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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Saturday, September 15, 2012

As with most Saturdays in Australia, this day began with a coffee with friends at the Glen. The conversation is always lively and the company delightful. What a wonderful group of friends. And we come and we go yet we are always welcome.

I was travelling in a wheelchair today, rolling myself through the mall, navigating among the many legs that formed walls in front of me. It can be a dangerous journey with an injured leg leading the way, providing a wonderful obstacle for a pedestrian to trip over or collide with. It is amazing to be in a wheelchair and notice how many people really do not notice …. That is, their eyes are straight ahead and they do not see anything that is below shoulder level. Children and wheelchairs are invisible to many. Ohhh, I am learning a lot about being disabled.
Following coffee, we moved directly on to lunch with friends, Cynthia and Onn. They took us to a small Asian restaurant close to the City where we would be able to get authentic pho (Vietnamese soup). And, not surprisingly, the food was absolutely delicious. Onn consistently knows just what to order to satisfy our palates. One great thing about the lunch outing was that Lydia, Onn and Cynthia’s daughter, joined us. We knew Lydia well as a young teenage girl when we lived here ten years ago. Since then we have had very little contact with her. It was great to meet her again as a mature young adult and hear about her work and her dreams and her life experiences to date. We were thrilled that she joined us and shared her Saturday with us.

Back to Glen Waverley after lunch, we had a quiet afternoon at home. It is recommended that I rest my foot from time to time. I have great difficulty fitting that in to our social schedule. I would far prefer to be out and about.

Dinner found us at the home of Dean and Anne Mann where we were also joined by their children, Nikki, Jason and Kat. Once again, we were impressed to share in conversation with these mature, young adults who we knew as teenagers several years ago. The entire family has embraced a children’s project in Kenya and much of the conversation focused on that. Among them, there have been several trips made to Kenya in support of the children. As a result, they have come to love the village and the children and have ongoing contact with several people there. Thanks, Nikki, for introducing your family to this project and sharing the opportunity and the joy of helping others.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Church attendance is an important component of our lives here in Glen Waverley. It was the warmth, the welcome and the generosity of this congregation that enabled us to integrate so fully into this community when we arrived in 2000. We look forward to attending services, reconnecting with people, and observing the development and changes in the church over the years.

Technology is a significant component of worship as You-Tube clips, hymn words and Bible passages aremprojected on a screen. The minister works from an I-Pad and walks among the congregation as he speaks. A team of people manage the computers and projectors from the back of the sanctuary and most days, it works almost flawlessly.

Following church we went across the street to a local café for coffee with Deb Amos and Heather Bailey. We lingered over our coffee long enough that some congregational members who had attended the later morning service actually began to arrive. Oops …. Guess it is time to leave. As we exited the café, we ran into Barb and John Hurst who agreed that it was lunch time so we moved on to a second café for a bowl of pumpkin soup, an Australian standard. After soup, it really was time to go home.

A quiet afternoon, including foot resting, prepared us for dinner at the Hursts’ home. (Yes, I now we had just had lunch with them as well!) Once again we were joined for dinner by their son and daughter-in-law, David and Beth. The conversation was lively and the atmosphere celebratory as Beth had just been given the go ahead to submit her PhD thesis, leading to graduation. Wine flowed liberally as we raised our glasses to the almost Doctor Beth! Barb prepared Indian food for us. Mmm delicious!!!

Monday, September 17, 2012

We decided that we would take a 3 day journey to the south east part of Victoria, Gippsland by name.  But first we had a couple of things to do. Social, of course.
Jim went off to GOMERS, the weekly gathering of retired men, to share coffee and conversation. While he was gone, Barb came by to take me out for a morning cuppa before I went for my second morning cuppa. We went to the Kingston Bakery Café, a local café. It was sadly a very ordinary cup of coffee, not the usual standard we have become accustomed to in Australia. But the company was good and Barb and I never seem to lack for topics of conversation.

