29 August 2009

Surrounded by Green!

Friday, 21 August 2009

We were to be picked up for our tour of the Daintree Rainforest at 7:10 AM, and you’ll be shocked to know I was on time.  Of course, Doris, our driver, was early, and she had even gotten a couple of free shots!  While she was waiting for us, a bloke appeared on the balcony of his room stark naked (or nekkid, as we say in the South!) TWICE, and Doris said she was so glad that he wasn’t who she was picking up!  But the day was off to a fantastic start, as we learned we were getting a private tour!  How lucky can we be?  Oh, and the weather was – you guessed it – PERFECT!  So off we went in our Land Rover, ready for another great adventure.

We were riding north up the Captain Cook Highway, past field after field of sugar cane being harvested.  Each field has a narrow gauge railway that runs next to it, because once the cane has been cut, it must get to the processor in 16 hours.  Doris told us that once the practice was to burn the undergrowth to make harvesting easier (got rid of the rodents and snakes that might be lurking there), but now it is harvested by machine and not burned.  We did see a good number of controlled burns of countryside (not cane fields) but I’m not really sure why…

We passed a field of wallabies, and then we made our first stop at Rex Lookout.  They were doing a controlled burn on the hillside south of us, which is the one we just passed, so it was interesting to see if from another perspective.  It was early enough that the sunlight on the Pacific was just beautiful, and the smoke in the air was like adding an overlay to a digital page!  Doris pointed out several osprey nests up on the telephone lines and she was thrilled to have someone who wanted her to stop for photos in her car.  We got some great shots of a mama osprey guarding the chick in her nest.

We came to a small town surrounded by some tree-covered hills.  Doris pointed out some rock outcroppings and/or absence of trees on a couple of them – one was supposed to look like a figure of a shepherd with his crook and a sheep at his feet, but it was hard to make that out; however, in the photo I took, it’s a bit clearer.  See what you think…  We stopped there at a rest area covered in a detailed mural of the rain forest, and there was even a huge sculpture in the play area.  The rest stop was just across the street from a tiny little stone church with a sign out front that said “Historic Church Open”, so I walked over to have a look while Rex and Doris chilled.  What a surprise was waiting for me!  This church had three of the most exquisite stained glass windows I’ve ever seen, and they all had a good shepherd theme.  Behind the altar was an intricate mosaic – it was the sweetest little Anglican church and I was glad I peeked in.

A few more kilometers down the road, Doris pulled off at a small beach.  I couldn’t resist sticking my toes in – no surprise that I got about 3 inches of my pants wet.  Soon we were at our first rainforest stop, and shortly after that we stopped across from the orange elephants (a bed & breakfast) for morning tea.  Doris carefully unpacked tea and biscuits (and coffee – we had to laugh – we Americans don’t drink coffee and she didn’t like tea!) and we took our mugs and cookies and walked through the jungle down to the ocean.  Daintree is the only rain forest in the world that goes all the way to an ocean, and it’s the only place that two world heritage listed areas, the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, meet.  I got some great photos down there – everything is so lush and green that it was hard to stop snapping!  I loved watching the little crabs tossing out perfect spheres of sand and making cool patterns with them.

Back on the track, we crossed a one-lane wooden bridge and found ourselves at Cape Tribulation, where we headed deeper in the forest.  Doris was an excellent guide and teacher, pointing out strangler figs, red bark trees, stinging trees (the leaves are covered with glassy hairs that will not only cause immediate pain upon brushing against them, but they will keep hurting off and on for upwards of a year!), and the cutest little katydid-like baby called a peppermint stick, due to the smell it can produce.  We saw mushrooms and lichens, basket ferns high up in palm trees, beautiful butterflies, and then we even ate some green ants whose abdomens tasted like lemon!

As we continued on deeper into the rain forest, we saw a tree that had been completely overtaken by strangler figs, and it looked suspiciously like a photo I had seen in Shelley’s album!  Next we learned about a plant called the “wait a while” or the “lawyer plant” because it was covered with short, sharp needles that would grab your clothing and not let go for a while!  There were orchids growing high up in the tall, tall palm trees, and soon we were in the midst of a mangrove swamp.  It’s really amazing how plants and animals adapt to their surroundings to survive and thrive – we humans could take some lessons from them and bloom where we are planted!  We saw the berries of the porcelain plant and an itty-bitty spider clinging to the side of the boardwalk.  The boardwalks throughout Daintree are made of recycled plastics – we’ve noticed Australians are much ‘greener’ than we Americans – everyone carries reusable bags to the shops (any kind of shop, grocery or otherwise), there aren’t many ‘take-away’ restaurants, and, as mentioned numerous times before, no place to get a Big Gulp or a Sonic Route 74!  We have seen very little litter and not much smoking, either.  Good on you, Aussies!

Amongst the mangroves, we saw lots of little crabs like we saw in the mud flats of Cairn, and Doris pointed out a cannonball palm tree, very aptly named!  We were seeing lots of the buttressed roots on trees, many more orchids and basket ferns, mangrove knees, beautiful vines with heart-shaped leaves climbing up tree trunks, and a pretty little jungle gardenia (I think it had another name, but I can’t remember it now!)  Soon we were back in the sunlight, out from under the lush green canopy that had been shading us.

It was nearing lunch time, and Doris had promised us an ice cream treat if we were good.  Yep, ice cream before lunch – my kind of woman!  So we pulled into a little fruit orchard that was also home to a homemade ice cream shop.  They used whatever fruits were ripe to make several kinds of ice creams – we got lucky today as there were seven different flavors!  Normally, they make four flavors and you take what you get.  Today I got wattle bean (tasted like cappuccino), sweetsop, raspberry, and pineapple, and Rex got soursop, chocolate pudding fruit (looked and tasted like chocolate), wattle bean, and one other flavor (maybe custard apple) that neither of us can remember now – that means he must not have given me a bite of it! 

We were back-tracking now, going past the pink boobs (there is a retaining wall along the road made with big round rocks, and random ones have been painted pink) and taking the cable ferry back across the river to the Daintree Tea House.  Doris had already called in our orders of roo steak, so our places were set and our meals ready when we arrived.  We sat out on a lovely semi-sheltered terrace where we were served a delicious rare kangaroo steak, chips, a green salad, a roll, juice, water, and the most delectable array of fresh tropical fruits.  As we ate, one of the proprietors came out and gave a presentation about all of the fruits we were eating.  We had soursop, passion fruit, dragon fruit, orange, red grapefruit, taro chips, pineapple, papaya, and chocolate pudding fruit.  Everything was so tasty!  Even our ice cream didn’t stop us from cleaning our plates!

Our next stop was for a ride on the river with Captain Lex, which is short for Lex.  He was a character!  Doris even rode with us, because she said Lex was her favorite river guide.  Our hopes were to see some crocs out in the wild, and we hadn’t been on the boat for five minutes before we came upon a large female gaping on the beach.  That means she was sitting there with her mouth wide open (looked like a stuffed croc when we first saw her) which is a means of temperature regulation.  We saw lots of birds, including a great blue heron, some beautifully colored tropical birds, and a kingfisher.  Rounding a bend, we passed two Brahmin cows who had come down for a drink, and then we passed another boat whose captain told Lex about another croc downriver.  We found that one hiding in the bulrushes, next to an empty rowboat.  Hmmm….  We maneuvered in amongst some mangroves to catch sight of a pair of tawny frogmouths (a bird that is not an owl but sort of looks like one).  What a rare treat!  We headed back for the dock and passed another cow with a bird upon its back – turns out this particular species of bird has a symbiotic relationship with the cows and it eats all of the insects that but the cow.  It was a funny sight!  We saw an ibis, which look cool to me but they are as pesky to most Australians as crows and pigeons are to us.  All too soon our river adventure was over and we were back in the car, headed for Mossman Gorge.

