Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beginnings and endings

At the start of September, my youngest brother was married - the reason why we timed our visit for when we did, as opposed to Christmas. It was a gorgeously perfect spring day, in a stunning location, Taronga Zoo. Everything went as smooth as could be.

Well, almost. We'd tried the flower girl dresses on a week earlier, to ensure that they fit properly. Miss Pie had proclaimed her love for her 'princess dress' and we all sighed with relief. Excellent. She'll be fine on the day.

Except she wasn't. My job was to get the flower girls ready at the bride's parents' home, so that the wedding photographer could get started there too. Allowing for an early (but necessary) toddler nap, then a long drive to the zoo, I had a window of about an hour to do my thing.

Let's just say that three-quarters of that time was spent trying to coerce a certain toddler to wear the carefully chosen ensemble for her. She wasn't having any of it. Nope. Flat out refusal, "Don't want to be a princess!" There were tears. There were tantrums. I tried the gentle approach. I tried being patient.

In the end, I had to get a little forceful with dressing her. It made for a stroppy toddler during the initial photo shoot, only wanting to be held by yours truly. Fun times.

Thankfully, the forty-minute drive to the zoo was enough time for her to perk up. When it came to 'showtime', she charmed and insisted on twirling in front of everyone while the music was being played. Look at the bride about to come down the aisle? Are you kidding? Look at me, everyone! That child of mine is no shrinking violet.

The Faery, meanwhile, dealt with things very differently. Ever the people-pleaser, she was only too keen to dress up for the occasion. She'd been counting down the days until she could dress like a princess, and it was all she talked about. There were no dramas getting her ready, because she'd been dreaming about this day. The only thing marring it for her was her nerves. Poor poppet was anxious about walking down the aisle and being watched by everyone, but she did well. No need to twirl and hog the limelight, though. Nope, duties done, she sat quietly with my parents through the ceremony as I chased after Miss Pie, softly shushing her constant exclamations and questions.

Not only was this a big day for my brother, but it was also momentous because we were seeing close family - some of whom I cherish but hadn't seen in many years. A number of aunts, uncles and cousins had flown in from interstate. Some of them had not seen the Faery since she was a baby, and most of them had never met Miss Pie. It was special.

Being a Sunday, most out-of-town guests had to leave the next day. We were due to fly back to L.A. on Tuesday. All we had was that one evening to catch up as best we could.

My dad's sister, in particular, is someone I've always adored and looked up to. As I was growing up, I was used to not seeing her often because she lives in Brisbane, but over the years, it's never felt like much time has passed between seeing one another.

The evening flew by too quickly, and before I knew it, it was 10.30 pm. Ten-fricking-thirty, and not a single tantrum that night from Miss Pie... but naturally, meltdown o'clock was imminent, so we started to say our goodbyes (again, can I stress how amazed and shocked I am that Miss Pie lasted so long, so well, into the late evening?).

I'm normally a pretty cool-headed-keep-my-shit-together kind of girl in emotional situations. Mainly, because I internalise it instead. Healthy, I know.

However, as soon as my lovely aunt began telling me what a credit the girls are to J and I, it was a struggle to keep composed. So tired. A little tipsy. A little hormonal (great timing, cycle-wise). Everything conspired to make me lose it then and there, but I didn't. Not yet, anyway.

Goodbyes are always difficult, but it doesn't help when you've only said your hellos on the same day - and you don't know how many years will pass until the next hellos. Oh, and you're leaving the country in about thirty-six hours.

As I hobbled to our rental car (bloody high heels! and carrying an almost-asleep toddler!), blanketed by the safety of darkness, I was a sobbing mess.

Lesson learned? Don't do huge family-type reunions at the end of a holiday.

I'm still a little raw.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Going bush

As much as we loved our time in Sydney, it was a great recharge to spend time down the coast at my parents' place. Not only do they live minutes away from over a dozen incredible beaches, but they're surrounded by bushland. The drive from Sydney also takes us through dairy country, providing the girls with plenty of cow-spotting opportunities.

My first full day back in Australia, the day after our arrival drama (which can be read about here and here), was heralded with plenty of kookaburra songs nearby. Nothing makes me feel like I'm home more than hearing those birds. Over the next few weeks, we were able to see kookaburras, cockatoos, galahs, rainbow lorikeets, rosellas and pelicans. All such beautiful birds, and all in their natural habitats. We also saw shy kangaroos grazing grass and hopping away. After a couple of zoo visits, we were able to check even more native animals off the list that the Faery had going.

