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Friday, September 28, 2012

BIrds, Beach, Beverages .... and the Innocent Bystander

Saturday, September  22, 2012

The Saturday routine is well established. Ease into the morning and then head to the Glen for coffee. Predictably, a cheesy scroll and a skinny cappuccino constitute breakfast. And friends gather for a lively chat. There is an amazing sense of community among the people we know here. How lucky we are to be a part of this group.

From the Glen, we headed out to the countryside again, this time to Healesville. Our friends, Alex and Walter Skilton had moved out to a country property two years ago with the goal of renovating, updating and decorating. The property has a house and a cottage on it, both of which needed a lot of work. The transformation that we saw today was astounding. Alex and Walter’s home was completely transformed. It had been cleaned, painted, and decorated with the Skilton touch. It was comfortable and warm …. And still had an amazing view of the Yarra Ranges from the kitchen window. But the cottage was the true gem. It is a small yet liveable building that Alex and Walter have reinforced and rebuilt with loving hands and a visionary eye. They have moved walls, installed plumbing, found two brick fireplaces and created a nook for a small kitchen. Soon, it will be on the market as a Bed and Breakfast unit and, I already know that people will be clamoring to stay there. The setting, the view, the gardens, the peacefulness and the proximity to wineries, eateries, walking tracks and vistas will attract both Australians and international visitors alike. What a difference some vision, hard work and natural beauty can make.  I can hardly wait to see it again next time we visit.

As with other friends, we had a lively conversation and a shared a meal with Alex and Walter. Later in the afternoon, their daughter Diane, husband Russell and young daughter, Eve, dropped by for a visit as well. Diane and Russell both visited us in Canada several years ago and it was now great to see them in their home setting. They live just up the road from Alex and Walter. Eve, 22 months, warmed her way into our hearts with her smiles and curiosity. She made us realize how much we miss our own grandsons, the single downside of this entire journey.

We were having dinner tonight in the Docklands area of Melbourne. You begin to understand the geographic size of the Melbourne metropolitan area when asking the question, “How long will it take to drive from Healesville to Docklands?” and the answer is, “Between two and three hours.”  Yikes!! We better leave lots of time! In fact, the trip only took us about an hour and a half (late Saturday afternoon with light traffic). And it was a beautiful day so we enjoyed passing through several parts of Melbourne that we had not yet visited. Countryside gradually gave way to suburban housing growing denser as we drove closer to the centre of the city. One of my all time favourite views in Melbourne is the appearance of the skyline of city centre from the crest of one of the hills that surround the city. Today, I was not disappointed as the late afternoon sun gleamed on the tall, distinctive buildings as they came into view. Soon we were flanked by office towers, hotels, train stations, tram lines, broad roadways, and gardens. Yes …. Melbourne is a city of gardens, both large and small, nestled among the large buildings that fill the rest of the city.

With only a couple of wrong turns, we soon arrived at the home of friends, David and Susan Karoly. They have moved from Glen Waverley and a single family home into a tall tower of condominiums at the edge of the centre of Melbourne. From their unit on the 26th floor, the view is breathtaking. Each time we have visited, the sky has been star-studded and the air has been clear. The twinkling lights of the city have stretched as far as the eye can see.

Susan and David prepared a delicious dinner  which we shared with them and our friends, the Morgans and the Hursts. Not surprisingly, some of the conversation focused on sharing our recent experiences on the Aranui. We also discussed our children, telling the occasional story behind their backs. The topic of how to support and parent adult children was of interest to all of us. Careers and adaptation to retirement, philosophy and religion, environmental concerns and a myriad of other topics rounded out the conversation. It was a thoroughly delightful evening.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

This morning we attended the 8 am church service at Glen Waverley Uniting Church. Yes … that is an earlier service than we have been attending, and I was well aware of that when the alarm clock went. But the early rising was well worth the effort. The 8 am service uses a contemplative and reflective format. Prayer, scripture, hymns and ministerial direction provide a framework for worshippers to privately reflect on their own lives in the context of topics and themes that permeate the service. On this occasion, one of the themes was to feel welcome. It was wonderful to be able to sit quietly and think about the many ways this congregation and its individual members have made us feel welcome throughout the 12 years that we have been coming to Glen Waverley. We are so fortunate to have become involved in this church.

