Friday, March 28, 2008

Australian War Museum

We just returned from an exciting whirlwind tour of Canberra, Australia’s exquisitely designed capital. I’m no city girl, but this is one city that captured my imagination! A highlight of our visit was the Australian War Memorial, which commemorates the sacrifice of Australians who have died in war and helps us remember and understand the enduring impact of war on our lives.

I especially enjoyed the Special Exhibit Gallery which recounts—through artifacts, photographs, maps, and letters—the story of the legendary T.E. Lawrence. My high school history teacher introduced me to Lawrence when he gave me an old, broken-in copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom; this is the same teacher who ignited my passion for exploring life’s big questions and eventually my commitment to teaching the humanities. Imagine my surprise and delight when I stumbled across a copy of the extremely rare 1926 subscriber’s edition of Lawrence’s book!

I am left pondering the following quote; to me, it captures the spirit of Rotary:

Peacekeepers may not solve problems, but that is not to say that they do not improve lives. Peace is an allusive goal constructed out of many small things. Peter Londey, Other People’s Wars (2004)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

All Aboard for Canberra ...

We're off - it is a special train
For capitals we're looking
For many days, through devious ways,
And variegated cooking ...
Each hill and dale, each stream and lake
Seems all the more alluring,
When sandwiches and bottled ale
Alleviate our touring.
- Table Talk, 1902

It didn't take many days - just three hours - and we didn't go by train, but to Australia's capital we did go ... After a 7 a.m. presentation to the Blacktown RC we all threw our backpacks into a 12-passenger van and climbed aboard for the drive to Canberra. Along with us were Pete's hosts Trevor and Gloria, Jito from Kerala, India, PDG Warwick Testor and Marie.
I couldn't tell you for sure how many of us fell asleep since I was one of those who did, but it was a pretty quiet trip until we stopped at Goulburn, the sheep capitol of Australia and home to the biggest sheep in the world, the 15 meter high Big Merino. The main street looked like we had somehow landed in the midwest, South Dakota (yes, MJS, even Down Under, you can still find SD). We had coffee and scones at the Paragon Cafe, then moved on to Canberra and our first views of Lake Burley Griffin. We went through Parliament House and saw the Senate and House of Representatives, both modeled after the UK Parliament but with the red and green chambers muted to eucalyptus green and Uluru rock red. The view from the rooftop was magnificent, and it was interesting to see the entire planned city, and to appreciate the vision that the founders had. The city is laid out on a large flat plain surrounded by Colorado-esque mountains, all lazing under a massive sky and clouds that Mina, especially, found beautiful.
After lunch, across the lake, we stopped to admire the Australian-American war memorial, a 258 foot column topped by a giant eagle of which I'm sure George Orwell would be very proud (very 1984/Brutalist looking).
We had an hour to take in the War Memorial, an impossible task as one could spend hours, even days, reading the information, watching the videos, and contemplating the bewildering things that people can do to each other. One side of the building was devoted to WWI, the other to WWII, and there was even more I didn't get to. In the WWII section, I saw a BMW motorcycle that must be like the one Grandpa talked about riding across North Africa (though this one had a sidecar, which would have cramped his style outrunning the Bedouins ... ) Anyway, it was a beautifully designed presentation, and an interesting, different perspective from which to view events.
Mina and I bunked together at the Heritage Hotel, and the whole group enjoyed an al fresco Italian dinner in town. Slept like a rock and in the morning we were off to see all the embassies before going up the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain and getting an even better aerial view of the city.
We had a quick visit to the Australian National Museum, where I saw a lot of great quotes that expressed the exotic nature of Australia that the first settlers grappled with, both in their own words and in others:
Trees retained their leaves and shed their bark instead, the swans were black, the eagles white, the bees were stingless, some mammals had pockets, others laid eggs, it was warmest on the hills and coolest in the valleys, even the blackberries were red.
Earth red with a million years of fire. - Mark O'Connor
They made a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. - Sir John Forrest, 1903
A man's life is a small gleam of time between two eternities. - Thomas Carlyle, 1857
I have a strange idea that there is a central sea and I should go fully prepared for a Voyage. - Charles Sturt, 1844, an optimistic but ultimately disappointed bloke who actually dragged a whaling ship into the Outback in search of an inland sea that does not exist ... ooops!
The imagination has its own geography which alters with the centuries. - Graham Greene, 1952

We had a noon presentation at the Canberra Yacht Club, then piled back in for the return drive to Sydney. We did an impressive job consuming the piles of yummy cookies that Gloria baked for us (dare I say, the shortbread was Gloria-ous), I almost learned how to knit (help, it's still a mystery), and naps did happen.
I am beginning to feel human again after a couple days of subpar existence, so watch out Australia, I'm back. How lucky to move in with a doctor just as I began to dissolve; Sushilla set me up with the right stuff and her warm hugs and "Of course, my darlings" are good cures. Also, the Indian dinner she prepared for me, Mina and Jito tonight was beyond compare, I may never be able to eat in an Indian restaurant again because she has spoiled me for life. "Eat shamelessly," she told us, and did we ever! Yum, yum, yum, we stuffed ourselves. Jito was ecstatic to have food from home, and was very talkative. Dad, you would have exploded from the spice level : ) It was fantastic. She's writing up the recipes for us, fingers crossed it comes out half as good at home! One can only hope. Where does one get curry leaves in NH?!?
And now I'm the last one standing in this house at half past midnight. Tomorrow's - or rather, today's -plans are made, the bottle of Hungarian red is empty, the mango that grew just outside the door consumed, and everyone else is asleep. Sounds like a good idea for me, too. G'night.

