The Cure for Opal Fever?

Walking The Poodle this morning I was deep in thought over the events of the last couple of weeks.  Last year we were dealing with issues pertaining to my mother.  And, for inquiring minds, the drama continues, just escalating yet to new levels.  Impossible to comprehend, I know!  But, that’s my mother, God (and family) love her!   Now, it seems we will be tackling issues with Rocket-man’s mother and it isn’t good. Unlike with my mother,  her body is just fine.  It’s her mind that is going.  She is sliding slowly into dementia.

When we went to see her last week to assess the situation we walked into a totally unexpected mess.   She has been living under deplorable conditions.  With a daughter (Rocket-man’s younger sister) living in the same town, not even twenty minutes away,  both Rocket-man and I were outraged, not to mention overwhelmed over what we found.  It seems that his sister has mother “baggage” issues and decided to “check-out” in the help department.  News flash: Who doesn’t have childhood baggage?!   “There is no excuse for your sister’s behavior!”  I cried…literally, as I surveyed the mess before me.  My heart broke for the old woman seated quietly on the sofa, watching Bonanza re-runs on TVLand.  She was happy as a clam…in her own universe.  There was not an angry bone in her body.  I thought of how lucky my mother was to live in her beautiful new place…and I quietly seethed with anger as I cleaned; my mother isn’t grateful for where she is now, nor all the hoops we went through to make it happen for her.  Sigh.

Without hesitation, for two days we were knee-deep in cleaning and hauling what junk we could away, trying to make order out of the chaos in our short amount of time there.  Luckily, we had the help of Rocket-man’s older sister who, like us, doesn’t live in the same state.  There will be a great amount of work ahead, sorting everything out for his mother, and all the related responsibilities of finding the right care for her, not to mention the emotional heaviness of it all.  It begins anew, with barely time to exhale from the trauma–emotional and otherwise–of last year.  And of course, with it all comes another potential financial exhaustion of funds.  We just cannot seem to catch a break!

The only silver lining in this new catastrophe is that Rocket-man’s mother is fairly docile in the face of her crumbling world.  While I was filling garbage bag after garbage bag with years-old receipts, stacks of old catalogs, well- expired food, and (inexplicably) empty plastic milk cartons piled high in many places, she simply smiled and joked as if we were relaxing at a family picnic on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  It was a blessing after what I experienced last year with my combative mother.

So….In an effort to get my mind off of pressing issues as I walked my dog in the quiet of this fog-laced morning I had to think of something enjoyable…like our recent trip to Australia.

Yes.  It seems hard to believe that just three weeks ago I was giggling like a school girl over my first business class flying experience.  Just weeks ago I was petting a Koala one moment, then later excitedly pointing to a Kangaroo on the side of the road.  I’m sure the taxi driver was rolling his eyes while thinking “Another silly American tourist.” What a sight I must have been to him as I was literally jumping up and down in my seat with joy over a kangaroo sighting.

“Roos here are like your deers on the road; we often think of them as a nuisance,” said the very friendly taxi driver with a twinkle in his eye.  Glad you’re enjoying our roos though.”    I still marveled that everyone I had met during my ten-day Aussie adventure was a nice as can be.  I hadn’t met a rude Aussie yet.

And, our two days in Sydney weren’t nearly enough.   It had been cut hours shorter as our flight from Canberra was delayed due to dense fog.   We had to cram as much as possible in the short amount of time we had there before returning home (and we did!).

High on the list of my priorities as soon as our flight landed was a trip to the National Opal Collection on Pitt Street.  I had no idea it would be steps from our hotel (really…wink, wink).  Rocket-man however, had another agenda.  He wanted to tour Sydney’s iconic Opera House first.  But I was a woman on a mission and steadfastly holding my ground I said, “No….not just yet.”

“The opera house isn’t going anywhere,” I said breathlessly as we hurried through our hotel check-in.   “This afternoon is the only opportunity we have to look for an opal. The store is closed tomorrow since its Sunday.”

