Sunday, December 26, 2010

I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas . . .

View from our home - storm's a comin'!
Merry Christmas!  It's summer here in Oz, and WE HAVE COMPANY!  (Ok.  I'm trying not to get over-excited, but we don't get a lot of visitors to this hemisphere. . . )  Shon's parents, Dave and Debbie are here to visit.  We are ecstatic (and not just because they brought American food!)  They arrived on Wednesday, two days later than planned, thanks to delayed flights.  We whisked them off on a road trip to Bundaberg, just hours after they arrived. 
Boogie boarding Rainbow Beach - the surf was rough and I'm still finding sand. . . 

We stayed in a beach house on Rainbow Beach for two days, and drove up to Bundaberg, to the Mon Repos Turtle Sanctuary, to watch sea turtles lay their eggs at night.  It was amazing.  It was a busy night in the turtle rookery.  By 8 o'clock, there had been 6.  There had only been 2 turtles the entire night before.  Our turtle was a 200 lb, young 30 year old female, laying her second clutch in her first breeding season.  (Sea turtles don't reach sexual maturity until they are 30, and as far as we can tell, they live to be about 80.)   We very quietly (no electronics or lights) watched her dig a hole with her back flippers, lay 100 ping pong balls-like eggs, fill in the whole, tamp it down with her body, and crawl back to the water.  The whole process took about an hour.  It was amazing.  We were able to take photos for 30 seconds after she laid her eggs.
Turtle laying eggs.  Ranger in background.


The turtle in the background.

She was in pretty good shape, though she had barnacles and marks on her shell where crocodiles tried to get a nibble.  Another turtle that was laying eggs near by hadn't been so lucky, and only had 3 flippers, most likely from a shark attack.  The rangers gave her a hand digging her hole.   It was amazing, and the whole family learned a lot about this endangered species.  We would love to come back in 8 weeks and watch the eggs hatch.
The kids and Grandparents.

This has been a very rainy summer, and we are having a rainy Christmas as well.  That didn't stop us from swimming and having a barbecue Christmas day.  My favorite part of Christmas was our Skype marathon.  I could almost taste my mother's cooking, and I sang along with my sisters in our annual sing along (though that was a joke - I was 1.5 seconds behind everyone.)  We love our family.  Skype is good.  :-)

From the words of "An Aussie Night Before Christmas:" 

Happy Christmas to all and goodonya mate!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Halleluja!


Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without the Messiah, so when I heard about the Uniting Methodist Church's "Sing It Yourself Messiah," I joined some friends and sang.  I love Handel.  It was great fun - except for one miserable chorus that I had never heard before.  I've sung the Messiah many times and heard it even more times, so I don't know how I missed "Chorus No 37 - The Lord Gave the Word."  Apparently, I am not the only one who missed this painful gem.  During the rehearsal, the director kept saying "Don't worry about the semiquavers."  To say it was weak would be an understatement.


Semiquaver.  Now there is a musical term I'd never heard.  Later, I asked Jill sitting next to me, "What's a semiquaver?"  She looked at me like I was crazy, and said "it's one of these little notes here with the two flags."  I just had to stare at her.  Are you joking me?  "You call sixteenth notes semiquavers?"  Wow.  I've studied music since I was knee high to a grasshopper.  How did I miss that?   I'm astonished.  Apparently, this is the terminology used in the British system of music.  Most of the world uses it.  A quarter note is a crotchet, and a whole note is a semibreve.  Just for the record, a sixty-fourth note is called a hemidemisemiquaver.  Astonished.
This church had beautiful acoustics. 

Speaking of the Messiah, I love flash mob choirs.  Wouldn't it be fun to be in one - to just stroll through a busy train station and suddenly burst into song, with a dozen other people.  I love this one.  It's perfect to get into the spirit of Christmas.  You can tell which people in the video know it's traditional to stand for the Hallelujah chorus.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I love U2

I love you, too.

But I also love U2.

Shon and I have had a long tradition of sitting in the cheep seats.  When we were dating, we went to a Jazz game and sat on folding chairs behind the back row.  The night we became engaged, we went to Les Miserables, and sat on the back row.  It was the same for Wicked.  When we lived in New Orleans, I would go to the Orpheum and watch the New Orleans Symphony rehearsal - $4 tickets and you get to know the conductor too.  Next week we will be going to see the Nutcracker, and sitting near the back.  When we heard U2 was adding a Brisbane show to their 360 tour, we splurged and got the better seats.




