Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Horse and Surf


With summer's warm rays glistening on Australia's shore, Bob and I have found ourselves obligated to enjoy it. A few weekends ago we drove an hour north to our faithful campsite in Glenworth Valley. At the ranch, I had a horseback riding lesson from a well versed, sun-darkened Australian woman.

The unfortunate horse was called Ranger and as he trotted and cantered about the ring, my instructor yelled out a hundred different directions, "Mind your diagonals, push in with the leading rein, sit two beats, use your calves not your knees, watch the transition, don't bend your wrist when your doing a one-handed handstand at a gallop," etc. Instructions flew at such a torrent I was nearly swept away by her verbal cues.
As I bounced about the ring I couldn't help but wonder if she realized all I was trying to do was not fall off.

Bob watched my lesson with keen amusement, and, when I dismounted and led Ranger out of the ring he met me with a smirk, "Congratulations Allie, you just survived a lesson with the horse nazi." Indeed I had.

We camped in a nearby field where a loan wallaby coyly observed our making of a campfire. I'm sure his beady little eyes were trying to see how we made fire.
The next day we woke up to laughing kookaburras and a dew dappled tent. I walked to a nearby field and watched the ranch hands round up the horses from their night's grazing. No wimpy cowboys on ponys rounding up this lot. Oh no. In Australia, well, in an hour north of Sydney, real jackaroos round up horses on motorcycles.
After the round up Bob and I continued north and spent the day surfing along the sandy shores of Umina beach. Yes, December in Australia is to be much enjoyed.

Aussie Round-Up

video

How real jackaroos round-up horses.

Aussie Rounding

video

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Story of Clyde, part 1

West of the shores of Sydney, trains make their slow progress through Clyde Station. Commuters flock the platform in the morning, and exhale upon reaching it at the end of the day. Littering the platform with rubbish, they part with brisk steps to make their way home.

As evening creeps into the station, a slim creature scuttles onto the platform. Bones struggle to protrude from a slim gray back. White legs move in cautious bursts of speed as a dull gray tail is held low. Taking momentary shelter behind a trash bin, a gray and white head swivels, ears struggling to detect the warning sounds of humans. As the moon dances shadows over the small station, intelligent, yellow-green eyes anxiously look for food. 

Unfortunately for this 5-month old feral kitten, living among rusted train tracks provides scarce sustenance. Since birth, this is all the feral kitten has known. Humans terrify him. With their loud noises and erratic movements, they are dangerous creatures. 

Lifting his gray nose, he sniffs the night air. On a tendril wafts a tantalizing scent of meat. Cautiously, he follows the scent, dodging between posts along the platform. He doesn't know that actions tonight will change his perception of the world.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Camera Shy

I was looking through my pictures today, trying to find a topic for a story, and noticed nearly every photo of myself had something odd in common.I never face the camera. I have always been camera shy, but I didn't realize I was this bad. I think my fear stems from growing up with eczema and normally having the skin of an irritated, sad and flaky lobster. Doesn't make for a pretty picture.

But the funny thing is, I haven't had any skin problems for well over a year. So I guess I need to stop turning around as soon as someone says, "Smile!" 

These pictures did make me think of how silly people often are about their appearance. None of us are perfect, and lets face it, we could always look uglier (say with a painting of Dick Cheney mistakenly tattooed to our forehead). So smile and take pride in how unique and beautiful you are, imperfections and all. 

So, inspired by my little pep talk, here's a picture of me from the front. 
Keep smiling.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

When Ghosts May Walk and Skeletons Talk

Australians don't quite get Halloween. This is a very disappointing fact. Sure some shops put out a few costumes and ghostly figures, but the plastic fades and witches can only peer meekly around fat ornaments of St. Nick in swim shorts, stockings, and reindeer statues prematurely invading the city. 

Back in the States Halloween is such a fun event! Kids go trick or treating in ghoulish forms, and even adults dress up in glee to attend seasonally spooky Halloween parties. And everyone has candy! How could you not love a holiday when you can dress up as whatever you like without looking like a dork - and get free candy? I mean, come on!

Last Halloween, I looked forward to partaking in Sydney's festivities only to realize with despair that there were none.  But this year will be different! An American friend I met through ultimate frisbee is having a Halloween party next week.

He sent an e-mail to our team and the biggest question from the Aussies was, "When's Halloween?"

I asked one of my Australian friends what she was going as, and she replied, "Well . . . a pumpkin I guess."

I gave her a flat look. "A pumkin?" I asked.

She was confused by my question. "Well otherwise I'd have to be a ghost right?"

"No, it's Halloween! You can be whatever you want."

"Really . . . are you sure that's ok?"