Between you and me, I’m positive Rocket-man was hoping that I’d forgotten about opal shopping.  I’m sure he thought that once I set eyes on the Opera House I’d beat feet there first.  He was mistaken. I’ve had opal fever for years–as far back to our dating days seventeen years ago—and he knows this.  The cure for this sort of fever is to shop for one I reasoned.  So, being the wonderful kind of guy that he is, he simply said; “Yes… my queen.  Your wish is my desire too!”  We dumped suitcases in our hotel room, freshend-up and within five minutes we were out on the street for the three minute walk to my opal destination.

Once I entered the small, rather non-nondescript store I made straight to one long display case.

“Wow.”

It was definitely sensory overload as I looked over the sea of opals…large, small and tiny even.   A spectrum of colors literally took my breath away–from milky white with glittery pastel tones, to intense greens swimming in fiery reds mixed with mesmerizing blues.  I learned quickly that I was terribly naive about my birthstone.

The opal expert sales associate was an Asian man who appeared to be in his fifties.  He stood quietly while I looked at the opals in the display case.  “I’m only interested in a black opal,”  I told him.  “It’s my birthstone.  The one I select will be for a ring and (throwing my former boss under the bus) my friend Jeff said I must look for one from the Lightning Ridge mine.”  Somehow in the busysiness of our days I had neglected to tell Rocket-man this.  I could tell he was getting nervous.  As I chatted away my eyes locked onto one beautiful stone.

“That one….there,” I said to Rocket-man, pointing with steadfast confidence to a black opal beauty.  “That’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

“Ahh…excellent choice,” said the sales associate as he opened the display case.  “You have a very good eye.”  He took the opal, which was the size of a quarter and placed it in my hands.

“Oh my.  This is stunning,” I breathed.  “How much is this stone?” I asked as I turned it around in my hand, admiring the changing array of blues and greens dancing before me.

“$10,500.00.”

My heart sank. Literally.  Rocket-man turned a dismal shade of ash.

“Well…um…. that’s just a wee bit outside of my price range,” was all I managed to squeak out.

“If it makes you feel any better, this one is well over $15,000,” said the associate pointing to magnificent black opal, nearly the same size but just a bit larger.

I was ready to abandon the mission entirely.  In fact,  I almost walked out of the store then.  I had not foreseen that an loose opal would be so expensive.  Strange as it was to me, Rocket-man was very patient and suggested we keep looking.  Really?   So, together we looked at a number of much smaller stones for a half hour, trying to find one that wouldn’t break the bank.  Finally I settled on one that was smaller than my pinkie fingernail and sincerely, the vibrancy of its colors made my heart sing.

“So, how about this be your birthday and Christmas gift?” said Rocket-man.

Really?”  Oh God yes!”  I replied, planting kisses on both of his cheeks.

My Lightning Ridge black opal. It looks big but it's smaller than my pinkie fingernail. I love it!

My Lightning Ridge black opal. It looks big but it’s smaller than my pinkie fingernail. I love it!

The fever has gone…for now!  And, like me, my little opal gem must remain patient before it can be set into a unique piece.  For now, we mustl navigate through the maze of another aging parent’s storm.   It’s not going to be pretty; hearts are going to be strained to the limit and patience will be tested over and over again.   Once all the financial dust settles  (which could mean another year, perhaps  longer) I’ll need to find a good jewelry designer.  But for now I’m content to gaze at my little gem in its box and when I do, I am instantly transported to the land down under and that beautifully crisp, clear, sunny day in Sydney where I spent the remainder of the afternoon walking hand-in-hand with my Rocket-man, enjoying the sights of downtown Sydney, the glistening waters around Bennelong Point, and the magnificent Sydney Opera House too.

A view of Sydney Opera House

A view of Sydney Opera House

Poppies of Remembrance and Sorrow

Another day Down Under. Another day of lots of walking in cold, windy weather.

Australian War Memorial; view from the back

Australian War Memorial; view from the back

Today’s adventure was getting myself to the Australian War Memorial. It’s about three miles from the hotel. I had no trouble finding it. Canberra is easy to get around, on foot at least. I wasn’t about to drive since that meant learning to drive on the opposite side of the road…..something not on my list of things to try while I’m on a mini-holiday and Rocket-man is at work.  Visions of me running straight into a Eucalyptus tree or any number of memorial statues around the city were enough to squash that seed of desire to learn a different skill.  Maybe some other time…or in my next life!