In Australia alone is to be found the Grotesque, the Weird, the strange scribbling of nature learning how to write. Some see no beauty in our trees without shade, our flowers without perfume, our birds who cannot fly, and our beasts who have not yet learned to walk on all fours. But the dweller in the wilderness acknowledges the subtle charm of this fantastic land of monstrosities. He becomes familiar with the beauty of loneliness. Whispered to by the myriad tongues of the wilderness, he learns the language of the barren and the uncouth, and can read the hieroglyphs of the haggard gum trees, blown into odd shapes, distorted with fierce hot winds, or cramped with cold nights, when the Southern Cross freezes in a cloudless sky of icy blue. The phantasmagoria of that wild dreamland termed the Bush interprets itself, and the Poet of our desolation begins to comprehend why free Esau loved his heritage of desert sand better than the bountiful richness of Egypt. - Marcus Clarke

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An Awesome Weekend

Our weekend began as you may have read at The Royal Sydney Easter Show held at Olympic park, home of the 2000 summer games. What a great day for all of us. We members box tickets which allowed us great seats for all of the events held in the NAB arena throughout the day. We began with a bit of lunch and watch Xtreme Xcitement put on a spectacular show. The v-6 toyota Hilux drill team was spectacular putting their machines to the test all around the track. An appearance by dangerman and dangerwoman riding a motorcycle some 30 meters above the ground while performing graceful acrobatics was enjoyable as well. The highlight for sure was the motocross riders and their amazing aerial stunt spectacular. These riders have little fear and performed high flying tricks as seen on the x-games. Certainly enjoyed and marveled at by all.

We then split up and each checked out various parts of the show on our own. It is a much larger version of the the Big E held in Massachusettes every year. Good Friday drew over 150,000 people to the event. The food is very different and no fried bread dough! Oh well, I did find some pizza so all was well. I particuarly enjoyed the woodsmans games being held in one of the venues. It was the world championships and countries from all over the world were represented. I did get to view the finals of the "standing chop handicapped" event. Pretty interesting and certainly the contestants were quite beat before they fininished.

Before the day was out we rejoined for show jumping and bull riding at the arena. WE caught the Xtreme show again due to its popularity and were treated to a large firework and laser light show to end the evening.

On saturday we went white water rafting at the olypmic rafting center. I have never been before and throughly enjoyed it. After some quick traing we set out on the course with our guide and learned how to fall out "safely." Kate and Amy Beth made it into the drink, but despite our guides best efforts I managed to stay in the boat. A very wet experience but very fun.

From there we whisked off to the local National Rugby League game between the Penrith Panthers and the Canberra Raiders. For those of you who don't know there is also rugby union, the original form of rugby. Union is also very popular. We are very indebted to Murray of Penrith Rotary for getting us the tickets and treating us to a great night. It is a different sort of game with plenty of hard hits. I will be interested to see how it compares to the AFL which I will see in Melbourne. A special treat for us was John Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora arriving in a helicopter during the pregame to promote their concert later that evening. They landed right in the middle of the field and hopped out before we could even register what was really happening. They sang dead or the crowd going and headed of to their main venue. Sweet!!!

Unfortunately Penrith lost but I did pick up a nice home Jersey to remember the night. Evan our host rotarty member then boarded Steve, Amy Beth and I into his car and we headed for the Avoca Beach....located about 1.5 hours north of Sydney. We got there in time for a moonlight stroll with our host John Duckworth. It was a beautiful night....I stood under a completely different set of stars then I am used to and enjoyed every moment. After a great nights sleep I awoke early for a morning swim and again strolled the beach. JOhn's house is right on the beach literally walking off the porch out onto the nice for us!

John dropped me off at the train station in Gosford where I caught a train to Central station in Sydney and then transferred to Bondi Junction. I was spending Easter with a friend of mine who lives just a few blocks from Bondi beach. After catching up we had a nice lunch and headed out to the Taronga zoo. I learned quite a bit about the native animals of Australia and despite the walking had a good afternoon. The zoo is quite unique as it sits on a hill side overlooking the harbor and the beautiful Sydney skyline. I found it quite interesting to be looking out over the giraffes and see the skyskrapers in the back ground.

Emma and I rested up a bit before dinner. We eventually headed to the Opera House for dinner at a restaurant there and spent the night at the Opera House Bar. What a nice sits literally below ground level of the opera house and is open to the air. It is just above the waterline which affords beautiful views of the lit up harbor at night. Really and truely beautiful. There were fireworks over the harbor bridge for Easter and that capped our evening off just nicely.

I had a nice pancake breakfast on the Beach at Bondi. It is similar to California Beaches with the similar hustle and bustle of a touristy area. We took to the beach for a bit to get some sun and swim before I headed back to the train station. The trains were very easy to use and worked out just fine. I got back to blaxland in the late afternoon in time for dinner. I finished the night by walking my host families dog Buddy.

All is well here and I am loving the Australian sights and people.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Another beautiful day in Australia, which Mina and I spent with our hosts Phil and Nerrie in Sydney. We went on a 3-hour coffee cruise around Sydney Harbour, enjoying gorgeous views of the harbour, Opera House, and the rather astounding real estate ringing the shore.

After the cruise, we took the ferry to Darling Harbour and walked around there before returning to Nerrie's office building and enjoying the views from her 58th floor office.

What a weekend! Tomorrow we move on, and more adventures await.

Wet and Wild Weekend

After our big day at the Royal Easter Show on Friday, Saturday morning we went to the Penrith Whitewater Stadium. We were able to watch the end of the kayaking competition for the Olympic qualifications. It rained on us a little for the first time on the trip. This facility was built for the Olympics and is a great place. In the afternoon we had our opportunity to go Whitewater rafting. Evan Whitley joined the five of us and our guide Joel (?) to start our adventure. It was a sometimes tense but great experience going down grade three whitewater. The course runs in a loop and at the end you go up a conveyer belt to do it again. We had about6-7 runs in all. Amy Beth and Kate got dumped and went under the boat but came out fine in the end. The guide kept working to get some of the rest of us in the water but we managed to stay connected to the raft. It was a great experience that will be remembered for a long time to come. Check out the stadium website:

After showering we went to the Penrith Panthers rugby game. There was a helicopter that touched down in the middle of the field with Jon Bon Jovi who did a song or two. He apparently was the lead singer in a tribute band that was performing at the Panthers club. The game was great. Pete, Amy Beth and I went to Avoca Beach with the Whitleys after the game where we were hosted by John and Jan Duckworth. They had a great location on the beach that we really enjoyed.

