I don't know where I'm gonna live
Don't know if I'll find a place
I'd have to think about it some
And that I do not wish to face
I guess I'm counting on his
Divine Intervention.
Matthew Sweet – Divine Intervention, Girlfriend 1991

Day One Hundred and Ninety Seven January 1st

1.1.11 – Many people believe that the number 1111 is some kind of wake up call.  A kind of cellular trigger that is imprinted on humanity.  A code that points to a higher level of consciousness: an on ramp to another, very positive, dimension.  Phew.  Well, OK, some people believe it, seriously, give it a Google.

Not that I believe it or anything.  After all I am sure it is just coincidence that the all four of us are born on a 1st: me the 31st, Teri 31st, Adele 1st, Vince 31st.   The last four numbers put together? 1111.  Or, that three different people claiming to be “in the know” on these kind of thing have all suggested to me, at different times in my life, spread across a number of years, in different locations and completely independent of one another, that I need to watch out for 1111.  Or, that sometimes I do, and that I take notice of it, frequently.  

Not one to question Divine Intervention, this have been my launch date for VinniVooms since I started forming the company.  Today we go live online with the photos of images that are inspiring the creative process we are undergoing to launch our patterns and designs.  These images are the essence of the brand on which we will build out our eco-friendly, family centric swimwear.  1111 makes sense to me on many levels: positive, constant, current, search, transcend, blend, peace.

The tooth fairy found us!  Somehow she managed to track us down and leave Adele a shinny Australia dollar.  She is beaming when she come up stairs.  Vince’s eyes are wide with wonder.  

Flights are cheaper on New Years day and hotels easier to find in big cities so we are finally leaving Western Australia and heading East to New South Wales and Sydney.  We were going to head up to Queensland to see the beaches and the Great Barrier Reef but its box jellyfish season so we nixed it.  Just as well as the rains is causing all kinds of havoc. 

Perth to Sydney equals LA to NYC.  Who knew Australia is so big?  It’s a four plus hour flight with a three-hour time change.  And like LA and NYC the cities are worlds apart.  We replace the bright and sunny Perth with a dark cool Sydney.  We are staying on points at the Westin downtown in the center of the action.  It is crowded, much more so than Perth.  There are high-rise buildings here and a central business district filled with banks and insurance companies.  It feels very much like any major city in the States.  We even have an Apple store, Gap and Starbucks around the corner.  Our dollars are even at parity so the only real difference is the pictures on the bills.  

I guess its good to be here.  At least we are one step closer to New Zealand: one step closer to home.  It’s been a long travel day.

Day One Hundred and Ninety Eight January 2nd.

First day in a new territory means a new territory museum.  Territories here are like mega states back home.  Sort of like our New England, South, Central and West.  Over here there are five of them in all and this is our third.  If you come this way check out these out as they are a point of pride for the residents and are chock full of all kinds of great exhibits and information.  As a bonus this one covers New South Wales as well as all of Australia. 

After a few hours of learning about the Aborigines, mining, sheep farming, Captain Cook, kangaroos, venomous snakes, great white sharks, space debris, the Olympics and Oprah its time to wander over to the Royal Botanic Gardens.  Why do they insist on calling these parks “Botanic” gardens?  What happened to “Botanical” gardens?  It’s always been botanical gardens in my book: like the ones off the Van Wyck by Flushing Meadows in Queens.  I’ve never even heard of “botanic” gardens until we came here. Nutty Aussies. 

The kids and I spend a great afternoon wandering around checking things out and following blue and pink elephant footprints.  They are outlined in chalk along the route to the Opera House and seem to be related in some way to the massive fireworks and New Years celebration they had a few nights ago.  Try explaining that to a four year old running wildly from tree to tree in search the pink elephant.  I have been known to see a few in my day but they remain elusive to all of us this afternoon.   

When we round the corner and the Opera House comes into view I get a sudden rush, a feeling of having arrived.  It maybe the Pixar influence from watching Nemo countless times but it really does feel like we have achieved a certain milestone. We celebrate with a shout and cheer.  

The Sydney Opera house has been a target of ours since we started the trip.  At first it was the to mark Adele’s ninth birthday with family but that changed mid-stream.  Then it morphed into a symbol of the end of our first chapter in this wacky journey.  

Once we get to New Zealand we know we are staying put for a while and that the flurry of constant movement and travels will have ended, at least the first stage of it anyway.  The Opera House has always been a bookend or pivot point from the beginning at LAX all those months ago to the next phase in NZ in the not to distant future.  And now here we are, standing in the park, checking the place out.  

We have arrived safe and sound, on so many levels.

Day One Hundred and Ninety Nine January 3rd.

Why go all the way to Beijing to see the famed warriors when they are out touring with a stop here in Sydney?  Sounds like a good way to spend a rainy morning, checking out a few warriors at the Art Gallery of NSW across the park.  

When we arrive the ticket line is around the corner and growing by the minute.  It seems everyone else has the same idea.  The kids are in no mood to stand in line so we decide to pass for today and to tour the rest of the museum instead.  It has an assortment of Australia landscape artists, a few works by famous people, a floor devoted to more modern stuff and a great collection of Aboriginal artists.  

Downstairs, tucked into a far corner, is the “members only” private area.  Adele and I stop in to see if they will print tickets for the exhibit upstairs if we buy them online.  The lady takes one look at the two of us and immediately serves up a family pass. It turns out she is from New Zealand and one of her family members lives in the town we are headed to!   It always pays to strike up a conversation: you never know what will come of it.  