I was met with a slap of cold air as I stepped outside shortly after breakfast.

Brrr. Well, at least it is not raining today.

The sun was shining, the sky a brilliant blue. There was a steady breeze keeping the various types of Eucalypts active under the windy conditions. Despite gloves, hat and my warm, wooly scarf, I was cold just five minutes into my walk.

It took me a good forty-five minutes to walk to the Australian War memorial. There was no need for a map as there were plenty of signs along the way; I knew I was on the right path. Again, up another long boulevard, mostly cutting through residential areas. Despite the cold I was enjoying the walk. I passed by homes that were quaint and well-kept and many that were quite the opposite. Piles of leaves and bark from the eucalypts covered sidewalks and driveways and most yards were devoid of any landscape color, which is what one would expect as it was still winter for another month. White cockatoos screeched from the treetops and Australian magpies, their song ending on a curious boing-like note, also filled the early morning air.

By the time I arrived at the Australian War Memorial my hands were thoroughly numb with cold and my head was pounding. I don’t often get headaches so I reasoned I must be very dehydrated.  The lingering effects of jet lag coupled with four days of eight to ten-mile walks around town were catching up with me.  Opened in 1941, the memorial is simple in design, imposing but not ornate.  There are Art Deco elements in its design.   It’s actually a national military war museum as well as a memorial to honor the men and women from the Commonwealth of Australia who so bravely gave their lives in wars dating as far back to the British Sudanese Expedition, the Second Boer War, and the Boxer Rebellion. Naturally, the memorial also honors those who sacrificed their lives in both World Wars, as well as the more recent involvements in Afghanistan and Iraq.  In 2001 the memorial was further expanded with the addition of ANZAC Hall (ANZAC is the acronym for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps ) which displays an extensive collection of large military hardware.  Another incredible fact about this memorial is the artist Napier Waller.  He lost his right arm in World War I and he learned to write, create and work with his left arm.  He created all the mosaic work (tiny, tiny mosaic tiles from floor to the domed ceiling) in the domed chapel, along with the beautiful stained glass windows adorning the chapel that contains the Tomb of the Australian Unknown Soldier.  He finished the project in 1958.

Ceiling of domed chapel.

Ceiling of domed chapel.

Stained glass in the domed chapel

Stained glass in the domed chapel

Red Poppies of Remembrance

Red Poppies of Remembrance

There were only a few people walking about the large expanse of the memorial grounds which includes the memorial shrine, the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, and Memory Hall where the names of 102,000 men and women are inscribed on floor to ceiling bronze plaques.  The bronze plaques are also literally awash in red; hundreds of silk red poppies, left by friends and relatives, are inserted in the cracks besides names of loved ones lost.   It is both strikingly beautiful and immensely sad.  While there looked to be plenty to see on the grounds I wanted the warmth of indoors at the moment. I was dismayed as I walked up the front steps of the memorial to note that the place didn’t open until 10 a.m. I looked at my watch. Oh dear. I’ve got another forty-minutes to wait?  I walked back down the steps and around to the side of the building. That’s when I noticed a sign for Poppy’s Cafe.

Oh, thank heavens….there is a God!  I made a bee-line to the cafe, which thankfully was open.  Ah.  This was where all the folks are. The small modern cafe was full of people and was lively with conversation.  Within a few minutes I was holding a steaming hot latte in my cold hands. While I waited and warmed up, I connected to the museum’s Wi-fi in an effort to learn a bit about the memorial before heading into the building.  For example, Charles Bean, Australia’s official World War I historian, was the guy behind the idea for a memorial to Australia’s soldiers.

Preferring art to things about war, I didn’t think I would enjoy a visit to a war museum.  But, I had heard from enough people (and comments posted on Trip Advisor too) that it was a definite must-see. It turns out everyone was right.  I spent over three hours there, not nearly enough time as one could really make an entire day of it.  I wished my history buff brother-in-law would have been able to tour this with me. I’m sure I would have absorbed a lot more information about each exhibit with his knowledgeable commentary.