Here's a little video I took with my iphone.  The sound quality is awful because of the volume - as much from the crowd as from the band!

video


We had no idea how good those "seats" would be!  I say "seats" because we were in the standing area.  Robert and his son Ethan took Bryce and went early while I picked up Shon from work (and calmly looked for missing tickets!)  The early bird gets . . . the awesome spot in the exclusive "red zone," inside the circular walkway, 20 feet from the stage!  We were close enough to make eye contact with Bono.  We could have jumped up and touched him when he crossed over the moving bridge (thought I'm sure Mr. Big Security Guard would have stopped us.)

 ,
I'm amazed that after 30 + years as a band, U2 are still running strong.  They are all amazing entertainers, and Bono has been married to the same woman for 30 years - which makes him classy, in addition to a great musician.  (Jon Bon Jovi is classy for the same reason.)   I'm happy that Bryce got to go to his first concert with his parents, and a friend.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Runners Low

You always hear about "runner's high", but not much about "runners low:"  that nagging feeling you get Saturday mornings at 5:30, that won't let you sleep in;  that there is something else you should be doing.

It has been 3 weeks since my last run.

I've always had a little pain in my right leg.  It was mild, then moderate, then a couple weeks ago, I went for a run, and got about 200 m before throwing in the towel and limping home.

I went to the doctor last week.  She told me to stop running.  Probably for good.  I spent the day mourning my immortality, and trying to face the fact that I may be a swimmer-only for the rest of my exercise existence.  From the moment I started running, I knew I wouldn't last forever.  When I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, I asked the doctor what I should do for exercise to which she replied "well, you won't be running any marathons." I guess I took it as a bit of a challenge. . .   The way I see it - I'm going to be a hunched over old lady anyway, I might as well get that way because I actually did something.  So, I started running.  Surprisingly, I think it actually helped in my case - my increased circulation and muscle tone prevented me from "freezing."  And ok, I got a good deal of pain relief from endorphins (yes, I'm self-medicating.)  So, I have a hard time taking "No" for an answer.  Call me crazy, but I'm not ready to quit yet.

I went to a physiotherapist (that's a "physical therapist," Americans.)  After putting me in the iron maiden, and other methods of torture, he said "no, that's not arthritis - you've probably got a tear on the tendon that attaches your hamstring to your hip process."  Yep.  I blew a hammie.  This is actually good news - it's fixable.  Right now, my choices are 1) surgery, or 2) do lots of physio and then perhaps run slow the rest of my life.  Right now, I just want to be able to walk without limping.

I think I can handle slow.  Maybe.

Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving.  It is my favorite holiday.  There is nothing materialistic - just a group of friends and family getting together to give thanks and eat.  And it is purely American. 
Thanksgiving this year was AWESOME.  We had two of our favorite American families over - twenty people in all.  If you don't remember, last year I had quite the dilemma in finding ingredients.  Refresh your memory here.  This year, I knew what to expect.  It was a great day with friends and food.  Emily and Sarah were the little artists who made the turkey place cards.  (Thanks for the idea, Family Fun magazine.)


Thanksgiving in Australia involves a few differences in tradition.  First, we ate dinner al fresco.  Second, between the meal and the pie, the kids swam.  (Third, the turkey had really long legs - I swear someone slipped me a young emu instead!)

While the kids swam and the men played life guard/dishwasher, the ladies and I did what we do best (besides cook) - we talked.  


Did I mention that Becky (there on the love seat) had a baby 5 days before Thanksgiving! What a trooper to give up her nap to make rolls and come eat turkey.  Becky is awesome . . . it's a long story.  Ok, if you insist, I'll tell you:

Becky and I grew up in Idaho, a mile (2k) apart from each other.  We were in the same ward at church.  We took lessons from the same piano teachers.  We both came from large families and happen to be the second oldest with an older sister named Kim (my older sister being one of her best friends.)  We have the same accent.  Now she happens to live around the corner.  In Australia. We have been leading parallel lives.  Like us, this is their second international assignment.  We also have children roughly the same ages.  (I have 5, she had 5 until last week - now she's got me beat with 6.  You go girl.)  I feel at home with Becky.  That makes her awesome.

Yes, I still miss my family in Idaho - especially at Christmas time, but being with friends who are in the same boat we are makes it fun.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One down . . .

We've been in Australia for one year officially.


It's been a long year.  It's been a good year, but it's been very long.  It was one endless summer.  After two summers in a row, I was anxious for winter.  It never really came.