Sunday morning we had a great morning swim at Avoca Beach with Pete, John and Amy Beth. It is a beautiful beach where a lot of surfers enjoy the waves. Check out the photos at Pete left for Sydney to spend Easter with a friend. After breakfast we went to the Ken Duncan Photography gallery where we saw some amazing photography. We also went to Terrigal where we saw the beach and scenery from a great lookout point. We had coffee in the village before returning to the beach house. After lunch, we could relax, walk along the beach, swim and boogie boardand even take a nap. I had a little book time before our barbeque in the evening. Steve was able to invite some friends from the Newcastle area to join us.

On Monday, Steve and Amy Beth played tennis at 7 am. After breakfast we took a stroll around the rocky ledges surrounding the beach. This is a beautiful area! The John and Jan Duckworth and Evan and Karen Whitley were wonderful hosts.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Hi Everybody!
Just wanted to say thank you to everybody who's checking out the blog. (Thanks Pam and Sue et al for the messages!). Were trying to add more photos as we get the hang of it.
Hope everybody is well at home. Be patient, the warm weather is coming!
Love, :) Mina

Oh, Happy Day...

This was an unusual Easter! I wandered out for breakfast to find a chocolate bilby and a little fuzzy chick, which Phil and Nerrie had set out for me. At 8:30, Anthea and Jarrod arrived to pick me up for a day at their 25 acre farm in Wallacia, about 20 minutes away. I met them soon after arriving in Australia, at our first presentation, and it didn't take long for horses to enter the conversation, and before I knew it, things had been arranged for me to go for a horse ride - the day had come!

That's Magic in the photo, and he was a good, energetic boy on our 2 hour romp through Rossmoore, a great place riddled with riding trails. We cantered along for ages at a time, kookaburra birds singing in the background, and Phil and Nerrie said the grin on my face when I returned was ear to ear. Oh, snow, go away at home and let the grass grow so we can get out and run around!

Anthea was very kind to let a strange American ride her show horse, and we've made plans to meet again in 2010 when they come to the US for the horse games in Kentucky.


Okay, this is an experiment ... Phil very kindly downloaded all my photos onto five CDs and I'll try putting up a few ... the first couple are from Wednesday, when we did our presentation to the 3 Penrith Rotary Clubs.

Yesterday, Saturday, we went rafting ... woohoo!

Friday, March 21, 2008

... A Veritable Smorgasboard* ...

Woohoo!!! Our ears are still ringing and throats scratchy from whooping it up all day at the Royal Easter Show. The Olympic complex was very impressive, and handled the crowd of 150,000 with ease. Thanks to our Rotary hosts, we enjoyed the privileges of the Members Stand, which was most considerately situated ringside to all the EQUINE events. Does it get any better? Cotton candy is called fairy floss here, and we had corn dogs and pizza and ice cream and fish n chips, and sampled all manner of offerings in the food dome. No sign of fried dough anywhere, alas, but I'll get my fix in the fall : )

The day was overcast and cool = perfect for watching motocross and the Toyota Hilux team (SKS, you would have looooved it); showjumping, polo, campdrafting (a rather mysterious event), motocross again, and finally, at 9pm, the dairy famers fireworks finale, during which they played that song "I Come From a Land Down Under". There's a moment to remember...

In between all that, we walked around the exhibition halls and barns; I fell in love with a horse named Mr. Darcy, found a bee-yoo-tee-ful saddle for Fredd (ha!) and watched a 9 year-old girl on the perfect-sized pony have a dressage lesson (she was so good! nice team) and, of course, people watched...

Well, this is not a very coherent posting, but I guess it'll have to do ... 12 hours from now we'll be white water rafting, so some sleep would be good ...

* A gold star to anyone who knows where that line is from ... Mom, I know you know; saw some of your old bovine pals today : )

A Very Full Day

Tuesday was a very full day for Mina and I. We were picked up by Ivo Slezacek, a retired small animal veterinarian at 6:30 am. We went to Leppington farm which is the largest dairy in Australia. The farm is currently milking over 1700 cows three times a day. They are trying to get back 2000. One of their innovations was to buy bread at $85/ton and used a shredder to pull out all the plastic. This saved $ due to the high cost of grain. It was the cleanest dairy we had ever seen. We then met with the traveling vet, Bob Rheinberger. Bob does their herd health work. He has an extensive large animal practice with 2 other vets and he is starting small animal practice.

We then went to Strathfield in Metro Sydney. Dr Sarah Goldsmid, a boarded surgeon, gave us a tour of the Animal Referral Hospital. It was a crowded but modern referral center with 2 surgeons, cardiologist, 2 opthomologists, an oncologist (Tony Moore formerly of Tufts), CT, etc. The staff consists of 85 people. We were able to ask a lot of questions.

We then stopped at the Queen Victoria Building which is a large shopping complex in downtown Sydney for a quick tour and snack. We stopped briefly at the Sydney bridge and opera house for a photo opportunity.

We arrived at the Taronga Zoo 50 minutes before our appt at 3 pm. We were able to get visitor’s passes and saw chimps, gorillas, ostriches, elephants, etc while waiting. We then got a tour of the wildlife rehabilitation and zoo hospital with the lead vet, Dr. Larry Vogelnest. It was interesting to see all their capabilities with a full time pathology lab, quarantine facilities, post mortem rooms etc. We saw several small animals in their cages.

