Sunday, December 16, 2007

Last Weekend in Sydney

For our last weekend in Sydney, we had one beautiful sunny day and one cloudy rainy day. This is fairly representative of the weather we've had throughout the trip!

Saturday we drove to the Blue Mountains to check out the "3 sisters" at Echo Point. We stopped at a few other view points along the way including the waterfall at Wentworth. At each lookout there were mountains and valleys for as far as you can see.

Sunday we went to the Chinese Garden at Darling Harbour in Sydney. In addition to the plantings, sculptures and out buildings, we saw many huge spider webs. They are amazing to look at. It started to rain while we were there, so we hid out in one of the buildings by the coy fish pond. The fish were active and partially jumping out of the water. It was a great show.

While SPie napped on Sunday, we packed up the toys that we aren't taking on the trip home. We thought she might be upset when she woke up, but she hasn't seemed to notice yet!

SPie did notice the fireworks that were set off on the harbour behind our building last night. She buried her head under the blankets in bed and needed Sherp and I to climb in with her until they were over. Oops - maybe she was a little young for fireworks...

The "3 sisters" are the 3 peaks.

Chinese Garden fish:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Counting Down

There are only 9 days until we leave Australia and head for home! We are ready. It's been a great experience, but now that it's time to go, we just want to go. We've already mailed all of our holiday cards and Christmas/Australia gifts and shipped most of our belongings. We've donated clothes and have people designated to receive the other things we won't use and don't want to ship (i.e., flour sugar, nail polish remover, SPie's tricycle). Our suitcases are packed except for the clothes and toiletries we need for the next 9 days. The only thing left to do is pack and ship SPie's toys. We are looking forward to heading back to the states!

Monday, December 3, 2007


Last weekend there was a tree lighting event at Darling Harbour. A stage was setup on the water with singers and kid's characters (i.e., Bob the Builder). Santa arrived on jet skis with sparklers coming off the back and everyone sang Christmas carols. Our main reason for going was the fireworks show.

We live nearby the Harbour and whenever there are fireworks we can hear them and see reflections on the buildings nearby. I wanted SPie to see the fireworks for herself so she'll understand what it is the next time we hear them (with the warm weather it seems like there are fireworks at every big event on the harbour). Overall she did ok, but they were too loud. She spent most of the time hiding her face and repeating, "I'm ok. I'm fine." The next morning one of the first things she said was, "No more fireworks." It was a short show, so I don't think we've scared her off fireworks forever, but I doubt she'll want to go outside the next time we hear them.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Every now and then we have to leave the country and re-enter, so a few weeks ago we spent a long weekend in Vanuatu. The country is an archipelago of 80+ islands and just gained it’s independence in 1980 (prior to that it was jointly governed by Britain and France). We stayed on the main island of Efate at a resort called Le Lagon.

For some unknown reason, we were upgraded to an ocean front room. Across from our patio were stairs leading right into the water. From the beach chairs outside our door, we saw a wedding at the waters edge. The site was perfect, so the wedding pictures must be gorgeous. I’m guessing Vanuatu (or at least our resort) is a big wedding destination since we saw at least 2 wedding parties on each of the weekend nights we were there.

This was a vacation to relax. The weather was hot and sunny and everyday we did nothing but eat, sleep and chase SPie around the 4 swimming pools at the resort.

Right outside our room:

The wedding (view from our patio):

These wood carvings were very cool. I think the base was part of a tree stump:


Starfish in the Lagoon:

View of our room from above:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

And The Winner Is...

Kevin Rudd for Australia’s Prime Minister.

Natalie Gauci for Australian Idol.

This was a big election weekend; Saturday was the Government election and Sunday was the Idol finale.

Fun Facts about the Australian Government:

  1. It’s compulsory for eligible citizens to vote. Failure to vote results in a fine.

  2. Australia uses a Preferential Voting System. If you don’t know (as I didn’t), preferential voting is when you rank candidates in order of preference. If your first choice is knocked out of the race, your vote goes towards your second choice. This continues until the winner is determined.

  3. Australia is a parliamentary style of government. The citizen’s vote the candidates to Parliament, then the government votes for the Prime Minister.

  4. There is a political party called “What Women Want”. I have no idea if they have anyone in political office, but the name cracks me up.

  5. An election for Prime Minister must be held at least every 3 years.

  6. The former Prime Minister, John Howard, was the PM for 11 years (the 2nd longest serving PM in Australia). He was head of the Liberal Party and ran under the Coalition, which is a joining of the Liberal and National Parties.

  7. Kevin Rudd is part of the Labour Party.

  8. Rudd’s major agenda items are:
    1. Ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The papers like to point out this will leave the US as the only major industrialized nation not to do so.

    2. Withdraw 550 Australian troops from Iraq.

    3. Put more money into education.

    4. Remove the workplace agreements.

  9. (Legal) Betting on the election paid AU$3.70 for a $1 bet that Howard would be re-elected.

  10. During campaigning, a news story broke that while in the US, Kevin Rudd got drunk and visited a strip club in NYC. Campaign analysts have said this story actually helped Rudd and made him seem more approachable and more like the “common man”. I think it's pathetic that this came out as a news story and even worse that it helped his campaign.

Fun Facts about Natalie Gauci:

  1. Her 26th birthday is tomorrow (Nov 26th). A recording contract is an amazing birthday present!

  2. She’s from Melbourne.

  3. She used to sing with a Jazz group.

  4. She plays piano and writes her own songs.

  5. The winner’s single is titled Here I Am and is available as a download now. It will be in stores on Wednesday (Nov 28th).

  6. The Winners Journey album and DVD will be in Australian stores on December 8th.

  7. Natalie starts the Australian Idol Tour on January 2nd.

  8. (Legal) Betting paid AU$2.35 for a $1 bet on Natalie versus AU$1.57 for a $1 bet on her competition, Matt Corby.

  9. She was my personal favorite from the first episode. (What can I say… when you don’t have cable, there isn’t much TV to watch.)