Following church, a group of early worshippers migrated across the street to Moretti’s (you have heard about that café before). Jim and I were invited to join them for a cup of coffee and conversation. Of course, we could not refuse so an order for a skinny cap and a regular cap was placed and we sat down to enjoy the company and the chat. Going for coffee really has permeated many of the activities here in Glen Waverley. With our addiction to coffee and our openness to explore ideas, we fit right into this culture.

Much later than we had imagined, Jim and I headed out to the Dandenongs, a range of mountains that flanks Melbourne in the south and east.  Winding roads guided us up the hills en route to our destinations. Fern trees and mountain ash trees flourish in the forested mountainsides and valleys. These mountain ash are not like the ones that grow in Canada. A different species, these trees tower over 50 metres in the air and have a circumference that can require several people’s arms to surround it. Majestic … awesome … and Australian. These forests are home to so many species of wildlife – birds of all colours and sizes, kangaroos, koalas, wombats, echidnas, bushy-tailed possums to name a few. Truly magical places.

On this particular day, because the weather was amazing, the Dandenongs were crowded with people with picnic baskets, walking sticks and trail maps in hand. We passed by several popular spots where the parking lots were already crowded before noon. We had a multi-stop agenda in mind featuring birds, flowers, food and friends. Our first stop was lunch at a lovely café/restaurant called Woods Sherbrooke. The menu described the cuisine as creative Asian. We were happy with that, ordering a Thai beef salad and a calamari salad. Both were delicious.

Nearby, we located the Sherbrooke Picnic Grounds where we had been told we would find some colourful birds. Seed in hand, we walked an extremely short distance from the car and found crimson rosellas by the dozen. As I photographed, Jim held out his hand so that the birds would land and eat. But, alas, the birds are smarter than we were. One bird landed, pecked at the seed, found it to his liking and nipped at Jim’s hand, causing him to drop all the seed to the ground where the rest of the flock was waiting. Clever birds! We did not offer any more seed to these birds but did enjoy watching them move among the trees and gleam in the sunlight, their bright red and blue feathers shining in the light.

Moving on from Sherbrooke, we travelled to Grant’s Picnic Ground, another well known home for birds. This time we found a small number of rosellas but many more sulphur crested cockatoos (large white birds with a yellow crest) and galahs (large gray birds with bright pink chests). Grant’s was crowded and had been seriously renovated since we had last been there. It no longer had the charm that it had when it was less manicured and more wild.

Moving on again, we travelled along several roadways and through some mountain villages before arriving at the National Rhododendron Gardens. It was jam packed with people; all the car parks were full and roadway were covered with pedestrians trying to make their way to the garden entrance. This was one time that our wheelchair parking pass came in very handy. Jim wove the car in between all the pedestrians right to the garden gates where I was able to get out with my handy dandy three wheeled walker. Jim found a parking spot nearby and we both made our way down the slope to a garden bench where we waited for the rest of our group to arrive.

The friends we were meeting consisted of fifteen walkers (the same group heading to Italy next year) who would meander through the gardens; admiring the spring blooms including lots of rhododendrons; participating in Japanese tea ceremonies and other activities in honour of the Japanese cherry blossoms; snapping photographs at every opportunity; and generally enjoying the festival-like atmosphere and the sheer beauty of the gardens.

As the walkers set out into the garden, I headed to the café for a cuppa and a chance to catch up on my diary and photographs. It took about 60 minutes for the first walker to arrive back to the café. The path down to the lake was extremely steep and, of course, required the walkers who went down to also climb back up. She had stopped partway down and came back early to catch her breath. Gradually the other walkers arrived back to the top in various states of fatigue and breathlessness. It was definitely time to all have a cuppa so we moved on to a café that could accommodate all of us and spent the balance of the afternoon sipping and enjoying each other’s company.

