Drive and onto the track.  1 OldCoastTrackSignIt’s a nice mix of up, down and flat, well posted, pleasantly unpopulated, and very, very scenic.  Ridiculously, even painfully scenic at times.  It was kind of a relief to see that the surf wasn’t as crashing and smashing as it was when I did this in November.  Also there was a bit of haze, particularly on the second day, and it was hot and humid as well.  Plus there were flies.  So with all that the walk-o-meter, rather than being constantly pegged at 10 out of 10, hovered around 9, dipping sometimes to the 8.5 range as I made my way north-east along the coast.  I spent the night somewhere in the bushes a little south of Wattamolla beach.  As I made camp I noticed that the clouds that had been building and bubbling all day were still there.  I passed an hour or so sharing my trail mix with a small murder of Aussie crows. 3 CoastTrackCrow They were happy to get handfuls of nuts and dried fruit while I got the M&Ms.  As it grew dark the storms off to the east and south put on a zappy show.  Lots o’ lightning.  They were far enough away that I could hear no thunder but as time went on the storms popped up around me and eventually I got a few raindrops.  I was prepared.  My tent and almost all of my gear is in Seattle but I did bring my pack and I had borrowed most of the other basics from Michael and Toni.  They did not have a tent and though Chrissy and Other Mark kindly loaned me theirs, it was bigger than I wanted to carry and I left it in Woolooware.  I had decided to try a low-tech tent alternative in the form of a big plastic bag. 5 CoastTrackCampsite We are talking a truly large and substantial plastic bag, such as might hold a mattress or a set of box springs.  I figured that, a.) it wasn’t going to rain, and b.) if it did, the bag was big enough to crawl inside and sleep.  And that’s what I did.  It worked surprisingly well.  {All you mothers out there need to stop freaking out.  I had my head out of the bag except when it really rained.} I got up the next day and was off to Wattamolla where I encountered a lizard 6 LizardAtWattamolla1big enough to … hmm … what is a big lizard big enough for?  Anyway, it was a goodly sized beast and it was happy to have its picture taken repeatedly so we will attach one here.  {If you want more pictures, not just of the lizard but it’s there as well, you can go to my Flickr photostream: https://www.flickr.com/photos/31074361@N07/?saved=1 }  As I said previously the second day was hot, humid, and a little hazy so by the time I got to Little Marley beach I was ready for a swim.  It was still pretty early on a Wednesday morning, the place was utterly deserted and I paid attention scant attention to all of the warnings but took nearly full advantage of the permissions granted by the very helpful sign posted at the edge of the beach.7 MarleyBeachSign  I was at the end of the track by 11AM or so and caught the noon ferry back across the water from Bundeena to Cronulla.  It’s a comparatively short walk from there to 16 Ocean View Street in Woolooware.] 4 CoastTrackSunset1

OK, so Mary’s now reporting… Mark left Tuesday morning so I went to the art store and bought some supplies for making my 2014 Christmas ornament.  As many of you know I’ve been making Christmas ornaments every year since I was 17.  Sometimes they are just something that looked pretty to me, but some years they reflect what has been going on in the world or in my life.  We’ve had some red white and blue Santas in election years and our Irish sabbatical year inspired me to make wire ornaments with the swirl motif found at Newgrange.  The list of recipients changes from year to year, but is somewhere around two or three dozen.  This year I’ve been puzzling for weeks about what to do, looking for inspiration at the beach or among the eucalyptus trees and lorikeets and not finding it.  The sunshine and flowers just don’t make me think “Christmas!”

But finally late late late Monday night my brain happened upon the one traditionally cold thing in this sunburnt country – penguins.  We so enjoyed our Tasmanian Fairy Blue penguin safari with Tori and Steve I knew just what to do.  Armed with a couple of penguin ideas I was off to Eckersleys to see what materials they might have to put some penguins on our tree. PenguinOrnaments I found some old fashioned clothes pegs and some coloured pencils.  That’ll do, but I needed a saw, and while Eckersleys has lots of drawing and painting supplies, they stocked only a few “craft” items and saws were not among them, but the helpful clerk pointed me to Bunnings Warehouse, the Aussie equivalent of Home Depot where I found the coolest little junior hacksaw with its own miter box.  When I got home and started sawing the leggy bits off the clothes pegs to turn them into penguins, I realized I had a two-fer on my hands. The sawed off ends of the clothes pegs looked just like cricket bats!  CricketBatOrnamentsWhile that idea gestated in my little brain I worked on the Fairy Blues.