We returned to Penrith and were picked up by a small bus to go for drive to Keith and Marilyn Willoughby’s house for a barbeque. We had asked to get the team together Tuesday night and Marilyn offered her place. There house was large and gorgeous with a full bar and movie theatre, large deck overlooking the water. The hospitality was great and we had a lot of comraderie and great discussions. An unusual rendition of Swing low, Sweet Chariot will be a lasting memory. We returned home after midnight after a very full and very satisfying day.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Catching Up = Tuesday

Time flies when you're having fun, eh?

Tuesday was a vocational day and I went to Muru Mittigar, an aboriginal education and cultural center. The 5 acre facility is a wonderful outreach tool for communicating the history and influence of aboriginal culture, and employs 50 people. Rab and Tom presented their information to a large group of fourth graders in a matter-of-fact, nonpolitical way that captured the children's attention and emphasized that aboriginal culture is to some extent a part of their lives, whether through place names or familiar items like boomerangs,which were hunting tools.

The children attended a private school and all wore light blue polos, dark blue shorts, and blue floppy hats to protect them from the sun. A few were fidgety in their seats, but overall they were impressively engaged and participating, answering questions and always remembering to raise their hand first, index finger pointing to the sky. The boys were particularly interested in learning about the weapons ...

After lunch, Tom took half the group to a field to demonstrate the boomerang, which was a big hit. "Again! Again! Again!" the kids chanted when he didn't catch it. "Throw it as hard as you can, make it hit the mower!" yelled one boy.

Eight of the students got to try for themselves before going for a plant walk, during which I talked with the front office about their advertising and publicity efforts.

When the children left, there was time for a quick boomerang lesson of my own with Tom before my ride came, and though I didn't risk knocking my own head off with it, by the third try it was at least spinning out in an arc. Will have to work on that.

Dinner - well, for dinner we all boarded a bus and headed out to Pete's host family's home on the river, a lovely place an hour away with plenty of room for outdoor entertaining. We enjoyed a barbecue and the hospitality; some of the group engaged in a lively political discussion, and oh yes, by the end of the night there was singing...

While talking with Mina's host Chris about his Cessna and love of flying, he said, "Flying over Australia, the poetry just comes out of the ground." I thought that was lovely.

He also said that flying along the coast at 500 feet, it's not unusual to look down and see a surfer riding one wave, and an enormous shark one wave behind (see, Olivia, you were right, so thanks for the shark warning! hey, what are you doing for your 10th birthday party?). If the situation is serious he'll buzz the surfer, and that's an understood code for get out of Dodge.

I guess you never really know how close you come to something that could change your life; aren't we all just skimming along the surface, riding one wave or another to where we think we're supposed to go?

Monday, March 17, 2008

A day in Penrith

Today started out as they all have here in Australia.....just beautiful. The weather again cooperated for us and continues to remind us of how lucky we are. It was St. Patrick's day here in Australia. No lepracons, but Albert and Bryan from the Penrith club took us out and around the Penrith Lakes project. We stopped at the oldest church and school in New South Wales and got some lovely photos. Next stop was the Olympic kayak center where we raced to the top of the medal stand and waved to our adoring crowd of Steve, Albert, and Bryan. I think they thought the team a bit crazy, but come on.....who hasn't dreamed of standing atop the Olympic stand with your national anthem playing proudly.

The 5000 acre area is an active quarry for stone and sand used in the local building industry when mixed into cement. In another 5 years or so the project will come to completion and the rehabilitation will begin in earnest creating many lakes and a beautiful recreation area for the greater Sydney area. Quite an interesting project really. We got a birds eye view from a look out just into the blue mountain national forest. These mountains and valleys are just gorgeous.

The ride to our next destination, the fire museum, was quite interesting. Steve and I rode with Albert and gave us a good history lesson on Australia's role in World War II. We often focus on just our own involvement and emphasize the European Theater. The U.S. had over 1 million troops stationed in Australia during the war and used it as a staging area for many of its operations in the south Pacific. The Japanese were very interested in invading Australia and were present in this area. Just last year a Japanese submarine was discovered in Sydney harbor. The harbor area sustained damage from subs during the war and perhaps more interesting to us was what happened in Darwin. The Japanese bombed mainland Australia in Darwin and did significant damage. This information was suppressed and covered up for over 40 years to the general populace so as not to create a panic.

Another interesting tid bit I heard on the radio this morning is that the Battleship Sydney was just discovered off the cost of Perth following the discovery of the German ship it sank in sea battle there. There were no survivors of the 645 crew members aboard the Sydney although many Germans did survive the battle. Little is know about the battle and it is hoped the wreckage may provide some insight.

The fire museum was also very interesting. The Penrith Rotary has done much for the museum over the years and they were only to happy to give us the Queen's tour. Sean, our tour guide, did an outstanding job and gave it a very personal touch. We certainly appreciated his efforts. I found in most interesting that amount their many restored trucks and pieces of equipment was an 1891 Dennis steamer. They have a photo of it in the first centennial parade back in 1901 and isn't it amazing it was able to participate 100 years late in the bicentennial parade in 2001. Certainly a testament to how well fire fighters take care of their equipment.

After lunch at Albert's we all headed to the mall to shop a bit and headed home with our host families. We had dinner at the top of the hill grill that had a correspondingly great view of Sydney at night. Keith and Marilyn have hosted many GSE members and exchange students over the years and we had a lively conversation about that.

Tomorrow we head to our vocational visits and what should be a great day. Stay tuned and Stay Classy San Diego.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Day at Springwood High School

I spent my first vocational day with my host-mum, Marilyn Kenney. In addition to being a terrific cook and a thoughtful host, Marilyn happens to be Deputy Principal of Springwood High School (a DP is equivalent to the role of Assistant Principal). Springwood High School is a secondary school comprised of about 800 students in grades 7-12. Like the administrators at my local high school, Marilyn is the lightening rod for all sorts of student-related challenges. She no sooner walked into the building—at the early hour of 7:15am—when she was called upon to help two students reexamine their rather liberal interpretations of the dress code. Another student came by to inquire about the upcoming Vaccination Day, which is when students receive all the nationally required immunizations free of charge. A parent called. Kids stopped by. The principal touched base about a few students. Another parent called. Two parents showed up unannounced to talk with Marilyn about their son. Two teachers came looking for advice and guidance.

