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.


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.


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

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!