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