Before I knew it, we were gobbling down our lunches while Marilyn listened to a student describe her challenges in French class. Marilyn, or Ms. Kenney to the kids, administered a dose of tough love with a side of support and sent the student on her way.

We made it to the Deputy Principals’ In-service Workshop just in time to enjoy a “cuppa” and some talk with fellow colleagues. The theme of the workshop was Cyber-Safe Schools. We viewed examples of cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying; we were also lucky enough to be participate in a panel discussion with several experts in the field.

Another Beautiful Day

Well in short once again it was hard to leave our wonderful host families this morning from the Springwood club. Laurie, Beverly, and Nyree Waterson were beautiful hosts and an outstanding family. They made my stay quite nice. We had a wonderful golf outing and Nyree introduced me to the world of Nintendo Wii. Certainly a lot of fun. I got over my cold while there and am looking forward to an illness free remainder of our trip. The barbeque hosted for us last night was quite special and Aunt Betty used it as an additonal vocational day to work on her nursing skills. She is quite professional in that respect.

After a quick change to the Penrith club we proceeded out in to the country side to visit a wonderful inn and pub said to be the oldest in New South Wales. We had a relaxing afternoon there surrounded by visitors and antique cars. We have been blessed by such great weather it is amazing.

We are all looking forward to our time in Penrith after a good nights rest.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

At 3:15 pm today Pete, Mina and I were gathered with our host families at a picnic table in St. Albans at the Settlers Arms Inn (1836) when the band there started playing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - which might be exactly where we have landed, the land that we heard of once in a lullabye, where dreams really do come true, a place where Rotary is showing every day what interactions between people and nations can do - and hey, peace needs to start somewhere, so let it begin with us.

This morning we met for breakfast and turned ourselves over to the welcoming Penrith RC. Once we got sorted out - and I don't know whose idea it was - we headed out for a drive through entirely different terrain, flatter, lots of horses, some cattle ... up and down and around curves until we came to a river crossing, which was done by a small ferry that could carry about 12 cars. Then on to the Settlers Arms Inn, a great pub seemingly in the middle of nowhere that had music and sunshine and food - and as we got to know each other, lots of laughs and fun as well.

There was a stunning collection of antique cars there, and one definitely caught my eye: a 1938 two-tone green Lagonda, which I'd never heard of, but it reminded me A LOT of Gram and Grampa's '37 Pontiac, so I was only a year off in guessing its age! Anyway, besides looking like it, it smelled EXACTLY like it, and Mom, Dad, Thom, Karen, you know what I'm talking about. Hey Laura, do you remember riding around standing up behind the front seat (the only seat)? : ) The owner said I could have it, ha ha ... he said the company was founded by an American in England. An exPontiac employee, perhaps?

Had a chat with an older gentleman who was staying at the inn, he'd buried 20 ounces of gold somewhere around decades before and now with the price going up, he thought he'd try to find it ... happy hunting!

~ The inn was built by convict labor of handhewn sandstone andwas a stopover for the stagecoaces travelling between Sydney, Parramatta and Newcastle along the Old Northern Road. Now it's o the wa to the Hunter Valley wineries.

I guess I better go for now, hope all is well with everyone. Tomorrow's another adventure!

Another Great Day

Saturday was a day that was not as tightly scheduled, which was nice that most of us did separate activities with our host families. Bob and Jan and I made a brief stop at the Rotary Market put on by our friends at the Lower Blue Mountain Rotary Club. Kate and Lynda were also there as well as several of our friends in the RC.

In the afternoon, Bob Templeman hosted a golf outing to Springwood Golf Course for Pete, Laurie Waterson and his daughter Nyree, and myself. It was a great afternoon (quite hot for us New England types). If getting the highest score is good then I did well...

In the evening we met at Colin and Marilyn Kenney's beautiful home for a farewell barbeque. We had a very nice evening with the five host couples (Laurie and Bev Waterson, Bob and Jan Templeman, Colin and Marilyn Kenney, Peter and Lynda Sparkes, and David and Su Manzi) and Ivan and Marilyn Fedor.

Now it is Sunday. We had to say good-bye to our friends in Springwood and we are off to new adventures with the Penrith club. We have a quiet day here with my hosts Albert and Merle Blatch. In fact, I enjoyed close to a two hour nap!


It's moving day, heading out in a few minutes, but wanted to get this up before the scrap I scribbled it on disappears in the depths of my suitcase:

So Much to See at the Edge of the World
"Who would have thought
there'd be so much to see in the world?
Dandelions and ants
Traction engines and bolting horses."
- from The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay, Australian artist and scalliwag

Quickly: Went to the Glenbrook markets yesterday, had a coffee with Lynda, Paul and Liz : )
Found my Australian Christmas ornament, went to the Norman Lindsay Gallery, wonderful farewell dinner with Springwood Rotarians.

Uh oh, gotta run, time to go.

Friday, March 14, 2008

WAY Down Under

FRIDAY: Up at 7 for 8am departure, breakfast with Peter, then he and Lynda dropped me off at Pete's family to meet the others. After coffee and checking out the chickens in the backyard, we divided into two cars for the ride to the Jenolan Caves. Amy Beth, Mina and I rode with Ivan, while Steve and Pete rode with Bob and his wife. Our carload had lively discussion all the way up to the top of the mountains, one part of which was Mina and I yammering on about horses we have known and loved. The other side of the mountains reminded me a lot of some parts of Colorado, and there were the horses and cattle to emphasize that similarity.

We had some time before our 11:30 tour of Lucas Cave so we had a coffe and snack before heading down under, Down Under. We also went in Oriental Cave, which was fabulous, lots of diversity and explained by a fabulous guide who clearly loves geology, the caves, and could tell a wonderful, engaging story. She reminded me of Jody Wilson in a lot of ways.

