Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Canadian Christmas

We've been in Canada for over a week.  Our trip from Melbourne to British Columbia was remarkably easy; a total of about 18 hours door-to-door which is about as fast as one can possibly travel those distances.  All bags arrived, we were adequately rested and the jetlag was minimal.

Since then, we've done what we always do, fall into those easy rhythms with the family; 9 of us sitting around the table at breakfast drinking coffee, sharing the paper, and fighting over the Sudoko.  J loves to wander sleepily into the kitchen to the noise and busy-ness of a large family.  We've run Mount Doug a few times, hiked steeper Mount Finlayson to spectacular Pacific Northwest views, played about a hundred hands of Au Mille, and had about a hundred more laughs.

It isn't easy getting this many of us under one roof for this many days.  Many of us were weary in the lead-up to Christmas and all of the concomitant planning and executing.  Some were missing girlfriends or dogs, some were missing space or our own beds.  Nerves can get rubbed the wrong way, and some of us talk too much during movies.

But this is us.  This is how we do it.  The bulk of us travel here from where we live because this is where we want to be and who we want to be with at Christmas.  This is when we can spend intense moments of quality time together; where we make large deposits into our collective banks of family memories.  When I see the love showered on J by his extended family, I feel blessed and I know he gets it.  He understands the ties that bind, the value of family and his place in it.

Family is about my sister-in-law waking J early on Christmas morning.  We all emerge at dawn into the magical environment she has created.  Candles flicker in every room, the aroma of coffee wafts throughout the house, music softly plays, and a pile of presents beckon.  Every year, four stockings bulge with goodies for the kids.  This year, the three eldest surprised the five adults with our own overflowing stockings.  It was unexpected and remarkably thoughtful.  More of the ties that bind.

Soon we will all be on our separate ways.  Three head back to Calgary.  C2, J, and I leave for a week's ski holiday to Whistler-Blackcomb.  The house will be cleaned and life will return to normal.  But my soul will have been recharged for another year, I will have been reminded who I am and where I come from.  When we fly back to our home in Australia 15,000km away, I'll remember we're really not far away at all.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Christmas at 29c

I am struggling with getting my head wrapped around December's temperatures down under.   If the word 'December' is referenced in passing, I immediately envision snow covered Christmas trees, hot cocoa, and red cheeks.   Problem is, in Australia in December, red cheeks only happen if I've forgotten the sunscreen.
Choosing a Christmas tree in shorts and bright sun at the park near our house
Blame it on 40-something years of conditioning.  December.equals.Winter.  With Christmas fast approaching, people keep asking what we are doing for the summer holidays and I keep replying that I haven't thought that far ahead even as I stand under a Jacaranda tree seeking shade from the blistering sun.  I tell you, it's playing havoc with my mental equalibrium, and packing ski clothes for our trip to Canada in a couple of days is not helping with my disorientation.

The kids table
This past weekend, we had a small dinner party to celebrate the festive season with friends.  It's a Family Hendricks tradition.  A couple of weeks before the big day, we cook up a storm, pour many glasses of champagne, and unwrap the gift of friendship.  In Geneva, we had it just right, the same families every year until one by one they moved on.  That's the thing about being expats, friends enter our lives for a season and become the extended family we're missing.

This year's menu:
Seared tuna with mango, avocado, and wasabi
Australia's Chandon Blanc de Blanc
Filet mignon au jus with roasted rosemary potatoes, panzanella, and roquette salad
White Box Cabernet Sauvignon
McLaren Vale Shiraz
(both fantastic full-bodied Australian reds)
Individual chocolate molten cakes with coffee gelato

The Grown-Up table
The kids craft - making reindeer food

 Now, we are mentally gearing up for the long haul  flight back to Canada where we will spend a month in the embrace of family, reminding ourselves how lucky we are to have each other, and replanting those Canadian roots a little.  Two weeks in Victoria, one skiing at Whistler and one in Calgary.  I can't wait!  First stop after we stretch our legs following the 30-hour journey?  Tim Horton's for an extra hot double double!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Comin' At Ya from WA

WA - that's Western Australia for those of you not in the know.  We also call it the place where C2 works.  We figured it was about time that J and I had an insight into C2's other home and if a tan happened to be a side-effect two weeks before leaving for Canada, well so be it.

Perth was the gateway for the goldrush and remains the center of Australian mining today; it's why we're here!