Suffice it to say that for me, most of the exhibits (particularly the extensive World War I and II exhibits) evoked sadness and heartbreak over so many lives lost…so many irrevocably broken families.  At one point–while lingering over a large photo of an emaciated young Australian soldier held captive as a prisoner of war by the Japanese–tears welled up in my eyes. These images of war were getting to me.   How is it that we, the human race, cannot seem to stop the cycle of death, war and destruction? How can we treat each other with such savagery, cruelty, madness, and inhumanity?  How is it human kind continues to do so…still?  We don’t seem to be learning a damned thing!

I was completely spent after a little more than three hours.  I needed fresh air and sunshine. But before I walked outside I stepped into the museum’s gift shop.  I purchased a red poppy lapel pin. I affixed it to my hat knowing it would serve as my daily reminder of this day. IMG_3107

It had warmed up considerably while I was in the museum and the intense (though winter!) Australian sunshine was quite a lift to my spirits.   I decided to take a different route back to the hotel.

ANZAC Parade. View from the memorial to the Parliament House

ANZAC Parade. View from the memorial to the Parliament House

So up ANZAC Parade I went.  It’s an exceedingly long boulevard, flanked with Eucalypts and New Zealand Hebe bushes, as well as many more war memorials all along the way.  It effectively ends at the Parliament building some five miles up on the opposite end of the thoroughfare.  In fact, it’s quite a beautiful view from the memorial to the Parliament House.  I tried to shake the bleak, stark images of war and destruction out of my mind as I walked. I wasn’t having much luck I’m afraid.  And, with all that is going on in the world, I doubt that I ever will.  It struck me that perhaps that is another reason these museums are so critically important to the world.  They serve not just to honor our fallen men and women soldiers but also as a somber, grim reminder of just how devastating and ugly war truly is.  Can’t we learn from this?!

I let out a heavy sigh.  I had to shake the sadness. So I picked up the pace and briskly walked back to the hotel with my sights on another hot coffee and a sweet treat to cap off the late afternoon.

 

Day Three Down Under

 

It’s day three Down Under and I am just beginning to shake the jet lag.  While Rocket-man toils away at work I set my sights on finding a post office, a meat pie, and the National Museum of Australia….not necessarily in that order.  And, I’m happy to report that  I managed to do all three.   I’m feeling quite pleased with myself.

Making use of the hotel’s wi-fi so as not to incur hefty international Verizon charges, I had looked up the nearest post office on Google maps while at breakfast.  Scribbling on a piece of paper, I made a note of the main streets to get there and hoped that I could find the place since 1) I was on foot in inclement weather, and 2) I get lost easily.  I definitely wasn’t thrilled about the weather.  It was barely 36 degrees, windy, and drizzling. My weather App hinted snow (thankfully that didn’t happen!).  Google maps showed that it was a 17-minute walk to the post office.  

So, I’ll confess that I am a bit map-challenged.   Sometimes (not always) I can’t find my way out of a wet paper bag. God forbid there is some sort of solar flare that fries all manner of telecommunications and satellites and with it  navigation systems!  I am just not the best map reader–my eyes easily glaze over when looking at a map due to visual overload.  It’s not so much that I cannot read a map, it’s that I cannot read a map fast.  This of course can be a source of irritation for my husband.  Rocket-man would ask: Which way should I turn on such and such street?  And me….looking at the map, would nearly seize with fear knowing that it would take me more than a moment to figure it out.  Long enough, for sure, to where Rocket-man would get exasperated which in turn would cause buttons to be pushed and….well….you get the picture.  

I know;  It’s simply a matter of practice.  The more I do it, the better I become.   So, imagine my delight when  I found my way to the post office!  Up the main boulevard I went, and then through side streets ….past a Catholic high school, then on around to a small public library, through a run-down residential area…a grocery store here and there, and McDonalds too, various little Vietnamese and thai restaurants and even Canberra’s DMV.  When I got to the post office I was relieved….pleased…and….

…struck by a throughly wonderful aroma.  

Oh my. Something good is cooking somewhere!  