The variety of formations in the caves was spectacular, from giant shawls to crystal sheets to rippled surfaces and walls that looked like they were covered in popcorn or fuzz or any number of other textures. One woman gave an impromptu solo recital to show off the acoustics, and soon after there was a light and music show that was too short, as far as I was concerned.

Lots of up and down, and amazing to think of the early explorers swinging through there with their candles and hemp ropes and hob-nailed boots, discovering things left and right. I believe we were told the caves date back 135 million years ...

After all the spelunking, we surfaced for a late lunch and a sleepy drive back to Ivan and Margaret's house, where we played with their 2 gorgeous shepherds, Elvis and Jetta. The others left and I stayed behind until 7, when we all came back to Peter and Lynda's for a massive meal and great conversation. Ivan led last year's group to NC and, like everyone else around here, is wonderful. I can barely keep my eyes open now, so will close. Tomorrow is a day with our host families, so Peter is manning the nursery and Lynda's got all kinds of nice things planned -ciao for now!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Vet visits

Doc Steve and I were lucky enough to visit two affiliated vet hospitals today, one in Faulconbridge and one in Winmalee.

Dr. Blake Britton and Dr. Russell Bassett shared their very progressive hospitals with us. It was actually amazing to see how similar small animal practice is, much of the same lab equipment, drugs, and infectious diseases. But certainly no poisonous snakebite cases in our area! Their fridges are stocked with antivenom for the deadly tiger, brown and black snakes which are common in the area.

Russell is from South Africa and interestingly enough is a classmate of the veterinarian I will be taking a wildlife immobilization course with this summer at Kruger National Park! What a small world!

Cheers for now! :) Mina

(By the way, there are two adorable kittens for adoption at the Winmalee hospital!)


For those who are wondering, Steve did not pierce his ears - the blog post written in the back of the Subaru is by Kate, who wrote it in Word on Steve's computer and he posted it when he had internet access ...

Time Travelling in Australia

"Wilderness is a spell that is easily broken." - from the movie Wild Australia, shown at The Edge theatre, Katoomba

Australia has us all under its spell, and it's hard to know where to start in describing this experience, but at the core are the people we are meeting. After just a few days, it was terrible saying farewell to Paul and Liz Wednesday morning. We stayed up late Tues. night, talking and having a shandy, biscuits and cheese. The presentation that night went well and we met the team members coming to NH in April, who are wonderful and I can't wait to see them the 13th when they're in New London.

The others have covered Tuesday so I'll tackle yesterday, Wed. We met at the Cooks at 9; our luggage all together makes quite a pile (I for one definitely overpacked, even with just 1 checked bag) but the Springwood club arrived with a small trailer for it all so that was brilliant.

Bob and Peter (Peter and his wife Lynda are my second hosts) had us for the day and we headed up the M4 motorway into the mountains. I rode with Steve and Pete in Peter's car; Peter's a retired high school teacher and principal and had loads of information about the history, geology and history of the area, which was great. Our first stop was The Edge theater in Katoomba to see the 40 minute documentary about the discovery of the Wollemi pines, thought to be extinct for millions of years but found a few years ago. It's a great film, but I'm on the world's slowest computer (it's taken 40 minutes to write this b/c it stops to grind away between words) so will elaborate more later. After, we saw the projection room and the 70 mm set up.

Then it was on to Scenic World, where we took the Skyway down 65 million years into a rainforest that dinosaurs would recognize, it was gorgeous and ancient and unlike anything anywhere else on the planet. When the Grand Canyon was nothing more than a trickling creek on the surface of Arizona, these canyons here looked the same way they do now - this land is beyond ancient.

We took the world's steepest railway backwards up to the top, and we had front row seats for the stunning, short journey. I don't know how they built that thing. Mina had a fear-driven but entertaining narrative but we all survived and then took the cable car across for a look from a different angle.

Dropping off the others with their hosts, Peter and I went to Lynda's nursery, a wonderful place with plants galore. From there we went to the grocery story, where I was able to replace the shower poof I realized I'd forgotten at Paul and Liz's. I always like going to groceries while travelling, and here there are a lot of familiar brands, both from the US and UK, plus some new things, of course.

Then we headed home, where 14-week old kitten Penny played and raced around. Lynda prepared a wonderful dinner of prawns and fish and salad and we sipped wine and discussed books, politics, travel, everything, it was a great meal and I felt right at home. Turned in at 11:30 and slept great with my feline companion curled up next to my neck, what a cutie.

And here I am at the Blue Mountains Gazette for the day; they are under a big deadline and the production room and editorial area are dead quiet. It's nearly time for lunch, so I think I will go for a wander along the interesting looking small-town Main Street and see what I can see.

This is just the roughest outline of what we've done in the past day, leaving out a lot of the thoughts and emotions that really make the essence of the experience, but suffice it to say that we have a great travel group that is meeting warm, wonderful people who immediately make us feel part of their families, and for that we are grateful, and excited, too, I think, because this is not a surface experience, it is intensely, immediately real and valuable and extraordinary. Last night at dinner, while telling the story of how Michael and I found our house and all the antics that went with the process, I got to the part where my grandfather did what he could for us in a physical sense ("If I were ten years younger I'd be up on that roof with them," he said, about Michael and our dads reshingling the place. Of course, he still would have been 71 years with the 10 knocked off!), bringing over his big tractor soon after the purchase to mow the neglected field, a project that meant he got to know every inch of the place, and he loved it because we did. I pretty much burst into tears right at the dinner table (much to my surprise - and theirs, I'm sure!) trying to talk because the one year anniversary of his death is coming up and it's on my mind, and the caring that Peter and Lynda showed ... you can't fake that. As Pete Peck said, we are all so blessed and fortunate to have this experience, it's pretty much beyond words. But I'll keeping trying, and blog when I can ...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wonderland Down Under

Since arriving early Sunday morning Australia has not ceased to amaze me. Both the country and people are wonderful. After 4 days here I am still trying to get to full strength and recover from the travel, but we've hardly had time to think about as our hosts have gone the extra mile in every instance to ensure a great time for us. Our first presentation last night went well at the GSE alumni dinner held at the Panther Club in Penrith. Quite a place....its a large social club the size of a stadium that plays home the the Penrith Panther organization, a local rugby team. It was a great night and really gave us a good feeling going forward.