Tuesday night saw me at the Oxford Tavern.  We had a great group – Michael, Martin, Chrissie, Other Mark, Steve & Cat, Jon and Cho and me.  [In case you missed it, Tuesday night saw me in a plastic bag in the bushes, all by myself.]  Michael and I were the first of our group to show and then Martin shortly there after.  The rest of the team didn’t show up until probably at least 7:35 for a quiz that nominally starts at 7:30.  Why is this relevant?  At the Oxford tavern, each team needs to come up with a new team name each week, based on the host’s topic idea.  Tuesday the theme was “What someone who attended Stereosonic wants for Christmas.”  For all you out there scratching your heads as to what Stereosonic is, join the club.  Michael recently celebrated his “Beatles birthday” and can no longer rightly say “WHEN I’m 64.”  I don’t know Martin’s age, but I’m thinking pretty close to Michael’s contemporary, and at 54, I’m the baby of this trio.  None of us had any idea that Stereosonic is a music festival until we Googled it, and even then we had no recognition of even one of the 68 bands who played the 2-day event (but in my defense I was busy cooking Thanksgiving dinner and that’s probably why I didn’t attend.  Probably.)  So we had a lame name and scored none of the bonus points in that category, but we did score enough points the rest of the night to tie for first (but placed second due to the LAME rule that tying teams must guess a number between 1 and 10 for the win and we seem to be a team that works better knowing things than just guessing.)  I was pretty chuffed.  Usually I’m not so good at Cinema Dyslexia, the anagrammed movie title to ponder between Round 1 and Round 2, but I had it in a matter of seconds.  Let’s see how you all do.  JEAN SUBLIME.  Put your thinking caps on.  [I got it right away. … “Ben Slime-Jau.”  It was a re-imagining of “Ben Hur” – fewer chariots, more slime … and jau.]

Wednesday I waited for Mark to return from his adventures in the wilderness, and spent some of my afternoon watching a pretty sad national event on TV.  Last week cricketer Phil Hughes, just 25 years old, was playing in a match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.  While batting he was struck on his neck, just below the protection of his helmet, by a bouncer.  He reeled and collapsed, and though doctors performed emergency surgery, he died a couple of days later.  The country and the cricket community around the world mourned with the family.  Prime Minister Tony Abbot attended the funeral, the Queen sent condolences to his family, and Elton John even dedicated the song “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” to Phil and reached out to 22-year-old Sean Abbot, the poor kid who bowled the freak ball.    Hughes reminded me a bit of my nephews, Jack and Tony.  He was just a farm kid, loved his Angus cattle and cricket, and his world and that of his friends and family changed in an instant.  One more reminder of how fragile life can be and that we should always let the people we love know how much they mean to us.

Thursday looked a bit like the North Pole around 16 Ocean View Street, if the North Pole were 85 degrees F and 90% humidity.  While I’ve got boxes and boxes of decorations in the attic in Seattle, and I drag them out every year [Umm, let’s be clear.  Mary does have boxes and boxes and they are in the attic but someone else – someone with a PhD (Petty hauling and Dragging) – gets the subcontract for the dragging them out part.] and fill up the living room and kitchen and family room and dining room and even the bathrooms with Santas and elves and bears and angels and snowmen, there’s not much of that just lying around our little rental.  I can’t bring myself to make too much of a financial investment in holiday paraphernalia that I can’t cart home, but being so far away from home and family at the holidays I really needed to do something.  Pinterest to the rescue.

Wednesday night I scoured Gumtree.com.au, the local version of Craigslist.  (They have CL here as well, but I’ve found it has pretty slim pickings and GT is much closer to the Seattle version of CL.)  Thursday we drove to a construction site about a mile away and picked up two pallets.  We put one of them in the car, but the other was too big to fit into the boot, so one of us [The one who is qualified by 7 years of study!] carried it all the way home.  I also found just the perfect dead bush there, and tossed that into the boot as well.  That didn’t seem to be on the Gumtree list of items, but I don’t think the workers minded having one fewer thing to dispose of.

Then it was back out for supplies.  I had a list of things to get at Spotlight which I thought might be a bit like Michael’s [The craft supply store, not the man who just had his Beatles Birthday].  It was quite a big store, but about 1/3 of it is devoted to window coverings, 1/3 is probably fabric, and the rest is pretty much a mish mash of things, very few of which were actually on my list.  I did get some paint (green and brown) and a bit of ribbon, though the selection was not all I had hoped for.   Found absolutely no string or even decent thick cotton crochet thread.  I did find DMC embroidery floss and nearly keeled over at the price $3.98 – per skein. (I just checked the price at Michael’s in the US – 39 cents!) Couldn’t find packages of white chalk unless I bought an entire kid’s blackboard set complete with a box each of coloured and white chalk and an eraser for $8.  I walked up and down every aisle looking for things, and the organization system of what items are grouped with what items totally escapes me.  The tools for the craft are in one aisle, some of the supplies are somewhere else and the rest are on the other side of the store.  I may miss some things about this country when I leave, but shopping ain’t gonna be one of them.  With another trip to Bunnings for a few more bits and bobs, we headed home for a marathon session.