What happened next says a lot, I think, about the cohesiveness of this group. There was a little difficulty and confusion about where we would have coffee. The preferred location decided they could not accommodate fifteen people and other cafes in the area were totally full due to the large number of visitors to the area. So, a café about 15 kilometres away was finally identified as the place for coffee. Many people had to drive right past their homes to go there. But, the entire group arrived and enjoyed another hour of one another’s company. Everyone felt so connected to the group that they were all willing to go quite a distance to have coffee together.

Following coffee, we stopped in at ‘home’ to freshen up and then we headed further into the city to enjoy a dinner at friends who we first met when we lived in Ann Arbor and attended the University of Michigan in 1982-84. Jacques and Brigitta Boulet lived near us in a student family residence complex and we took turns caring for each others’ children so we impoverished students could have an occasional night out. Upon graduation, Jacques was offered two academic positions – one in Waterloo and one in Melbourne. He chose Melbourne and for many years we did not see him or his family. But we never lost touch, exchanging Christmas letters, occasional emails and sometimes cards. Little did we know that our paths would cross again in 1995 and that we could rekindle our friendship so deeply. Now, each time we are in Melbourne we get together and the conversation picks up right where it left off. Dinner at their home was delightful and the conversation flowed from topic to topic without missing a beat. They are such vibrant, well informed people. We just love getting together with them.

It was late when we finally arrived home and fell into bed that night.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Another busy week lies ahead of us, sadly, our last in Melbourne. We are trying to see too much and do too much in the little time we have left. Catching up with friends continues to be our main focus, so take a breath and come with us!!

Monday morning finds Jim at Gomers, chatting happily with a variety of retired men who are sharing their interests, hobbies and activities. Because most of the group are regular attendees at Glen Waverley Uniting Church, the church does become the focus of the conversation from time to time.

Barb came by and picked up Sue and I to go for coffee. We also went to Madeline’s Café at Jells Park to meet Winnie MacGregor. Somehow, Winnie ended up at Madeline’s amongst all the men. Happily we were not settled in another café when the call for help came and we were able to sit at a table across the restaurant and observe our men in their friendship group. Of course, the conversation at our table was lively as well so we really had little time to listen in on the men.

After we left Madeline’s Café, Jim and I went to run a few errands and pick up a quick lunch before heading to see David and Margaret Fraser at their home. We were looking forward to a sharing a cup of tea with them and catching up on family news as well as ongoing activities since David and Margaret are both now retired. Their son, Steven, was also at home and we had a chance to connect with him as well. David and Margaret are new grandparents to Zach and, of course, there were stories to tell and love to share. David also shared his new passion with us. He has begun to explore the world of art and has already illustrated two children’s books as well as creating many complex ‘doodles’. He is excited about having time to develop this interest along with his many other activities. We had a lovely visit which included some thoughts about a possible house exchange. Time will tell how this idea will unfold.

Surprisingly, we did not have dinner plans for tonight so we seized the opportunity to share a meal with Susan and David at home. Charcoal Chicken was the preferred menu and we were very happy to indulge in this favourite food of ours one more time. An early night was in order due to a busy day tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Jim was headed to Sydney to day to meet with a former colleague. His flight left Melbourne at 8 am so he was up early to drive to the airport and catch the plane. In his absence, I had negotiated a girls’ day out with Barb, Sue and Deb Amos. We have had many great girls’ days out over several years and today was no exception.

The sun shone high in the sky and there was not a cloud to be seen all day long. It was warm and glorious. Our first stop was the Red Gum Gallery, always a favourite place for delicious coffee and some high quality craft items. Glassworks, paintings, pottery and wood items were tastefully displayed on the shelves in the gallery. Since our last visit, the balance had shifted between the café and the gallery and now, much more space is devoted to restaurant tables rather than gallery display. There have been two additions though – an herb nursery and a tea shop. The tea shop claimed to have the largest selection of loose tea flavours anywhere in Australia. I will say the aroma was wonderful and the display of options amazing.