After a short walk down the trail, we came out at a swimming (sort of) area that reminded me of places along the Little Pigeon River in the Smokies.  It was very rocky and the water was rushing down a little sluice that made a great place to sort of body surf.  A little dangerous, which makes it even more fun!  We didn’t get to hop in, but I had fun thinking about it!  There were a lot of people cooling off in this Garden of Eden-like place.  It was just gorgeous!  We wandered down the trail, stopping at several more overlooks, all with completely different views of the river below.  Once we left there, we were seriously on the way back to Cairns.

We stopped again at Rex Lookout – still pretty, and still smoky – and then just sat back and enjoyed the quiet ride home.  I’m sure I dozed – moving car, after a good meal, not driving, in the sunshine – and Doris let us off at the Best Western.  It had been a wonderful day!  After going through photos and getting packed up for our train ride to Proserpine and Airlie Beach, we were ready for some dinner but not wanting to walk too far.  The first place we found was a Balinese restaurant called bayleaf, so in we went.

Since neither of us had ever had Balinese food before, we ordered this special dinner that we thought consisted of an appetizer, a soup, a main course, rice, and dessert.  Wrong!  We got two appetizers, shrimp chips with salsa and sate & sambal kacang (six small satays – two beef, two lamb, and two pork); a fragrant and delicate chicken and sweet potato soup; a huge platter of mains –hasil laut bumbu kuning (assorted seafood braised in coconut), be celeng base manis (pork in sweet soy sauce), pesan be pasih (grilled fish), tum bebek (steamed minced duck parcels in banana leaves), be siap base kalas (Balinese chicken curry), kambing mekuah (Balinese lamb stew with cardamon), be sampi mebase bali (braised beef in coconut milk), and pickled vegetables - one dish was kind of like cole slaw and one was cukes, onions, and peppers, all served with as much steamed Jasmine rice as we could eat; and then they brought out the dessert platter – dadar (coconut pancakes with condiments), buah (fresh tropical fruits), godoh (fried banana fritters with palm sugar), and something sort of like banana bread.  It probably goes without saying that by now we were STUFFED!!  I was just glad they would be weighing our luggage on the train and not US!  Without a wheelbarrow and someone to push it to get us home, we staggered along, really glad we had not walked far.  We tumbled into bed, packed and ready for our day-long train ride on Saturday.

It’s been a tropical day - Bali Hai!


22 August 2009

There's Life in Them There Mud Flats!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

I was already awake before the real alarm rang, so for once I showered, dressed, and packed before I did anything else (translation: before I even opened my computer!)  Packing was somewhat of an issue, because even though Rex was allowed to bring two 70 pound suitcases and two carry-ons, and I could bring two fifty pound bags and two fifteen pound carry-ons (different rules for different airlines…), the rules for domestic air travel in Australia were more stringent and for some unknown reason, the train was the rate-limiting factor.  On the train we would be taking from Cairns to Brisbane later in the week, we could only have two 20 kg (44 pounds) bags each.  No mention of carry-ons…  So, I left all of my 'convention clothes' at Shelley's, as well as my fleece, even though I will need it in Melbourne.  But good news – Shelley is flying to Melbourne on the same day we are due there and will get to go with us on the Great Ocean Road and beyond!  So I'm counting on her to bring my fleece!

All that to say that I'm hoping we can get where we're going with what we brought and that we brought what we will need!  And I want you to be impressed that I have one suitcase and one small valise.  Rex has one big suitcase, one medium suitcase, and his backpack.  Ha!  But he had extra room, so I used it!

We got to the airport in plenty of time, except that the check in queue was LONG!!  And not moving.  And then it really stopped, for ten minutes, because something went wrong with the Qantas baggage computers.  Thankfully, we had printed our boarding passes the night before and got to go to the head of the line.  No worries!  I wish our US airlines ran like Qantas does!  Real meals, which we didn't eat since we had breakfast (muffin for Rex, scone for me – I'm hopelessly addicted) at the airport, not believing that real food would be available on our flight.  Shelley tried to tell us.  The flight was uneventful, I suppose.  I slept the whole time until they passed out fudgecicles.  Yum.  We landed in Cairns to a gloriously warm and sunny day!  Did I say that it was cloudy when we left Sydney?  In the words of Jimmy Buffett, take the weather with you!

We caught a cab (a Prius, no less) to take us to our hotel, but when the driver asked us which Best Western, we were stumped.  Who knew there were four of them?  But we (with the cabbie's help) guessed right and soon we were checking into our apartment.  More than we needed, but the price was right.  Rex called to see if we could get a ride to Kuramba on the scenic railway, but we were too late.  We did score on a tour of the Daintree Rainforest the next day, though.  No worries, we decided to walk around and explore Cairns and check out the Dome 'zoo' on top of the Casino that we had heard about.

Cairns is an interesting place, good mostly as a jumping off place.  If you've ever been on an Alaskan cruise, think Skagway.  At high tide, the waterfront is nice, although the water comes all the way up to land.  At low tide, it's one HUGE mud flat!  In other words, NO BEACH!!  Evidently there once was a beach, until they dredged the harbor.  Big mistake.  So now there is a 'lagoon' (big public swimming pool, right at the edge of the shoreline) and things like casinos with zoos on top of them.  We lucked out though, and there is an art show going on along the Esplanade, so that was sort of fun.  And there's a funny thing about mud flats – they aren't good for sunning or typical beach activities, but there is a lot going on in that muck!  Cairns is home to over 200 species of birds, and you would not believe all of the crabs (at least a dozen different varieties) and the strange fishy things (mud skippers?) we saw in the mud.  Just have a look at the photos!

Now for the question of the day – is there a word that rhymes with Cairns? The 'r' is not really pronounced, but it sort of is.  Rex keeps saying 'cans' or 'cons' like we were in France or something, but if I could figure out what it rhymes with, it might help.  It's not 'canes' but it is sort of between cans and canes.  Sort of.  Maybe something like KAY-ens???  If my sister didn't live on a street called Cairn (and pronounced like it looks) I might get it.  Help!  I only thought we spoke the same language!

We had seen the highlights of the mud flats, including some strange man who was out in them up to his THIGHS and then 'walked' back to shore, peeling an orange like it was something anyone would do any day…  To top it off, he was wearing a very strange combination of  boxer briefs and budgy smugglers (google it!) and I'm quite sure he was really special!  Since there was nothing more to experience here, we headed for the Casino and the wildlife housed there.

The Wilderness Dome was pretty cool – the first thing I saw (if you are squeamish or hate snakes, fast forward to the next paragraph – this is your only warning!!) was a pair of pythons who had just been fed.  By fed, I mean that a big mouse had been dropped into their cage.  An interesting spectacle ensued, or at least to me it was about 25 photos interesting!  Suffice it to say that the mouse has breathed his last, and that humans are not the only ones who play with their food.  By the time I got back to the snakes, the mouse had been taken away from them.  Lucky for you, I'll only post a couple of pictures of this – don't look if it will gross you out!

The dome had several crocs, a number of lizards, a koala or two (sleeping), some frogs, a variety of marsupials, and LOTS of birds.  I got some great shots of colorful birds, and we had fun just taking our time in there.  We went to the 'Furry Friends' show and got to pet some baby gliders (sort of like flying squirrels) and then watch some strange marsupial crawl up on the handler's head and then pee all over her.  Never a dull moment!