Last week I was cleaning out my junk drawer and came across a Raddison Hotel pad of paper.  Some time during our packing up, I scribbled a list.  Since I'm feeling a bit home sick (Thanksgiving always does that to me), I'll share it with you.  Here it is:


Things I Will Miss About New Mexico

10.  The sky.  It is really blue.  I wonder if it is all of the orange sandstone - contrasting colors, and all.

9.  The smell.  The high desert smells so good.  When we moved from Houston, the first thing I noticed was the smell when it rained - juniper and cedar, with a touch of pinon.  Really, there needs to be a scented candle called "mesa after rain."  The best smell of all, however, is the roasting chilis in the Wal-mart parking lot.  (You can buy green chilis by the box in New Mexico, and they will roast them for you over a giant propane burner - it smells SO good.)  I'll miss watching sweet Navajo grandmothers at Walmart, with their skirts and tennis shoes, long braid down their back, and turquoise jewelry.

8.  My Garden.  I miss my garden.  I have a thing for oddly colored fruits and veggies.  My philosophy is, why grow something I can buy in the grocery store?!  So, our raspberries were yellow, Potatoes were purple, and tomatoes were yellow, along with the usual varieties, of course.  I miss watching my garden grow.  It never failed to surprise me - I would stick the seeds in the ground, turn on the sprinklers, and two weeks later, there is life!

7.  The drive to Twin Falls.   I can't believe I actually put this in.  In the 3 years that we lived in NM we drove to Idaho at least quarterly.  That's a dozen 12-hour each way trips.  Some times it was the longest 12 hours of my life (think crying toddler and icy roads.)  Once we discovered books on CD, things went a little faster.  (We listened to the entire Harry Potter series, and all of the Eragon books, plus many others.)  I knew the road like the back of my hand.  Southern Utah is full of interesting shapes.  The kids named the rocks we saw on the way:  Birthday Cake Rock, Snowman Rock, Turtle Rock, Foot Rock.  The journey was measured in bathroom breaks:  Monticello, Moab, Price, Salt Lake (the Robinsons!), Tremonton, Snowville, almost there - you can wait . . .  fine we'll stop in Burley.  Finally, Twin Falls.

6. Watching the sun rise.   I love the view from my front porch - especially when the neighbor's RV was gone for the summer!  One advantage of a desert is an un-obstructed view of the sunrise and sunset.

5.  Running Pinon Mesa.  I never thought I would say this, but I really miss running long Saturdays at Pinon Mesa.  It was a trail run through a high desert.  BYO water!

4.  My Piano.  I miss the way the sound would fill up the whole house.   I have a lovely piano here, but it's just not the same as my old one.

3.  Caliente. (That's the name of the community choir.)  I loved singing with these fabulous singers.  It was a ball.  I miss them, and I miss the music.  Music is my drug of choice.  I'm suffering from withdrawal.  I'm feeling particularly left out now that they are planning a musical tour of Greece.  Without me.

2.  My friends.  I miss my book group.  I miss the ladies I ran with.  I miss running and talking at the same time.  I miss birthday lunches at Si Senor.  

1.  Shon.  I miss having my husband come home at 4:30.  Wow.  That was nice.  He's cute.  And he does dishes.  (Sorry ladies, he's mine.)



Things I miss, that I didn't know I would miss:

Crisco
Graham Crackers
Green chilis
Skiing
Reece's Peanut Butter Cups
School lunches
School buses
Walmart
Soccer Practice
Inexpensive piano lessons
Inexpensive anything!
Snow
wider traffic lanes

A few things I don't miss:

My fingers cracking and bleeding because it is so dry.  (Super glue was my only successful solution.)

Crime.  Believe it or not, I think I'm actually safer running in a big city than I was in NM.

School clothes.  We wear uniforms here.  I LOVE it.  We can wear the same clothes twice and no one cares.  No one has to decide what to wear in the morning.

Whew, I feel better now that I have that off my chest.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Song Remembers When. . .


Conversation this morning over breakfast:

Emily: "Mom, we're singing a song in choir: 'Song Sung Blue.' Do you know it? "

Me: "Oh yeah, I love Neil Diamond: Song Sung Blue, La lala la la la or something. Let's look it up on itunes."

And there it was.
Suddenly, I wasn't in Australia any more.



"Song sung blue. . . "

I am in Fort Greeley Alaska, and it's 1979. My socks have slipped down and are bunched up at the bottom of my boots - my water boots, because it's spring time and everything is wet with melting.

"everybody knows one. . ."

I find a marble I lost in our golden shag carpet.

"Me and you, are subject to the blues now and then. . . "

My hands are stained yellow from picking dandelions. I can taste the dandelions because I forgot to wash my hands before I ate grilled cheese sandwich (with tomato soup.)

"Weeping like a willow. . ."