Armed with our pass we march off to see the warriors.   Actually they should call it the “warrior” tour, singular not plural.  Ok, there might be two of three but it’s a lot of hype for a few stone guys.  The movie about the excavation is very interesting and really makes us want to head to China to see the real deal before we come back to the States.  

I had no idea that the main mountain that the warriors are there to protect is man-made.  It is an ancient burial city built for this lunatic Chinese ruler way back when and one that China has elected NOT to disturb.  The entire mountain is a tomb and no one knows what lies beneath the big mound of earth.  If what they have uncovered thus far is any indication it must be incredible.  Hats off to management to have the will power to restrain from plundering the site.  It must be hard, knowing so much is there.  

The crowds here in NSW are so thick that we can’t actually see any of the exhibits.  It must be five or six people deep at every display.  Teri and Vince leave immediately.  Adele and I slug it out with the rest of the foreigners trying to catch a glimpse of something, anything, but it is just too much so we bail as well.  Someone needs to tell the Australians how to do crowd control.  It’s a free for all here.  I can only imagine what sporting events or big outdoor festivals are like. It must be bedlam.

Day Two Hundred January 4th

I spend a frustrating morning dealing with our CallMeCuffs start up.  The frustration has been building for a while with the web developer back in the States.  What is supposed to be a fun, turnkey operation is turning out to be a logistical nightmare.  Dealing with folks we don’t really know and have not built up a level of trust with is proving to be far more challenging than I want or need it to be.  

So, following our initial test we are bringing the project back in house and putting it on hold until we can get to a place where I can spend some time reviewing the work done to date and finding a more efficient way to approach the market on a large scale.   In retrospect, the effort needed to manage a start up while traveling is too much to juggle with our touring schedule and the lack of down time.  Next time the key pieces will be in place before we leave port.  No need to stress though, NZ is right around the corner and the feedback thus far indicates that it CMC will be as successful as we want it to be.  

The rest of the morning is spent with Fidelity trying to get the NZ house payment wired overseas.  Sounds easy enough right?  Not so fast.  You need access to a broadband connection to Skype them to set things up, a secure machine to download forms, a printer, a fax machine to return signature copies for the transfer, a phone line on file that they can call you at or you can access via voice mail so they can leave a secret code that you can then pick up and call them back to verify that you are truly the one making the transfer, a fairly solid understanding of the Forex market and the fees they charge to convert to NZ dollars, enough money, some kind of intermediary bank on the receiving side, at least a week to move the money, and on and on and on.

Now I have been a fan of Fidelity Investments for twenty some odd years.  In fact, we have tried other houses over the years and always found our way back to Fidelity.  However, this experience and the level of frustration they have caused for no good reason is beyond acceptable.  The account manager even acknowledged that the transfer system is set up to take full advantage of the client and to charge as much as possible.  That is client, as in customer, or maybe former customer, after all of this.  No joke, Fidelity took full advantage of the situation and we paid accordingly.

To liven up the afternoon we head to the Powerhouse Museum of Science and Design.  It’s a short train ride way and we get a new, elevated view of Sydney en route.  What strikes me is how small the harbor is.  For some reason I pictured a big wide harbor with miles of docks and slips filled with fancy yachts, maybe a row of high-rise buildings lining a promenade and the Opera House gleaming in the center.  Not the case.  Instead it is a small little inlet with a few tour boats and a bunch of tourist seafood restaurants.  Oprah must have been in shock, though she probably never left the Four Seasons.  

If you remember back in Sweden we blew off Stockholm because the Abba museum wasn’t ready.   That is real dedication Fernando.  Well, it turns out that the traveling Abba exhibit is here, at the Powerhouse, on the fourth floor, Waterloo hoo, hoo!  Adele almost faints, Vince starts singing Take a Chance On Me at the top of his lungs, Teri stands below the big screen in awe of the sparkling one piece jump suits and I deny ever wearing corduroy bellbottoms. Knowing me, knowing you, baby!

If that’s not enough, Adele finds a Top Secret Spy Exhibit with all kinds of spy stuff, interactive games and learning tools for kids her age.  She spends an hour or so totally enjoying the moment.  Vince and I head down stairs to see trains, cars, space ships, airplanes and the like.  Plus, we sneak in some time on the outside playground to try and burn off some energy.  

To top it all off they have a ‘80s exhibit.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  My generation is on exhibit!  In a museum! These are my people!  It all feels so natural.  From the tribute wall of record album covers, most of which I still have and play repeatedly, what, you mean The Flock of Seagulls stopped recording after “I Ran”? There’s ABC, Madness, Ian Dury and Blockheads, the Talking Heads, Culture Club, Duran Duran, Billy Idol just to name a few.  To Reagan, big hair, ripped jeans, and exercise videos.  They had a dance tank with music videos, big TVs with footage running of major news stories of the decade. The exhibit has an Australian slant that makes it all the more interesting and fun. 

This is a business waiting to happen.  The place was packed with parents telling kids about “life way back when.”  It crosses generations.  You could put this in any major US city and make a fortune.  Plus, think of the fun it would be to put the thing together.  People would probably pay and lobby to have their stuff on display!  You could hold concerts and do live meet and greets with ‘80s icons.  I am not kidding, this would make a fortune in Vegas, Times Square or at Hollywood and Vine.  If I had anymore bandwidth I would launch it.  Since I don’t I’ll offer it up for a small cut on the backend and promise to buy the first ticket.  