When we left the casino around five, we were starting to get hungry (I know, a common theme, but remember – no lunch for us today!) so we found an Australian restaurant on the 'pier' (try shopping center built next to the water/mud) and went in for supper.  Alas, no dinner until 5:30.  Okay, so they forced us to drink.  I had a mojito and Rex had wine, and we both ordered iced tea.  Really, what is so hard about putting ice in a glass???  You would think they didn't have freezers here or something.  I have yet to see my first ice maker of any kind – ice trays abound.  Ed, there's a market out there – want me to be your first Australian rep?!?  The servers took pity on us and brought us a tapas plate of several kinds of bread and a black olive tapenade, a red pepper spread, and guacamole (sort of).  It was all good!  For dinner, Rex had the Australian fare – emu sausage, kangaroo steak, buffalo, crocodile kabobs, and barramundi, all served with roasted sweet potatoes -  which he kindly shared with me.  I had a scrumptious pasta dish – spaghettini with avocado, cherry toMAHtoes, caramelized onions, black olives, and feta cheese.  It all hit the spot!  We thought we were being so good by not ordering dessert, until we had to walk past (well, okay, we stopped first) an ice cream shop.  I had maple walnut and really good dark Swiss chocolate and Rex had something so ordinary that we can't even remember what it was.  But hey, it was ice cream!

We had an early morning ahead of us, so we walked back to our apartment and I tried, most unsuccessfully, to upload photos.  So now I'm really behind, but at least the blog is almost caught up.  For now!

Clear as mud,


I've Got the Zig Zag Blues!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Okay, so we didn't leave by our appointed hour of 8 AM (guess who held up the works…) but by 8:30 we were off, straight into rush hour Sydney traffic.  Today our travels would take us to the Blue Mountains of Australia, just a bit west of Sydney.  On our agenda – stops at Leure for breakfast at the gourmet deli where Jenny's son, Peter, is a chef; at Katoomba to see the famous Three Sisters; at Blackheath for pies (aka pasties for some of you, the rest of you I have no idea what to call them!); and at Lithgow to ride the ZigZag train with facebook friend and digital diva Amy Taylor.   We also planned to rendezvous with Janene Waldrop and Carolyn Roots along the way.  All this in a day!

The Blue Mountains remind me of the Blue Ridge Mountains – gently sloping mountains covered in green trees, and often covered by a blue haze or blanketed in fog.  True to form (for us, anyway), it was another perfect day!  The little towns reminded me of our wonderful time in Asheville – lots of artists, craftsmen, and good places to eat and shop, all a world away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney.  We got to Leure around 10:45 and quickly found the Gourmet Deli (if it has another name, I'm not sure what it is)  This is a fantastic restaurant and takeaway (to go) place perched on the side of a hill overlooking the valley below (though you wouldn't know that from entering from the street!).  Sadly, Peter wasn't working today, but the chefs who were did a fine job!  I had a baby spinach, mushroom, and feta omelet with bacon, Rex had scrambled eggs and bacon, and Shelley had the vegetarian breakfast.  Rex also had fresh squeezed (pressed?) apple juice and Shelley and I had hot chocolate with chili and cinnamon.  Man, was it tasty!!  We saw lots of 'slices' available for takeaway, but we restrained ourselves.  Oh, and I have to say that the tomahto 'sauce' (not ketchup, almost more like a barbeque sauce) they served with our eggs was to die for.  I may have to find a way to get some.  Jenny, do you have any at your house???  A quick trip to the Candy Shop rounded out our stop (we didn't get anything there, either, but it was fun to look!) at Leure.

By noon, we were at Honeymoon Overlook, seeing what's called the Grand Canyon of Australia.  Not quite THE Grand Canyon, but it beats the Grand Canyons of both PA and VT.  At Katoomba, Shelley made us promise not to look at the Three Sisters until we were all the way out to the overlook.  Rex cheated.  According to the Aboriginal dream-time legend, the three sisters were beautiful women who had fallen in love with three brothers from a tribe that they were forbidden to marry into.  The brothers decided to use force to capture the sisters, so a witch doctor turned them to stone to protect them.  Although he intended to reverse the spell after the battle, the witch doctor was killed.  The three sisters remain in their magnificent rock formation to remind future generations of the battle.  And so there you have it!

From the overlook, we went up to Scenic World, where we took the steepest incline railway in the world down the mountain to the site of the old Katoomba mining (coal) company.  There was a great boardwalk with entertaining and educational displays lining it.  The scenery was unbelievable!  Tall, tall trees and lots of ferns – it was so calm and green down there.  We rode the cable car back up the hill, and then from there we were off to Blackheath and our meat pies, even though we were not even hungry!  As it happened, Carolyn was not able to meet us and we were running so late (we had a train to catch!) that we didn't get to see Janene, either.  According to Shelley, the best meat pies in the mountains are made in the pub at the Ivanhoe Hotel, so we were there.  The special young man at the counter took our order for three beef pies and then let us know there was only one left after our order.  Lucky us!  Oops, spoke to soon.  There was only ONE beef pie left.  Other choices – chicken and mushroom or steak and kidney.  I was praying that the chicken had been a slow seller!  We were in luck, and quick as a wink, we left the pub with one beef and two chicken & mushroom pies, hot, hot, hot, which we would eat at some point when we got hungry.

Next stop, Lithgow and the Zig Zag railroad, where we would meet Amy and her three adorable children.  We only got a little lost, and we got there in plenty of time to catch the train.  The Zig Zag train is a coal burning steam locomotive that makes the trip from the Clarence station to Top Points to Bottom Points and back to Clarence.  It goes through two tunnels (one really long and VERY dark one) and over three viaducts.  It is called Zig Zag because it goes down for a while in one direction, then the engine switches from one end of the train to the other and it goes down some more in the other direction, and then it does that again.  Amy's boys were so knowledgeable about the train – it was fun to have them to educate us!  And Miss V is every bit as precious in real life as she is in photos – never a peep of protest out of her!  The highlight of the trip, other than meeting Amy and kids, was that we got to ride in the engine on one of its switches.  That was so much fun and we felt so special!

All too soon our ride was over, and it was time to drive back to Sydney.  I'm not sure how Shelley did it – I was dozing off and on all the way home, worn out!  We stopped at a McDonald's somewhere along the way and Rex and I got a frozen Coke (next best thing to ice…) and Shelley got a coffee.  Oh, and we ate our still warm pies on the train – they were beyond good!  By the time we got home, we were all beat, but since we didn't have a place to stay in Cairns or in the Whitsundays, Rex and Shelley got online and made some arrangements, then Rex wisely packed and went to bed.  I stayed up and played with my photos. 

It will be sad to say farewell to Shelley and Keith for a few weeks, but we are excited to be flying north to Cairns and the Daintree Rainforest.  Even though I knew 6 AM would come early, I didn't roll into bed until one and I still hadn't packed.  Imagine my surprise when my phone rang at 2 something - I thought it was my alarm and I got up to get ready, then the phone rang again.  It was someone from Paducah who wanted to talk to me about Mom's house.  Go figure – no bites since we put it on the market in March, and someone calls me in Australia!  Then a couple of hours later, Rex's alarm (which should have been set for the next afternoon, but oddly enough was still on Eastern time…) went off to remind him to call someone about our rainforest tour.  Needless to say, it was not a restful night!  But planes are for sleeping, right?

Singing the Blues,



Tuesday, 18 August, 2009

This was a special morning – not only had Shelley promised us a real bacon and egg brekky, Aussie-style, but we were going to have our first taste of Vegemite!  Thoroughly prepared not to like it, I was pleasantly surprised.  All of my American friends have told me how hideous it is, and how it must be an acquired taste that only Aussies could love, but I found it to be a salty spread on good toast – nothing more, nothing less.  So, sorry to disappoint all of you who wanted to see the picture of my face after I tasted it (remember last year's Moxie soda??), but I am smiling in that shot!  And if that wasn't enough to make me smile, brekky was!  Australian bacon is the bomb!!  It's almost like eating a big slice of ham that tastes like bacon.  So good!  And we had happy eggs (no lie, they had happy faces on their brown shells) which had the yellowest, almost orange, yolks I've ever seen.  Delish!   Oh, and Keith made us fresh-squeezed OJ.  Will y'all come home with me??