I don’t know what kind of crafty drugs Mark slipped into my morning tea, but I was a woman on fire.  [Neither do I but I kind of hope they are all used up for the next few whiles.]  We scraped one of the pallets with a wire brush just to get the mud off and then I set to work fashioning it into a Christmas treePallet tree for the hall using nothing more than a bit of leftover ceiling white paint we found in our garage.  Total cost – FREE!!!.  Boards from the other pallet were removed and Mark cut them to size.  A bit of green paint, a few nails again from the garage, and soon we had a tree for the living room.green tree Total cost – $6 for paint, plus one $8 string of lights.  The dead bush wound up in the dining room in an old galvanized watering can filled with beach sand.  Tres artistique!  Total cost – Free.  A cork and some twigs were soon a reindeer for the pallet tree.  Some string dipped in Twig treeglue was formed into an ornament spelling JOY.  A bit of wire and my pliers and we’ve got an angel.  More wire and we’ve got a star!   My front door is graced with a tree made from my favourite new craft supply – the white pages, which showed up in our mailbox a few weeks ago.  I tore out a bunch of pages and shaped them into cones and glued them onto the construction paper body of my Thanksgiving turkey decoration.  I’ve also used the phone book to make fancy packaging for the ornaments I’m giving to friends down here.  More free!    Penguin&WrapperAn old coat hanger + aluminium foil and suddenly there’s a big star hanging above the door!  Wait, help.  I need a 12-step program for Pinaholics!  Whew!  finally it was time to head for Thursday Woolooware Golf Club trivia.  Who knows what terror might have awaited with one more telephone book page craft!  Not in the money at trivia but still quite fun and only one more week with them – the club takes a trivia break til after I’m gone.

Friday morning I was up early to do my pre-webinar technology check.  I’m presenting “Bagging a Live One: Connecting with Cousins You Never Knew You Had” as part of the Legacy Family Tree webinar series on December 17 at 11 a.m. Pacific time in the US (which means 6 a.m the next day for me).  If you’re interested in listening in, it’s free and you can sign up at http://www.familytreewebinars.com/webinar_details.php?webinar_id=225  Also if you can’t make it at that time, you can watch it for free any time in the first week after it airs.    Later in the day we ran some errands, and I finally got a library card.  We stopped in to visit Kath for a bit.  She’s always so interesting to talk to and reminds me a bit of my friend, Grace.  They’ve seen lots of changes in the world over the course of their lives and they both have a very good perspective on what’s really important.

Friday night we were headed out for date night to see a little music in Menai, but made a detour to Kareela for some wildlife watching.  Thursday’s Leader, under the headline “Bats’ Days Numbered,” reported that the Shire council will spend $415,000 to reduce the vegetation around a local school.  It seems the inhabitants of the trees, a local flying fox [aka fruit bat] community, are terrorizing the tots and their parents.  When we lived here before, a huge community of flying foxes lived in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney and often at dusk we would see many head down our way on their nightly rounds, but a few years ago the critters were evicted due to the damage they were causing to the heritage trees.  It looks like our local clan is also getting their walking (er, flying) papers.  But when we arrived at dusk, they were just beginning their evening’s adventures.  They’re pretty large creatures, at least from wingtip to wingtip and its quite something to see them fly overhead.  Unlike our bats at home who dip and dart in search of insects, the fruit bats fly and glide much more like birds.

We left the bats to their work and headed to Club Central Menai, owned and operated by the Illawara Catholic Club.  It’s far more glitzy than the ownership would imply – there are poker machines and keno lounges throughout as well as several bars and bistros.  If snooker is more your speed you can find that there as well.  But Friday nights they’ve got music, and this week it was my new local find, Luke O’Shea.  We had seen him in October in Cronulla with a band and I liked what I heard, but he’s woven some wonderful stories into his lyrics and the extra guitar, bass and drums drowned out too much of the words, so I was looking forward to hearing him solo.  Friday he was set up in a little corner of the place, really odd seating arrangement with chairs and 3-person sofas set up as they would be in a hotel lobby lounge for having a drink and chatting, not really for watching a performance.  No mood lighting, the place was almost harshly bright.  But once Luke took the stage, the atmosphere improved as he sang about drovers and widowed grandmothers and war heroes as well as a catchy tune about the love story of Wayne, a Queensland road crew “lollipop man” and Wanita in the red Suzuki (“a woman of large dimensions, and she kinda liked the way they got Wayne’s attention.)  But the tipsy ladies at the hen party further down the lounge wanted to dance, gosh darnit, and they pestered Mr. O’Shea to ditch all that sensitive crap and do something they knew.  “Can you play any Brad Paisley?”  Instead he indulged them with “Blister in the Sun” and “Sweet Caroline.”  In case you weren’t sure, yes, they sang along.  The whole vibe of the evening felt a little surreal.  [I’ll say.  For the last 20 or 30 minutes, I felt as if I had been infused into a scene written by Hunter Thompson in his heyday.]  I think I’ve been spoilt with the great shows I’ve seen at house concerts in Seattle, and I’d love to see him in that kind of a venue.