Still humming Abba we wander over to the waterfront to watch a street juggler and grab a Starbucks.  It’s Australia after all and as you would expect they have great bars here.  We belly up to an outside, dockside table and order up fish and chips and a pint or two.  The kids run wild and we kick back and relax.  Our guard is up since it’s a big city but we give them enough rope to run and play.  Vince is now used to posing for photos for Asian tourists and he plays the part to the hilt.  Pretty soon we are going to start passing the hat.  Adele chases seagulls and runs laps.

By 9p we are back at the hotel, I try and get the kids down and Teri heads to the lobby to find a WiFi signal so she can connect back home.   

Day Two Hundred and One January 5th

Another morning with a broadband connection, another morning huddled in the hotel lobby and another morning working on the start up: only to find more hurdles and frustration.  Sometimes the less you know the better.  After six hours of back and forth its time to throw in the towel, patch what needs to be patched to get through the next few weeks and move on. 
The Royal Botanic Gardens really are a treat.  They are lush and deep green with all kinds of trees and plants. They wrap around a point that jets out in to the harbor and seep out into the central business district as if they are trying to take back a part of the city.  With Subway sandwiches in hand we settle in under a shady tree for lunch.

You can judge a city by its gardens and parks and the people that use them. They offer a relief from the chaos that has grown up around them, a kind of relaxed freedom where you can run and hide for a while.  Many of the people picnicking around us are on lunch hour.  Other mid-day runners and walkers scurry about.  This is a usable space that serves a need.  

The large black things hanging from the trees look like pinecones from a distance.  As you lie in the grass looking up at them you start to wonder why Oak and Palm trees have pinecones.  This is Australia after all so it all seems natural enough, more of a curiosity than anything else, a “we should Google that” moment.  It’s only when they start to flap and fly that you get the willies and do a double take.  

Bats.  Really, really big bats! As big a Vince, an observation not lost on the big man, and there are more of them hanging around than you think possible.  Its like there has been some mistake: it’s mid-day, sunny and warm.  Did someone forget to tell them they are supposed to come out at night?  They freak us out.

Post lunch we take Teri over to the opera house.  Vince leads the way carrying a large branch searching once again for pink elephants.  Adele is close behind doing her best to stay ten steps ahead of mom and dad.  She is nine going on fifteen.  

As I watch her walking off ahead of us I realize that this trip is timed perfectly.  It is happening at a time when we can still get away with it.  Our Adele that left home is long gone: left in bits and pieces around the world.  Those bits and pieces have been replaced by other ones creating our new Adele, a young woman: loving, independent, intelligent, engaged, and evolving.  It has been an incredible transformation and a privilege to observe.   

We snap a few photos and head back to the hotel.  

Teri has found the latest “hot spot” in Sydney for dinner.  It is a Thai restaurant, Longrain,  a short cab ride way. They open at six, perfect for nine and four year olds, and don’t take reservations.   When we arrive, five minutes after the hour, we get the last four seats at one of the long community tables.  The place rocks.  It is by far the best meal we have had in months.  Maybe since Istanbul.

As we leave, at about 7p, I overhear that the wait for a table is over two hours.  And that is for someone that claims to know the chef.

Day Two Hundred and Two January 6th 

Another morning with a broadband connection, another morning huddled in the hotel lobby and another morning working on the Fidelity house payment.  It takes all morning to wire the money.  I am so unhappy with Fidelity that I am fit to be tied.  Transferring funds directly from BOA back home would have been essentially free and much easier to deal with.  But I had to be there in person.  Again, think twice before using Fidelity.

I grab a cab over to the rental car place to pick up transportation for our drive to the Blue Mountains.  When I tell the guy where we are going he looks at me like I am out of my mind.  “It’s raining a bit.”  He says watching me in the rearview mirror, offering it up not so much as advice but more of a warning.  “In Queenstown.” I shoot back trying to seem in the know.  “And the Blues, mate, and the Blues.”  

He lives outside the city in a neighborhood for working people (his description, not mine).  I learn that tourist traffic is off because of the strength of the dollar: those overseas can’t afford to come here and those here can afford to go there.  So no one is in Sydney.  At least not by taxi driving standards.  Apparently Oprah didn’t do much for the locals.  He complains about the escalating cost of living: that simple things like the cost of housing and feeding the family are making life more difficult.  If I close my eyes I could be in the BQE heading for JFK.    

I am sure that the drive to the Blue Mountains is everything the guidebooks say it is, when the sun is shining.  When’s its not, the drive is like any other on wet, windy roads.  We are heading to an eco-lodge in the middle of the woods some three hours outside of Sydney.  

“Eco-lodge”, not to be confused with “econo-lodge”, is code for solar power, a wood burning stove, some kind of advanced indoor pit toilets, mud covered cinder block walls, rustic furniture and National Geographic magazines from the mid-80s.  The one with a twenty seven year old Steve Jobs talking about the new found power of the microchip is a collector’s item for sure.  I think I graduated from college the year it was published: wish I had the foresight to buy Apple shares.  

We need food so I head up to the town center to shop.  Walmart has not made it to this neck of the woods.  Here, everything has its place.  There is a grocer, butcher, baker, wine shop, vegetable and fruit stands. There are a few cafes, a small movie theater, a book store and some “antique” dealers.  Several places are offering up “homemade” crafts.  It looks like small town America in some Hollywood rendition of the 1950s.  