We had another fine and busy day planned, courtesy of our hostess with the mostest, Shelley!  The big event for the day was a trip to the zoo, where Claire was meeting us, and then for the evening we were going to see a comedy show at the Opera House.  We caught a bus to Circular Quay and bought our combo ferry and zoo tickets.  With a little time to spare, we took a lift up to the street above the quay and just watched all the comings and goings of the morning.  The Opera House looked sparkling white in the morning sun, and already there were climbers on the bridge.  Soon our ferry was ready to board, so we sat outside on the starboard side and enjoyed the ride across the harbour.  In no time, we were hopping off at Taronga Zoo and getting on the skyrail that would take us to the top of the hill.

On our way up, we got a glimpse at the newest zoo attraction, a baby African elephant.  Its mom was lying down (Yikes – how to they get up??) and the baby was hovering nearby, probably pestering her to get up like children everywhere!  We got off, met Claire, and went directly to the koala exhibit, and we were shocked to see that both koalas were wide awake and putting on quite the show!  Since koalas sleep for about 20 hours a day, this was a rare and fortunate occurrence, just for us!  These Sidneysiders really know how to roll out the red carpet, as we had another perfect day of weather, too!  After taking probably 100 photos of these cutie patooties, we thought perhaps we should give the other animals a chance to cavort for us, too.

Here's a rundown of some of the animals we saw – look for photos on facebook and/or my phanfare.com site.  If you need an invitation to see the phanfare slideshow, just comment on this blog or send me an email or message and I will fix you up!  We saw a walking stick kind of insect, lots of birds, a giant iguana, two humongous tortoises, the bird show (excellent!), the elephants, including the darling baby, more birds, a binturong, which oddly enough, smells like popcorn.  That made me hungry, so we decided to have our picnic lunch.  While I was uploading photos and checking emails this morning, Shelley and Keith were hard at work cleaning up the brekky dishes and making sandwiches, so now we had a good meal waiting for us.  Y'all are the best!  Our picnic spot included a fabulous view of Sydney Harbour – the bridge, the Opera House, and everything in between.  Could it be any better?  We had chicken and avocado and smoked salmon and cream cheese on hearty wheat bread – none of that white Bunny bread here!

Now fortified, we had the energy to see Andean condors (with wingspans of about ten feet!), the big cats – two proud lions, two bored lionesses and a frenetically pacing Siberian tiger, the big-eared Fennec fox and the funny colony of Meerkats, an x-rated pygmy hippopotamus, a frisky red panda, the boring mountain goats, an iridescent peacock, a huge, sleepy Kodiak bear, the very humanoid gorillas, including a sweet little baby and a break-dancing (no lie!) toddler, the odd looking Cassowary (think a wild turkey with a blue neck), the almost human chimps, including one real comedian and another precious baby, the stately giraffes (Bonus – their exhibit was under construction and they were sequestered indoors, but we saw them anyway.  It's hard to hide four giraffes!), lots more very fine-feathered and very colorful tropical birds, the spider monkeys, and lots of strange nocturnal animals.  What did we miss?  The platypus, the penguins, the kangaroos, and maybe a few others, but not because we didn't try to see them!

In fact, we tried so hard that we had to RUN (really, we all four were running, thankfully downhill) to catch the ferry that would get us back to the Opera House in time for a backstage tour.  We were so parched when we got off the ferry that we had to have gelato.  True to form, I branched out to try Belgian chocolate (90% fat free!), Rex had fudgy brownie, Shelley had something healthy – maybe mango sorbet, and Keith had a double – I don't remember the flavors because neither was chocolate… Alas, even though we caught the ferry, the Opera House tour was full.  The young woman who had to give us the bad news was so nice that she brought us a pack of postcards and a some Opera House pins – who could be upset about that?  Now we had plenty of time for a nice dinner before the Umbilical Brothers show!  Oh, and another bonus – on the steps of the Opera House (there are a LOT of steps!) was the Black Dyke Mills Brass Band, who Keith says is the brass band that all others want to be!

We wandered around the quay for a while, and then decided to dine at the Oyster Bar (where Shelley and I ate on Sunday).  Tonight, we ate in threes – three of us had Pigs Fly beer (Rex had wine), three of us had grilled oysters (Keith had the goats curd and shared it), three of us had barramundi (Shelley had snapper), and we shared two desserts – one was a warm rhubarb and something and one had honeycomb, ricotta, and figs.  No one would have guessed we had just had gelato!  Off to the show we went, pleasantly stuffed.  And probably 2 kilos heavier!

The Umbilical Brothers are a uniquely Australian comedy duo, and we loved them!  One of them makes these amazing noises while the other one acts in concert with the noises.  I'm not doing them justice – google them or look for them on YouTube or something!  They were really funny!  After the show, we caught a bus home, where Shelley and I stayed up to look at photos and Rex crashed.  Another fine day Down Under!

Wild and wooly,


Coming to you live (well ALIVE, anyway!) from HIGH above Sydney!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Even though we were up pretty early, by the time we finished our crumpets with golden syrup, looked through our photos from the weekend, and booked our bridge climb, it was after 10:30 before we left the house.  Shelley, Keith, Rex, and I walked down the sidewalks of Kensington to catch the bus downtown – Keith was going to work, but Shelley, Rex, and I were bound for Sydney Tower and points beyond.  It was another heavenly day – not quite the 30 degrees C (about 86 for you in the States) that is was yesterday, but still very warm (especially for winter) and under a brilliant blue sky.  We appreciate the fact that our weather order got filled!

Once downtown, Keith headed for his office and we walked down the city streets to Sydney Tower and a 360 degree view of Sydney from 260 meters above sea level.  While Shelley is not a big fan of heights, she was being a most excellent host and was game for the view.  Besides, we had just come from the 70th floor of the Meriton Apartments, so she was getting pretty used to it.  We couldn't quite convince her to join us on the Bridge Climb, but she's trusting us to report back with the scare factor.  The ride up to the top of Sydney Tower was quick, but in really small lifts (that would be elevators – I'm trying to learn the language here, although I'm not doing so well on pronunciations and am failing miserably at spelling!) so I was glad it went to the top straightaway.

Although the apartment had prepared me for the breadth of the view, from even higher, and from all the way around, it was breath-taking!  I felt like I could see almost to America!  I went around pretty quickly, as Rex and Shelley took their time, with Shelley telling Rex what everything was and getting him oriented to where we were.  All of the sudden, two army looking helicopters flew to a building right below where we were standing!  I can't begin to tell you how strange it is to have something flying BELOW you when you are in a building, and how disconcerting it was to have something official-looking going on from that vantage point.  Our friend Kerrianne was texting us that she was right below us, and she reported that everyone on the ground went completely silent and that it was quite frightening for them.  The copters continued to buzz the city for the remainder of the morning – I never did hear what was going on, but I'm here to tell about it.  When we had seen all of the city a couple of times, we decided to walk over to the Botanic Gardens and have some lunch.

Back on the ground, we passed a giant chess board in a park, then strolled past lots of the places we'd just been looking at – the Cathedral of St. Mary's with its two new spires, some fancy fountains, lots of statues, the Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney Hospital (which used to be called Rum Hospital and has a statue of a drooling boar in front of it) – and soon we were in front of the glass pyramid conservatory at the Botanic Gardens.  The helicopters continued to fly over the city, very low, but everyone seemed accustomed to it now.  Still a little disturbing!