I can feel the sun on my shoulder, always coming in at an angle, making long shadows like it does up north. I can hear the theme song from "Mash" in the background.


"Funny thing, but you can sing it with a cry in your voice. . . "

My bell bottoms (the ones with the heart patches on the knees) are wet from playing in the run-off, so my mom tells me to take them off before I take a nap - in my wonder woman underoos. I am looking at my "Bambi" book and listening to the tape, listening for the chimes "trrrring" to turn the page, but I'm tired and never even make it past "your mother can no longer be with you - man has taken her away. . ." before drifting to sleep on my Holly Hobby bed spread.

"And before you know it, start to feeling good. . ."

My dad is walking through the door in his army uniform. Becki and Kim and I are singing "I'm so glad when Daddy comes home" and climbing up onto his lap as he sits in his orange velour rocker/recliner (the one my mom bought him for Father's Day). He manages to take off his glasses before we get to "a great big kiss."

"You simply got no choice. . . "


Emily: Yep, that's the one.
Me: Yeah. I think I'll buy the whole album.

Thank you, Neil Diamond, for writing the background music of my childhood.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fraser Island

Shon here.




I know this sounds really rough but after the 5 days on Moreton Bryce and I and Robert and Ethan went to Fraser Island (North of Moreton about 4 hours) with the young men from church. This wasn't as cush as the resort because we camped but it was still incredible. We drove up Thursday morning. We drove in total almost 250k on sand!! The beach they call 75 mile beach really is 75 miles long. We were able to play beach cricket, gridiron (American Football), baseball, swim in 3 different fresh water lakes, the ocean, and tide pools. We also saw a ship wreck, a light house, whales, a (huge) dead ray, dingos, caught pipis for bait to fish in the surf. One of my favorite days was spent driving. We really put the 4WD through a workout. All I can say is that PJ is the bomb. We had 4 vehicles and 17 people. The only one that never got bogged (stuck) was PJ. In fact PJ snatched 3 vehicles with the snatch strap. I learned tons about sand driving and 4WD. I think it would be tough to find somehow that I could have been more in heaven.

Top 10:
10. Seeing dingos running around the island (they will attack small children so you have to be careful)
9. Driving on sand for 8 days straight!! (that includes Moreton)
8. Learning to snatch cars. You hook up the snatch strap and then just start driving with the snatch strap half extended at 20km/hr and you pull them out. We spent almost an hour pulling cars out with PJ.
7. Swimming in the tide pools and ocean at Champagne Pools. The Aboriginals would catch fish stuck there by the low tide.
6. Doing a flip off a tree into Ocean Lake (the second time). The first one kind of was not a great memory thought it was funny. (See above photo of my leg.)
5. Swimming in Wobby lake. There were kids going down the sand dune on boogie boards that would go half way across the lake.
4. Playing grid iron. I love beach football and lake football.
3. Swimming in Lake McKenzie with it's pure white sand and crystal clear water.
2. Seeing what happens to a RAV 4 at Fraser. Paul your car rocks. Bryce said one of the highlights of his trip was that big jump you did.
1. Hearing the testimonies of the boys at the fireside. Such great young men.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Island Holiday

We love the view from our veranda. On a clear day, we can see to the ocean and across to an island - Moreton Island. Little did I know, that island on the horizon is heaven on earth.

It's Spring Break. (Please think southern hemisphere here.) We just spent 5 lovely days on Moreton Island. It was fabulous, in spite of the cold rain. The best part, of course, was that we were with friends. Everyone had someone to play with.

The first day we drove to the ferry and took a 90 minute boat ride to the island. Only four-wheel drive vehicles are permitted on Moreton Island, as there are no paved roads. The ferry landed and we drove onto the beach. The adventure began. And so did the rain. But we're not the type to let a little rain spoil our fun.

We stayed at the Tangalooma resort. It is a former whaling village. Back in the 1950's they "processed" 6200 humpback whales here. The whale blubber was mostly used in making cosmetics. Now Tangalooma is a beautiful family resort where people come to feed wild dolphins. It was so amazing to watch. Every evening the dolphins would stroll through the harbor. One evening, our children were in the water playing and the dolphins came just a few feet away. The resort had all sorts of fun activities for families: snorkeling the sunken ships in the harbor, tennis, ATV's, movies, food, karaoke, basketball, ping pong, boules, croquet, archery, "sledding" the sand dunes in the "desert" - and best of all, beaches. Sand is our favorite toy. We have sand collecting in all of our pockets, but it was worth it - the kids had a ball playing in the sand.