By early evening we have a fire going, food cooking on the stove and a house of cards made from four decks combined that is three stories high.  Per our power meters our output is low and our reserves should get us though the night.  Now, lets hope for a sunny day tomorrow. 

Day Two Hundred and Three January 7th 

Today we are off to the Zig Zag railway in Lithgow. A bunch of railway people have created a cooperative that runs and maintains a non-profit steam train that “zigs” and “zags” its way up and down a mountainside.  Even better, sometimes they dress the train up as Thomas and pretend to be on the island of Sodar! They drink a lot there in Australia.  Did I mention it’s raining?

We arrive at the station with time to spare and stand around the platform, peering around the corner, looking for Sir Topem Hat.  At long last the train pulls in and we climb aboard.  It is great fun: old wooden seats, the smell of coal burning, hot steam and ash flying by.  To the kids delight we get to stick out heads out the windows, sit in the pitch black as we go through tunnels and get on and off several times as we “zig” and “zag” our way down the line.  The entire trip takes about an hour.

Did I mention its still raining?  The Blue Mountains are not much fun in the rain.  Everything is wet and soggy and damp.  We try and make the best of it but it does feels like it will never end.  

It’s time to head back to the “eco-lodge.”  All is not lost.  We get a fire going to warn the place up and set off to play some tennis in the rain.  Yes, even the eco-lodge has a tennis court (put in by the previous owners).  

Digging around for rackets and balls in an old tin shed with spiders lurking about is an adventure.  The spiders here are big and brown and poisonous so it makes it all that more challenging.  It would be easier to play “do-not-get-bit-by-the–giant-poisonous-spiders” but that does not have the same rings as “tennis-anyone?” Plus, ever since we stood courtside at Wimbledon Adele has been very focused on her tennis career.

We play in the rain for a while, hitting balls over the fence and jumping around to avoid the puddles.  When it starts getting dark we retreat to the cabin to end another rainy day settled in around a fire.  

It feels like we are winding down somehow.  Slowly coming into port like one of those really big ships.  It is time for us to move on from Australia, we seem to be done.  

In only a few more days we land in New Zealand!  

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas 
Just like the ones I used to know,
- Irving Berlin, via Bing Crosby 1942

Day One Hundred Ninety December 25th 

Santa found us!  He ate our cookies, drank some milk, answered our letters and left all kinds of gifts!  Adele got her cross on a silver chain and a wolf plush.  Vince got his remote control motorcycle, mom her wallet and dad his surf shirt.  We made it until 7a before Vince bounded in to our room: he was beyond excited, wide-eyed and full of wonder.  Adele was a close second right behind him. 

It seems the thing to do here on Christmas Day is to go swimming and hang out at the beach.  With opposite seasons from home and record snow falling on the high Sierras, it all takes some getting used to.  Mammoth is getting more snow than we can imagine yet the temp here is bordering on one hundred.  

The beach is great fun.  We spend the morning playing in the waves, eat fish and chips “take away” at the main food stand for lunch, head back for more wave time in the afternoon and then finally head home for burgers and corn on the cob as our Christmas feast.  
Late in the day the winds pick up and the kite sailors and wind surfers come out in full force. We watch another sunset and head off to bed, exhausted from the sand and surf.  Unfortunately the kids are having all sorts of issues going to sleep lately and the eight o’clock bedtime slips to well past eleven.  All this change and excitement does take its toll.

Day One Hundred and Ninety One December 26th 

Another day, another city, another aquarium.  We are  aquarium experts.  As a family I would wager to say that we have been to more aquariums than any other.  Name a city and chances are really good we have seen the marine life they have to offer.

The best ones have a unique local perspective.  With proximity to key whale migration routes, great white sharks up and down the coast, uber dangerous jellies, all kinds stingrays, deadly sea creatures, salt crocs, and the like, this one has to be seen.  It is small but packed with fun stuff.  

The highlight is a moving glass tube that you stand in and it runs in a circle though a giant saltwater tank filled with all kinds of sea life. It is great fun standing under sharks and rays. 

We learn not to pickup seashells since they may contain crabs that will inject venom into your finger and do serious damage.  Apparently the box jellies can come close to killing you if you end up like Dore in the Nemo movie and “go messing with the jellies”.  Thrill issues, dude, some serious thrill issues.

Vince is sick on the way back so he stays home with Teri while Adele and I spend the rest of the afternoon at the beach catching waves.  It’s just another lazy day in Perth.

Day One Hundred and Ninety Tow December 27th 

Each territory here in Australia has its own museum.  The one up in Darwin was excellent so we head to downtown Perth with high expectations.  

Downtown Perth is empty.  I can’t tell if it is just because we are here during the holiday season or if it is always this way but the place is really, really empty.  It is kind of weird, like they built all these building and no one came.  Back home cities like New York or Chicago might empty out a bit in the summer but there are still plenty of people left behind.  Here you can walk right down the middle of the streets and no one would notice.  

We have the museum to ourselves.  It’s a nice one with a bunch of stuff on the Aborigines, a great gem and rock section, a few dinosaurs and some space objects.  Apparently Australia gets hit by a lot of space debris.  Luckily it falls into the middle and no one notices.  With so few people and so much space chances are good it will land with out incident.  