As we entered the Botanic Gardens, Shelley noticed a big lot of bats hanging from a dead tree and a live one next to it.  We were fascinated by the bats and were snapping photo after photo when one flew right over us.  Do you see a pattern here?  As we walked on, we saw that almost every tree was full of bats.  They were BIG, with brown furry heads and black rubbery wings.  When one would fly to a tree, it would grab the limb with its claws, then immediately flip upside down and hang there.  We later learned that there are currently about 6100 (!) bats inhabiting the Gardens now, and that there have been as many as 21,000 living there at once.  Who has the job of bat counter is beyond me!!!

The Gardens are well laid out and were full of people, even on a Monday afternoon.  This unseasonably warm weather had workers out in droves, just soaking up a little sunshine.  Speaking of sunshine – the Australian government is big on the dangers of sunlight and melanoma; therefore, many people wear hats (and we had on our sunscreen).  The schoolchildren are most affected by this – all schools, public and private, have their students wear uniforms, all of which come with hats.  The rule is "No hat, no play" – kids who forget their hats cannot go outside for recess or for outings.  Anyone listening, America?  The uniforms were so cute – we saw lots of groups out and it was so easy to see who went with whom - what a great idea!

Despite our fascination with the bats, our stomachs were growling and we were on a timetable, so we found a table outdoors at a café in the Gardens.  As usual, lunch was delicious!  I had an entrée of kangaroo tail consommé with a Jerusalem artichoke ravioli, followed by a skirt steak with salsa and chips; Rex had some kind of fish (clearly, meals are not as memorable to him as they are to me…) and a cos (I think that means romaine) salad with bacon and Parmesan, and Shelley had an entrée of grilled octopus and prawns.  It was really warm – I was in the sun while Shelley and Rex were mostly in the shade, and by the time we finished I felt like I was sunburned! 

With more to explore before Bridge Climb time, we sauntered off down the garden walkways.  We were a little worried about the Sacred Lily pond, since all but a few of the lilies appeared to be dead, but the ducks were having a grand time anyway.  We had good views of the Sydney Tower, the Harbour Bridge, and the Opera House as we walked right along the shoreline.  We passed a spot where Queen Elizabeth II first landed on Australian soil (we later saw a tree that she planted!), lots of people fishing in the harbour, the navy shipyards (huge cranes!) and then we stopped at Mrs. MacQuarie's chair for a photo op.  Mr. MacQuarie was governor of Australia back in the early 1800's, and the 'chair' is a stone ledge that looks out over the harbour.  We took the long way around to get back to the gardens, passing some colorful lorikeets and sulphur-crested cockatoos along the way.  We saw the pool named for Andrew "Boy" Charlton (famous Aussie Olympian from long ago) and the expensive condos where people like Russell Crowe live.  A glance at our watches (or phone, in my case) showed we'd better get a move on if we were to keep our 3:45 appointment for the twilight bridge climb!

No worries about any extra calories today – we walked briskly through the Gardens and up and down city streets as we wound our way through town to the Bridge Climb reception area on Cumberland Street.  On Shelley's recommendation, we had chosen to do the Discovery Bridge Climb, which allows you to climb up the lower arch of the bridge, coming out right in the middle of traffic lanes (but not actually where you'd get hit!) and continuing on up to the top.  This is a fairly new climb, as most climbers just climb up the main arch to the top.  A couple of differences – the Discovery Climb allows you to see many different perspectives of the bridge and the streets and waters below, and there are no ladders to climb – it was stairs all the way!  Some of the grates are open, which undoes some people, but is right up my alley!  The guides on the Discovery Climb give a lot more information about the architecture of the bridge, and doing the Climb at twilight with the promised of a colorful sunset was so exciting!

We arrived at reception only a few minutes late, so we were quickly processed (passed my breathalyzer, even after beer at lunch, thanks to our 'walk'!) and sent to the dressing rooms.  All climbers wear lovely gray jumpsuits so as not to distract motorists as they clamber around, and then we added our accessories – a figure-flattering belt, which held our sliders (the things that attach us to the bridge cables, but probably would not be much help if one were to tumble over, which you would have to work HARD to do), our radios (one-way, so we can hear our guide), and our fleece jackets (provided, thankfully).  One of the main stipulations of those climbing the bridge is that NOTHING can be taken up on the bridge (cameras, cell phones, etc.) and absolutely nothing LOOSE goes up there.  So we stopped at a station to put on sunscreen and pick up hankies that attached to our wrists, toboggans (I think they called them beanies) and ball caps that attached to our jumpsuits, lanyards for our sunnies (sunglasses) that attached to our jumpsuits, and headphones for our radios and headlamps, both of which were attached, too.  The headphones were ingenious – they conducted sound through our bones, so instead of going in our ears, they were on our temples, just in front of our ears.  Worked pretty well, thanks to the US Navy!  Along the way, we tested our sliders on a simulation cable and pretty soon (only about 50 minutes later) we were ready to climb.

We got so lucky – we had a fabulous guide named Sophie, who was a darling young nanotechnology student, and there were only six of us in the group – a man from Sydney, who was doing his fourth climb, a female colleague of his from St. Louis, and a couple with a long-distance commute – he's a physician in Tuscon and she's an actress in LA.  So off we went!  I don't have the words to tell you how incredibly fantastic this experience was!!!  Never scary for a second, and not even difficult, ever.  Most of the stairways were wide and had handrails on both sides, in addition to the slider cables, and the grades were only steep just at the top of the bridge.   There are a few places that we had to bend over (at least some of us did) and were a little close, and we had to go through a few security gates, and there were some spots with open grating (meaning we could see either land, water, or cars below us – if you looked, which of course, I did!) but it was MUCH easier and less frightening than many hikes I've been on!  And the payoff – WOW!!!  I've seen some terrific sunsets on my travels, but none from 135 meters above a harbour!  Our timing could not have been more perfect!  It was still light as we came up through the rush hour traffic (now that was really cool!) and the sun was coloring the sky as we proceeded up the arch and ended up on top of the bridge.  The flags were flapping so loudly and were straight out – it was SO WINDY!!! – that it was hard to hear up top.  Sophie took several photos of us (if they don't get you on the price of the climb, they'll make sure they get you on the price of the only photos you could have!) and some of the whole group at several different points along the way.

By the time we reached the apex of the bridge, it was not only windy, it was chilly!  So I pulled on my fleece and tried to stay upright against the wind.  Darkness was falling and the city lights were replacing the sunset at the show of the moment.  Truly, I can't stress enough – do not leave Sydney without doing this climb!!!  Remember, it's not the things in life that you DO that you regret the most, it's the ones you DON'T do!!  On our way back down, we had to take a little detour around a construction zone tarp that had gotten torn in the wind and was flapping wildly, so we got another lucky break.  We got to go through a pylon that most people don't get to see, so that was cool, and it got us out of the cold wind!  Maybe added a few steps, but it was neat to see the inner workings of the bridge, too.  Once back inside, we unstrapped our gear (they have this part down to a science) and changed back into our street clothes.  No amount of combing could make our hair behave, so off we went in search of dinner looking like we'd been standing in a wind tunnel.

Shelley and Keith had mentioned the Park Hyatt as a dinner possibility, and since it was at the base of the bridge, and since we knew we could get a taxi home from there, off we went.  Decidedly underdressed, we were nonetheless greeted warmly by the dining room host, who subtly (really, I'm being serious) directed us to the "Little Kitchen", where we partook of a very tasty meal.  I had a most delicious wild boar ragout (cooked for two days) with a homemade flat pasta that was called something like striatta, along with a rocket, pear, and parmesan salad.  Rex had a good-looking strip steak and a huge bowl of chips (fries, but I figure you know that!) and two teeny containers of 'tomahto', which are a weak facsimile of ketchup.  The Hyatt's chips are not fat fries like most places – these were way more like McDonald's fries.  Oh well.  We shared a dessert of a fudge brownie (try three!) and homemade vanilla gelato.  Oy.  Oh, and I had had a delightful Hepburn martini, made with Campari, pomegranate vodka, red grapefruit, and passionfruit.  YUM!  I think Rex had wine – regardless, the bottom line is that I was so exhausted and relaxed that I was sure I would fall asleep in the taxi and wake up in Canberra or someplace.