We are four days settled into C2's lovely home away from home, a suite at the Pan Pacific Perth hotel where they know him well.  We've fallen into a routine of sorts, rise early (given the 3 hour jet lag), head to the Pan Pacific Club for breakfast and newspaper, return to our room where the beds are made and the bathroom tidied.  I could get used to that part!  Spend the day on some adventure, return to the hotel, shower, head back to the Pan Pacific Club for drinks and games of chess, and then to a Perth restaurant for a late dinner.  No dishes, no house-cleaning, no changing sheets, free food; golly where do I sign up?  It's been a nice break for all of us, even if C2 worked through much of it and Murphy wasn't with us.

Did you know that the city of Perth is THE most isolated city in the WORLD?  Australia is such a contradiction and perhaps nothing embodies that contradiction more than Perth.  This land of Australia  is hostile, prone to extreme heat, deadly bushfires, cyclones, the most dangerous spiders and snakes in existence, beautiful beaches prowled by Great White sharks, fields of jellyfish, and other lethal sea creatures, and yet these people impose themselves on the landscape, force it to resemble a first-world European nation with a twist, and pretend that Perth isn't actually the end of the world and thousands of kilometres from anything else resembling civilization.

If Melbourne is the Australian London on the Southern Ocean,  then Perth is the Australian Tuscany on the Indian Ocean.  Bizarre but true.  The climate is hot, dry, and arid, the architecture decidedly mediterranean, cyprus trees, palm trees, cacti all grow though dusty red soil down steep hills to the Swan, the salt water river that spills into the Indian Ocean.  The CBD, (central business district), downtown to the rest of us, is well-planned, architecturally interesting, respectful of its' history, and has some killer shopping, yet another surprise from the most isolated city in the world.

Thompson's Bay Rottnest Island

But it is the sea, oh, the sea that is so seductive in this part of the world.  The impossibly azure blue of the Indian Ocean.  Earlier this week, we took a ferry 22kms off the coast of Perth to a small haven called Rottnest Island.  It was so dubbed since the original Dutch founders were convinced that the small marsupials populating the island in large numbers were large rats.  Rottnest means Rat's Nest in Dutch, charming no?  In fact those marsupials were not rats but Quokkas, a small member of the Kangaroo/Wallaby family which exist only on two islands off the Western Australian coast.

Rottnest Island
Rottnest Island

Anyhoo, Rottnest is a lightly developed, car-free refuge of magnificent natural wonder.  From the ferry dock, we hired bicycles to explore this scrubby island, play "spot the Quokkas", and frolic in the natural reefs and basins.   We were particularly enchanted by the breathtaking beauty of the basin at Thompson's Bay with its' hard coral reefs, stunning water colour contrasts, and powder white sand.  These beaches are not surrounded by tall resorts and chain restaurants but instead by natural sand dunes, wind-swept bush and Eucalyptus, and the occasional day-tripper parking their bike before hurling themselves with delight into the water.

Thompson's Bay Rottnest Island

That these waters are also the play and hunting grounds of the Great White Shark and several other species of shark as well as other nasty sea creatures is a concern only that one is reminded to always be alert and to exercise appropriate caution.  Pretty sure, I wouldn't dive off of a boat off of Rottnest to swim, as it was I got stung by a Marine Stinger (jellyfish) off of Geordie Bay close to shore.

Closer to Perth, we spent a few hours at the local beach, Cottlesoe Beach.  Cottlesoe which rivals anything I have seen in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean has a very different vibe to our Melbourne beaches.  St. Kilda beach which is our local beach in Melbourne has an energetic, frantic vibe, music throbs in the background, frisbee games are played in the water, skateboarders and rollerbladers range up and down the boardwalk, and the barbie is always sizzling something.   Melbourne does not get a lot of really hot weather so when the temperatures do rise, everyone heads to the beach.

Cottlesoe Beach - Perth

Perth on the other hand had over 60 days of temperatures in excess of 30c last summer.  Cottlesoe has a languid, calm, organic vibe.  People here are used to heat and days at the beach are as familiar as vegemite on toast.  To us Canadians, who mostly experience beaches on 7-day Air Canada charters where we use minimal amounts of sunscreen to maximize sun exposure only to mournfully watch our burns flake off on the flight home, the novelty of living near a beach has not worn off.