Following a bit of shopping, we headed out into the sunshine again and turned in the direction of Healesville. This is the second time this week, I have been to Healesville and both days have featured spectacular weather. How lucky is that! Healesville is a country town nestled in the heart of the Yarra Valley where vineyards and fruit orchards proliferate. Vast fields of straight rows of vines and trees populate the landscape, creating a beautiful geometric pattern along the winding roads that weave among the hills and along the valley floor.

We first headed to TarraWarra Estate. Its attraction was the art gallery that has been developed there. But, as we turned into the drive, it was clear that the building design  and the scenery was going to capture our hearts. It was gorgeous – the views over the hills were breathtaking and the design of the building enhanced opportunities to take beautiful photographs. It took a while to satisfy our cameras and finally enter the gallery. Admission was very reasonable - $5.00 – and we were soon glad that was all we had paid. The exhibition that was currently on display was very strange. It seemed to feature installations that made sounds, but for the most part, there did not seem to be any discernable noises. Green string that was stretched from wall to wall in repeated patterns was one memorable item; flat boards with wood and sawdust or short bits of string that were spray painted silver were also notable, along with the sheet music, enlarged on the walls with scribble lines all over it. As you can tell, the overall exhibition was a bit unusual and did not capture our hearts or imaginations. But the building and the surrounds were amazing. For that, we are glad we stopped in.

Our next stop was a large glass house (greenhouse) that was home to thousands of gerberas. At one time, admission was free, but that has changed now. The side windows of the glass house were painted white and to actually see the gerberas, the fee was $10.00 per person with a one hour wait until the next tour. Hmmm, foiled again!! Nonetheless, there was a small shop featuring items of clothing made from alpaca wool. Again, the excursion was rescued through an unexpected pleasure. The array of colours, patterns and ideas was grand. And the alpaca wool itself was amazingly soft. Well worth a visit.

Moving on through the green valley and delightful sunshine, we made our way to Domaine Chandon, another of the multitude of wineries in the Yarra. Domaine Chandon is especially known for its white wines and over lunch we indulged in a particularly fine bottle of Chandon bubbly, the Chandon Reserve Club Cuvee. An antipasto platter, a cheese platter and deconstructed cheesecake completed the meal. But again, the piece de resistance was the view through the windows in the dining area. Vineyards, lined the earth’s surface in all directions, gently flowing along the curves of the undulating hillsides. It was exquisite! So, so inviting and relaxing ….

Reluctantly, we left Domaine Chandon and drove into the centre of Healesville. Country shops lined the streets – cafes, bakeshops, a butcher, a news agent, a bank, a green grocer. We were actually looking for a fabric shop in hopes of finding some fabrics for a patchwork project. Previously such a shop had been located in Healesville but it has now closed its doors. But, what we did find in Healesville was a wonderful café called Innocent Bystander. It was time for coffee!!! And, we were able to secure a table outside in full sun. Ohhh, the warmth!! And the coffee was delicious. One interesting decorating technique this café had used involved shoes. There were at least 25 different shoes, all painted white and used as small planters. How cute it was to see all the styles and sizes of shoes with little green plants growing out of them. And how fitting with the name of the café – the Innocent Bystander.

All too soon, it was time to go. A visit to the bakeshop was essential on our way out the door and soon we were on the road again with one last stop in mind. Badger Weir, a great birding site, was close by. We headed in that direction and were amply rewarded with the birds that were gathered there on this beautiful day. Sulphur-crested cockatoos and crimson rosellas were abundant, but what we hoped for were king parrots. And then they arrived, standing majestically in their vivid red and green cloaks of feathers. There were even some juvenile parrots, identified by their bright blue tail feathers which shift to green as they mature. Photo opps were bountiful. These birds were clearly comfortable in the presence of humans and moved around as if we were not even there.

Back to Glen Waverley we headed. It is a long trip, at least a one hour drive from Healesville. Another successful girls’ day out had come to an end.