We met Jim and John when GOMERS was over and each couple moved on to the other tasks of the day. Jim and I went directly to the home of Max and Amy Whittaker, who we have known since 2000. They are both wonderful people and we were happy to share a cup of tea and a scone with jam and cream with them. They are both well over 80 now and beginning to show the signs of aging. But nothing interfered with lively conversation, both sharing and debate, peppered with much laughter. We look forward to our next encounter with them.

In between the other activities of the morning, Jim had managed to get to the municipal council office with the appropriate paperwork to acquire a ‘wheelchair parking pass’. Now we are eligible to compete with all the other disabled folks for the parking spaces closest to the places we want to go. So far (I am writing this on Saturday morning), we have noticed that the competition for these places is amazing. There are a lot of people wandering the streets and malls with crutches, walkers, wheelchairs and other devices. Once again, our eyes are opened.

Finally, just after noon, we headed east out of town toward Gippsland. The metropolis of Melbourne has spread a long way over the years we have been coming here. Housing has sprung up in all directions far from the core of the city. As in other parts of the world, productive farmland is now covered with homes and businesses. We travelled quite a distance along a freeway and then through a long string of ‘country towns’ which have become part of the extended city. But, at last, we reached the open countryside and relaxed into our journey. Happily, we also left the freeway behind.

The landscape was varied as we travelled east. At times it was relatively flat with wide open fields of somewhat scruffy land. Sheep were the dominant animal in these areas. Some had already had their spring ‘haircut’ and looked small and cold in the wind and occasional rain. It was interesting to note that many flocks of sheep were accompanied by a couple of llamas. As at home, sheep are vulnerable to predators such as foxes and wild dogs. Llamas are very aggressive animals and serve to protect the sheep from some of these dangers. A unique and picturesque way to address a problem.

Other areas we passed through were lush green with rolling hillsides and lots of grass. Large herds of cattle ran free in these fields, a combination of dairy and beef cattle. Gippsland is known for its rich dairy products.

Agriculture is clearly a key economic activity in this area. We travelled through some beautiful areas where the market gardens reminded us of Holland Marsh just north of Toronto. Row upon row of neatly planted vegetables were bursting forth from the soil as the gentle warmth of spring encouraged them to come to life. Only the colour and shape of the leaves identified them as the many varieties of vegetables that would eventually be harvested and arrive in the markets.

One huge difference from farms at home was the lack of barns in the landscape. Large sheds were used to store farm implements and occasionally, bales of hay. But the animals remained out in the open during all seasons. Winters, though cold, do not have the ice and snow conditions that we know all too well. These are hardy animals that can sustain themselves in wind and rain and cold as well as the heat and sun of summer. (This sounds a bit like the postman’s mantra, doesn’t it? … Neither rain nor snow nor sleet ….. etc.)

Partway along the highway we were following, the gentle hills gave way to higher peaks and steep rugged valleys. Here, traditional Australian bushland covered the landscape. Towering gum trees with their long slender leaves provided shelter for many bird and animal species. Wombats, possums and kangaroos make their homes in the bush, well camouflaged by the dusty greens and browns of the flourishing vegetation.  Cockatoos (white), eastern rosellas (green, yellow and red parrots), crimson rosellas (red and blue parrots) and rainbow lorikeets were visible as they winged their ways across the sky or grazed for food along the side of the road. Yes ….. we are in Australia, Dorothy.

Evidence of bushfires permeated the bush. Fires are a necessary component of the Australian propogation system as many plants rely on fire to activate their seeds. It is amazing to see how quickly an area is able to regenerate following a fire. Yet, the burned stumps and charred trunks of surviving trees provide visual evidence that fire has changed the landscape …. And will again. The CFA (Country Fire Authority) is an important element of Australian country culture. The CFA provides valuable information about personal survival in a fire, home protection from fire and, of course, direct response to fire. The CFA employs thousands of firefighters across Australia but relies more heavily on volunteers who are willing to work alongside the professionals to contain and control fires so as to protect life and property when they occur. Black Saturday (2009) is palpable in the memory of all Victorians as a fire that got out of control. The CFA works diligently to prevent a similar event in the future.