And there it was.  Elaine’s Pie Shop. The “Sir-man” Jeff had said I must do three things to embrace the full Aussie experience and noshing on meat pie was one of them.  I’d already checked off the Vegemite experience…for good I might add.  Thoroughly disgusting!  

I peered through the window and could see dozens of meat pies in a display case.  My eyes lit up like a child at Christmas.  I could feel the saliva increasing in my mouth just looking at those meat pies.   I looked at my watch.  Damn.  It was only 9 a.m.  I had finished breakfast just a half-hour before.   Oh God…the aroma of the pies was almost overwhelmingly irrisitable…. impossibly divine.  

This is not good.  I simply cannot eat a meat pie, now!  

I cannot even purchase one for later; I’ve got no way to warm it up and no utensils in the hotel room.  I am not going to rush this decision.  I can tell from the wonderful smells wafting through the cold morning air that this is one gastronomic  meat pie experience that must be savoured properly…preferably with a glass of wine.  I’ll have to plan on returning tomorrow.  Promise!

Having mailed my postcards, I turned my resolve to finding the National Museum of Australia.  Back up the long boulevard I go.  It’s a long way on foot.  I could take a bus but I am determiined to get some steps on the pedometer.  It takes me an hour to get there.  By then,  I’d racked up six miles in steps on my Garmin VivoFit and my fingers, despite gloves, were numb with cold from the long walk.   A hot chocolate would be terrific about now.  

Still, it was a lovely walk despite the foul weather.  Mine was a solitary walk; After passing the city center, I rarely saw another soul as I made my way on the path around lake Burley Griffin towards the museum.  I’m guessing weather was a factor, although there were plenty of cycling commuters on the main boulevard which impressed me given the weather.  These folks weren’t out for a recreational, pleasure ride either; it was clear they were commuting to or from work.  

I hadn’t been at the museum for more than five minutes when scores of uniformed school children in plaid blues and reds…. ties for the boys and proper length skirts for the girls, descended upon the place.  Their typical-for-their-age loud voices and boisterous activity pierced the quiet of the place in short order.   Normally I would have been just a tad irritated, but  I was feeling supremely content with everything that I had accomplished in the day so far.

The National Museum of Australia is a lovely little gem in a city that is full of ultilitarian (read….dull looking and even boring) government buildings.  I happily passed an afternoon leisurely browsing through exhibit after exhibit.  There was lots to see and learn …from the artwork of the Aborigines to the handling of the rabbit population that all but ravaged most of the continent (worse than fires!)….and much more.   I even saw a perfectly taxidermied kangaroo, which is probably the closest I’ll ever get to seeing one Down Under…during this trip anyway.   

Mr. Kangaroo

 
The only downside of the day was that I had to enjoy all of this alone.  I certainly felt bad that Rocket-man wasn’t able to share in the experience…or my sis and family either for that matter.  What a blast that would have been.  And I felt an even greater pang of regret that he wasn’t able to help me with my lunch selection;  I all but inhaled a chicken and leek pastry-puff topped pie.  I selected this menu item at the museum’s cafe because of course I had meat pie on the brain.  Rest assured….Elaine’s Pie Shop is still on my radar before Friday is come and gone.  

My eyes are weary…my legs are achy and sore.  I’ve covered over ten miles on foot today.  

It’s time to turn in and dream of another day more, Down Under.

Thankful for this opportunity for Down Under bliss.

Tasty Chicken and Leek puff pastry pie.

I Could Get Used to This!

We’ve got a little over four hours remaining on this amazingly long, long flight…..a flight of fifteen hours and forty-five minutes to be exact.  Yep…that’s right.  Over fifteen hours, on an airplan!   Add to that: this is the third leg of our journey to the land Down Under, and we’ve still got one more to go.   Middle-earth to Houston (uneventful)….Houston to Los Angeles (screaming child in my ear)….Los Angeles to Melbourne….and from Melbourne, a short hours’ hop to Canberra, the capital of Australia. 