Seems like this will be a very educational party . . . and perhaps full of pumpkins and ghosts.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Spot out of Time


You can read about the plight of the Amur leopard in this week's Triblocal: Spot Out of Time

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pull of the Wild


I've always been stupid around wild animals. It's not that I don't respect them, I greatly admire them. From raccoons to bull elephants their strength and beauty mesmerize me. And therein lies the problem.

I am so curious about wild animals that, when I spot them, I often forget about my surroundings. A few years ago I convinced a few friends of mine to drive from Maine to Quebec for the day, just to get crepes. On our return trip of 7 hours, I was driving along the highway through isolated forests, when a female moose and calf crossed in front of us. 

Temporarily, I was smart. I slowed down so the mother and calf could cross safely. But then my wildlife-induced stupidity kicked in. In my excitement and desire to watch them more, I pulled across the highway so I could get them in the headlights while they wandered along the far bank. It wasn't until my friends worriedly asked me to get back on the right side of the road that I realized what I had done. 

I'd like to say that was the only dumb thing I've done to see animals in the wild, but I have a long list of reasons why I should have long been torn apart or pummeled to death by many a creature. Yet I am still here, sincerely grateful that none of the animals decided to take advantage of my weakness.

A year after the moose incident, I left to film lions in Kenya for three months. My friends were convinced I would end up as cat chow. Through some luck I managed to survive and thrive in Kenya's wilderness, despite several close calls with the local elephant population. 

The reason I'm writing about this problem of mine, is because yesterday I was in the garden and saw a large web woven between some rocks. Before I realized what I was doing, I had a twig in my hand and was gently tapping the web to get the spider to come out of the rocks. Really, I just wanted to know what type of spider it was. Suddenly a large, thick, black spider scrambled out toward the twig. 

Once I got tired of gazing at the arachnid, I looked it up in my field guide. Apparently not only was the bite of that species extremely painful, but venomous. The book strongly advised, that if bitten, to immediately call an ambulance. 

It occurred to me that, while living in the country with the most venomous creatures in the world, I should tone down my curiosity.

P.S. I would have a picture of the spider to accompany this posting, but after sticking a twig into every rocky crevice in the garden today, none came out. 
 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Something Fishy


This week's Triblocal article: Something Fishy

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Kangaroo Valley Delivers

My friend Sonya left the state of Maine for twelve days to come visit me and explore Australia. During her stay we drove two hours south to Kangaroo Valley. 

Kangaroo Valley has become a favorite place to take visitors, as Bob and I have always seen wildlife there. 

This time was no exception. Sonya seemed to have extra luck, because not only did we spot a kangaroo, wombat, and a lyre bird, but we saw them in force. By the end of the night we had seen 10 wombats, over 40 kangaroos, and 4 lyre birds.  

As for the 'Too cool for the wombat' picture, Sonya was photographing kangaroos in a cow field when this wombat wandered by. 

I've attached videos below.

Lyrebird

video
This is a lyrebird. They are about the size of a pheasant and the males are known to be fantastic mimickers. Fanning their lyre-like tail, they perfectly replicate songs of other birds, as well as chainsaws and cameras. Unfortunately, this one is a female just looking for bugs to eat. The camera noise you hear is just Sonya's camera.

Wombat

video

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dust Devils


 I woke up yesterday at 5 am, nudged Bob, and asked, "Why is the sky orange?"

100km winds had whipped the dry central lands of Australia, stripping soil and dust into its torrents. Unfortunately for us, the wind then decided to dump it all on Sydney. An orange haze was all that could be seen for hours. A journey outside left many with raspy breath and dusty apparel.

People with breathing difficulties were advised to stay inside. And a general warning to avoid prolonged exposure was given. 

Again, unfortunately, I had to walk 20 dogs. I wore a dust mask for the first three walks. Even the tiny steps of a poodle churned mini dust storms. Every white dog came home brown.

Thankfully it cleared out in the afternoon, but there's still a dusting of dust everywhere. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Race to the Opera

Sydney's Harbour Bridge is cleared of all cars as a light fog hangs over the steel structure. A single shot rings out over the Harbour. Within minutes, the bridge is swarmed with runners.

It is the start of Blackmore's Sydney Half-marathon. Over 6,000 participants started the 13.1 mile race at the sound of the gunshot. Unfortunately, my friend Fiona and I didn't hear it. 

Due to disorganization of the race, a failed speaker system, and a serious lack of toilets, Fiona and I, along with 20 other participants, missed the start of the race and were disqualified. 

However, we had all payed $80 to put ourselves thru a self-inflicted painful event - no amount of shouts from race officials would keep us from passing the start line.   

We were 20 minutes away from the back of the pack, and Fiona and I wanted to catch up. We quickly passed the people in our group of late starters, then found ourselves alone on the massive Harbour Bridge. Surrounded in fog it was indeed an erie feeling. 