We stopped in a small country town for an afternoon cuppa. The cappuccino was hot and delicious as were the small meat pies we enjoyed. A savoury pie is a very traditional Australian staple. Served hot in a bake shop, these pies come in many combinations of flavours – beef and vegetables, chicken curry, lamb with herbs. A tasty lunch indeed!

Just around dinnertime, we arrived In Bairnsdale, our destination for the night. Again, because of my silly foot, we had to arrange accommodation with handicapped facilities. No steps please, hand rails in the bathroom and a walk-in shower (no tub). We have occasionally been placed in a designated handicap room in hotels as we have travelled but we have never had to request one before.  This was one more new experience for us. We were happy with the room we stayed in and the hotel was very accommodating. But …. The handheld shower had a mind of its own and the entire bathroom was virtually dripping with water, either due to my lack of coordination or the ornery disposition of the coiled hose transporting the water. It was the cause of a few shrieks, a couple of expletives …. And much laughter!

We spent a quiet evening in our room and enjoyed the picnic we had brought along with us. We have not lost our touch in creating ‘Robinson Specials’, our own particular approach to sandwich building. Karen and Iain will both affirm we have had much practice over the years.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Happy Birthday, Karen!
Today was a perfect day for the adventure we had planned. We were going to Raymond Island, a small island just offshore to the south of Bairnsdale, an island that had recently been populated with koalas who had been moved there from other over-populated areas. Koalas are very particular about where they live due to their limited diet (one specific kind of eucalyptus tree). And they are very territorial. One koala can dominate several trees and is usually unwilling to share their space. Although they sleep way much of the day and night, they can be aggressive if pressed and use their long claws with great effect. Typically, they are very respectful about space and avoid conflict.

Bright sunshine, warm temperatures and clear skies set the stage for a successful morning. We crossed over to Raymond Island on the small ferry that connected it to the mainland and began our very slow drive around the island. “Look for lumps”, was our battlecry as we craned our necks to look high in the gum trees for brown furry balls. Koalas usually position themselves in the crook of a tree and curl into a stationary lump to sleep the day away. Amid the dusty green leaves and the mottled brown branches, they can be remarkably difficult to find.

But we knew they were there … and our efforts were amply rewarded. We located several koalas, both large and small, and captured the evidence on our camera. They look so cute ….. and occasionally lifted their heads to see what was disturbing them. Big round black eyes and cute ears added to the profile along with their roly-poly bodies. Once again, we reminded ourselves …. We really are in Australia!!

Fish and chips wrapped in traditional paper at the water’s edge completed the morning excursion. It does not get much better than that.

We began our slow wander back toward Melbourne, intending to travel along the secondary highways and enjoy more of the landscape. As we meandered along, the telephone rang and we learned that our friends, David and Susan Hill, were at home in nearby Yarram. We were delighted to hear from them and headed in their direction. We passed through several country towns and only once gave into the temptation to stop for coffee. This particular coffee shop was built in an old rectory and was a charming building with delicious coffee and baked goods. We limited ourselves to a shared treat there but we did purchase an apple/blueberry pie to take with us.

We arrived in Yarram and were warmly greeted by David and Susan who invited us to stay for dinner and overnight. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with them. David and I have corresponded electronically for over 10 years as penpals would, writing newsy letters, sharing details of family life, reflecting on political and cultural phenomena, and generally chatting about day to day life. But we have only met face to face a very few times. They have visited Waterloo when we were in Australia and we have visited Australia when they have been overseas. It was both a treat and a triumph to be in the same place at the same time and be able to have a real life conversation. And there was certainly no lack of conversation as we covered a broad range of topics, told stories and shared laughter. It was a great visit that ended all too soon as we headed back out on the road the next morning.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