For lunch we end up in a hamburger place, one of the few things open, sitting in the heat and trying to figure out where everyone is.  Since this is the only place open, everyone I there so it takes some time to get our burgers and fries.   The kids are increasing picky eaters and feeding Vince has become a chore.  We struggle for a while then give up and head back home.  On the way we stop by blockbuster for a movie.   

Adele and I planned to go to the beach until we hear on the radio that they have closed the beach due to the sighting three sharks about thirty meters off shore.  How crazy is that?  The beach is closed.  You would think that everyone would go home and consider them selves lucky but the ones they interview on the radio say they are all going to wait around until the ban is lifted.  These Australians are very tough people.  “Ok, mate, just wait a pinch till the shaaaak, swims away then, it’s a big ocean mate, no worries, back in the swim in no time.”  Falling for this logic I suggest we head down and wait it out.    The family looks at me like I have lost my mind, which may be true, in this unrelenting one hundred and five degree heat.

I have started training again and this afternoon Vince and I get into our running gear and “run” to the local park and do our push ups and sit ups together.  He may the most enthusiastic training partner I have ever had.  It’s not lost on me that in a flash I will be struggling to keep up with him.

Day One Hundred and Ninety Three December 28th 

The shark thing is bumming us out so we head back in to Perth to spend the day at Kings Park away from the sharks and safe on land or as safe as you can be here with all of the spiders, snakes and the lot.  

It is a nice city park.  There is a ring road around the outside and an incredible play area for families with kids.  They have all sorts of climbing things, great lawns, trees to lounge under, fountains, barbeques, all of it in full use with folks out enjoying the day. Again I don’t know why this sort of thing isn’t available in the States.  I think it is that we are nowhere near as sociable as the Aussies.  There seems to be more time spent here hanging out with larger groups.  It seems more communal on some level.  That and the place is spotless, back home it would be littered with McDonalds wrappers and Big Gulp cups.

We wind our way all the way to the end for an over look of the city and the harbor.  The area at the point is a large grassy knoll shaded by big old growth trees.  The grass is like a golf coarse fairway and we end up napping on the ground for an hour or so enjoying the sea breeze.  

When we re-group from our naps we head back to the house to change and try the beach.  The winds are blowing unbelievably hard.  To my dismay the kids want to try and swim so we leave Teri and head to the waters edge next to the only other people on the entire stretch of beach.  It is much too rough.  

In retreat we find a playground and spend sometime on the swings and climbing ropes to try and burn off some energy before bedtime.

Day One Hundred and Ninety Four December 29th 

Rottsnest Island. 
“One of the highlights of a visit to Perth.”  
“A must do experience!” 
“Beautiful and Amazing!”  
A total waste of time and money!! 
A huge disappointment!!! 

Do not go to Rottsnest Island.  Everything about it was a waste of time and energy.  The ferry ride from Fremantle was over crowded, the town over run with people, the prices outrageous (two Subway veggie delights and four drinks for $50US), I had to carry Vince almost 2K to the beach, the one that was tiny and crammed with people, the water park for Adele for half and hour cost $25US, it was over a hundred degrees and the place has this weird vibe to it.  I am not kidding, don’t go, you will be disappointed no matter where you’re from or what your perspective.

When we get home after a long day I get to go for a run.  Finally after a few weeks back in the saddle my legs and lungs have returned and I can go for an hour or so without keeling over.  It goes fast I tell you.  After running the LA Marathon in March and going long through June it is shocking how fast the distance goes out from under you.  Six months of travel takes its toll.  After dinner we wind down the day watching Notting Hill, probably my favorite Julia Roberts movie of all time.  Luckily Teri bought it for me so I can have Julia sign a copy next time I see her.  
Day One Hundred and Ninety Five December 30th 

Today we return to the city we sailed from yesterday to explore an area called Fremantle.  We are in search of the Little Creatures Brewery for lunch and an Aboriginal art gallery that comes highly recommended.  Both are worth the time it takes to find parking. 

Little Creatures is rocking.  There must be two hundred tables set in a huge warehouse right on the water.  It bet there are five or six hundred people here. The place is a working brewery so it smells of hops and grains.  Big aluminum vats hover over everyone.  

It feels like one big party.  Kids are running around, they have a big sandbox set up with digging toys to keep them busy while the parents belly up for a few pints.  Table competition is fierce and Teri manages to muscle out some others but it costs us a round to suggest they hold “no worries”.  

As you would expect the food is marginal at best, but the beer is cold and fresh and the atmosphere begs you to sit around and stay a while.  Many of the people seem to be regulars and the tourist trade seems to be minimal.

From there we walk across the park to find the gallery.  It has incredible works by artists from all over Australia.  We spend a bit of time looking through the enormous volume of works but end up empty handed.  It is hard to find a piece that we both agree on.  It’s also tough with the kids who are rapidly losing control so we end up moving on earlier than we would like.  

Looking at all of the work reminds me that there really aren’t “original” people in many other places.  The American Indians are probably the closest thing I know of.  Europe and Asia seems to have been conquered and then settled by people from other places.  Maybe Africa and the Middle East have initial starting points.  I make a note to check on the migration patterns of early man.  I ask you, would that be something that would have even occurred to me six months ago? I think not.

Day One Hundred and Ninety Six New Years eve

Adele: Where’s Mom.
Dad: She’s on the phone.
Adele:  With her sidekick?
Dad with raised eyebrows: Err, yes, with her sidekick, she needs to check in for the New Year.