Eventually we caught up to other racers and through many pained steps, made it to the finish in front of the Sydney Opera House. It was a beautiful day and I was very proud of myself for making to the end, since I had really slacked in my training. 

With a smile across my face I used my remaining strength to sprint the last steps. Ten feet from the finish line, I heard a shout of, "Move to your left!" I dodged just in time to avoid getting hit by a biker. My glorious finish turned into an ungraceful stumble across the finish.

It was a race of unusual circumstances, and one that I'd like not to repeat.


Storms of Survival


Please read this week's Triblocal article: Storms of Survival 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Weekend in Wine Country

My peaceful cottage was in disarray. A large, nine-month old Ridgeback puppy was running rampant downstairs and had just chewed the doorstop, gloves, and a stuffed wombat. 
Upstairs, two feral kittens frolicked in ballistic circles around my bed. Their knife-like claws tearing holes in my new comforter. 

In the bed, I pulled a pillow over my head, trying to ignore all these sounds. It was 3am, and for the past week, these wild animal occurrences had commenced nightly. I, like my cottage, was going crazy.

Noticing this, Bob decided I could do for a weekend away. He surprised me with a weekend in Orange, a town four hours west of Sydney, over the ridge of the Blue Mountains.
It was a beautiul drive over ranges and into rolling farmland. The town of Orange is still in the midst of a transformation between farm town, to a refined wining and dining location.

Overlooking working farms, large vineyards, and the town of Orange, the extinct volcano of Mount Canobolas towers over the land. 
Bob and I drove to the summit, but the winds were so cold at the top that we barely took the time for a photo before diving into the car and driving back down.

Back in farmland, we passed, what I must say, was the ugliest horse I'd ever seen.
We stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast run by a nice lady named Sally. 
Not only did she make us a great breakfast each morning, but gave us fantastic food and winery recommendations. Bob and I spent the rest of our time following Sally's advice. 

When we returned to Sydney on Sunday, it was with filled stomachs, a trunk full of wine, and a relaxed smile upon our faces. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Town Called Orange


Here is the link to this week's Triblocal article: A Town Called Orange

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Day of Spring


September first, the first day of Spring. Living in the Southern Hemisphere sure can get confusing. My body is expecting the cool days and crisp nights of autumn. Instead my nose is bombarded with the bold scents of spring. 
I know I should be frolicking in the greenery after surviving the winter. But, to be honest, winter in Sydney isn't much different than spring...or fall. The majority of native trees keep their leaves year round, opting to shed their bark instead. And even the non-natives like sycamore trees are only barren for three months before flaunting their new buds. 

And while winter does sport a few cooler days, it's hard to feel the blues when hisbisicus are blooming on every block. A few more weeks and I'll be heading to the beach for a swim, a surf, and a nice day in the sun. I've got to say, the weather in Sydney is deliciously bearable.

A Cottage for Frank's Approval


Please read my article for this week's Triblocal: A Cottage for Frank's Approval

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fostering Ferals


Please read my article for this week's Triblocal: Fostering Ferals

Monday, August 24, 2009

Raining cats and dogs...and fish


My boss has returned from 3 weeks in Europe. I am finally back to walking a manageable number of dogs per day - which is less than 25. In these past few weeks, Bob and I moved into a new beautiful cottage, became caretakers of a fish pond, are playing host to two college girls from Ohio, minding a large ridgeback puppy for over a week, and are currently "socializing" two feral kittens in hope that they will no longer think people are evil, and one day get adopted.

So from a quiet one bedroom apartment to a cottage chalk full of critters, it's been a heck of an adjustment. The kittens key playtime is 3 am, the dog's key potty time is 5 am, and the girls have to catch a flight at 7 so that's a 6 am wake-up call. So between all this I need to make my way to bed, just have to be careful I don't step on any tails along the way.

Culinary Education Continued


Please read my article for this week's Triblocal:  Culinary Education Continued

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

World's Largest Race


Please read my article for this week's Triblocal: World's Largest Race

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dog-Tired

Please read my article for this week's Triblocal: Dog-tired

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ready?


Oddly,  Bob and I have easily and quickly found a new place - and it's not an apartment! It's a beautiful stone cottage, built in 1836 and recently renovated. We will no longer share walls with noisy neighbors, we will no longer open our blinds to take in the breathtaking panoramic views of a concrete wall. It will - be glorious! 

And as most things occur at once, my boss has headed off for a well deserved 3 week vacation so I am working overtime with the dogs, while trying to pack up our place. Thankfully we don't have much stuff here in Australia with us, and since I come home after walking 22 dogs with the physical energy of a narcoleptic sloth, that's a good thing.

So that's the scoop from here. Oh, and why the picture of a mortified dog? Well my boss had a Christmas in July party and I was pleased that she, a 100% dog person, can still stuff an unwilling dog into a santa costume with great amusement.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What came first? The monotreme or the egg?