We said farewell to our Yarram friends and headed along the South Gippsland Highway in the general direction of Warragul, our destination for lunch. Once again we travelled through some beautiful countryside – Australian bushland featuring towering eucalypts, rich farmland peppered with sheep, cattle and vast fields of market gardens, green shoots just emerging from the soil in the increasingly warm spring climate. We have become accustomed to the Victorian climate and its everchanging nature. As we drove along, we experienced light rain, broad sunshine, cloudy skies and everything in between. Layered clothing is a must at this time of year as each day can provide occasions when a jacket and sweater are necessary and within a few moments, one needs to remove both and bask in the warm sunshine. As they say in Melbourne, “Don’t like the weather? Wait ten minutes!”

We stopped for a cuppa in a delightful café in the small country town of Meeniyan. A tasty cappuccino provided the pause that refreshed and an opportunity to determine our route to Warragul. There is no direct highway that connects Yarram and Warragul and the time had come for us to choose our cross country route. We turned off the main highway at Korumburra and headed north through the hills. It was a beautiful route, winding roads, ridge drives, plunging valleys and broad views. All this along with a clear blue sky and bright sunshine. It was a glorious drive.

We arrived in Warragul just after the appointed hour and had no difficulty finding the home of Penny and Chris, who we had met in Bora Bora. They live on a large block of land just outside of town and we enjoyed both the conversation and the views as we shared a delightful lunch with them. It became clear that we had many more topics of conversation to explore than we had uncovered in Bora Bora and soon, three hours of companionable chatting had passed. Once again, the warmth and welcome of Australians was abundantly clear. We reluctantly said good bye and headed on our way back to Glen Waverley.

Countryside and quiet roads soon gave way to freeways and suburbs. We arrived back at Morgans, happy to be at our home away from home, once more. Briefly, though, as we had dinner plans with our friend, John Baines.

John had made reservations at a nearby Japanese restaurant called Teppanyaki.  It was a hibachi-style restaurant where we shared the table with other guests and the chef prepared our meals on a cooktop that was built into the table. Our young chef was quite a showman. He demonstrated dexterity and confidence as he juggled cooking utensils, caught pepper grinders in his hat, tossed bowls that diners had to catch and flicked morsels of food into our mouths with amazing accuracy.

We enjoyed our evening thoroughly – great company, delicious food and an entertaining chef. It was a great opportunity to get caught up with another good Australian friend.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gratefully, we settled into a much quieter day today. Time to relax at home, process the rest of our French Polynesian photos into book form, and update our diary. We have been so busy this week that time to record our activities and reflections has been at a premium.

I was very happy to finally complete the French Polynesian book and send it off to print. It is being shipped to our home address so we will not see the finished product until the end of our journey. It will be a treat to share with family and friends once we arrive home in October.

We had made plans for dinner this evening with Helen and Pete Stewart. Pete has been struggling with a sore back and has been using a walker to get around when he is able to go out. We had a good laugh at Moretti’s, the restaurant of choice, when we both arrived leaning on walkers for support as we made our way to the table.

The laughter set the tone for a very enjoyable evening. We had not had a chance to see Helen and Pete when we were last in Australia so we had several years of catching up to do. Family, church activities, careers and retirement, health issues, grandchildren and all manner of other topics carried us through a leisurely meal.

We had also chosen some interesting items from the menu to satisfy our hunger and our curiosity. Jim ordered the Squid Ink Risotto (enthusiastically recommended by the waiter) and I ordered Chicken Saltimbocca. Both dishes were attractively presented, even the Squid Ink Risotto which was primarily black in colour. Both dishes were very tasty although I am not convinced Jim would want a repeat of the squid. One of the reasons we enjoy eating out though is that we get to try foods that we would never prepare at home.