Saturday we drove back to Kareela to see die fledermaus in die daytime. 8 KareelaFlyinFoxCamp There are hundreds of flying foxes roosting in the eucalyptus trees.  They’re quite chatty, and seem to fight amongst themselves for the best branches to hang from.  We got close enough to see the contrast of their leathery dark brown wings as they wrapped them around their furry russet bodies.  I guess they could easily prove a distraction to tots on a schoolyard playground.  [I took some video with my camera and found out only later as I was looking at it that some of those upside down bats are clutching good sized baby bats to their chests, wrapped up under those leathery wings!  9 KareelaFlyingFox1So cool!  So Stellaluna!]

Saturday night we went out to dinner with some of Mark’s UWS colleagues.  It was nice to finally get a chance to meet some of them.  One of them will be editing a professional journal and it would be really great if Mark could continue to do some work with her in the future.  We opted to drive in, rather than take the train, but just as we left, the skies opened up and it poured.  Immediately the car windows fogged up, the first time we’ve really had it out in anything like this kind of weather and we discovered that the front windscreen defroster vents only clear about the lowest 10 cm of the glass.  [Actually, Steve, if you are out there, you may remember a similar downpour and a similar white-knuckle, scrubbing-the-windshield-with-what-ever-comes-to-hand ride home from the grocery.  What fun?]  Finally after 20 minutes or so, the rain let up slightly and we got the ventilation system working enough so that we were no longer a danger on the road.  I’ve been playing some trivia in Newtown with Michael, but this was a couple of miles north of the Union Hotel and in a really cool neighborhood.  It reminded me a lot of Portland.

Last week we wrote about our cheap date.  This week we did ourselves one better.  We hopped on the train from Woolooware early Sunday morning and switched to a “real” train at Central bound for Newcastle, about 175 km north of home.  We passed lots of new-to-us country, rivers and estuaries full of boats and woodlands full of eucalyptus.  Due to trackworks near the northern end of the line, we had to switch to a bus at Broadmeadow and as we got closer and closer to our destination we saw more and more motorcycles9.1 NewcastleChristmasCycle decked out with tinsel swags and reindeer antlers, some riders sporting Santa suits.  When we finally arrived, we saw Foreshore Park was hosting a fair and thousands of Harleys, Hondas, Triumphs and Ducatis had taken part in the Bikers For Kids 2014 Toy Run.

We walked up to Fort Scratchley, built in 1882 to guard the entrance to the harbour and the Hunter River.  We’ve seen more than a few abandoned forts in our many years of traveling but this one still has a pair of 6 inch Mark VII guns, not just the mountings where such guns would have operated.  We arrived just in time to witness the daily firing of the timing gun. 9.3 FortScratchleyTimingGun Back in the day, ports the world over would conduct the daily ritual of marking the time to allow mariners to check their chronometers, some by dropping a ball, some by firing a gun.  Newcastle started with a ball on the top of the Customs House, but found with a busy port full of 2- and 3-masted sailing ships, the view of the ball was hidden to many, so they added the cannon fire at Fort Scratchley, a tradition that continues to this day.


A par of pelicans checkin’ out the chicks on the beach at Newcastle.

We walked back to central Newcastle and up up up the hill to the 1902 Gothic revival Christ Church cathedral.  Mark had read that they were having a 2 pm choir concert but when we arrived we discovered that the price of a pair of tickets was steeper even than the hill we’d just climbed and that totally defeated the romance of cheap date Sunday so we walked back down to town and had afternoon tea at a sidewalk café instead.  We sat outside the Customs House, now a restaurant and bar, and listened as a John Mayer soundalike entertained the patio diners.  And then it was back to the bus/train for our trip home.  350 km round trip and a historic fort for $2.50 each.  Can’t beat that!

I’ll sign off.  I’ve got a busy week planned and Melinda arrives Friday.  Can’t wait!


Mary [and Mark]

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