So... all good. Lots of recharging the soul and getting in touch with our roots. I feel a little sad that I don't know when I'll be hearing kookaburras again, but I had more than a generous fix of them during our holiday.

I have one more post to do about our time away, then it'll be back to the same old - life in LaLa Land, along with whatever random musings I have to throw in. We've been back less than three weeks... but it feels more like a couple of months. Not sure if that's a good thing, or a bad thing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The shameless flirt

While we were on holiday, I rekindled an old flame.


I love her grand old sandstone buildings, 
her towering walls of glass,
her blue water backdrops,
painterly clouds and birdsongs,
her breath smelling sweetly of spring.

How I'd love to grow old with her.

Monday, September 17, 2012

This & that, down under

1. Coffee date with a girlfriend and the Faery, in my old neighbourhood - known as Little Italy. On the menu: one caffe latte pour moi, a babycino for the Faery, and toasted banana bread... with lashings of butter, of course.

2. & 3. First time ever on a ferry for Miss Pie. She was rapt: "I YOVE IT!"

4. Making the most of decent public transport; also Miss Pie's first time on a real train.

5. Beautiful thunderstorms! Sydney put on a couple of grand shows for us, which I wasn't expecting for that time of year. The fat raindrops smelled just as heavenly as I'd remembered.

6. More coffee, just the way I like it. Embarrassingly, a second cup would put me a bit on the jumpy side. Evidently, LA life has decreased my threshold for proper Sydney-strength espresso... but I made the most of it and barely a day went by without consuming it.

7. It was the perfect time of year for wattle galore. I couldn't get enough of that scent.

8. Harbour views from Taronga Zoo, this photo taken after my brother's wedding rehearsal. It was a glorious day to be out and about.

9. In Hyde Park, there was a busker with all kinds of balloon-blowing contraptions. We happened to be there on a quiet weekday (not sure what he was thinking?) and saw bubbles like I've never seen - large enough to swallow children. The girls had a blast playing along.

10. Driving on the left-hand side of the road again - kind of like riding a bike, I guess. It was less strange than I thought it would be, but you know what was a shock to the system? Sydney roads. Tiny, narrow, congested, and hardly ever a direct route from A to B. I never realised how crappy they were before - mind you, the majority of our time spent in Sydney was more innercity-terrain than suburbia.

Friday, September 14, 2012

She sells sea shells

About seven years ago, my parents moved to a beautiful seaside town, three hours south of Sydney. It's the same town where I spent many a childhood holiday, so it's always been familiar. A retreat. It's also where my own mother came for family holidays as a child.

The Faery was ten weeks old the first time she was brought there and we made sure to take her there whenever our work schedules allowed it. Miss Pie was also ten weeks old the first time she visited - it's where we spent our last few days before moving to Los Angeles.

Jervis Bay is renowned for its clean, white sand and turquoise water. It's not unusual to spot pods of dolphins out for a swim, and whale watching tours do a mean business during migration. Depending on the beach, it's possible to collect hundreds of beautifully intact seashells in one outing - no exaggeration. The water is pretty cold, but the waves are gentle and rock pools abound - perfect for small kids.

Even though our August trip meant it was winter, most mornings in the bay were warm and full of sunshine. The girls had the time of their lives, and there was something humbling about watching them explore the exact same rock pools that I had as a child, and jumping the small incoming waves.

Three generations, enjoying the same beaches. I wonder if the girls will seek out these beaches in decades to come?

PS - All of the above photos were taken with my iPhone. Most have had the Instagram treatment... except for a couple. I'm especially proud of the third photo from the top, which is unedited (apart from my watermark). It's one for the wall, right? My other favourite is the second last shot.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Homecoming, Part 2

This story picks up from my last post. The one where we were exhausted after a long-haul flight to Sydney, got delayed going through Immigration, had trouble finding our luggage, made it through the line to Customs, only to realise one of our suitcases had been left behind - on the floor next to the luggage carousel.

Trying to keep as calm as possible, I explained the situation to the Customs officer, gesturing to the lone suitcase in the distance, on the other side of the secure barrier. He enlisted another officer to escort me back to collect the suitcase. After being ushered past what felt like several hundred people, and pushing through the crowd waiting to line up for Customs, I dashed over to the suitcase. At that moment, an airport employee was doing the rounds in one of those motorised buggies. He reached down and began to pick up the suitcase and I had to shout out to get his attention. I couldn't believe the timing of it - if I'd been escorted over only another five seconds later, that suitcase would have vanished and been in need of further tracking down.

So, suitcase in hand, I was escorted back to the Customs section, where J had been waiting with the girls. All the other bags had been let through without a search, but because I'd declared the beef jerky (bought for a friend who'd asked for it), I had to pull it out to show the officer.