Apparently 2011 is to be excellent.  Teri’s sidekick (also know as a clairvoyant I believe) has only positive things to stay about our journey and the pending stay in NZ.  How she can tell over phone lines and across how ever many thousands of miles is not for me to question.  After all she is the one that predicted much of what has happen this past year.  If even half of the stuff comes through it will be another incredible time.

Teri takes the kids to the zoo and I spend the day writing up notes for the past few weeks.  It’s funny.  Even though we feel we have moved into slow motion and are generally rested and relaxed compared to the last few months, the journal notes show that we still manage to do something almost every day.  Under “normal” circumstances we would be burnt out from all of the activity.  

Somewhere along the line Adele loses a tooth.  It’s been on the cusp for a few days: I am glad that it finally decided to come out on its own.  We were close to tying a string around it and giving a good pull. Actually I think Vince was the one pulling for that, the rest of us showed more restraint.  

There is much discussion on the ability of the tooth fairy to find us here in Australia.  The kids are concerned that she may not know where we are or how to find us. Always willing to give it a try we seal the tooth in an envelope and hide it under Adele’s pillow.  Now only time will tell.

New Years eve comes early over here.  We are in one of the first time zones that welcomes in the New Year.  At home we usually spend the evening watching the balls drop around the world then waiting first for Times Square and finally for LA.  Here they don’t have any coverage because we are so early in the cycle.  We all make it to 9p hoping they will cover the fireworks in Sydney on one of the national channels but they don’t and it comes and goes with out much fanfare.  

Shortly thereafter we all head off to bed hoping the tooth fairy can find her way.

Happy New Year from the other side of the world…
Well, it’s one for the money,
Two for the show,
Three to get ready,
Now go, cat, go!
Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins via Elvis, 1960

Day One Hundred and Eight Three December 18th

Today is glorious with a touch of clouds.  Perhaps they don’t want us to forget about them.  It is almost as if they just want to show up for an hour or so to make an appearance.

Vince and I head to the beach for a morning of sand castles, trucks and jumping in the waves.  

This is really the first day we notice the flies.  The guidebooks leave this part out with good reason.  Apparently the black flies are particularly bad this year because there is a problem with dung beetles in this part of the woods.  Fly larvae live in dung.  In good years dung beetles happily eat the fly larvae and everything stays in check.  However, we are at the tail end of a drought that has somehow impacted the beetles so, fewer beetles means more of flies.  

To give some perspective, Vince and I walk from the car to the beach covered head to toe with blankets, t-shirts, hats and anything else we can patch together.  We have our heads completely covered and leave just enough room around our eyes to peer out at the path in front of us.  

Flies cloud around as we walk.  It is like some kind of Australian torture technique.  Here we are on one of the most beautiful beach on earth and you almost break down walking from the parking area to the shoreline.  The bussing is enough to push you over the edge.  Once you get there all is well, as long as you stay in the water.  If you sit in the sand you suffer.  Insanity lurks close by.

We spend the morning building sand castles, playing trucks and swimming in the “big ones”.  Vince runs up and down as the waves come and go, squealing with delight and excitement. It is fun to watch his comfort zone increase day-by-day, the more time we spend in the ocean, the more he loves it.

In the afternoon we switch it up and Adele and I had beach side for some boogie boarding.  The waves here are big.  They are like a good day at Jones Beach except the break is much closer to shore: here the ride in is short, steep and very fast.  We manage.  Adele is swimming so well that she can run down, dive in, dive under the break and pop up on the other side.  The small stuff in Malaysia was great prep for the real McCoy.

The only issues here are the undertow (always think of “under toad” from the World According to Garp) and riptide.  Once we get out beyond the break it is hard to get back in.  The ocean is funny that way, it lulls you into thinking everything is going your way and then you slowly begin to realize just where you are and what you are doing.  The waves are very strong, rolling in sets of threes and fours and they are clearly in control, not us.  It is hard sometimes to teach a nine year old that you need to surrender to nature and go with the grain not against it.  Their instinct is to mold the world around them, not be molded by it.  Wait maybe that’s mine, so hard to un-learn all those years of schooling.

That’s how we find ourselves on the front end of a double set with legs being pulled hard left, a wave breaking right, Adele clutching her board with a flash of real fear in her eyes and me pushing her up so her head stays above water.  The moment the second wave crashes into my back on an angle that somehow pushes my mid section towards shore while my upper body goes right and my legs move out towards sea I can feel the full force of the oceans fury.  It is there in an instant and then gone just as fast.  The impact however, will be felt for some time.

Adele takes no notice as somehow we manage to keep her head above water and she keeps her hands on her boogie board.  I know that something is tweaked out immediately.  Each step confirms that the bones got rattled at bit.  

It’s a small price to pay for swimming with your daughter beyond the break.  She doesn’t miss a beat.

Day One Hundred and Eighty Four December 19th 

It is cloudy this morning.  I must say it is a welcome relief from the endless sunshine.  Clouds bring cooler temperatures and a gentle breeze changing the look and feel of the coastline.  Today the water looks darker and cold giving us a glimpse of another side, the one responsible for the shipwrecks that line the coast. 

We decide to go inland and check out a play area / coffee shop designed for families.  They do this kind of thing over hear.  Land is plentiful and they can build out big open spaces.  This one has a hedge maze designated “kids only” as well as a large warehouse type structure with tables and educational toys set out and organized by age group.  The patio looks over a giant climbing tree and a play set big enough for hoards of kids.  The “coffee” shop sells beer and has nice tables and umbrellas for the parents to hang and waste away an afternoon.  We should do more of this back home.   