I’m happy to report that this third leg is simply marvelous.  You see, I lucked out and was able to fly business class on this third leg, outbound part….and wowza!  Having never traveled first class, this is turning out to be one cool experience!   It’s definitely taken the sting out of an excruciatingly long (about thirty hours in all) journey.  I was delirious with happiness over the seating. A large, comfortable seat that, with the push of a button, fully reclines! After our first two flights, my knees were not happy from too much sitting in a cramped position.   I was ridiculously over the moon about my seat!  

Ahhhhh.  I might actually be able to sleep during this flight!  Okay, well…to be honest, I haven’t been able to really sleep–only dozed– but it has been heavenly to be able to fully recline into a semblance of a normal sleeping position.  

As we took to our seats at the start of the flight– before I even had started to pull stuff out of my backpack (book, iPad, headphones, lip gloss) in preparation of situating myself for the long haul, the flight attendant was introducing herself to us.  

“I’m Mary. Your international travel attendant.  I will be taking care of you during your flight.  I am here for anything you need to make your flight comfortable.”

I wanted to say: I’ve got a seat that fully reclines.  Your job is done!

Mary provided us a menu and asked us to consider our dinner selections, and she brought us our first drinks: Jack and Coke for Rocket-man, and just water for me….for starters.  I couldn’t read the menu as I was stupidly giddy over all the business class amenities which tickeled Rocket-man to no end.  I was given a small travel kit containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, hand cream, sleep mask, hand wipes, and cozy travel socks.  I had a large blanket, a substantial pillow and a large T.V. screen in front of me….and my seat fully reclined.  Fifteen hours like this?  No problem!       

  And my dining experience?  Wow.  First off, we each received a steaming hot hand towel with which to wash our travel weary face and hands.  As I handled the hot, wet towel, letting it settle for just a moment over my eyes,  I had a childhood flashback.  I don’t get many of these!  When we lived in Okinawa, it was customary to be given steamed little handtowels in small banana-shaped wicker baskets at restaurants or dinners out with friends.   We even had these at home.  I can still see a stack of little wicker baskets in our cupboard; my mother would bring them out when she had small dinner parties, a practice that certainly impressed her guests.Our first course was a snack to knosh on while waiting for dinner.  We were presented with a small white bowl of warmed nuts along with our libation of choice….in a real glass!  (I know.  You must think I’m being a bit ridiculous here, but what a lovely little pleasure to be able to drink a beverage out of a glass instead of a tiny plastic cup!).    I was ready for wine so my choice was either a pinot noir or a Cote-du-Rhone.  I chose the latter and for the entirety of dinner Mary would come by to re-fill my glass (for the record, I allowed myself to splurge….I stopped at three).  

Before Mary brought our dinner she provided us with a linen “tablecloth” for our tray tables along with a large linen napkin and not one, but three sets of flatware (one for salad, the entree and then dessert).  Another wowza moment for me!  How decadent!  A tablecloth?!  Really!  

 I chose salmon with a dollop of crab meat,  which was all  tasty, though just a tad overcooked. Mary also brought a basket of warm bread along with a tiny tub of butter.  Dessert was an ice-cream sundae.  ICE-CREAM!  I nearly fainted with delight!       

 Once dinner was over, I reclined, sinking myself into my lovely seat, with a blanket over my legs, and selected a movie to watch: The Second Best Marigold Hotel.   

Yes folks…I could get used to this.   Realizing there will be another twelve hours to go, I’m simply going to sit back, relax, recline and set myself up to enjoy and savor the rest of what may be my one and only  first class travel experience.  

Ahhh….Bliss!  

Down Under? Oy!

I spent the last week with sis and company. We spent three full days enjoying the beach in North Carolina followed by a couple of days in Northern Virginia. It was a much-needed respite even though it was hotter than Hades and  it wasn’t a full week of zoning out in a beach chair staring out at the ocean. We even managed to not spend the entire time talking about the sad state of affairs with our mother. I took long walks along the shoreline, humming whatever tunes popped into my mind the entire time as I let the cool ocean water tickle toes and ankles. We looked for shells at every opportunity—Alexandre carted an entire bucket full of shells back to Virginia— and we even went crabbing in the dark of night. Now that was a blast I’d never experienced in all of my 57+ years!  The Poodle and Nica-Roo the beagle were on sensory overload too as they ran after crabs skittering about in the sand. We laughed ourselves to near exhaustion that night!