Cottlesoe Beach
Cottlesoe Beach

Last evening we celebrated C2's birthday at the King Street Bistro.  We were seated at a small table beside an open window offering full views of the Friday night revellers drifting by the Louis Vuitton, Tiffany's, and Prada shops on King Street.  As we chose wine from a most comprehensive list, and were amiably served by one young man from Paris and another from Stockholm, I think it's safe to say that Perth has arrived.

Harbour Bay - Fremantle

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Fête, the Fête, I Cannot Wait

The title of this post does, in fact, rhyme, if you pronounce "Fête" like an Australian, as in "fate" not the french way, as in "fet".  A fête, is an event of enormous planning that serves as a large-scale school fundraiser.  A carnival or festival is set up on the school grounds, parents and sponsors donate huge amounts of food, goods and time. 

The kids raced from the giant bouncy slide to the rock climbing wall to the cake table to face painting while we parents peeled bill after bill from our wallets whilst sipping Australian wine and eating fish tacos and almond croissants in the shade out of the hot sun.

Since our school is 50% French, we benefited from food stalls laden with croissants and pains au chocolat, fine cheeses, french macarons, fois gras and baguette, and a wide selection of french books.  Our school also has a large Hebrew population so we also were spoiled with middle eastern food like crispy falafel and bowls of creamy tahini.  Murphy ate about a kilo of spilled popcorn, approximately a thousand bits of discarded cupcakes, and an undetermined amount of forsaken pita bread. 

The day started grey and cool but quickly changed to blue skies and hot hot sun.  By 5:00pm, sweaty, more than a little sunburned, and with an aching back, I was happy to corral my purple-haired face-painted skeleton, bid adieu to the fête and bonjour to a cold glass of beer.

Back at home, we packed up Murphy and set out for the dogsitter.  Murph will spend the next week in Brad's chaotically welcoming home while J and I fly to join the erstwhile C2 in Perth to steal a little quality family time.  Stay tuned for a post from the pristine beaches of Western Australia.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Squirminess Arrested

It's Tuesday evening, C2 is, as usual, in Perth, J and I are back from swimming lessons and a late dinner.  He's watching Phineas and Ferb while I have a glass of wine and try to muster some energy for the bedtime routine.

I am assuming that the reason for my crushing fatigue of late is owing to my new job!  If you recall, in several posts from the last year, I referenced my desire to re-engage my pre-baby, pre-trailing spouse, pre-round the world adventuring brain.

I was on the cusp of professional re-engagement in Geneva last year when we decided to move down under.  We've been here 11 months now and I continue to seek balance in my life.  Life has tilted badly out of balance during the last several months.  C2's professional life keeps him in Western Australia too much, he is exhausted too much, I am single-parenting too much, and J and I are adapting to his absences too much.

In the midst of all of this, the ideal job entered my world.  During many of my laments about being squirmy but stymied about how to co-mingle professional fulfillment with our complicated family life and travel commitments; many comments centered around engaging in meaningful volunteer work.  A commitment that would get my head back into the game, make a difference, but at the same time be flexible.  My background is in the not-for-profit sphere and that is where know I can make a meaningful difference.

Enter the wonderful NGO Child Wise.  An Australian organization that is all about making a difference.  Dedicated to the prevention and reduction of child sexual abuse and exploitation in Australia and Asia Pacific.  They focus on programs to identify and eliminate opportunities for child sexual abuse and child sex trafficking.  If there is a more noble cause, I haven't seen it.  Child Wise survives with a skeleton staff dedicated to the cause.  Part of the team work day to day to keep the organization afloat largely through private philanthropy and charitable donations.  That's where I come in.  I am working in Development 2-3 days a week, researching potential revenue streams and writing grant proposals.  I am engaged, I hope I will make a difference, I am fulfilled, and in spite of my current exhaustion, I have found some balance.