Our whirlwind start has including a wonderful run on Bondi beach upon arrival where after jumping into my first waves I was able to help Aunt Betty with her walker. After adjusting her shawl and spectacles she was able to again creep towards the water and let her bunions soak in the pleasant waters of the pacific.

We followed this up with a wonderful walk along the cliffs at Bondi and were able to get some great pictures of Sydney Harbour. Then we were off to the mountains to meet our wonderful host families. John and Susan Wakefield are two of the most wonderful people I have ever met. They are the first of several families to open their homes and lives to me on this trip. I can't wait to see them at the District Conference in Mugee. We enjoyed a great barbecue with our host families before fading off into jet lag oblivion.

John was kind enough to take me to some of his favorite haunts Monday morning which included the local Holden motor car dealer. General Motors-Holden division is a long standing tradition in the Australian culture and John has owned many over the years. They often mimic the Chevy and Pontiac cousins but usually include models only seen and produced. I was able to see a restored 1948 Holden in the showroom which was right up my alley. I got some great photos while there. John was kind enough to present me with beautiful Holden racing team shirt later in my visit.

We met for lunch at a local village cafe with the group before heading off to Lennox bridge for a visit. It is the oldest bridge on the continent of Australia. Like many things built with convict labor. We then proceeded to Red Hands Cave to see Aboriginal Cave artwork. After a short hike it became apparent that Aunt Betty's wheel chair would not be able to traverse the rugged bush terrain. With some effort we were able to load her and her knitting gear into a fireman's carry and continue on down the path. The cave paintings were stunning and hard to believe that they had survived over 1500 years. Our last stop for the day included a beautiful scenic outlook of the gradual steps down to emu plain with Sydney in the background. Susan made a charming lamb dinner for us that evening and we visited and watched a recording of my band the East Bay Jazz Ensemble. They seemed to recognize most of the tunes and enjoyed the music.

Tuesday brought our hike with Bandeluk the aboriginal guide and another wonderful trek into the bush. The amazing thing about Australia is that the plants and flora we are seeing is completely new to us. Not one tree or plant could be found in normal settings in Vermont. So it is a lot to take in and totally breathtaking. With a bit of free time before the banquet Amy Beth and I leaped at the chance to try a spot of lawn bowling at the club just across the street from John and Susan's. One of the local club member's husband had offered to show us the game and we were so obliged. Gary gave us some pointers and let us have at it....wonderful fun....just lovely I say. Its always fun to try something new...especially something never seen in the state. Amy Beth was quite good at it and Gary's smile of approval made our afternoon.

People have no more valuable gift to give than there time and insight....this trip is a tribute to that and I am thankful for Rotary International for such a wonderful opportunity. I am truly blessed.

Stay Classy San Diego

Tuesday: Aboriginal Nature Walk

Bondeluk, an aboriginal elder gave us a 4 hour tour through the bush in Lawson. We enjoyed a nice hike to Cataract and Federal Falls and saw some tremendous scenery. He explained many of the unique plants and told us their medicinal and other uses by the Aborigines. We had a picnic lunch by Federal Falls. It was a great experience.

Tuesday evening was our first presentation which was in front of 200 people at the Penrith Panthers Club. It was well received albeit a little long for club presentations. It was a very nice dinner where alumni of Rotary Foundation programs were also recognized.

Tuesday's adventures

Pete’s been after me about keeping up with the blog so its Tuesday and I’m in the backseat of a Subaru writing as we head for Lawson and the Aboriginal center. We’ve just practiced singing our nat’l anthem, which has been requested for tonight…

Yesterday started with breakfast on the patio, with lorikeets and cockatoos in the backyard. Muesli with yogurt and a banana and milk, oj and coffee. Paul and I met up with the others at Café Cee in Glenbrook; a local shop donated tea towels to us all. Had a vegetarian sandwich with roasted pumpkin, yum.

Met Fiona, who went to NC last year on GSE.

Then to Lennox Bridge, where Paul had Amy Beth looking at the bridge and trying to see what was unusual about it. Finally it became clear that one edge was straight and the other curved. Paul said the road we drove up, that took us 15 minutes, used to take the horses 3 days! Amazing what blacktop can do for a journey.

From the bridge, we went to Blue Mountains Nat’l Park to the Red Hand Cave. It was a nice drive on dirt roads through the bush. I asked what the plants were that had corn-cob looking things hanging off them and was told they were banksias, named after Captain Cook’s botanist Banks. Many of the trees were completely black from bush fires that had gone through in 2000. Smooth red trees = agoraphora???

Gum nuts were miniature and cool, would have like to bring them home. Mountain devil = plant.

As I took my bag off from over my head the strap caught my earring and it dropped through the metal walkway. I had no sooner said, “Oh no, I’ve dropped an earing!’ than Pete dove underneath and rummaged through the leaves to look for it. Luckily there weren’t any snakes and he found it! Hooray!

The cave was quite small and more handprints showed up in the photos than when just looking at the stone. They’re said to be about 4,000 years old and were all sizes, children too. There was one sort of cartoon looking one with big fat fingers. Amazing to think of all the places in all the mountains, people were there and doing that. They’d outline their hands or blow the paint around it.

We finished our day with a visit to a park which gave us our first experience with kangaroos. There were three with one being a female with a Joey in her pouch. He poked his head and feet out at different times.

Monday, March 10, 2008

This Might be Paradise

It's 11:45am Monday morning, and I've just returned from a walk to the river with Liz. Liz and Paul are hosting me for the first 3 nights and have been so welcoming and wonderful. On our walk, a king parrot flew up from the ground in front of us into a tree. She was a young one, all green with a blazing red chest and belly.