We found our way back to the Alexander's, even though again, the cabbie asked me how to get there…  Shelley and Keith had been to a marriage enrichment course at their church, and we got home before they did.  I know I was SOUND ASLEEP before ten PM, and you know that NEVER happens!  It had been the most marvelous day!

High on life,


On the Rocks!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

It's a good thing I got organized last night because before I knew it, it was time for Keith to pick us up for church.  We said our goodbyes and bid everyone a safe journey home, and then we schlepped our stuff downstairs, timing our arrival perfectly with Keith's.  Not sure how that happened, but it did!  So I finally got to meet Shelley's husband, Keith, who had been in Melbourne for the past few days.  Off we went to St. Mathias Anglican Church, which is in a very old church building that used to be the garrison church.  It is a small but lovely stone structure that has been fitted with 21st century technology.  Keith is a musician and would be playing the trumpet and the trombone during services, so while he was getting set up, Shelley introduced me to lots of her church friends and we had a bit of morning tea and scones.   With jam and cream.  Have I mentioned that my weight loss program is taking a hit?  I'm really trying to keep it somewhat under control, but isn't eating the cuisine of the place you're visiting part of the fun of the trip?  When you can't even resist temptation in church, you know it's a bad thing….


The service was different than what I'm used to, but enjoyable and uplifting.  It was most amazing to me that the whole order of worship fit on one column of one page of the bulletin – ours at home takes about three or four pages!  The whole inside of the bulletin had the outline of the sermon along with space to take notes, and after the sermon there was time for questions.  We sang some familiar songs – Rock of Ages (a modern version) and Amazing Grace (a stirring song EVERY time I hear it!) and I learned about a nearby theological school that this congregation supports.  I had time to chat with the minister and other new friends after church, too.


From St. Mathias, Keith played chauffeur again and dropped us off at the Rocks to meet Kerrianne for shopping and lunch.  The Rocks is the oldest section of Sydney, down near the waterfront, and on Sundays there is a great outdoor market, filled with stalls selling everything from jewelry to candles to food to books to clothing – you name it, you can probably find it here!  It was a little reminiscent of Rialto Market in Venice, except it was not as crowded and everyone spoke English.  At the very first stall we stopped at, I bought a gorgeous blue and turquoise beaded lariat necklace.  Anne, I tried to buy just some beads, but they are handmade and not for sale!  I will post a photo of the necklace!


We found Kerrianne, Kaylene, and Sue straightaway and then we just meandered through the market.  Imagine my surprise (and total delight!) to find a Shave Ice stand at the end of the market!!!  My only complaint about Australia is that they treat ice like the Europeans do – one or two cubes, if any, is all you are given in an iced beverage – so I thought I had died and gone to heaven!  I couldn't get my cola shave ice in my hands fast enough, and when the proprietor gave me just a handful of his finely spun ice to sample, I was swooning!  Kaylene and Sue were intrigued, so they made a purchase, too.  Converts!

We wandered along, picking up a few pieces of jewelry here and there, but mostly just looking, until we decided we might be getting hungry.  Even then, we took the long way around, and I got to see a tunnel which was dug out by hand by some of the convicts who were among the early settlers of Australia.  You can still see the marks of the chisels they used to cut through solid rock!  Doesn't seem like a good skill to teach inmates, does it?  Tunneling out of jail could be next!  As we crossed a street, Shelley told me to get my camera ready for a photo op, and when we turned the corner, there it was – the famous Sydney Opera House directly ahead!  Opened in October 1973, the Opera House is one of the most recognized icons in the world, and in real life it is just as magnificent as it is in photos!


We were at Circular Quay, which is the transportation hub for buses, ferries, and taxis, as well as being the place to see and be seen on a glorious winter weekend!  Have I mentioned that every day that I've spent here has been stupendous?  The weather could not have been nicer – blue skies and perfect temps have been the order of the days!  We wandered around the quay, looking for a good place to stop for lunch.  I saw (and heard) my first didgeridoo players, and it seemed like all of Sydney was out enjoying their beautiful city on such a pleasant Sunday afternoon.


We decided to have a bite at the Oyster Bar, right on the quay where we could see both the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Shelley ordered the seafood plate, Kerrianne got the Kingfish and a side of green beans and cauliflower, Kaylene ordered oysters, Sue stuck with the green beans and cauliflower but also ordered the chocolate dessert, and I chose two entrees – the goats curds with capsicum and sweet onion and prawns with lime and chili kaffir.  As you may have guessed, everything was delicious.  I shared the goats curds (really good, especially with the onions) and devoured the shrimp!  We each had a bite of Sue's dessert, too – mmm, mmm, good!


We decided to walk off our lunch, which was working pretty well until we came to a gelato stand.   I had chocolate truffle, which said it was 90% fat free.  I was feeling good about that, until Shelley had to mention that also meant it was 10% fat!  Oh well, we were walking, anyway!  We strolled down to the Opera House and walked all the way around it, and before we knew it, Keith was ringing to see where he should meet us.  Turns out that Rex's plane was actually arriving a few minutes early, so we needed to get to the airport.  We met Keith in front of the Opera House and off we went to pick up Rex!


No worries, he got there safely and even passed Customs (not without having to declare something he left off his form) so we made introductions and went back to the Alexander's for a while.  We had a 'cuppa' and heard about Rex's flight, then we started off for downtown with thoughts of dinner at Ripples (also at Luna Park, a sister restaurant to Aqua).  We were seated quickly and placed our orders.   I chose risotto primavera (asparagus, peas, corn, and a bunch of other good stuff), Rex had prawns tempura, Keith had beef tenderloin, and Shelley got XXXXXXX.  We also got a rocket, pear, and parmesan salad and tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil salad to share.  It was fantastic!!


We walked around Luna Park and took in the city lights of Sydney at night on the water – could there be a more perfect way to end the day?  Welcome to Oz, Rex!!


Rocking and Rolling,



Super Saturday - RIPPA!!

Saturday, 15 August 2009


Today started in much the same way as yesterday – me in my jammies working on the computer and wolfing down the porridge (think oatmeal, y'all) and hot tea that Shelley fixed for me, trying hard not to make us late.  Lots of big news for CM AU was announced at Showcase today!  First, it was announced that FINALLY Australian CMC's would be able to get digital downloads!!!  It may come as a surprise to those of you in the States who have been taking our ability to download for granted, but up until now, our Australian Sisters and Brothers of the Blue Oval have only been able to get digital content on CD's.  So you can imagine that the news that ALL 200+ digital packages would be available to them was mind-boggling!  In fact, I was about to think the audience was in shock, until I realized these Aussies just don't get as excited about things as we do back home.  Their excitement was very contained and the announcement was met with polite applause.  Lovely!


UL Bronwyn Hawkins and four able assistants did a wonderful job presenting a digital party; again, great ideas that I will take home and put to good use.  Assuming I ever get back home and stay there long enough to do some work…  There was lots of recognition today – huge congrats to all the award winners! – and soon it was time for morning tea.  Today's treat was friands, which are like a really dense muffin with a few blueberries in the middle – very buttery and rich, so you know I loved them!  Uncle John must have missed out on the scones yesterday, because we were under strict orders to make sure he got a friand today!  I didn't tell you much about Uncle John, who is head of the warehouse, but he kept me in stitches all weekend!  It was a breath of fresh air for me that Australia is not nearly as politically correct as we Americans attempt to be – we could do with a little more humor and stop taking everything so seriously!  Oh, and also at tea, Amanda found me and handed me a package of chocolate Tim Tams (which I have yet to open up, totally resisting temptation) which are said to be THE BEST THING EVER!!!  Thanks for sharing them, Amanda and Susan, and thanks Kylie for telling me about www.everythingaustralian.com - I will be checking it out for sure!