Our second day we took a drive around the island. Driving on the beaches is a ball. Driving across the island was a bit more treacherous, but so beautiful. There were flocks of beautiful little rainbow bee-eater birds, and we nearly ran over a large (2 m) snake (most likely a carpet pithon.) We drove to the lighthouse and then back along the beach.





People often see humpback whales from the lighthouse, but they weren't showing off that day.


























We drove back along the eastern side of the island. The beach was amazing.















The most memorable thing we saw though, was 2 dead sea turtles and a manta ray. The turtles were huge. They often mistake plastic bags for jelly fish (their main source of food) and smother. (We'll be using cloth bags, thanks.) The ray was 7-8 feet across.















After the eastern beach, we drove to the desert and went sledding. It was fun! The road was very treacherous, but our Pajero was a beast and got us through deep sand and steep hills. The kids gave our car a new name. We're calling it "PJ" now.
















The next day, we went on a whale watching trip. This has been a dream of mine most of my life. I saw a whale when I was 5 on a trip from Alaska to Seattle, and I've been interested in whales ever since. I was not disappointed, and I plan to go again. It was cold and rainy, which meant we had most of the ship to ourselves and an unobstructed view.













We saw around 6 humpback whales. They breached and flapped their tails and fins at us. At one point, one of the whales poked it's head out of the water to get a better look at us. The whales were so curious. One of the kids asked if the whales were on a people watching trip. They came to us.

Our fourth day, we went snorkeling on the wrecks near the harbour. The ships were intentionally sunk there, to provide an anchor for a reef. The fish were so colorful. We saw tens of thousands of fish and even a sand shark (small, yellow/brown).

Our final day on the island was sunny and warm. It was heavenly. I spent the morning like a beached whale, while Shon took the kids to do some more sand sledding.

And we headed home (whichmeans I have 14 loads of laundry to do.) Overall, we had a really great time and would love to go back!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Spring


It is officially spring in Australia. The weather was unseasonably warm today - high of 76 F. It hasn't been quite that warm lately though. It's been down right chilly. That didn't stop my family from swimming in our unheated pool. Shon decided it was time for us to have a little polar bear swim. As the photographer, I managed to evade getting wet. :-) They didn't last long in the water. I took two photos, back to back. By the time the second one took, everyone was almost out!


Bryce had an assignment at his school to have a picture taken reading with a parent in an unusual place. This is what we came up with. You can't see, but the book says "How to Swim."



*Ta


Dear Mr. White Car,

Please forgive me for dinging your door. I was sure that my daughter would stay in the car for 10 seconds while I ran across the street to get her sister from ballet. (I might add that I was 15 minutes late to pick her up, so she really was sitting there waiting for me.) I had driven past the ballet studio twice looking for parking, so I was happy to have a spot open up, never mind that I had to park with one wheel on the curb because our massive car doesn't fit in the 1950's parking spots on Racecourse Road. Everyone within a 100 meter radius heard the "thunk" when she opened the car door - and smashed the massive door into your cute little white car, leaving a small dent and a 2 cm gash in your paint. I was glad you came out of the coffee shop at that time, because I am not the type to leave without saying what happened. So I'm writing to tell you thank you for not cursing me or my sweet, tutu-clad ballerinas, and for turning down my offer of money and insurance information. I know you were pretty angry - especially considering you've only had the car for 2 weeks. Since I don't know your name and have no way of returning the favour, I'll just have to pay it forward and encourage anyone else who is out there to please be extra nice to someone today, because someone was nice to me.

Thanks and
Kindest regards,
Juli

Here are the girls last July near Twin Falls, Idaho.










* "Ta" is short for "thanks," like "hi" means "hello." This is one of my favourite aussie words.



Monday, August 16, 2010

On Magpies and Mockingjays

One of my first memories in Australia is of waking to a very strange bird call. It sounded like a combination of R2D2 and a crow mumbling under its breath. What I was hearing was the Australian Magpie. (You can hear its call here.) They are big black and white birds, which look more like crows than American Magpies. One of the things Australian Magpies are known for is drawing blood. They are swooping birds. It's August, which is winter here, but soon it will be spring, which is magpie nesting season. The males become particularly territorial and will attack anything that moves. Bicyclists beware. People have come up with some pretty creative ways to ward off magpies. I frequently see bicyclists wearing helmets with cable ties sticking out all over. Also helmets with eyes on the back. Children walk home from school with ice cream buckets on their heads, with eyes drawn on the top. (It's very Australian!) I found this website particularly interesting. The video was surprising. Let's just say I won't be wearing a cable head any time soon.