It is so green here, and warm! Breakfast was out on the patio in our barefeet, something we won't be able to enjoy at home for eons. A nice surprise after breakfast was a Skype conversation with Michael, I could see him and Simon in the kitchen.

There's a butcher bird here in their backyard, which backs up to a golf course; Liz was tossing it bits of food that it caught mid-air. Just saw 2 beautiful parrots, as well, at their feeder ... they rather put our cardinals to shame!

One day in, and we've already met so many wonderful people. Our flights were fine, and I must say Tylenol PM is a wonder - I slept more than I imagined I would on the second leg and arrived feeling excited and ready to explore. All our luggage arrived with us, which is always a good thing! We were greeted and driven off in a small bus to brunch at Bohemian Cafe in Coogee, a beach town. We had some coffee and eggs, and Mina tried Vegemite on toast, which may be an acquired taste.

It was presentation day for the nippers, swimming groups for children who go up through the ranks to be life savers one day if they choose, they were all in their swimmers and caps, receiving medals.

After brunch, drove to Bondi Beach, which did something to our airplane-squashed souls: we kcked off our shoes and headed for the water. Pete and Amy Beth had a race, and Pete's quote of the day is 'I've never seen anyone run so fast in my life! She was a cheetah, a gazelle ...' I have a photo of the race I will try to post soon, but we all landed in the water and got a little bit wetter than planned when a large wave snuck up on us while our picture was being taken, but we didn't care! We were in Australia, getting soaked in the Tasman Sea! Life is good! After splashing around a bit, we walked from the beach to Tamarama (i think i'm missing a few syllables, will have to check that later), which, when I first saw the sign, I didn't realize was the name of the town, I thought it was a tanorama, doh. Anyway, it was a lovely barefoot walk along the sea with lovely overlooks and rocks carved smooth by the wind and water. One bloke was doing a very good impression of shark bait, swimming far, far out to sea by himself. It's only safe to swim between the flags of the life savers, because that area is 'fenced in' with netting to keep out the nasties. Good luck to that guy ...

We saw some cricket being played, but I'll need another explanation before that game makes sense.

On the drive to the mountains, we stopped at Dover Heights and scrambled up a hill to - gasp - a stunning overlook from which we could see Sydney below us. There was the Opera House, there was the Harbor Bridge, there was everything needed to confirm that somehow, after sitting on our backsides for days and not doing anything of noticeable effort beyond surviving a long flight, we had indeed landed in Australia. Wow! Beautiful. At least a few people began thinking right then that moving to Oz might be a very good idea.

Took lots of photos. There are loads of dogs here, and Amy Beth met a puppy. Then back into the van to the mountains, over the Anzac bridge, past the soldier guarding its entrance, and up, up and away. Fun fact: here they say bush bashing, not bush whacking for wandering through the woods : )

Breakfast really is brekky, but people have pointed out that with all the American media, we basically speak the same.

We arrived at the Cooks' home, where Steve is staying, and enjoyed tea and snacks until 3, when we had a meeting about the program.

Oh! Have to go now, off to the caves, etc. More later!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Welcome to Australia

We arrived in Sydney after a very long but mostly uneventful flight at 7 am. We had a 6 and half hour flight to San Francisco and 14 more to Sydney. The weather was warm and wonderful. It seemed like we were arriving in Aruba with similar vegetation.

We were warmly welcomed by our hosts in district 9690. Our hosts took us to breakfast near Coogie beach. We also went to the famous Bondi Beach and got our feet in the water. After the beach tour we climbed a hill to a park overlooking Sydney and had some great views.

The afternoon finished with a barbeque at the Cooks home where we had lamb chops and sausages. All in all a very good first day. We are working on connecting our photos to this blog so stay tuned.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Farewell, winter

Snow and rain - and that lovely combination, sleet - is pounding New London this morning. Make the coffee, scrape the car, wiggle up the slushy hill to work ...

Meanwhile it's 70 degrees at 2 a.m. in Sydney, with Penrith predicted to hit 92 today. Ha! We haven't seen grass - green, brown or otherwise - since November.

Yes, things are about to get very different.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

So Far, So Good

We haven't even left yet, and GSE has already been a good experience.

I've just returned from having lunch with my high school tennis coach, a woman I haven't seen since I was 17. It was surprisingly easy to meet again as adults, and we talked for nearly two hours. The reason for this reunion? She read the article about my going to Australia, and she had just visited there in the fall, so she got in touch. It turns out she spent her senior year of high school as an exchange student - through Rotary - in Australia, about 150 miles west of Melbourne. She told me about the changes in the decades since she studied there, and her recent adventures, which included a reunion with quite a few of her classmates.

So, in addition to opening doors ahead of us and exploring the unknown, GSE is inviting the past in, too.

So many adventures await.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Not Long Now ...

Monday snuck up on me. It always does.

Australia is sneaking up on me. This is a new, pleasant surprise. After months of anticipating our adventure Down Under, departure is finally in sight, and it doesn't even seem real. The countdown is in days now, not weeks.

Thanks to the wonderfully detailed itinerary we've received, we have the rare treat of knowing exactly what we will be doing a week from now - in this case, getting to know our host families and visiting Glenbrook in our first full day in Australia.

Yesterday, I appreciated my last full day at home, spending extra time with my horse, Fredd, who also benefitted in the form of a few extra peppermints. In a guilty attempt to make up for my absence, I made dinners and baked, putting things in the freezer even though Michael's a better cook than I am and is completely capable of keeping himself fed for a month. I took care of the things that needed doing. Half of me is already gone, thinking, A week from now our team will be doing this ... and half of me is still firmly at home, thinking, This is the last time I'll do this for a while, or this, and before I go I need to make sure that ...

It's a strange thing to realize that life as you know it is about to be suspended.

I can't wait to see what happens next.