The interesting thing is that it is a totally safe environment.  Parents can actually look at each other and converse instead the usual half focus, one eye on the conversation, the other on the kids.  Here the environment is comfortable and safe for kids and you know others will watch out for them if need be.  People let their guard down, though I am not sure it was ever up to begin with.  The comparison to South Africa, where you never take an eye off your kids, ever, is striking.  

The fly issue has us searching for an alternative beach venue so we head off to the other side of our peninsula to see if the winds are more favorable and strong enough to keep them at bay.  The area we drive through all looks very “beach” with low lying scrub trees and a sandy base.  The drive covers twisting two lane roads with sparse traffic.  We are still getting used to the lack of people here compared to the rest of world.

The other beach is full of flies as well.  The water is beautiful and the beach perfect for the kids but the flies drive us all crazy and we need to leave.  I have no idea how or why these people sit there all day long swatting at flies.  Perhaps it’s the endless flow of beer.

The son of a local winery owner owns the house we are staying at so we head over to Wise wines to check out his dad’s vineyard.  The place is something.  It is set on a small hilltop.  The property spills out in all directions with rolling hills filled with vines, huge ancient oak trees and fields of grass.  The main building houses a restaurant and shop selling wine and local items from the region.  There are sculptures on the main lawn and small places to sit and sip tucked about here and there.  

You get the sense that this is a fine life that folks are living here in SWA.  It almost seems like a well-kept secret that they have no interest in sharing with the rest of the world.  They have excellent beaches, incredible surfing and fishing, great wines, olives and fruits, blistering sunny days, a moderate climate and a safe family oriented environment.  

Now if they can just import some more dung beetles to take care of the flies.

Day One Hundred and Eight Five December 20th

Can it be raining?  Believe it or not after all of the sunny days a rest day comes at just the right time.  The rain sounds nice on the roof as it wakes us up to start the day. It is a glorious rainy day!

Sheep.  Not just one or two, here and there, but zillions of them pretty much everywhere.  Today we are going to see how they shear them and process the raw wool at a real sheep-shearing shed just down the road.  

Typical of this neck of the woods we pull into a dirt parking lot and wander in to buy tickets at a little shop selling stuff made from authentic “Australian” wool.  Naturally, they claim this to be the best wool in the world.  Not sure I can agree until we get to New Zealand (where they have 30 sheep for each person) but we can confirm that it is certainly some of the most expensive!

An old guy welcomes us into the “back room”.  There are probably seventy-five of us all in, mostly families with little kids.  There is a mix of local Aussies a few Asians and a token European traveler.  We seem to be the only Americans.  

The crusty old guy in charge of the shearing looks like he walked off a movie set.  He is leathery and tan, nicked and cut, quick with subtle inside jokes for the parents, patient with the kids and full of information on running a sheep farm.   

We learn all about sheep and farming.  When we lose power for a bit, a common experience out here, he improvises with a “field trip” out to the herding pen where the sheep dogs put on a show.  They have one dog to bring the sheep into the pen and another to walk on top of them to keep them moving through the gates.  No joke, one of the dogs walks on the backs of the sheep to keep them in line.  It is amazing to see how well trained the dogs are and how responsive the sheep seem to be.  

We learn about herd management, who they are tagged and identified by age and sex, when they are “retired” to the table and why, how often they are sheared, etc.  It’s so different from home.  This is a network of small farmers feeding in to cooperatives. The concept of corporate mega farms has not yet taken hold and the family run business is still alive and well.  

Eventually we get around to the main event where he actually shears a sheep.  They have a machine they use that has not changed in almost a hundred years.  In fact it seems not much at all has changed here in the past hundred years.  The barn is well worn and full of history.  Years of “fixes” are evident everywhere, old signs hang here and there.   

The sheep is incredible docile and sits there without any fuss as the shearer shaves the wool off in one piece.    

We learn about sorting and bailing.  How the different parts of the wool are used for different things and worth different amounts at market.  This farm sells to middlemen who then sell to production houses for processing.   Adele gets to push a button and start the bailing machine!

Our lunch stop is a German brewery stuck right dab in the middle of wine country.  A prime example of counter programming: the Aussies love beer so the place is crowded.  We sit inside and let the kids play outside in the rain.  It is strange to be eating sausages and sauerkraut after the real deal in Germany.  It can’t compare and disappoints, though we should have known better.  

Later afternoon finds Teri out Christmas shopping in town and the rest of us home watching a Stuart Little movie marathon.  No better way to spend a rainy day at the beach.

Day One Hundred and Eight Six December 21st 

More rain.  It is a slow, lazy day around the house while we get ready to transition up to Perth tomorrow. Adele is under the weather again and she spends pretty much the entire day on the couch.  I try and catch up on the journal and pay bills while Teri and Vince head out to Christmas shop.

In mid-afternoon, Ron the owner of the winery and Tim the brother of Daniel the one who owns the house, stop by for a visit.  They do things like that here.  People stop by and hang out.  I have no idea why we don’t do more of this at home.  Maybe some do some where but not in Malibu. 