Speaking of birds, you may be wondering why I am wearing this gold pin on my jumper (er, sweater). First of all, because my lovely sister gave it to me for my birthday. Thanks Beck. Also because Mockingjay is coming out in one week! I am so excited. I loved the first two books in the Hunger Games (by Suzanne Collins) and have been eagerly waiting for the third. I haven't been this excited since Harry Potter #7. (I know, I'm such a nerd. Just for the record, I do read non-fiction too.) If you haven't read the Hunger Games yet, you still have time. Come on, you know you want to. Go ahead, neglect the laundry. Have Macca's (Mc Donald's) for dinner. Your preschooler can take care of herself, she has been dying to sit and watch Little Einstein all day for 2 days. It won't hurt her intellectual development. It's only TV (said with the same inflection as those anti-alcohol videos they showed us in high school where the guy tempts you, saying "It's only beer.") Who needs fresh air and exercise anyway? (Though I have to give this disclaimer: These books are violent. You'll want to discuss it with your 13 year-old if he reads it. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone younger than that.)

Sigh. I love to read.

Speaking of ballet, I took the kids (minus Shon and Caleb) to see "Swan Lake" over the weekend. The choreography was spectacular. The set was awesome. The music was Tchaikov-
sky (need I say more?) The people were beautiful. It was fabulous. I have decided that when I grow up I will be a ballerina (after I learn to fly an airplane that is.) Bryce even liked it, though he did say he would never dance ballet because "their pants are too tight." Agreed. And we went to our favorite gelato cafe afterwards. Gelato Milany. Yum. That's all I can say.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Calorie counting challenge














Anthony introduced me to the fine art of Slurpee drinking. On the day we moved my mom and dad to their new home Anthony and I both drank 4 40 oz. Slurpees. That translates into +/-2200 calories! Pretty sweet until you realize how many calories you have to burn. I looked it up. You pick what you would do.....

1. 612 minutes of walking
2. 252 minutes of jogging
3. 184 minutes of swimming
4. 336 minutes of cycling
5. 780 minutes of walking combined with lifting 25,000 lbs.

As for Anthony and I we pick #5.......We are both overachievers so why stop at 612 minutes of walking. 780 here we come. Then what the heck bring on the 25,000 lbs.........

The only thing I was sad about was that we could have had a fifth Slurpee and all would have been well (765 minutes of walking and 2750 calories). Next time.....next time......

Shon

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Winter Break





Yep our winter break was awesome. We escaped the horrible cold of Brisbane (50 degree lows and 70 degree highs) to visit the Western US. We had a great time visiting relatives in Idaho and Utah. It was one of the more productive vacations I think I have ever had. We got lots of dental work done (thanks Ken). Sarah was baptized and confirmed (definitely a highlight). We moved my parents into their new home and built the majority of a wooden fence around their property.

We got to meet three new family members on Juli's side of the family (Collin, Mia, and Lindsay). We camped which was really fun. I think all the cousins loved steal the flag and four wheeling. We went to the lake, hiked, and had a wonderful time. I think all the kids loved the time with cousins. They slept over nearly every night somewhere together (thanks Kim and Gaye). We saw everyone from both sides of the family except Spencer's family. We missed you guys (still do).
Top 10 from Winter 2010 in no particular order except #1 (Shon's perspective)
10. Meeting 3 new family members
9. Camping and playing steal the flag
8. Going to a movie and on a date with Juli and Kim and Rustin
7. Getting to go to business class on the way home after 6-8 hours trying to sleep sitting up (thanks Juli for swapping half way)
6. Seeing Collin blessed
5. Manning and Robinson cousin reunions!! Thanks Jenny and Judy and Grandmother Ellen Mae!!
4. 4th of July in the USA!!!
3. Time with my sisters and brother working and playing
2. Getting my mom and dad moved and with most of a fence up
1. Sarah's baptism and confirmation

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Gulf

Juli asked me to blog about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As most of you probably know I am a drilling engineer. For the last 13 years I have drilled and completed oil and gas wells. I have followed the BP disaster very closely and from everything I have read (presentations to Congress by BP, the Waxman letter, updates from the BP website, etc) BP made some poor decisions that led to this disaster. The only thing that comforts me is that relief wells work 100% of the time. That is the only way that the well will be brought under control and the flow of hydrocarbons stopped. All other options have been exhausted. I included a link to a very good presentation ~10 minutes long on the relief well here (Kent Wells technical update from June 27).

I am extremely confident in the relief wells. One is enough. Having a second is prudent given the damage that is occurring. They will work. It is proven technology. "Killing" a well is easily done from the bottom of the well but very difficult from the top. From BP's update they are 55' away from the well and are honing in on it. They are 10 days ahead of schedule.