Jim and I had dinner with Faye and Ray Wagon at the Mountain View Hotel. They serve senior meals at reasonable prices and now that we are seniors, we were happy to indulge. The food was very good and the company was great. We are so blessed to be friends with such a broad cross section of people in Glen Waverley. Faye welcomed us to Glen Waverley Uniting Church the very day we arrived in 2000 and we quickly became friends and confidantes. It is always a pleasure to spend time with Faye and Ray and share our common interest and love of our families.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wednesday morning began with Ladies’ Coffee at the Glen. A group of women gather each Wednesday; the membership in this group is broad and varied and the attendance varies from week to week. In other words, whoever shows up, shows up and the conversation and sharing vary accordingly. This week a common theme seemed to be aches and pains. All manner of ailments came to the table – sore backs, twisted ankles, bruised toes, and of course, my broken foot. The conversation was actually quite comical with all the laments and complaints that were shared. Oh dear …. Am I really ready to fit into the orthopedic and geriatric group?

At a prearranged time, Jim picked me up and we headed for lunch with Jan Clear. Once again, we were booked in to the Mountain View Hotel. Jim and I both made selections that were different from last night. And the food was still delicious.  We chatted with Jan about a number of topics ranging from church, to our children, to aging parents, to retirement activities, to travel, to changing life circumstances, to new employment opportunities. It was a varied and reflective conversation and, as always, we were very happy to have had the chance to spend some time quietly with Jan.

Home again just in time for Fiona Leister to pick me up (it is a nuisance not being able to drive!) and go to her home for afternoon tea. When we lived here, Fiona and I often got together in the afternoon and I have always enjoyed the conversations we have. Today was no exception as we shared family news and travel experiences. Fiona has been making some lovely items for the upcoming church fete (bazaar) and I was especially taken with the felt angels that were sitting on her table. I purchased two of them. They will look lovely on our Christmas tree this year.  A memory of Australia and a good friend who made them.

Home again. This time it was clear that Jim was under the weather. He had been to the doctor and had a prescription for antibiotics to fight a sinus infection. Headache, achiness and a fever were the apparent symptoms but Jim insisted that he was well enough to go out for dinner. And I understood why ….

We were going out with Onn and Cynthia Chin again and they were going to take us to yet another wonderful Asian restaurant. We love going to dinner with them because they know about such great places with interesting food. And they love going to dinner with us because we are ready and willing to taste all manner of unique and unusual foods. The combination is a terrific group of dinner companions. And, Lydia was joining us as well!!

Tonight we went to a small Vietnamese restaurant in Richmond. Well, it looked small at first, and busy!! All the tables were full. But we could go upstairs if we wished. And so we set out to climb the steps, one slow step at a time …. All 22 of them. It was a long way up!! But it was worth the climb. The food was exquisite!! Pork belly, deep fried fish with vegetables and porkhocks served with white rice and sauces. Dessert included deep fried bananas with sticky rice, small Asian pancakes (a bit like profiteroles) Yum!!  I know this menu will not appeal to many of you, but it really was terrific! Only the durian with ice cream caused us to turn up our noses, but we did have a taste!

It was a wonderful evening, even if Jim was not feeling the best.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thursday was a quiet day for Jim. He stayed at home most of the day and rested and rested and rested. Yes, he really was not well.

I went out for much of the day with Barb. We started in Beaumaris , near Port Philip Bay, to shop for some clothes. We both tried on a wide range of colours and styles. Some looked fine. Others did not fit. But the most fun was trying on styles that reduced us to fits of laughter. Who would wear such clothes? Certainly not us!!

We left the shop empty-handed and headed to a nearby chocolate shop for coffee. And, believe it or not, all we had was coffee. As good as the chocolate looked and smelled, we were strong and did not indulge. Although a small non-edible item from this shop did find its way into my bag as a Christmas gift for Wesley.