  10. The judges had negative things to say about her wardrobe choices and I agree with some of their comments. I hope Sony gets her a good stylist.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gold Coast

A couple of weeks ago we spent a long weekend at Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast. I found it tacky and noisy. After I returned from my trip, my Australian boss said it reminds him of the really touristy areas of Florida. Personally, I think it’s worse.

I might have a better impression of Surfer’s Paradise if we had stayed in a nicer place. Our hotel was a dump. Wouldn't you know this is the first trip that I booked through a travel agent and pre-paid for. If we hadn’t prepaid for the room, I would have checked out and moved further up the coast. The unit was a “serviced” apartment, but there was no “service” at all. The place was in desperate need of a renovation to pull it out of the 70’s and the amenities were horrible. The room came with two bath towels and a bath mat. I asked for a third towel for SPie as well as hand towels and washcloths. They said there would be a charge for a third bath towel and if I wanted hand towels and washcloths I should have brought them from home. (Nice customer service!) We were getting low on toilet paper, so I asked the desk if we could get another roll. They wouldn’t give it to me; however if I wanted to purchase more, it would be $1.15/roll! The receptionist kept telling me “that’s how all serviced apartments work”. We stayed at serviced apartments in Cairns and in New Zealand and never had any problems. We had all the towels and free toilet paper that we needed!

There are a lot of theme parks in the Gold Coast. We went to Dreamworld because it has Wiggles World and a Nick Central for SPie’s age group. She went on most of the age appropriate rides, but we skipped a few because the lines were so long. SPie’s favorite ride was the train that goes around the park. We went on that twice. I find it amazing how much she loves anything that goes; cars, boats, trains, and especially helicopters.

Dreamworld advertises the “largest interactive tiger facility outside the United States”, so I had big expectations for Tiger Island. There are 2 tiger shows a day. We missed one show and left the other because the crowds were too big to see anything (it's a bad design for viewing). We did see the tigers, but it wasn’t as exciting as I expected. Overall, Dreamworld was ok, but for the money spent ($$$), it was disappointing.

The next day we drove to Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. This was worth the trip. The zoo is huge and the animals seem to have plenty of room to move around. As you might expect, there were a lot of crocodiles and alligators. We even saw a baby croc (8 weeks old). Most of the animals were awake and active, especially the tigers. There were 2 tigers in the enclosure play-fighting with each other. They were in and out of the water, running around the enclosure, roaring, and swatting at each other. That was very cool to see. This zoo is also the first place that I've seen a Tasmanian Devil on the move (at the other zoos the devils were sleeping).

After the zoo, we drove to see the Big Pineapple. I first heard about the “big” sculptures when I read Bill Bryson’s book In a Sunburned Country. From what I’ve read, there are random large sculptures throughout Australia and the Big Pineapple is one of them. So far, the Big Pineapple is the only one we’ve seen. This link to Wikipedia has a list of the other Big Things in Australia and elsewhere.

The Zoo and the Pineapple are North of the Gold Cost in the Sunshine Coast. From the little bit that we saw, it seems like a much nicer area. If you ever visit, stay on the Sunshine Coast and make a day trip or a single overnight to Surfer’s Paradise. Unless you’re in your early 20’s, I don’t see a need to spend too much time on the Gold Coast.

8 week old crocodile:

Tasmanian Devil:


Tigers Playing:

The Big Pineapple:

P.S. Since I originally wrote this post, it's been school holidays. Apparently Surfer's Paradise is "the" destination for drunken students (which doesn't surprise me at all). The last report I saw had 128 students arrested in Surfer's Paradise.

Overzealous Photography

I think I’m getting out of control with the pictures. Last weekend we went to the Australia Zoo (more about that later). As soon as we turned into the parking lot, SPie was sick. We immediately pulled over and took her and the car seat out of the car. When I opened the diaper bag to find something to clean her up with, I saw the camera and decided to stop and take a picture of her! It only took a second, I didn’t ask her to pose, she wasn’t crying or hurt or in any danger, her Dad was taking care of her and I did clean her up right after, but still, I cannot believe I did that! So, since I have this picture, I might as well share it, right?? (Poor SPie!)

By the way, she was fine the rest of the day and enjoyed the zoo. We think she might have been a little motion sick.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Classic Ending

Horse racing is very popular in Australia and today was one of the big races, the Melbourne Cup. The Sydney area horse racing industry was crushed this year due to a horse flu that caused most of the horses to be quarantined for the season. However, Sydneysiders were still excited about the Cup and the race received all day media coverage, a parade, fireworks and various events throughout the city.

My company rented a tent in the Domain and we all went and had lunch and drinks in the park. It was very civilized with men in suits and black tie and women in heels and hats with feathers! There was a fashion contest (all the big races seem to have them), but it was raining, so it didn’t receive too much attention. Who wants to strut their stuff on a wet runway!

As the race started, there was a downpour so everyone huddled under the tent to watch the broadcast on the large outdoor screen. As the horses were in the last 100 meters, the live feed went down and we missed the finish!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Wash Out

The bad thing about our car share it that you can only cancel a reservation 48 hours in advance. On Tuesday we booked the car for Saturday and planned to drive up to the Blue Mountains and look around. On Thursday night we saw the weather was going to be rainy and wanted to cancel the car, but it was too late. Saturday morning it was cloudy in Sydney, but not actually raining, so we decided to keep with our plan.

We stopped at a Burger King for lunch on the way. I let SPie go on the hamster maze and she decided to go all the way to the top. There was a little helicopter up there and she LOVES helicopters. For about 30 minutes we couldn't get her to come down. I'm not sure if she was afraid to climb down (at one point she yelled out "Mommy, where are you?") or if she just wanted to play. In the end, I had to climb into the silly thing and bring her down. In hindsight, we should have called it quits then, but we continued on.

As soon as we hit the Blue Mountains region we were in the fog (really we were in the actual clouds). Since we had driven so far, we went to a lookout in Wentworth Falls and confirmed there was too much cloud cover to see anything. We turned around and headed for home!