He immediately reached over and said, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to take that. No meat products of any kind are allowed into the country."

"What, not even cured, prepackaged stuff?" His withering look was all I needed to know it was not the time to put up a fight. I kissed goodbye the twenty-odd dollars I'd spent on that jerky, and moments later, we stepped outside into the cool Sydney air.

We found a taxi van that could fit all our things, and made the short journey to our friends' place. It was a little surreal, because they'd moved to a new house only a month earlier, in an unfamiliar area. Instead of whizzing through streets I knew, I found myself staring at neighbourhoods and shops that I didn't recognise. I know Sydney pretty well, but not the pocket they'd moved to.

Ringing their doorbell led to the first of many excited reunions for the trip. Squishy hugs and kisses all round, kids squealing up and down the hallway, and relieved looks exchanged between J and I. We were finally in Sydney, with friends, and we could relax a little - at last. There was no need to start the three-hour drive south to my parents until after lunch. It was only 9am.

My friend needed to leave for work in about half an hour, and her husband was all set to play daddy day care with their son, the Faery and Miss Pie, while J and I hopped on a train to fetch our rental car.

I realised with a sense of urgency that it had been far too long since I'd last brushed my teeth (long-haul travel sans kids is so much easier), so I went to the purple suitcase to retrieve the bathroom bag. There was a padlock on it, so I called out to Justin in the next room for the combo.

He called back that he didn't know as he'd never used the padlock before. I stood there, wondering what kind of fucking idiot puts a padlock on something when they don't know the combo.

Can you guess where this is going?

Not wanting to entertain the growing panicked thoughts in my head, I unzipped the side pocket of the bag, holding my breath, hoping to see the girls' underwear as I'd packed it.

Calvin Klein G-strings... definitely not our luggage. Identical, though.

What were the odds? The owner must have picked up our bag first, because this had been the only purple bag on the floor next to the luggage carousel.

I dropped to the floor and curled into the foetal position. I may or may not have resembled Basil Fawlty at that moment.

Thankfully, my wonderful friend sprang into action. She immediately pulled up some Qantas phone numbers online, and began calling to enquire what needed to be done with mistaken luggage.

We decided that the best plan of action was for us to head straight into town for the rental car, and bring the purple case along, then drop it off at the airport once we had the car, on our way back to their place (if you're wondering why we didn't just book a car rental from the airport, the reason was a good $1,000 difference over the three-week period we'd be needing it).

Lugging a complete stranger's suitcase on Sydney trains? While massively sleep-deprived? Not something I thought I'd be doing on my first morning in Sydney.

My lovely friend had to catch the same train to work so we set off with J, and before getting on the train, she treated us to a round of much-needed coffee. Riding the train with her and J, coffees in hand,  minus kids - it was a mindfuck. It was just like old times, twenty-something again.

If emerging from the underground station into broad daylight at Kings Cross is not enough to pull you back to earth and shake the last rattles of long distance travel out of your bones, then nothing else will. I pulled my phone out to discover some choppy voicemail from Qantas staff, asking about the mistaken bag and wanting to know how far away we were from the airport. Phew. My biggest fear was that the person with our purple bag had left Sydney and was long out of town before realising she had the wrong bag. (I'm going to assume 'she', judging from the Calvin Klein G-strings.)

With our rental car sorted out, we drove back to the airport (baptism by fire for poor J - we've been driving on the other side of the road since first moving to L.A.). We found the office we'd been described, and a quick exchange of the purple bags ensued. Thank fuck, because ours had 95% of the girls' belongings in it. There would have been tears and meltdowns if we'd had to go without.

An hour later, we were packed up and back on the road, heading down to the NSW south coast to see my parents. We were in a daze and still unsure whether to laugh or cry about the morning we'd just experienced.

It's funny though - things could have been so much worse. So many ifs.

If I hadn't bought beef jerky back at a friend's request, we may not have even noticed we were one suitcase short as we were going through customs. At what point would we have realised? I hate to think. Or perhaps if I'd packed the beef jerky into the purple bag, we'd have discovered much sooner that we had the wrong purple suitcase. (I should be thanking Paul for his random requests.)

If I hadn't gone to brush my teeth at my friend's house, I may not have discovered we had the wrong purple suitcase until we'd arrived at my parent's house... nearly 200km away. Three hours away. How much more of an inconvenience would that have been?

So... what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger, right? Or something like that. The intensity of that morning seemed to wipe out most the jet lag and reset my body clock. I had no choice but to get with the programme, but that night? I slept like the proverbial baby. Don't even remember my head hitting the pillow.