Please read my article for this week's Triblocal: Monotremes

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How hard is it to find four walls and a roof?

Last August, I wrote an article about searching for an apartment in Sydney. The title, was: Apartment Searching is a Pain in the . . .

Well now, nearly a year later, Bob and I are once again embarking on the apartment search. So I can honestly say, after all we have learned, that apartment searching, is now a colossal pain.

With our current lease expiring we are frantically looking for a new home. Our weekends are not spent exploring the wonders of Australia, but the daggy apartments within our budget. 

Apartments in Sydney are only shown for one fifteen minute period per week. During that time you have to muscle your way past 40 other interested people, and hope that there aren't any extra fees hidden in the rent. Then Bob and I have a tough decision. Would we like the dark dilapidated apartment with a new coating of mildew? Or the bright yellow walls and florescent green carpet of a second floor flat? Well neither, so we're continuing our search. I'm anxious to find a place, if only to be able to do something worth writing about over the weekend. 

Monday, July 13, 2009

Unidentified Flying discs

Please read my article for this week's Triblocal: Unidentified Flying Discs

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Life in a bubble

 Last night, while leaping high into the night air to block an opponent from catching the frisbee, my husband rejoined the ground and badly sprained his ankle during our ultimate frisbee game. Lucky for us, there was a doctor on the other team who saved us the need for xrays and a hefty hospital bill. And so I just want to say, that despite the usual hefty bills, doctors, are great.

I'm accident prone. 
Even when I was little I was always injuring myself. I think Band-Aids were a permanent accessory to my knees (though from the smug look of my twin in the picture, I find it more likely he pushed me down that time). I have sprained my ankles at least six times growing up, broken my left elbow while attempting to rollerblade, re-broken it a week later while filing papers at work, broken my wrist playing soccer, had my nose broken in college by a punch from my sensei, then a few weeks later while getting thrown into a wall in Canada, and once again just a few weeks ago in an odd accident involving an energetic yellow lab and a van door. My parents are used to calls from me starting with, "I'm fine, but . . ."

So I really shouldn't be surprised that yesterday my doctor confirmed that I had indeed broken my rib while attempting to surf a few weeks ago. This most recent injury, has made me appreciate once again how wonderfully lucky we are to have doctors. I mean, without their years of medical school, patience, and practice, I would likely resemble Quasimodo's ugly cousin. 

So I just wanted to take a moment to thank all the doctors that spend so much time putting perpetual klutzes like me  back together again.

Rice Krispies, Exotic Cuisine?

Please click the link to read my story for this week's Triblocal: Rice Krispies

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Valley of Kangaroos...and wombats...and echidnas..and

For Mom's last weekend Bob and I took her to Kangaroo Valley. The town is about 2 hours south of Sydney and . . . it's in a valley ... and has... kangaroos. Well it doesn't have a zoo, just a healthy wild kangaroo population. The town contains one main street with a couple of restaurants, a hotel, gift shops, and a lovely townie pub. But before we endulged in dinner and a few too many beverages, we took an evening drive down a country road.

Within an impressive twenty minute period, we stumbled upon an echidna:

kangaroos:

And a grumpy wombat:
We were all very impressed with the show mother nature put on. And the wildlife spotting, along with a few rounds at the pub, were a great way to end a fantastic visit.

July Jubilee

Here's a link to my article for this week's Triblocal: http://www.triblocal.com/Oak_Park_&_River_Forest/Detail_View/view.html?type=stories&action=detail&sub_id=78167

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Blue Mountain Majesty

Mom and I drove two hours west of Sydney to see the majestic Blue Mountains. I had taken my brother to see these beautiful, eucalyptus covered cliffs a few months ago, and we had amazingly clear views of the well known, "Three Sisters" formation (you can read more about the mountains at http://www.triblocal.com/Oak_Park_&_River_Forest/Detail_View/view.html?type=stories&action=detail&sub_id=66592 ).

Mom and I arrived at Echo Point near the Three Sisters early in the morning. We parked, paid the ridiculous parking fee, and walked to the overlook for the Three Sisters. Mom had read about the Blue Mountains and was anxious to see this well photographed formation. Well . . .  it's a good thing it's well photographed because we couldn't see a thing due to a fog invasion.
Here's a picture of what it's supposed to look like.
For Plan B, we took a hike to the top of the Three Sisters. Though we couldn't actually see them, the sky cracked open and we were gifted with gorgeous views of a fog cloaked valley. 
As we headed back to Sydney, we stopped by Wentworth Falls. Mom thought her trip to the Blue Mountains would end without a view of its namesake blue haze, but then something unexpected happened. For the briefest moment, the fog dissapated, and Mom's jaw dropped in awe of an expansive range.