This is the hamster maze. That bubble at the very top is the helicopter that SPie was in. The only way up is through the "bubble arms" on the side - which I did climb in... ugh...

Friday, November 2, 2007

Cubby House Weekend

The weekend of September 28th was a long weekend in Sydney, so we went on a trip. We stayed at a great farm-stay called the Cubby House about 3 ½ hours outside of Sydney. The views of the Capertee Valley and the mountains were amazing. On Saturday we went to the Jenolan Caves, Sunday we went to the Western Australia Zoo in Dubbo and on Monday we stopped at the Zig Zag Railway on the way home.

(Pictures are at the bottom!)

The Cubby House

I would call the Cubby House a mountain retreat. It’s at the end of a long country road with no visible neighbors (accept the owner’s house) and has really amazing views. The official website for the property is here, but this site has better pictures.

We arrived at the Cubby House late Friday night. With 2 kms to go before arriving at the cabin, we had to go through a closed gate. I’ve learned that the gate is to keep the cows from straying off the property and is common on farms. Being from the developed suburbs, I’ve never had to get out my car and open a gate to continue down a road. At 11:00 pm, in a strange and dark place with no cell phone coverage I was a little nervous about this. I kept thinking we were at the wrong property and some farmer was going to come after us with a shotgun or that this was a scam to lure “city folk” to the country and make stew out of them!

All my worrying was put aside when we saw the place lit up for our arrival. Even late at night we could see the gorgeous views. To give you some idea of what we were looking at, the Capertee Valley is said to be the second largest valley in the world; the Grand Canyon is the first. In addition to the great view out on the land, the night sky was amazing all weekend. The first night gave us a large, bright, almost full moon and the second night the sky was full of stars. The owners were telling us they have regular guests that bring their telescopes to check out the stars.

Our last day of our visit, the owners drove us around for a tour of the 1030 acre property. Yes, I did say 1,030 acres. The owners have 2 young children and SPie had fun running around the sheep pen with them. She also had a great time chasing the chickens into their enclosure. Another thing I learned is that chickens are nervous little things and don’t like to be chased. (I’m learning so much here!) One highlight of the tour was viewing a large stone that has naturally formed in the shape of a face. It’s similar to the “Old Man on The Mountain” that was in New Hampshire. They showed us another rock that was supposed to look like a teapot, but I couldn’t see it. The face was much better. The owners obviously love the land and enjoy having visitors. If we had more time here, we would definitely stay again.

Jenolan Caves

In true Australian style, the limestone caves are linked to convicts. The story is that a farmer discovered the caves when he went looking for a cattle thief who was known to have used the caves as a hideout.

The caves cover a large area and are deep underground. I don’t think it would be possible to visit all of them in one weekend. We toured two of the caves including one with a “cathedral” area where concerts and weddings are held. We actually saw a bride heading to the cave for her wedding. The cave also had a water pool and various cool “stalactite formations” (Don’t ask me what it means…you’ll have to look it up like I did.) We took some pictures, but the images don’t capture the reality. You’ll just have to visit the caves yourself.

Western Plains Zoo

The locals call this the Dubbo Zoo because it’s in the town of Dubbo; about 5-6 hours drive from Sydney. The admission tickets are good for two days, so you could make a weekend trip of the zoo and the few other sites nearby.

The zoo is built with an open range design that is meant to create the impression of being in the wild with the animals. Instead of the animals living in walled enclosures and viewed through cages, they are roaming in the grasslands and water habitats and are separated from the public and from each other by moats and other non-obtrusive methods. We did see a lot of fencing separating the tigers from each other. I’m ok with that.

The layout follows a 7 km loop with walking trails in the middle and is designed for visitors to drive or ride bikes between the exhibits. Bicycles and golf carts are available for rental, but the families in the know have a better plan; arrive early, park for free along the road across the street from the zoo, take your own bike in, pack lunch in a cooler pulled behind the bike. It is a great way to see a zoo.

SPie touched a tortoise and enjoyed looking at the animals, but I think she loved watching the bicycles and visiting the playground even more.

Zig Zag Railway

The Zig Zag Railway is a coal burning steam train that follows a section of the original path of the railway built in 1869. The purpose for the railway was to bring the produce from the Blue Mountain areas to Sydney. To make the trip down the steep mountains, the tracks were laid in the shape of a “Z” with reversing stations at various points.

Sherp was talking with one of the train employees and they let him move the track for our train!

Moving the train track:

The cows in the road - the one's we closed the gate for!

View of Capertee Valley from our farm stay

Sunrise at the Farm Stay:

Rock Face at the Farm Stay:

The tiger at Dubbo Zoo:

Patting the tortise:

A rhino doing what everything in nature does (aaahhh)"

Inside the caves - looks like jellyfish!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Olympic Park

We had a great day at the Sydney Olympic Park on Saturday. I wasn't expecting to enjoy this visit as much as I did. The city has done a great job of creating biking/hiking paths throughout the area and making it a fun recreational place. We rented bicycles from the visitors center and rode around for 4 hours!!! This was the first time in a bicycle carrier seat and she did great. We stopped to eat and to visit a playground. SPie was so excited to be on the bike she didn't want to play for long. After biking we spent some time at the aquatic center. We enjoyed two different kids pools and a "river wave".

I'm really sounding like a Greenie on this blog which isn't my intention, so I won't go into detail, BUT... if you are interested in the "green" aspects of the park, check out this link. You'll be glad to know that the environmentally friendly steps that were taken for the Olympics continue today (recycled water, renewable energy, recycling, diverse ecological communities).

SPie didn't want her picture taken...

The pools:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


My apartment building was without water for about 18 hours starting last night. It was pretty gross... no water for cleaning the dinner dishes, bathing or for the bathroom. Plus, SPie was miserable with a cold so no one slept much.