After morning tea, Exec Director Diane Lampert (formerly from CA, now from Victoria) did an informative and entertaining interview with Robynne, and then there was an incentive program announced and then the really big news – Mark Mizen announced that CM AU would be getting StoryBook Creator 3 SOON!!!!  This is HUGE news for the gang Down Under – they are used to being months, if not years, behind us, and I have to think that facebook and technology advances had a lot to do with this one.  Again though, the crowd was very polite and didn't even ask WHEN this would be happening.  Don't think we would have let Mark off the stage in the States without telling us that detail!  But perhaps the crowd was too stunned to react after Mark shared some of the many cool features that SBC3 will do!  Double RIPPA!  And they have since announced that the launch date is mid-September!! 


More awards were presented and the location for Summit 2010 (Leadership meeting – to be on the Gold Coast of Queensland) was announced.  Hmmm, wonder if they'll need any US speakers in February?  Before I had time to daydream much about that, it was time for lunch.  Like yesterday, we had box lunches, this time with an orzo salad, a chicken breast on rocket, a nice soft bun (I managed to not eat it) with cheese and veggies, more good King Island cheese, a coconut iced cupcake (passed on it, too, somehow!) and a bottle of juice.  This time I got orange and passion fruit, which was yummy!  We took our lunches out to the harbour again and had a fine time!  It was such fun for me to witness all of these facebook connections meeting face-to-face.  Over and over I heard consultants say how much fun and how different this convention was since it was the first time many of these people had met each other in person!  That has always been one of my favorite things about our Showcase – seeing my CM friends from all over the country – and I missed lots of you this year!!  I am already looking forward to Leadership at Gila Ranch so we can catch up in person!


After lunch, there was more recognition and then an excellent presentation by UL Tanya Sinclair, who shared her very personal story about her journey to leadership and how CM has changed her life and her family's life.  She did a fantastic job!  The final surprise of the day was the announcement of next year's incentive trip – WOW!  Can we say Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China???  Take me along!  Seriously, wouldn't it be fun to have an incentive trip for NA and AU that was at the same place at the same time?  Now THAT would be an incentive for me!!


As the afternoon drew to a close, we speakers were called on stage for a thank you and a gift.  I was presented with an Australian cookbook (you know I will LOVE that!) by Women's Weekly, which sounds a lot like our Southern Living cookbooks.  Can't wait to try out some recipes, although I may have to be getting some translations from my Aussie friends!   Our closing entertainment was provided by a speed painter who did Marilyn Monroe, the Make a Wish girl, and Brian, followed by a hilarious and very talented musical video by the B Flats, who are the four warehouse guys.  They did a CM version of We Are the Champions and it was awesome!  We need to get hold of that video and share it!  We had a couple of hours before the Gala Dinner, so we rushed back to the apartment to change clothes.


The Gala was really special!  Several differences from ours – first, alcohol was served (wouldn't mind seeing that change!) and seats were assigned, intentionally mixing things up a bit.  I liked that idea, too, although it would be a lot harder to do that for 3000+ people than for 650+!  I sat at a table of leaders and had a delightful time hearing their stories and getting to know them.  The room was decorated in shades of silver and gold, and each table had a metal and glass tree on it with silver puzzle pieces hanging on it.  There was really funny entertainment, as three men posing as waiters turned out to be comedic opera singers.  I'm not sure how anyone decides to become a speed painter or a comedian who sings opera, but I'm glad someone did!


There was a good bit of recognition done at the Gala Dinner – Growth, Leader Development, and Career Recognition Awards were given out, and the Spirit of Success and Showcase Star Awards were announced.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the meal!  Two different meals were served – you either got a lamb and lentil entrée followed by a beef short rib, or you got a most delicious cherry tomato (remember, it's to MAH to here!) tart and a chicken with polenta main.  I didn't hear any complaints about either meal – both were quite nice!  And dessert – YUM – was a rich dark chocolate something – sort of like a flourless tart – very dense and oh, so chocolate!  I couldn't even eat it all!  And we got wine with dinner, too!

After dinner, wild dancing followed!  A great DJ kept the dance floor full until midnight, when the crowd would have continued but sadly, the music stopped.  I had a blast, although I was sure my thighs and feet would be screaming the next day!  All of the local girls with me were given one of the trees to take home (the perks of staying til after it's over!) so we caught a cab back to the hotel.  Linda, Shelley, and I got a driver who kept asking us how to get to our hotel, with the reason being that 'he's not from around here'!!  Like I was??  Isn't that his job?  At least I didn't feel bad about not tipping him, since tipping is not customary in Australia.  Another nice thing about this place!  And, tax is already included in the price of things.  Could we start a movement in the States?


Thankfully, we made it home with only a short walk, and then it was time to pack our bags so that we'd be ready when Keith picked us up for church in the morning!  It has been an incredible opportunity to experience Showcase Australia, and I will never forget the fun I had or the friends I've made.  I am SO BLESSED!!  Thanks to all who made this dream a reality!!


Off to dream more dreams,



Showing Off at Showcase!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Shelley and I were up early and of course, I was planted in front of the computer, trying to upload pix and do a little blogging.  You see how well that worked.  Even paying $50 for three days of internet is no guarantee that you can do what you want to – it took ALL NIGHT and most of the day to upload two days worth of photos to my phanfare account, and I never got my photos to load on the blog.  Sorry about that!  Now you can see how I got so behind!

We had a bite to eat in the apartment for breakfast, and I was still playing on the computer (in PJ's, of course!) when Shelley announced we needed to leave in five minutes!  YIKES!!  Good thing I warned her that I would need a keeper!  I threw myself in the shower and got dressed and off we flew to the Sydney Convention Center.  Turns out we all had the time a bit wrong, as we got there when we planned to but we were still a bit late!  The opening ceremony had just started, and we got to see an amazing dance and magic show where the woman changed clothes at least a dozen times, each in about ten seconds and on stage!!  It was crazy!  I'll see if I can find a YouTube link to these people or something close…

And so Showcase AU started!  A message from Brian O'Callaghan, President of CM Australasia, set the stage for the whole convention.  Executive Director Susan Wilmot was the first consultant speaker, and she introduced the concept of doing CM parties that are fundraisers for our corporate charity, Make a Wish Foundation.  Although that has been a now year-old partnership in the States, it is a new one for Australia and New Zealand. Susan had some fantastic ideas and I can't wait to implement them in my business!   A personal message from Mark Mizen (from the US home office) about the future of digital photography and scrapbooking, along with video messages from Asha and Rhonda, were highlights of the morning, and I loved the break for morning tea, especially the scones with Devon cream and jam!!  After tea, we had the most fantastic motivational speaker, Bruce Sullivan.  Be sure to visit his website, www.brucesullivan.com.au and see why we loved him so.  RIPPA!

Lunch was tons of fun – we each picked up clear plastic boxes full of food – a spinach and feta salad, shaved roast beef on rocket (arugula) and avocado, a soft roll filled with roasted vegetables, a lovely piece of King Island brie cheese and crackers, a chocolate cupcake, and a bottle of juice.  We had been freezing inside, so we took our lunches out to the harbour and enjoyed the warm sunshine and the scenery.   And the food!  The people-watching was not so bad, either!