Oil and gas drilling can be done very safely. To drill safely two barriers must be maintained at all times to prevent oil and gas from coming to surface. In the case of the BP incident a late change in the well design, the decision to not lock down the wellhead seal, a poor cement job, performing multiple operations at once when displacing the well to seawater (which contributed to missing indications that something was wrong), and then the failure of the blow out preventers resulted in this tragedy.

We were sad to hear about oil reaching the marshes of Louisiana and the beaches of Florida. We frequented the swamps south of New Orleans and loved the sea food and culture present in South Louisiana. We still have many friends there and loved our time and now visits there. I participated in work parties with our church after Katrina and Rita to clean up hurricane damage in Louisiana. We feel close to the people there. While we lived in New Orleans for 3 years one of our favorite places was Fort Pickens. We have such great memories camping there. We loved hearing the frogs, playing in the ocean and bay, walking on the beaches at night and seeing the phosphorescence as the waves crashed and where we stepped in the wet sand.


So here are my thoughts: I think we are actually lucky that BP is the responsible party. They seem to have acknowledged their responsibility and in my opinion are doing everything possible to remedy the situation. The industry I work in will clearly have to change because this should never have happened and we should have been better prepared.

What I am saddened by most is the president's decision to stop offshore drilling. That is like saying that if there is a coal mining accident in one mine that all mines should be closed. That is unbelievable. For the people of the Gulf Coast to lose a major industry like fishing is horrible but then for the president to shut down another main source of income (oil and gas drilling) is worse. There needs to be a measured response. Unfortunately the American public does not understand the industry that provides them energy so there are many misunderstandings and false perceptions. My heart goes out to the people of the Gulf Coast.

Maybe this is a chance for us to look more longterm. We as a nation have never been able to do this though. Until something else replaces hydrocarbons we need them to maintain our standard of living. As Americans we use 25% of the WORLD's energy with only 5% of the world's population. We import 60% of the oil that we use. Most of that comes from countries near us (Canada, Mexico, Venezuela). We are energy pigs. I think we should be thankful for the country we live in, the freedoms we have and the lifestyle we enjoy but we MUST conserve and become better stewards of what we have. We have some tough choices as a nation ahead. If we move to solar (doesn't work when the sun is down), wind (huge footprint relative to what hydrocarbon production takes and not efficient), nuclear, coal, or hydro they all have pretty major disadvantages. To me it makes sense to do some of all of them. Solar in NM and Queensland makes sense but not in Seattle.

I commit to do my part. What are you going to do to be better? Set your thermostat one degree hotter or cooler, use Solar in your home, put in a zero scape yard? We can all do something......

Happy to talk to anyone about this.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jumper


Aussie Word of the Week

Jumper (n): Pronounced "Jompa"
Translation: a woolen or fleece sweater or jacket.
Used in a sentence: Sarah dearest, it's cold outside. You better wear your jumper.

Here's Sarah. Can't you tell her hands are cold. It was really cold - at least 60 degrees. She is sporting her Jumpa outside at pick up time - my least favorite time of the day, not because I don't want to pick up my kids but because it is such a hassle! All of the girls wear the same hat, which makes it difficult to tell which child wearing Madeline camoflage is mine. Remember that movie about the penguins in Antarctica? Remember the part where the penguins are changing places and trying to find their chick, though they all look alike? That's me, 5 times a week, squawking and hoping my chicks will hear me and reveal which one they are. And one other thing that I hate about pick up time: parallel parking. I'm still avoiding it like the plague. It causes me anxiety. (Please note that I received an A in parallel parking in driver's ed. Doing it on the other side of the road still feels very awkward.)

Hopefully, we won't need jumpers next week when we go to visit our family. That's right, we're changing hemispheres for a holiday. I love the fourth of July. I'm excited to spend it in the good ol' US of A.


Speaking of the fourth of July, did I ever tell you about our first fourth of July down south? We were living in New Orleans and decided to go camping in Mississippi for the holiday. Did I mention I was 6 months pregnant and it was July? Of course. Actually, I wasn't the only one who was pregnant - Natalie Summers was due a week before me. The Shanklins and Pickards came too. We decided to stay in the "primative area" which is code for "the jeff foxworthys camping next to you will be peeing in the bushes, so avert your eyes." I've never been so hot in my life. Sleeping was not easy. We had to open all of the windows to let some air in, otherwise, I would have slipped into something a little more comfortable, like my birthday suit. It was that hot. We found refuge from the heat by standing in the luke warm lake, dodging cigarette butts the entire day. Only problem was that the lake wasn't that clean, so I ended up with a brown line across my middle - the high water mark. The ladies in line to the outhouse were super nice and let me go first on account of my delicate condition (good thing - that line was long!) Thank y'all.