I think I'm being punished for writing an entire post about water restrictions.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Go Tribe!

Congratulations to the Indians on beating the Yankees.

I'm not the baseball fan, so I cannot elaborate further. I can say, thank goodness for the internet so we can at least get the scores and highlights! The games are on Foxtel (cable TV), but we don't have Foxtel, so Sherp is out of luck.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Water Restrictions

In my last post, I mentioned water restrictions. Due to the drought, water conservation is a major issue in Australia and every state has their own set of restrictions. Some are highly detailed, like the 34 page PDF from the state of Queensland.

Comparing the restrictions here to what I have at home in the states is an apples to oranges comparison, but I've done it anyway. I couldn't find the information for my hometown or for the closest city, but I did find restrictions for a neighbouring town.

Restrictions for New South Wales:

  • Hand-held hosing of lawns and gardens and drip irrigation is now allowed only on Wednesdays and Sundays before 10 am and after 4 pm
  • No other watering systems or sprinklers are to be used at any time
  • A permit from Sydney Water is required to fill new or renovated pools bigger than 10,000 litres
  • No hosing of hard surfaces including vehicles at any time
  • No hoses or taps to be left running unattended, except when filling pools or containers
  • Fire hoses must only be used for fire fighting purposes – not for cleaning.
  • Recycled water, bore water and water used for testing fire systems, fire fighting and related activities are excluded from restrictions.
A fine of $220 applies for all breaches of Level 3 restrictions by individuals. The Water Restrictions Patrol is carrying out random audits to ensure compliance with the new exemption conditions.
Corporations now face a fine of $550 for each breach. Fines for water theft have risen to $2,200.
The following are still permitted at any time:
  • Using a bucket or watering can to wash and rinse vehicles or water lawns and gardens.
  • Topping up any existing swimming pool.
  • Filling a pool less than 10,000L capacity.
  • Using water from a rainwater tank, as long as it is not connected to or topped up from Sydney Water mains.
  • Using a hose with a trigger nozzle or high pressure cleaning device to clean boat bilges and boat trailer brakes and wheels.
  • Using a hose to flush boat engines.
  • Cleaning garbage bins using a hose fitted with a trigger nozzle or with an on/off switch.
  • Cleaning garbage bins should be done within an official bin wash area or on grass.

Restrictions for Queensland:

  • No watering of established lawns with town water.
  • Watering of established gardens is allowed 3 days a week between 4 and 7 pm only. (The day of week depends on your house number). The watering must be done with a bucket, watering can or other approved device and not from a hand held hose (unless you’ve been given a concession due to age, medical reasons, etc).
  • Watering of newly established lawns and gardens is allowed by hand held hose for 1 hour on the day of establishment and for 1 hour between 4 am and 7 am or 4 pm and 7 pm for 14 days after the date of establishment (receipt of installation is required).
  • New and renovated pools and spas require approval for filling with town water.
  • You may top up an existing pool or spa between 4 pm and 7 pm on your 3 watering days per week if one of the conditions below applies:
    1. The premises has a rainwater tank or downpipe rainwater diverter installed and connected to the pool.
    2. All available water from the rainwater tank or downpipe rainwater diverter is used to top up the pool or spa prior to using town water.
    3. The premises also complies with three of the following four measures.
      1. A swimming pool or spa cover is used to cover the pool or spa when not in use.
      2. All showerheads, kitchen basin taps and bathroom basin taps on the premises are water efficient.
      3. All toilets on the premises are water efficient.
      4. Only water efficient washing machines are used on the premises.
  • Town water is not to be used for play pools water toys.
  • Town water is not to be used for outdoor showers.
  • Town water is not to be used for cleaning vehicles (including boats and caravans) except:
    1. Where water is used from a bucket filled directly from a tap to:
      1. Clean only vehicle mirrors, vehicle lights, glass and number plates to maintain safe operation and satisfy number plate visibility requirements; or
      2. Clean such other parts of a vehicle as required to comply with statutory or regulatory obligations; or
      3. Spot clean the body of a vehicle to remove potentially paint damaging marks; or
      4. To flush an inboard or outboard motor or vehicle brakes to prevent corrosion and maintain safe operation
  • General outdoor cleaning of materials and equipment is only allowed when it is needed to prevent or otherwise address a material health or safety risk.

Restrictions for my neighbouring town in the US:

  • Lawn watering is limited to two days per week with no watering on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Hand held hoses may be used for flower and vegetable gardens without hour or day restrictions.

Green Ideas

Lately I’ve noticed an increase in information about “green living”. There are government messages on TV, newsletters coming in the mail, seminars at work, and I’ve stumbled upon a few blogs with “green” living ideas. I have co-workers that bicycle to work, have their laundry water redirected out to their lawn and gardens (they use earth-friendly cleaners in the laundry), and have "save a tree - think before printing" messages attached to their emails. All of this exposure to conservation ideas has made us think about changes we can make.

We have done a few things here, but more for our own convenience than because we are thinking of the environment. For example, we are basically car-free, but that is because we’re in Australia for such a short time. We purchased reusable grocery bags because the plastic bags just don’t hold up for the walk home from the store and the reusable bags hold more, so the number of bags we carry is less. A dual flush toilet came with the apartment, so we conserve toilet water by default.

The dual-flush is the first "green" thing we experienced in Australia that we thought of doing at home. It’s such a simple way to conserve water. Once it’s installed, there is nothing to do but use it. No effort, no change in lifestyle, and yet it’s a positive change. Some other big changes we are thinking of making are installing a rainwater collection tank to use for our lawn and installing solar panels for energy. I’m also thinking about riding a bike to work when the weather allows. My office is close enough and I can shower at the gym across the street from work. The big problem for me is getting to work on time. It would require a major change in my habits to leave the house in time to ride to work, shower at the gym and make it to the office on time. I’m attached to my sleep, so this is something I really need to have a think about.

According to an Australian government website, an average Australian household generates about 14 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. To help decrease this number, the government created a “climate clever” campaign. Below are the suggestions for decreasing household greenhouse gas emissions.