My only real concession to jet lag the following day was that I woke up at 6am, and that was it. I was tempted to try and sleep some more, but then I caught a glimpse of the golden light bouncing off the walls. I grabbed both my camera and iPhone (sad, yes, I know), threw on an old dressing gown, and crept outside.

I'm glad I did. Possibly the most beautiful sunrise - ever - was waiting for me, and the stresses of the day before just melted away.

I was home.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Homecoming, Part 1

If our arrival in Sydney was to be any indicator, our visit there was destined to be one big ol' stinky pile of poo. From the time we checked in at LAX, until we'd been on Australian soil for a good five hours, one unlucky turn of events evolved into another, and another. That old adage - what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger - was one that ran through my head many times that morning.

The first piece of bad luck we had was the downgrading of the plane for our flight. It was supposed to be an Airbus 380, and J had already pre-booked our seats online so that we could all sit together in the same row of four seats. Upon check-in, we were told that the aircraft was no longer an Airbus 380, but a 747 - smaller plane, obviously, so our pre-booked seats were no longer valid. We were assigned new seats.

When it was time to finally board, we walked down the aisle, searching for our row... and kept walking... and walking. Turned out that our row was the very last one at the back. Cramped and squishy? Understatement.

Lucky for me, the girls were in top form for the flight and gave us the least amount of grief possible, so I was willing to forgive Qantas.... until the final hour before landing. This is normally when the landing cards are handed out, but it was announced that the crew had been given the wrong pile of landing cards before departing LAX. Most of the cards were in Spanish only. There weren't enough English landing cards for everyone on the flight, and passengers at the back of the plane would be handed cards in Sydney, after getting off the plane. Translation: anyone sitting towards the back of the plane were royally fucked if they had hopes of a speedy getaway.

Being in the back row, naturally, we were last off the plane. After stepping off, I was handed four landing cards, and we walked along numerous corridors and travelators until finding an available seat where I could fill out all four cards while J helped the girls burn off some steam running around.

I don't know how long it took, but bear in mind it was 6am local time and I'd just stepped off a fourteen-hour flight - with a grand total of maybe fifteen minutes' sleep (I don't sleep well on long-haul flights under the best of circumstances, let alone dealing with a bored toddler). Each landing card required names, birth dates, passport numbers, flight numbers, reasons for visit, citizen status, customs declarations - it was excruciating to do. Four times. This is why they normally give out landing cards during the flight, when there isn't a sense of immediacy to join the queues through Immigration, before they get even longer... and one's brain hasn't completely farted from exhaustion.

Our plan was - once out of the airport - to grab a taxi and head to our friends' place. They didn't live far from the airport and we were going to refresh/recharge, leave the girls with them, jump on a train to Kings Cross (where we were to collect out rental car), drive back, pack up the car, then begin the three-hour drive south to my parents' house.

A long day, already somewhat complicated, and not in need of any further drama.

Despite it being only 7am at this point, the queues through Immigration were already insane. By the time we made it through and over to the luggage carousel, it looked empty of all luggage from our flight.


We needed to collect three suitcases: one black, one purple, and one grey. Then from oversized luggage, we needed to collect an infant car seat, a booster seat, and a stroller. I went ahead and retrieved our oversized luggage while J waited with the girls at the carousel. And waited. And waited.

After about another ten minutes, we realised our bags weren't going to be found there anymore, so we asked around and staff radioed one another to see where our luggage could be. In the end, they'd been pulled off and put on the floor next to the carousel - but right down the other end, where the crowds were milling to join the queues for Customs. People had been standing around our bags on the floor, which is why we didn't see them.

Heaving big sighs of relief, J loaded up the bags onto a trolley, while I attempted to stop Miss Pie from running off, out of sight. Then we reconvened into the queue for Customs... another long line, of course.

Eventually, it was our turn to declare whatever goods needed to be declared. I informed them that I had some American beef jerky (as requested by a friend). The Customs official asked me which bag, I looked at our trolley, and saw that the bag in question wasn't there. J - as sleep deprived as I was - had only put two of our suitcases on the trolley. With all the oversized luggage needing to be rearranged, it was an easy oversight.

I frantically glanced through the glass wall, past the long queues through Customs, and saw our grey suitcase, standing alone on the floor by the carousel.

I wanted to cry...

(to be continued)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Leaving LA

I have a gazillion musings and pics from our wonderful time in Australia, but am still in a jet lag fog from yesterday's mammoth journey back. For now, here are a few shots from the very beginning, when we first headed out of LA.