After we left Helen and Pete, we went off to a meeting of the ‘Walking Group’ who are planning their next major international trip. The destination of choice is Cinque Terra in Italy. Since we have never been to Italy, it holds some appeal for us as well, even though we will not participate in all the walks they have planned. We are gradually generating a plan that will bring us to Australia every second year with an effort to meet some of Aussie friends in another part of the world in the alternate years. So far we have been able to meet Australian friends in California, UK, Iceland and French Polynesia. Hmmm …. Maybe Italy will be next. Time will tell!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Spring equinox here ….. autumn equinox north of the equator.

Friday definitely shaped up to be a quite different day from Thursday. The activities began right after we got up.

It seemed a good day for Jim and I to visit one of my favourite places, a gift shop, nursery and café in the suburb of Blackburn.  On our way to the shop, we detoured off the main road to meander through a neighbourhood in Blackburn that has worked hard to preserve the feeling of the countryside although tucked deeply in the city.  Houses have been constructed in and among the trees and mostly feature colours and materials that are consistent with the Australian bush. Gardens are filled with native plants and many have a slightly wild look to them. The streets are narrow with no curbs or sidewalks and, frankly, ‘tourist’ traffic is discouraged, thus preserving the tone and peacefulness of the community. Oops …. Did we miss that ‘no through traffic’ sign? After a short meander, we did turn the car toward the Bellbird shop.

The Bellbird has been the source of many gifts and mementoes of our various trips to Melbourne. I first discovered it in 2000 when we were living in Glen Waverley and I have spent time there almost every time we have been back to Australia. Imagine my dismay when we found it to be closed up for good and actually quite derelict. So disappointing! Jim and I had a coffee in the café that remains but it was not quite the same without the requisite browsing and decision-making in the shop.  Another shopping opportunity scuttled.

I came to Melbourne this time with a very specific goal of shopping for clothing as well as other items. I only brought two pair of pants and two long sleeved shirts with me. I intended to search the shops for the end of winter sales here and carry home a wardrobe that would be perfect for the impending winter in the northern hemisphere. I did get out for a short while the day after we arrived and picked up a skirt, two shirts and a V-necked sweater. Thank goodness, because I am now finding that wearing a large boot on my left foot is a huge impediment to shopping for pants, shoes, bathing suits and other items of apparel, all of which were on my ‘must get’ list. Alas, I am saving lots of money but I am also getting very, very tired of the two pair of pants and the two shirts I brought with me.  We will be shipping one case home before we move on to Singapore and Turkey and you can be very certain that those two shirts and trousers will not be in it!!

We made it home just in time for my friend, Faye Wagon, to pick me up for lunch. Ironically, she took me to a Nursery, café and gift shop in another part of town. We enjoyed a tasty Australian lunch (meat pie and salad) and caught up on all the news of our families and personal adventures. Faye is the person who is responsible for us attending Glen Waverley Uniting Church on our very first Sunday in Australia in 2000. What an impact this church and all its people have had in our lives. We are so grateful for their warm welcome to us then and we are grateful to Faye for having encouraged us to attend. No one could have predicted how important that connection would be for us.

Back home again, a quick swish of a brush through my hair, and off to my next social engagement. Cynthia Chin was picking me up to go for coffee at the now very familiar Moretti’s. A delicious cappuccino awaited along with lively conversation and gentle laughter. We share so much in our families and Cynthia loves our family deeply. What a gift is her friendship!

Back home …. And out again.  Jim and I had been invited to join Charlotte Baines, one of our young friends, at the Belgium Beer Café in St. Kilda, a very hip part of town. What an amazing place. What an array of beer on offer ... and a very attentive server who actually let us taste a couple of types of beer before committing to our order. The food was delicious and again, the conversation flowed in so many different directions. Charlotte is almost at the point of submitting her PhD thesis for final assessment and is exploring several options about what direction her life will take next. It was a privilege to spend time and share in Charlotte’s ponderings as she determines her new priorities and goals. One thing we know for sure …. Whatever Charlotte decides to do, she will be a great success!

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