  • turn off the water
  • turn down the thermostat
  • use shutters to block out the sun and cut down on air conditioning
  • use energy efficient light bulbs
  • shut power off at the switch
  • use phosphate and nitrate free cleaning products
  • don’t leave your electronics on stand-by
  • use water based paints
  • eat locally grown foods
  • wash full loads of clothes and only use cold water
  • dry clothes outside rather than in the dryer
  • re-use and recycle whenever possible
  • take shorter showers (3-4 minutes)
  • compost non-meat food and feed them to a worm farm
  • check for good air circulation around the coils at the back of the fridge
  • fix dripping taps
  • install a water efficient showerhead
  • use solar-powered garden lights
  • check that the seals are clean so the fridge door closes properly
  • switch off your second fridge
  • inflate car tires to the maximum recommended pressure for increased fuel efficiency
  • use energy efficient appliances
  • use climate-friendly building design and landscaping
  • car share or use fuel efficient cars
  • install double glazed windows to keep the heat out during the summer and in during the winter
  • Eat more vegetarian meals to cut down on the land required to be cleared for grazing
  • Put lids on saucepans and don’t boil more water than you need – both will use less energy

If anyone has any ideas to add, I would love to hear them.

This is a picture of a rainwater collection tank. You can see the pipe that goes from the gutter down to the tank. Most of the houses outside of the city have their own rainwater tank which helps with the water restrictions.

This is the dual flush on our toilet.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I know I've posted about my work and Friday night drinks before, but this email really makes me laugh.

As you know Friday night drinks will be held here this evening.
Could I please ask that you throw away any old food you have left in the
fridge by 11am today. This is to make space for the beer / wine for tonight's
Many thanks for your help

I can't imagine a US company asking the employees to remove their food so the fridge could be stocked with alcohol. It's really the little differences like this that are the most amusing.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Don't Jump

Last Sunday Sherp actually had 4 hours away from SPie. We determined this is the longest waking time he has had to himself since we arrived in Sydney in May. That would drive some people to drastic measures, so I find it appropriate that he used his free time to climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I'm very glad that he did not jump. In fact, he couldn't jump if he wanted to because he was tethered to the bridge along with 12 other people.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is a very cool, but somewhat expensive excursion. There are stairs on the bridge and you actually walk to the very top while the cars and trains continue to drive underneath and the boats are further below. According to the website, the climb brings you 134 meters above the harbour. That's about 439 feet high. Sherp said the views are great as you might imagine.

Here's a shot of random people on the bridge that I took from one of the ferry boats. You have to look close because they are so small. There are two groups (one is a little spread out) on the very top part of the bridge.

This is the same shot of the entire bridge.

Here's Sherp striking a pose on the catwalk. The boats below are a lot farther down than they look.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Somthing Nice About Work

Since I had a negative comment about work yesterday, I feel I should say something positive today.

1. The people that work for my client are great. They are intelligent and easy going. No one takes anything too serious, but the work gets done.

2. Most days a big box of fresh fruit is delivered for everyone to share. I appreciate this so much more than the free soda at my office in the states.

3. Each month the company buys cakes to celebrate the birthdays in that month. My first two "real" jobs celebrated birthdays, but everyone in the office pitched in to buy the cake.

4. Each Friday an email is sent to everyone with a location for Friday Night Drinks. I don't go, but I think it's nice that everyone is invited.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Busy Work

Today I was asked to determine the following statistics for my team. The questions are from a very senior person who wants to use the stats in a meeting.

1. The number of documents produced
2. The number of pages produced
3. The number of lines of code produced

It took a developer an hour to go through all the procedures and determine the number of lines of code and it took me a half hour to determine the number of pages produced. Multiply that by 4 teams and that is 6 hours of wasted time. And this doesn't include the wasted time spent in emails from the top down until it reached the people that will actually do the work.

These numbers are meaningless. Just because a project has 100* documents and 10,000* lines of code doesn't mean that it's going well or that things are efficient. I would much rather spend my time on something that produces a result that is worthwhile.

*not the actual numbers

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Baby's Baby

Last week SPie received a lovely surprise in the mail - a baby doll and stroller. She is having a great time pushing the stroller around the apartment and taking care of her baby. This morning I came out of the bathroom to find SPie singing Rock-A-Bye-Baby to the baby. It was so cute!

The strollers

A hug for the baby

Monday, September 10, 2007


This is your friendly Public Service Announcement.

If you are travelling to another country, it would be a good idea to learn how to contact emergency services.

I was in a meeting and the man next to me passed out. I was so glad there were other people around because I would have had no idea how to call the paramedics. Plus, I thought he was just falling asleep because it was a boring meeting, so it's really good someone else saw it too!

In Australia 0-0-0 is equivalent to 9-1-1 in the States. If you know an emergency number for another country, feel free to leave it in the comments!

P.S. My co-worker is fine. He passed out due to low blood sugar and didn't even go to the hospital.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tropical Queensland

It's going to sound like complaining, but I'm really not. We had a nice weekend, but it wasn't what I expected. In my mind we were going to have more of a resort vacation than what we actually had. If I remove the unmet expectations, we did have a good weekend.

We went to the state of Queensland which is in Northern Australia and much more tropical than Sydney. We stayed in the outskirts of the city of Cairns (pronounced "cans"). As one of my co-workers told me after I returned, "it's a bit dodgy." It's a beach community, but not a resort community. There are restaurants and shops and it's ok to spend a day, but you don't need to be there too long.

On the positive side, there is a great playground on the Esplanade called Muddy's. It didn't take long to find out why it's called Muddy's. There are water hoses in sand pits in the toddler section. What could be more fun to a 2 year old than getting the dirt and sand wet and making mud pies? Nothing! There are also water sprayers to run through which are great for the hot weather. The locals had their kids dressed in swim suits, but we are tourists and were totally unprepared. SPie got a few bumps and bruises from the zip line - her forehead had a nasty meeting with the pole attached to the seat when she hit the end of the line and her nose was bleeding after she ran into the seat in her excitement to get on it. None of this takes away from the slides, swings, and ropes which she had a great time climbing all over.