In addition to my own fulfillment, I think that it is critical to J's evolution into a well-adjusted young man, that he see me as more than a one-dimensional person.  More than the mum whom he takes for granted to pick him up from school, feed him, and do all his bidding.  He needs to understand that women are equal in any family dynamic.   I am happy that he has a Dad who is a gourmet cook, I am happy that all three of us sit around on Friday nights and watch 'Better Homes and Gardens', I am happy that he knows when the new edition of the magazine is released.  I am tickled that he loves to watch 'Junior Masterchef', has a desire to cook, and planted tomatoes this year.  I am delighted that all three of us ski, mountain-bike, hike, and engage in similar adventure sports.  I am thrilled that all three of us are curious, open-minded, and increasingly see ourselves as citizens of the world and less of one particular nation.  I sincerely hope all of his experience will mold him into an enlightened man with no pre-conceived gender notions.    A man who respects women and ultimately enters into a partnership of equals.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A Poem and Then Some

I don't have perfect recall of the kind of homework I did in my early years of primary school.   I don't particularly recall  doing any.  I do remember song time, rows of single digit arithmetic (I guess it was too simple to be worthy of the moniker 'mathematics'), and reading the Bobbsey Twins.

I certainly don't recall being given 10 days to memorize this poem and recite in front of the class in second grade:
La Cigale et la Fourmi

La Cigale ayant chanté
Tout l'été
Se trouva fort dépourvue
Quand la bise fut venue
Pas un seul petit morceau
De mouche ou de vermisseau
Elle alla crier famine
Chez la Fourmi sa voisine
La priant de lui prêter
Quelque grain pour subsister
Jusqu'à  la saison nouvelle
"Je vous paierai, lui dit-elle,
Avant l'août foi d'animal
Intérêt et principal
La Fourmi n'est pas prêteuse
C'est là son moindre défaut
Que faisiez-vous au temps chaud?
Dit-elle à cette emprunteuse
Nuit et jour à tout venant
Je chantais, ne vous déplaise
Vous chantiez? j'en suit fort aise
Eh bien! dansez maintenant

God bless the French and their mighty curriculum.  It's nice to see them pouring cream instead of skim milk into those young open minds.  Pretty impressive for an 8-year old doncha think?  At J's age, I was lucky if I could remember what time Get Smart was on TV...and it didn't get me any smarter.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

One of my favorite bloggers, the full-of-grace Elizabeth over at A moon, worn as if it had been a shell  blogged her version of the following literary faves today and as I have been rather blog-blocked of late, I thought I'd plagiarize her idea and share the same.

1) What authors do you own the most books by?
J.R.R. Tolkien, Cornelius Ryan, Pierre Burton, Stephen Ambrose, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, J.K. Rowling, Thomas Friedman, Jon Krakauer

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
Does the complete and dog-eared Harry Potter series count?

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
It kind of did

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
The Scarlett Pimpernel or Aragorn (Lord of the Rings), I'm a sucker for a man with a noble heart

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children; i.e., Goodnight Moon does not count)?
And the Band Played On

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Anything by Enid Blyton

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
The Shack

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?
The Book Thief

9) If you could force everyone here to read one book, what would it be?
The Old Man and the Sea

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
To quote Elizabeth "Good Lord, who knows? Who cares?"

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Life of Pi

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
Aragorn and it wasn't weird and I'm not describing it...

14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?
All by Dan Brown and dang it, I've read them all

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
Freedom at Midnight - Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?
Pass but I've been inside his reconstructed Globe theatre in London and that was pretty cool

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
Let's go with the French if you're counting Sainte-Exupery

18) Roth or Updike?

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
Easy - David Sedaris

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?

21) Austen or Eliot?

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
The French and the Russians

23) What is your favorite novel?
The Sun Also Rises

24) Play?

25) Poem?
Ozymandias - Shelley
The Road Not Taken - Frost 
W.H. Auden

26) Essay?
I'm not fussed so anything in Atlantic Monthly or Vanity Fair

27) Short Story?
The Snows of Kilimanjaro

28) Work of nonfiction?
Ambrose's Band of Brothers or anything by Jon Krakauer

29) Who is your favorite writer?
Ernest Hemingway

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Jodi PicoultI HATE derivative writing and contrived plots

31) What is your desert island book?
A Farewell to Arms
A Moveable Feast

32) And... what are you reading right now?
Worst of Days - Karen Kissane
The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Rose

"But he that does not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose."  Anne Bronte

I've been musing lately over the life we've led and how grateful I am that we grasped the rose by the thorns.   This voluptuously beautiful floribunda rose graces the entrance to our house and assaults us with perfume the moment the door is opened.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Red Hill and Other Epicurean Fun

During the last week of J's Spring (nothing says Spring quite like October) school holiday, I managed to convince my overworked, overwraught, overseas husband to take a four-day break and venture together into Melbourne's epicurean heartland, the Mornington Peninsula for a little quality family time.