After lunch, my facebook friend Chris Lothian was the first consultant speaker, and she did a great job talking about how to market all of our wonderful traditional products and showing unexpected ways that they can be used.  One of the first surprises for the Australian consultants was the news that Memory Manager 3.0 would be available to them next month, and I had the pleasure of sharing with them some of the fun things it will do.  Director (and facebook friend) Dianne Thomas spoke about offering PicFolio albums as good choices along with digital and traditional scrapbooking, and I will forever think of her as Pixie from now on!  Rippa, Pixie!  I loved meeting and hearing from the FDM's, Carol Finnie, Kathy Lindquist, and Robynne Mountford, and the show's MC's from the Home Office were bubbly Louise Taylor and big teddy bear Uncle John. 

When the afternoon session ended, Shelley and I raced back to the apartment to change into our Digital Divas t-shirts and grab our computers for the evening's presentation.  Exec Dir Susan Wilmot had invited us to speak to her team (which ended up being 250+ people and a waiting list!) and to have dinner with her and Amanda and their high achievers, so we met up with them at Ty Foon for a really delicious meal of Thai food.  It was fun to meet Directors Debbie Scales, Janelle McCaffrey, Ruth Burgess, and Janelle's new hotshot recruit, whose name I am blanking on right this minute, and hear what's working for them.  We got back to the convention center in time to set up our computers and hopefully keep the room entertained and informed.

Susan and Amanda presented Shelley and me with thank you gifts – mine is a huge beautiful coffee table book full of spectacular photographs of Australia along with a quote or scripture to go with each one.  I will never forget my time here!  It was so much fun to have all of our facebook Digital Divas in one room at the same time!  We got our pictures made and just had a blast talking about something we love – StoryBook Creator software!!  It's pretty amazing to think that my whole trip has come about because of facebook, CM, and StoryBook!  I love technology!

Totally stoked after an awesome day!


19 August 2009

Meeting and Greeting

Thursday, 13 August 2009

We took it easy this morning, although I woke up earlier than I normally do at home. For breakfast, Shelley fed me my first crumpet (with golden syrup) and I taught her how to make iced tea. Ice is not a creature comfort here, either, even given the warm climate, so maybe my ice-crunching teeth will get a break for a few weeks…. We downloaded our photos from the coast and from our fun dinner, and then thought about all that we could get done on our “free” day. Justine (of the Photo of the Day fame) arrived at Shelley’s house in the late morning and we called a cab to deliver us to our apartment hotel where we would be staying for Showcase.

When we got to the Meritton, our rooms were not ready, so we checked our bags and went next door to Zozo, a little Korean restaurant, for a bite of lunch. Shelley had this rice cake soup that came in a bowl big enough to mix a batch of cookies in, and Justine and I had meals that came in something sort of like a bento box. I had beef bulgogi, which was delicious. After lunch, we checked into our apartments. This is a very typical arrangement in Australia – we had a lovely three bedroom unit with two bathrooms, a large lounge room (in this case, a living room and dining room combo), a full kitchen, and a laundry room! Each of the rooms had king beds that had been separated into twins, so we had plenty of space. Did I mention that we were on the 70th floor and in a corner apartment? We had INCREDIBLE views of Darling Harbour and most of Sydney!! About the only things we couldn’t see were the Sidney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, because they were blocked by tall buildings.

Throughout the afternoon, our apartment mates arrived. In our unit were Claire, Shelley’s upline and longtime friend; Fiona, who is from Sydney and is also Claire’s downline; Pattie, who is Fiona’s downline and is from Dubbo, in the center west of NSW; and Linda, who is from Goulbourn, which is southwest of Sydney. Across the hall were Pam, who is American but has been in Australia for about a dozen years; Shelley’s good friend Ann, who is from Sydney and is in Pam’s downline; Leanne, from Sydney and Ann’s downline; Robyn, who is Pam’s downline and neighbor; Justine, who is from Bega; and Meagan, Justine’s downline from sort of near Justine. So now you have an idea who we partied with all weekend!

Although we had aspirations of getting to registration around 2:30 or 3:00, by the time we got going it was after 4 and registration closed at 4:30! We bought our three-day monorail passes and popped over to Darling Harbour, all dressed in black on black for our Meet and Greet costumes. Once we found our way to registration, we found out that I was supposed to have been there for rehearsal at 3:30… I’m not sure I ever got that memo – and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! At any rate, I went in for my rehearsal (completely unprepared to rehearse) and they let me speak anyway! It was a good thing I had sent my talk in ahead of time – it was all ready for me on the teleprompter and the technical crew was stellar! They made everything so easy for me, and after seeing what the procedure was, I was confident that all would go well on Friday.

We had a little time before we were to meet Susan Wilmot (Shelley’s up-upline and consultant #1 in Australia) and the rest of her team for Meet and Greet, so Shelley and I went to the Aquarium, which was right on Darling Harbour. We took tons of photos (a shocker, I know!) and thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the native Australian fishes. I even learned about a brand new sea creature – the dugong, which I’d never heard of but looked suspiciously like a manatee! From the aquarium, we took off for the Lindt Café (yes, that would be Lindt chocolate, as in those yummy Lindt truffles!) to meet the rest of the black on black team!

Kylie and Mandy were already at the café – they were supposed to be rooming near us but instead ended up around the block. I really enjoyed talking to the both of them and wished we could have stayed closer!! Soon Susan and another Exec Dir, Amanda Bergin, arrived with a giant picture frame. Since the theme for Showcase AU was “You Complete the Picture” it was a perfect ‘costume’ for us. You should have seen us all trying to get in the picture (we decided we could be like one of those moving Harry Potter pictures) and walking down to the Meet and Greet venue with the giant frame!

The Meet and Greet was the official start of Showcase, and it is for everyone who is attending. Generally, teams dress up in a costume that befits the overall Showcase theme (although Shelley tells me that there is a Village People group every year, regardless of the theme!) and everyone enjoys drinks and lovely entrees and just has a relaxing time catching up with CM friends. We came in and huddled together for our ‘official’ team shot (thanks for including me, Susan!!) and then we made the rounds, meeting and greeting! Some of the facebook friends I met were the other divas, Kerrianne Hobbs and Janice Gilhooley, and Anne Cook from WA. I met Brian O’Callaghan, who is President of CM Australasia (and looking fine in his faux mustache and artist’s garb) and I found Mark Mizen and Eve Millar from CM US and compared notes with them. Jenny was not feeling well, so she stayed in, but Jan and her crew were in attendance. I met LOTS of other new Australian CM friends and just had a grand time.

You’ll get a feel for the creativity of the costumes when you see the photos posted on facebook. Sorry, but I doubt they’re going to make it onto the blog, as internet connections have not been consistent enough for me to load them here, and as you can tell, I’ve barely had time to write, much less add photos! Check my profile for the album “Jan Down Under” – if you’re not on facebook, let me know and I’ll send you the phanfare link and you can see the photos there!

So, another big day came to a close and we caught the monorail back to our apartment where we found we still had the energy to talk some more. Some things are universal, I suppose! Pam kept us in stitches with stories about her early days in Australia, since she had another American to vouch for the foreign-ness of some of the language and expressions. One of the funniest stories was about when her daughter joined a Brownie troop and Pam was asked to bring “a slice” to one of the meetings. She was happy to do that, but she wasn’t sure what kind of slice to bring, so she asked. She was told to bring whatever she wanted, so she’s thinking, “slice of bread, slice of tomato, slice of cake, slice of bologna, slice of pie….”???? Finally, when pressed, someone told her to bring vanilla!! WHAT?!?!? So for all you Americans out there, next time you are in Australia and asked to bring a slice, just bake a pan of brownies or something and you’ll be in good shape!! Another good one was when she was asked to come for a bit of a barbie and to bring a plate. Imagine her surprise when she and her family arrive, each with their own empty plates (and silverware, in case it was needed, too) only to find out she was to have brought a dish to share!

After laughing until I was crying, I crawled into bed to rest up for another fun-filled day!

Appropriately met and greeted, not to mention rehearsed and regaled,