On the negative side, the Esplanade area of Cairns doesn't really have a beach. There is a long boardwalk along the water, but there is a good mile or two of muddy, grassy, somewhat swampy area between the boardwalk and where the ocean really starts. I'm guessing this is where the Muddy's playground got it's name. There was a man made public swimming "lagoon" with sand which looked great, but it's not the same as a natural sandy beach.

If I were to do it again, I would stay in Port Douglas or Palm Cove or one of the other local resort destinations.

On Saturday we did a tour that included a ride on a scenic railway up into the Kurunda rainforest village and a skyrail tram back down. The train is lovely and SPie enjoyed it. I was looking forward to the the skyrail tram and it didn't disappoint. I appreciate that the skyrail is a way to view the forest without doing any damage to the area and the views are great. The tram makes two stops on the way down the mountain where you have the option of getting off and walking along boardwalk paths to lookout spots to a waterfall and the forest valley.

If I had more time, I would have also liked to hike one of the Daintree trails. The tour we did was good and I recommend it, but it definitely wasn't an "up close and personal" type of experience.

Between the railway up and the skyrail down, we explored the village of Kurunda. It's a pleasant area with shops, restaurants and a few attractions. The shops seemed to be slightly less expensive or comparable in prices to other areas we've been to. There were more artist shops than we've seen in other areas which is a nice relief from the general tourist wares. There was one clothing and gift store called Serendiva full of bright colorful woven items from Sri Lanka. The fabrics were beautiful. I was "this close" to buying a nice bright beach bag, but I just couldn't justify the price when I already have so many bags - including a few I don't use.

Our day-tour included a visit to three attractions in the village; a butterfly sanctuary, a bird sanctuary and a koala garden. The butterfly sanctuary was great. SPie kept putting her hand out for one to land on her. When two butterflies did land on her she froze, then shook them off. They landed on her head and her shirt and I think that just wasn't what she expected. On her hand would be ok, but on her head wasn't as great.

I'm not a big fan of birds, but I thought the Birdworld was pretty good. If you like birds, it was probably great.

The Koala Garden had some cool crocs and lizards and an adorable baby koala. When babies are young, they sit on their mother's backs. The care taker was telling us this little baby had just started wandering on her own last week. She was pulling at the tree leaves, but wasn't old enough to eat them. She was really adorable, but she stayed hidden in the leaves, so we couldn't get a good picture of her. There were a few kangaroos and wallabies that could be hand fed, but they weren't hungry or active. It was very hot, so they were probably smart to just relax in the shade.

At the hotel we went swimming late in the day on Friday and after sunset on Saturday night. SPie was more into it Saturday night and even jumped underwater - not once, but twice! Both times I was right there to lift her out. Her fearlessness is good, but it also makes me a little nervous at times.

We ended the weekend by visiting the Botanic Gardens in the morning before our flight home. SPie was on the lookout for butterflies everywhere, so the butterfly sanctuary definitely made an impression on her.

One thing we didn't do was an excursion to the Great Barrier Reef. The tours were long and not exactly toddler friendly, so we decided it was best to skip it.

It was a good weekend, but I think this is one area we'll need to revisit when SPie is a little older (or maybe when she's away at summer camp). Maybe by then I'll be in need of a new beach bag too.

Butterfly on SPie's shirt (It was a coincidence that she was wearing a butterfly shirt!)
View from the skyrail.
View down - you can see the cables that the skyrail rides on:
The scenic railway train:

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bush Week

I took my title from a newspaper headline I saw. The President's visit is a big deal here. News stories talk about the 600 + people from the US including Condoleezza Rice (Secretary of State), 5 chefs, 100+ secret service, 5 sniffer dog teams, aids, advisers and the journalists that travel with the President. There was a segment in the news about a military mobile command center in a jet that sits ready to respond in case of an emergency.

The security is amazing and it seems to be only for the US leader. The Australian PM has about 2 security guards when he moves. Someone told me that only the US security is allowed to carry weapons.

The President took a 5 minute cruise across Sydney harbour to Kirribilli house to have dinner with the Australian Prime Minister last night. The boat was flanked with security and before they went, divers checked the waters.

My client's main building overlooks the hotel that the President is staying at. Snipers are clearly visible on the roof of the hotel. They are also visible from some of the helicopters that follow the motorcade. We've all seen snipers on the news and on TV, but one coworker was a little rattled by actually seeing them outside the window from the meeting room. Personally, the most I've seen is the end of a motorcade, the traffic jams and the helicopters in the sky.

So far things have been peaceful. I've heard there is a protest scheduled for Saturday, but it may be a peaceful one. No matter what, we won't be here for it. We are leaving town in about an hour to visit the rainforest.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, September 3, 2007


APEC is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. The 2007 conference is here in Sydney this week; 21 world leaders including President Bush.

The government is expecting violent protests, so there is security everywhere in the CBD. Last week I saw police helicopters everyday on my way home, plus additional police patrols. Big fences and concrete barriers have been put up around some areas - including the convention center near SPie's favorite playground (ugh!!!). Street light poles have been equipped with security cameras and loud speakers and my office building has a security guard for the week. Fortunately, my building isn't right in the middle of it. My client's main building is, but I have no need to go there this week.

I don't follow the news because I find it depressing, but I did hear that some protestors were arrested for spray painting some sort of protest text on some wall. Just now I received this email from my employer:

Planned Protest Activity This Evening
Police have advised that the Stop the War Coalition is planning a protest outside Sydney Town Hall or Railway Square from 5pm today which could possibly move in the direction of Macquarie Street.
If you are planning to leave the CBD around that time, we suggest that you avoid the Sydney Town Hall and Railway Square areas, if possible, and stay alert to any protest activity that could move to the Macquarie Street vicinity.