The seashore was beckoning us under the noon day sun. It was another spectacular day and we took full advantage of it as we drove along the coastal road away from the city. The water was blue and the beaches pristine. It is school holidays so families were on the sand and some even in the water. It seemed a perfect way to spend such a great day.

Barb and I stopped for lunch at Ricketts Point and we were lucky enough to get a waterfront corner table. The food was good but the setting was amazing. We were able to look out over Port Philip Bay, enjoying the lapping of the waves, the glistening of the sun and the ship that travelled toward to port as we enjoyed our lunch.

Following lunch, we headed to Hawthorne to check out another shop. But first, coffee at Liar, Liar, a café that Barb knows well. I have been accumulating a collection of photos of ‘coffee art’ from various cafes in Melbourne. Barb specifically challenged the barista here to create something beautiful on the top of my cappuccino. And he did – the chocolate and milk froth were swirled together in a beautiful design that was well worth photographing. And the coffee tasted great as well. Pam, Barb’s sister joined us for coffee and also our short walk to the next clothing shop. More luck there … I found a stylish sweater that will be perfect for the winter season that lies ahead at home.

Heading back to Glen Waverley was a slow trip due to traffic volume. Frustrating for the driver but less so for me, the passenger, as I enjoyed seeing gardens and homes and parkland as we passed through several lovely areas of the city.

It was good to be back home though in order to check in on Jim. He was a bit better and was able to get up for dinner.  We decided to get take-away from a Sri Lankan restaurant not far away. This is a new cuisine for Jim and I as well as Sue and David. And, the selections we made were wonderful. We will certainly be looking for a Sri Lankan restaurant when we get back home.

Jim went to bed early and I completed the work on yet another photobook that I will get published. This is an enjoyable and rewarding activity for me. I am very happy to be able to look at the best photos that we take without having to search for them in the computer.

Friday, September 28, 2012

One final breakfast at Zest with the Hurst family. It was lovely that David and Beth were able to come as well. And, yes, I ordered my favourite breakfast – smashed avocado on toast. It was yummy, as always. And the coffee had some great art on top of it, another photo to add to my collection.

After breakfast, we stopped into the church to see the display that has been set up to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Frontier Services, services that have been available in the outback areas through several church affiliated organizations over the last 100 years. We were absolutely blown away by the depth and beauty of the display. About 15 huge murals have been hand painted, depicting various images of Outback Australia. An accompanying brochure identified which area each mural represented and why it is significant in the celebration of Frontier Services. Superimposed on each mural in a themed presentation were photographs, labels, articles and informative signs describing the history of the various branches of Frontier Services – faith, medicine, communication, education, community building. We took our time and read each item and admired each poster. What an insight into outback and aboriginal life and the hardships that are faced in such isolated areas. Each time we come to Australia we gain a deeper insight into the culture of this country. We have still only scratched the surface.

Soon it was lunchtime and we met Gail and Robert O’Brien in a café that was new to us. Hill Café offered a simple selection of delicious food. Pies, sausage rolls and lasagna were featured along with 9 different salads as well as a soup of the day. We each made our selection and sat at a table to visit. Gail and Robert are great conversationalists. We covered a range of topics, showed off pictures of our grandchildren and reminisced about our adventure house sitting their home six years ago. It was a great visit, a reconnection with more of the wonderful people we have come to know in this community.

A quiet afternoon at home gave Jim, still under the weather, a chance to sleep and me, a chance to catch up on this diary. The weather outside was dreadful, steady rain and deep dampness. The heat was on in the house and it was cosy just to stay inside.

Jim felt well enough to go out for dinner so we headed off to Anne and Ian McMIllan’s where the Yellow Fish Group, a social group from church, was gathering. We have been affiliates of this group for twelve years now and have come to know and love each of the members. It gave us great pleasure to be together with them tonight. Laughter, stories, food and conversation filled the evening. We were humbled by the fact that they planned this evening especially because we were in town. What good friends!

And now home to bed …. Hopefully by tomorrow morning, Jim will be feeling much better. Rest is good for the body and the soul.

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