They come strolling up the steps in board shorts, bare feet and tee shirts.  We have a great few hours hanging out, popping a few tops and chatting about life and travels.  It turns out they are an old Perth family with strong ties to the US.  One of the kids is an actress living in West Hollywood.  The wine business gets them out and about and Tim is starting several online ventures, some based back in the states.  It is nice to visit with such positive and upbeat people.  They have a dry sense of humor and appear interested and fully engaged in life.  

Maybe it reflects the upswing that this area is experiencing overall with the explosive growth in minerals and mining.  All the money flowing from the record growth of the past few decades is spilling into all corners of everyday live and everyone appears to be profiting.  Housing is up, unemployment is nearly nil and you sense that there is generally an opportunistic outlook here.  The future is bright and the landscape wide open.  

I know it is not that easy but if you could figure out something to bring to market it feels like the money is here to support it.  A good pretzel comes to mind.  Since they don’t have pretzels I may become the first “Pretzel King” of Australia.  With twenty million beer drinkers, how hard could it be?

Day One Hundred and Eight Seven December 22nd

This is a transition day.  We are moving from the beach house in Yallingup to the beach house in Cottesloe, Perth.   In Australia something like ninety percent of the people live by the water.  Beaches and beach neighborhoods are life here.  The ocean is warm, the waves big, the winds are calm in the morning and whip up to small gale in late afternoon and the sun always shines.  

We drive mid-day and arrive at another beautiful modern home in late afternoon.  We could be in Manhattan Beach, twenty years ago.  Settling in is easy as it all feels familiar, very much like home.

A few random thoughts/observations that I missed earlier and that I keep coming back to and churning over:
In Laos we saw a crazy game that they should import to the States.  It is played on a badminton court (people play badminton everywhere in Vietnam and Laos) only with three people per side and they use a small soccer ball.  The same rules as soccer apply: no hands, feet and head only.  The serve is an overhead or sideways scissors kick and returns can be chest trapped but must not touch the ground.  We saw a group of young guys playing late into the night by our hotel in Luang Prabang, the pace is really fast and it is exciting to watch.

Uluru, the most sacred of all Aboriginal sites is one hundred and seventy kilometers from the exact middle of Australia.  That’s nutty when you think about it, one hundred and seventy eight kilometers is a rounding error out here.  In the forty thousand years that folks have been here the rounding error is probably due to natural movement of the land.  How did they know that the center of their belief system stems from a rock in the very center of the land they are one with?  It’s beyond my realm of understanding.  Something is happening at the rock.

The river system that flows through the town of Alice Springs is part of the oldest uninterrupted river system in the world.   It is part of a broader natural, symbiotic relationship between the elements.  I would say it is between man and nature but I am coming to understand that is a misrepresentation of what is going on out here.  In this world man is nature so it simply is, with out division or separation. Everything learned and known stems directly from the greater whole.   I have no idea what any of this means but I do have strong desire to become a Park Ranger.   

Day One Hundred and Eighty Eight December 23rd

Elvis’s car is parked in our garage.  It’s a convertible, probably late 1960s, dark bluish black with a tan interior, a gift from Elis to Pricilla.  It is one of those times in life when you wonder how and why thing happen to you the way they do.  I have the keys but don’t dare to drive it.  Instead the kids pose for a few pics and I sit in The Kings seat and hum a few bars of Blue Suede Shoes.

Perth is a pleasure.  It reminds us of Southern California down San Diego way.  BRUCE! Our little town could easily be Carlsbad or Encinitas.  It’s the same kind of vibe.  Very beach: with flip-flops and board shorts as the uniform.  

With Christmas two days away we head to the mall.  Everyone is there and it feels like we are in the Valley.  This year we drew names out of a hat and we each get to buy one present for our person.  I have Teri and Adele has Vince so the two of us head off in search of gifts.  We settle on pajamas and a hat for mom and a Lego RV for Vin.  

The place is hot and crowded with last minute shoppers.  Turns out we are not alone in waiting until the last minute.  After an hour or two we are exhausted and decide to head back home to recoup: its all too much interaction with the masses for one day.  Best to go to the beach.

Day One Hundred and Eighty Nine December 24th

Our new routine is to head to the beach mid-morning while the wind is still calm and the waves manageable.  The kids and I head over for a few hours of boogie boarding and sand castle building.  It is very hot here in Perth.

Teri heads back to town once again for last minute shopping and supplies.  Christmas is difficult when travelling.  Getting time to pull it all together is not easy when you are together twenty-four-seven.  

When we return from the beach we wrap gifts and put out our stockings.  The air is festive and we are all in the holiday spirit. 

As tradition holds in our family we each open one gift on Christmas Eve.  We have a little party and snack on crackers and cheese.  NORAD is tracking Santa online again and it is fun to see that we are one of the first stops he makes instead of being one on the last back home.  Apparently he is stopped in Fiji for a while, and why not?

Adele has asked for a silver cross on a chain from Santa which gets us thinking about going to a church service which is how we ended up in the WSA cathedral in downtown Perth at 7p.  

The place rocks.  It is like the larger cathedrals we saw in Europe only filled to the brim and with a choir that makes the place reverb with sound.  It is a classic Christmas service with ten lessons and hymns, all read by prominent members of the city: the Governor, ambassadors in residence (including one from the US), the Rugby team manager, a TV news caster.  We sit by a side door so we can escape with Vince when he starts to melt down: Adele sits fascinated with it all the entire time.  

Full of the Christmas spirit we say our prayers, head home to set out cookies and milk and try and sleep some which is very difficult to do when you are nine and four and wondering if Santa knows where you are.