It's a little frightening! My walk home takes me about 2 blocks from there and that is close enough for me. I usually cut through the subway station, but perhaps I'll take the long scenic walk tonight. Or maybe a cab?

The good news is that Friday has been declared a holiday to limit the number of people in the CBD area. I've also taken Thursday off, so we'll have a nice long weekend. Out of town.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lunar Eclipse

There was a lunar eclipse last night. We tried to take pictures from our balcony, but they didn't come out. This article has a good shot.

Was there an eclipse where you are? I have no idea if this was only visible in the southern hemisphere or if everyone could see it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Water Cooler Conversation

I've never worked at a place where the water cooler conversation revolves around the best way to shoot various animals and how the animal reacts. This isn't for hunting, they are talking about shooting farm animals for food.

Friday, August 24, 2007


We had rented a car for our first weekend away and the return process turned out to be a bit of a hassle. The rental place closes in the early afternoon on Sunday. If you don’t have the car back by the time the office closes, you have to leave the car in the adjacent parking garage and pay the garage fees. We also forgot about refuelling, so we were hit with a refuelling fee. Long and short, we paid about an extra day of rental between the fuel fee and the garage charge.

To avoid all of this, we decided to join a car share called GoGet. We pay a monthly membership fee and we have access to a number of cars throughout the city. When we need a car we go online or call into an automated system and reserve it. We are charged by the hour and by the km for the time we use the car. If we need the car for a full day, we pay a flat day rate which includes 150 kms free. Overnight hours are free, so if we take the car for the weekend, we pay two day rates and we’re done. Gas cards are included with the car, so we don’t pay for fuel and each car has it's own dedicated parking space.

The cost might be about the same or slightly less than a car rental, but it’s so easy to use that it’s worth it. Here’s a picture of our little GoGet car…

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Queen's English?

Australians definitely speak English, but they’ve added their own touch. They like to shorten words and add "ie" and "o" to the end. Here are some words we’ve heard people use that we don’t use at home.

capsicum = pepper
lead = power cord
dodgy = not up to par… A dodgy neighbourhood
stock-take sale = clearance sale
take-away = To go
lay-By = Lay away
heaps = a lot… This phrase is even used on the news
massive = large… Also used on the news. “Massive amounts of rain”
pram = stroller
nappy = diaper
holiday = a vacation day… “vacation day” is not used here
on annual leave = also a vacation day
public holiday = what we would call a holiday in the US
have a think on it = think about it
give it a go = try it
how ya goin = how ya doin
good on you = good for you
have a whinge = complain/whine
check your diary = check your schedule
diarised = scheduled
petrol = gas for your car
lift = elevator
pegs = clothespins
cossie = a swimsuit
sunnies = sunglasses
zed = the letter Z
toilet = restroom…I asked someone where the restroom was and they had no idea what I was talking about. I believe they thought I wanted to lie down.
mate = pal, buddy…I’ve heard Mom’s call their children mate, co-workers call each other mate, interviewers call their subjects mate… it’s everywhere
g’day = yup, they really do say it
bloke = see mate, but bloke is a little less friendly and is usually used between men
cv = resume…short for curriculum vitae which is latin for course of life
scratchie = lottery scratch ticket
breakkie = breakfast
unie = university
doco = document
rego = registration
Jono = short nick-name for someone named Jonothan
chocos = box of chocolates
avo = avocado
Salvos = Salvation Army
brickie = a mason
truckie = truck driver
bikie = motorcycle driver
robes = closets
ensuite = a bathroom off a bedroom

They also don't repeat numbers. If someone were to give you the number "998555", they would say "double nine eight triple five".

While we’re talking about language, here are a few SPie translations.
peanut butter = any bread-like product
piecake = any dessert
milk = any liquid beverage
gum boots = rain boots. This is actually an Australian term she picked up on tv

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Oakvale Farm

The same day we did the Tomaree Head walk, we spent the morning at an animal farm called Oakvale Farm. This was our first experience at hand feeding kangaroos and it was great. We've been to a few other places where you can pet koalas and feed kangaroos, but so far Oakvale has been the best experience. The place was clean and well run and had swings and things for the kids. We have some great pictures of SPie with the animals. I’ll be sending an email out with the link to the snapfish album with the pictures (sorry, we’ve decided not to post pictures of SPie on the blog).

At certain times each day, the farm provides baby bottles of milk for the kids to feed the baby animals. SPie wasn’t into that. Every time she got hold of a bottle she tried to drink it herself!

Most animals roamed around freely which was great for SPie. She loved following the goats around. She was also fascinated by the kangaroo tails. She kept picking them up! Fortunately these were all mild mannered kangaroos and they didn’t seem to mind. Even when she stepped on the tails, the kangaroos didn’t seem to care. I was impressed that she got right in there with animals and wasn't afraid of them.

Although, she wasn't entirely happy with the cow. SAHF lifted her up so she could see the big cow and give it a pat. SPie had fun tickling it behind the ear, but when she stopped tickling, the cow rubbed it’s head up against her to ask for more. The push was a little too much for her liking. After that she was happy to look at the cow from a distance, but didn't want to be too close.

If you are ever in the Salt Ash area, I highly recommend checking it out!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Can't We All Get Along?

On our trip to Newcastle, we stopped in the town of Stockton, which is right across the water from Newcastle, and took a ferry to the city. On the ferry back to our car, some guy started hassling SAHF about being American. He was saying random things like “Americans go home” and “We don’t want Americans in Australia.” I'm not really sure what else he had to say since I was fairly oblivious to the whole thing. SAHF did his best, "you talking to me?" and the guy settled down and that was the end of it. However, it was an unfortunate incident in an otherwise really great weekend.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Tilligery and Tomaree

Day 2 we started towards Tomaree National Park in Port Stephens to hike up Tomaree Head. On the way we saw an interesting looking flight of stairs built into the side of a hill called Tilligery Lookout. Curiosity got the best of me and we stopped for a walk up. When we reached the top there were a few trails leading in different directions, but it wasn't a great lookout.