Back in ‘Bama-land I am still on a high. I’ve just got confirmation of another upcoming trip. It’s no secret that Rocket-man is away on business travel a good deal of the time. Folks ask why I’m not traveling with him on some of his more “exotic” business jaunts.  Two words would best answer the question: It’s expensive!  Many of his business trips are scheduled last-minute which would make purchasing a ticket for me a costly proposition. And, even if a trip is scheduled within a reasonable time frame, it often gets changed or cancelled due to whatever is going on with his job. So, when Rocket-man came home last week and said it looked like he was going to Australia on business travel I nearly knocked him over in my rush of excitement.

Can I go, can I go….PRETTY PLEASE…. can I go!?

No shame here folks:  I spent my first six months after I moved to ‘Bama-land binge-watching McLeod’s Daughters on Netflix, if that doesn’t tell you how excited I am about the prospect of traveling to Australia.
map-of-australiaAnd so it is now official. Next month, we are off to the land of Down Under (Canberra, specifically with two days in Sydney).  It matters not that it will entail 30-some hours of travel. It matters not that I will be stuck in coach whilst Rocket-man is enjoying business class. I’m traveling to the land of Koalas, Kangaroos, Uggs, opals (my birthstone, as it happens to be), and good wine.   Unfortunately, it’s only going to be for ten days (four and a half of which are travel days!) but I’m mighty stoked to be able to visit another continent (the island continent!)…the worlds sixth largest country…the world’s largest island.

Having said that, I just so happened to have picked up a book about a month ago about Australia (not knowing about this opportunity mind you). I was perusing the shelves in the travel section at Barnes & Noble when the cover caught my eye:  A kangaroo carrying it’s baby in her pouch. The title of the book: In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson. Knowing that the author is a world traveler who writes interesting, fact-filled accounts of his adventures peppered with a wonderful sense of humor, I purchased it without even reading the back cover synopsis.

Once home, I hadn’t even made it through the entire introduction when a thought hit me square between the eyes.

I cannot complain about living in insect hell anymore.

Case in point, here is a paragraph in Bill Bryson’s introduction, In a Sunburned Country:

“It is the home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and of the largest monolith, Ayers Rock (or Uluro to use its now-official, more respectful Aboriginal name). It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures—the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish—are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. Pick up an innocuous cone shell from a Queensland beach, as innocent tourists are all too wont to do, and you will discover that the little fellow inside is not just astoundingly swift and testy but exceedingly venomous. If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It’s a tough place.”

 

Okay then!  And I want to go there?

So yes…Australia has the greatest number of reptiles of any country in the world (a total of 755 species…yikes!) and 140 varieties of snakes in addition to 32 species of sea snakes! One hundred of these snake species are venomous and of those, 12 are deadly…as in that’s it, lights out, deadly.

Hmm…..let’s think about this trip.

Back in my working days I had a boss, Jeff, who was detailed for some weeks on a project in Australia.  Jeff brought back little souvenirs for everyone in the office.  Mine sits on a shelf in my family room.  I don’t recall asking my boss much about that trip; our work environment simply didn’t lend itself to much casual chit-chat. Still, I kept in touch with Jeff following my move from Northern Virginia to Southern California.  He’s still working the salt mines, as it were, while I’m still a beach bum…(a beach bum sans the beach mind you).  I follow him on Facebook because his photography is breathtakingly amazing and because, well…he’s a fair dinkum kind of guy (Aussie speak for genuine and trustworthy).  Following my divorce seventeen years ago, he gave me a chance when I desperately needed it.

So I sent him an email.  I told him about the book that I was reading.   I said something to the effect: I’m just amazed you came out of Australia alive….in one piece.

Jeff, being a quiet man of few words, replied with an email that contained only this:

 

I hope to make it out alive!

I hope to make it out alive!

Folks, I’m trying to not get my knickers in a knot over this.  I just hope to make it back alive….and in one piece.

Stay Tuned!