The plan was for beachwalks, bushwalks (Australian for treks or hikes), wineries, cheeseries, patisseries, and all and sundry epicurean providores in and around the town of Red Hill about an hour or so south of Melbourne.

We rented a little cottage, sweetly dubbed "King Louis's Cubby" in reference to the plethora of King Louis and Rosella parrots that arrive regularly during the day on the cottage's landing strip to feed off sunflower seeds and jasmine flowers.  Our Cubby was set deeply in thick gum forests and surrounded by a large and wildly fragrant herb garden which J and Murphy thoroughly explored and fossicked (Australian for foraged).

Our Rosellas

Upon our arrival, we headed straight to Tuck's Ridge Winery for a gorgeous al-fresco lunch, glass of their own Chardonnay and beautiful views overlooking the vineyards. We followed this up with a Brownie the size of Tasmania from the iconic Merrick's General Store and a walk on Point Leo beach.

I think all of us, including Murphy, dip into some magically peaceful part of ourselves when we discover these beautiful, deserted Australian beaches.  We have almost an unspoken, collective pact to search them out, discover their secrets, and let their magic go to work on us.

The following day, we spent FIVE hours, yes, FIVE hours at an amazing place called the Ashcombe Maze and Lavender Gardens.  Here we embarked on a Gnome and Fairy Hunt (9 hidden gnomes, and 8 hidden fairies), through stunning gardens, winding mazes, and little bits of Australian wilderness.  J was completely enchanted and even hard-to-impress C2 was seduced by the beauty of these natural gardens.

Naturally, we followed up this very busy day with a glass of wine at a winery just up the road from the Cubby.  This time it was the Vines of Red Hill winery and an excellent glass of Pinot Noir overlooking the vineyards and bordering red gums.

That night, we walked from the Cubby down our red dirt road through the Eucalyptus forest to The Long Table restaurant, a '1-Chef Hat' (think Australian Michelin stars) for a meal so wonderful in an ambiance so beautiful that we went back the following night and would have again had we stayed another night.

Day three took us to the tiny coastal town of Flinders and another beach walk on quiet Flinders Beach followed by a lovely lunch and a visit to the Mornington Chocolaterie.

We spent the afternoon on an amazing walk down the cliffs from the Cape Schank lighthouse.  The lighthouse is on the scrubby southernmost tip of the peninsula and separates the wild seas of the Bass Straight from calmer Western Port Bay overlooking Phillip Island.  We bore witness to some truly amazing scenery and again found that spiritual, calm place these Australian seas seem to give us.

A quick stop at the T-Gallant winery in Main Ridge for a glass of Pinot Grigio before we had another memorable meal at The Long Table.  We followed dinner with glasses of champagne, games played with large tic-tac-toes, and dominos by candlelight in the restaurant's front room.  J won all the games...he might have cheated.

Our final day dawned cool and cloudy.  Our original plan was to head into Mornington National Park and a 6km bushwalk.  Upon arrival at the trailhead, however, Park rangers were present and dogs not welcome, so we turned around and undecided, headed back in the direction of Flinders.  C2 spotted a tiny carpark off the road a few kilometers outside of the National Park and pulled in.  What followed was the crowning glory of our time on the Peninsula, and one of life's memorable moments.  A short bushwalk led to a walking track (Australian for trail) down to a wildly beautiful, utterly desolate beach littered with sand dunes, 50-million year old lava rock, a waterfall, and the sea which offered monster barrel waves that exploded onto rocks explaining the lack of surfers or swimmers.

Where else but Australia do you encounter this fella on your bushwalks?

We spent a couple of hours alone, together.  C2 experimented with his amazing photography, J slid down sand dunes and clambered over lava.  Murphy swam in the shallow water near the beach chasing sticks, and I watched everyone's backs for rogue waves.

We climbed back to the walking track up the side of the waterfall.  Murphy drank fresh water from it, and provided our comical moment of the trip by confidently stepping into what she thought was a few inches of shallow water and what was actually about a meter.  She sank like a rock, emerged covered in moss, ego damaged, and further humilated by our howls of laughter.  Still how many 13-year old Labs can still climb up a waterfall?

Murphy's epic "swim" and pride damage, J and I were howling with laughter

Pride restored if a bit muddy

We ended our lovely little holiday with woodfired pizza at the T'Gallant winery sitting in their herb garden, the scents of rosemary and sage wafting by.