I do have to give credit to the city of Hattiesburg. They had an awesome fourth of July picnic. There were sack races (which Shon won with his mad skills. I'm sure the fact that he was the only one not drunk helped.) and an ice cream eating contest - won by the three time returning champ, Bubba, looking the part in his overalls without a shirt. I set my picnic basket beneath a tree and found it an hour later inhabited by an entire colony of ants - they ate through the plastic wrap and tunneled all around in the banana bread like an ant farm. My favorite part was just before the fireworks when Elvis came and sang the national anthem: "I wish I lived in a land of cotton . . ."
I sound like I'm being sarcastic and didn't have a good time, but it's actually one of my favorite memories of the Fourth of July. I would do it all again.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Running alone



I have found that when it comes to running, a little peer pressure is a good thing. I miss my friends in New Mexico. Many mornings I lay there thinking how much I didn't want to get up and go out in the cold, but I knew if I didn't, Annie would be saying "Juli, where were you?" It has finally cooled off here in Oz. It is not terribly cold, but the cool and dark combination makes it appealing to sleep in. Luckily, I have a running "mate" here, Jennifer Curtis, who will also be asking me "Juli, where were you?"

Last May I ran the Shiprock half marathon. I was scared. My friends were running the Moab Half (my favorite half - because it was my first). Not knowing if we would even be in the United States for Moab, I didn't register for it - we played the waiting game for about a year before finally getting a position here in Brisbane. So, I ran the Shiprock instead. My children had soccer games. I was nervous because it was the first race I had ever gone to by myself. My mother claims that I was a very independent child, but I really don't do anything on my own. I learned a lesson from the experience.

The race was good. The weather was cool and a bit rainy. The course was beautiful. The people were nice. I love New Mexico. But I was alone. About half way through the race I realized the girl in front of me was running the same pace. I caught up and talked to her. (People who don't run always ask how I can run and talk at the same time. Really, if you can't talk, you're trying too hard. That said, I do run faster when I don't talk.) It turns out the girl in front of me graduated from BYU the same year I did. We both had 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys. Our husbands were both engineers. Another lady was listening to our conversation and said "You guys are freaking me out!" So we ran the rest of the race together, finishing within seconds of each other. It wasn't until later, when I saw the professional pictures (which I never buy - I'm not a photogenic runner, especially in the rain) that I realized our numbers were one apart! And I set a new PR.

Lesson learned: I'm never alone. It changes the way I look at people when I think that way. There are no strangers, only friends I haven't met yet.


No, it's not Mardi Gras. Jen and I are showing our numbers.

So, last week I ran another half marathon. This time, I came with a friend. And I met a few more along the course. The Warwick, Queensland, Pentathrun Half Marathon was very hilly and very foggy. It was beautiful in a very quiet way. I ran the first half of the race very fast. It's a rooky mistake for sure, but I fell for it. By half way through, I was feeling it - about the same time Michelle ran up to me. She lives out in "the bush" with her husband and 5 children. Actually, she had 6 children, but one recently passed away. I had a great experience talking with her about life, children, religion, snakes, running. It was a great race - not too hot, because of the fog. At one point I ran past a forrest where all of the spider webs were covered in dew. There were some very large spider webs - it was amazing. One issue I had was that I didn't know where the end would be. I know a half marathon is 13.1 miles, but I have no idea how many kms that is. I guessed about 20.5. After one of the many hills, I thought for sure that was the last and I started looking for the finish line. Then another hill came peeking through the fog. Just for the record, 13.1 miles is 21.1 km. What is there to do in that moment but keep moving forward (the Robinson moto.)

This is what most of the race looked like. Foggy.

That was a hard hill. But in spite of the hills, and the fog, I got a new PR! (That's the fun of being a new - ish runner - every race is a new personal record.) Thank you, AJ Curtis, for letting me use the awesome pictures you took.

I ran right past this "mountain" and had no idea it was there until the fog burned off.

Nice spandex, Shon.

I'm not the only one in my family who has been running, lately. Shon recently completed his first triathlon, in spite of tearing his calf muscle the week before. He showed the tough stuff he was made of. He couldn't walk without limping, but he still finished in good time.

Emily and Sarah also recently ran in a cross country meet. I was proud of them. They worked hard and woke up early for practices.