I read somewhere that Tilligery means “pelican”. We didn't see any pelicans at (or from) the lookout, but we did meet a few when we stopped for lunch. We ate outside at a beach at Lemon Tree Passage and within minutes of setting the food down we were surrounded by 4 - 5 pelicans. Pelicans are big birds. It was a little creepy, so we didn't stay too long.

Finally we made it to Tomaree and did the walk up Tomaree Head. There were great views of Port Stephens and some outlying wildlife preserve islands. We could also see down to Zenith beach at the bottom and saw dolphins swimming! Half way down the hill, we took a detour to check out some World War II gun emplacements. One of the emplacements had a bunk area attached to it where the soldiers stayed between lookouts.

After the hike down we went to Zenith Beach to have a look. By the time we got there the dolphins were gone, but SPie had fun playing in the sand and chasing the water off the beach back out to sea.

Some of the pictures in the random flicker set at the top of the blog are from Tomaree and Tilligery Lookout, so I haven't added pictures to this post.

Our First Weekend Away

The trip to see the Pasha Bulker was a weekend event that included animals, hiking and our first try at driving on the “wrong side” of the road.

Friday night we rented a car and SAHF drove us up to Anna Bay which is about 3 hours North of Sydney. I left work a little early, but we still got stuck in gridlock trying to cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge. After a stop for dinner and several phone calls to the farm manager for directions (I had left the directions sitting on my desk at work), we made it to our destination in about 5 hours. SAHF did well driving even with my helpful “look out!” and “slow down!” interjections.

It a funny thing… we’ve noticed that when driving, we say left when we mean right and vice-versa. Also, the wind shield wiper control is on the opposite side. We keep turning on the wipers when we mean to turn on the directional. Another thing that was confusing me was the speed limit signs. On the highway the sign says “100” which I immediately think of as 100 mph, but it's really 100 km/h. 100 km/hour is only about 62 mph.

We stayed at a farmstay called Sahara Trails. This is a working horse farm with a few self contained units and one dorm/backpacker type of room. In our unit, we had two bedrooms (one queen bed, and one with bunk beds), a living room, a kitchen area, a full bathroom and a front porch. Outside our door was a community picnic area with a grill and beyond that was a horse paddock. I thought it was great, but it’s definitely rustic and not where you want to go if you are looking for luxury.

Due to the flooding the week before, the paddock looked more like a lake. I woke up early the first morning as the sun was coming up and was greeted with a peaceful scene of horses ambling along the fence of the paddock. I tried to get a picture of it, but it came out too dark. I’ve posted it below anyway.

Sahara Trails is run by a very nice family. They told us about a great hike at Tomaree National Park in Port Stephens. More about that tomorrow!

The first set of stairs was our unit - the one at the end of my shadow.

A horse at dawn. It's bending down eating something on the ground.
You'll just have to believe me that it was a great scene to wake up to!

One of the farm dogs that SPie LOVED:

Friday, August 17, 2007


The weekend of June 8th a 40,000 tonne ship ran aground on Nobby's Beach, a public beach about 2 hours north of Sydney in the city of Newcastle. This was the story of the hour for weeks. There is a great article on wikipedia that describes how it all unfolded. Thousands of people went to Newcastle to check out the sight… and we were 3 of them!

It was amazing to see. The ship is absolutely huge and it was sitting right there on the beach. I mean RIGHT THERE... it was ridiculous how close it was to the shore. The side of the ship that faced the beach was fairly protected from the waves, but the other side was taking a beating.

After a couple of attempts, rescue crews were able to move the ship out to sea again, but when we visited no one knew if it would be possible. Many people expected the ship to be part of the permanent landscape. That would have been horrible; it would have completely ruined a great looking beach!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Extreme Weather

When you think "Australia", what do you think of? Maybe kangaroos? Koalas? The Great Barrier Reef? Whatever it is, I would guess the image includes sunshine; yes? Me too!

Well, when we arrived in May, Sydney was in the last official month of autumn and the weather was perfect. The sun was shining and the days were in the high 60’s. As we headed into June the air turned a bit cooler, but the sun was still beaming. Then things changed.

It started to rain sometime in early June and it's still raining! According to my co-workers, this is one of the coldest winters anyone remembers. If you ask them when the rain will end, they don't know because they haven't had weather like this before. There was even frost! At 3.7°C (about 39°F), July 17th was the coldest day recorded in Sydney in 21 years!

Most of the country has been in a multi-year drought, so I really shouldn't be complaining. This is winter and we are from New England. Watching rain fall is always easier than shovelling 3 feet of snow. Plus, even though playground time has been limited, this has been a great opportunity to teach SPie to sing "rain rain go away".

On the positive side, August seems to be improving a bit. We've had at least one good day each weekend and some beautiful weekdays. This week there were a few days that rained for just half the day. This is good, but not ideal since everything is still wet. SPie had a quick swim in a big puddle during an outing on Wednesday. Fortunately Dad had her in a long raincoat, so only half the outfit needed to be changed.

I'm hoping August showers bring clear skies along with September flowers!

Monday, August 13, 2007

G'Day Mate!

Here we are 3 1/2 months into our 8 month stay in Sydney and I'm already forgetting some of things that we did when we arrived! So, Piecake is here for us to save and share our trip.

The name comes from SPie. It's what she calls dessert and she made it up all on her own. It's generally said in 3's while jumping up and down. If that doesn't work, she'll throw a please on the end. "Piecake, piecake, piecake? Piecake PEAS!" It's a little dramatic but very cute.

As you may have noticed, I'm trying to be vague about our names and exact locations. This is a public space and not everyone is nice, etc, etc. So, if you are friend or family, please try not to leave comments with our names or any specifics; but, please do leave comments so we know you stopped by!

In the very near future, I'm hoping to figure out how to do this blog thing and start regularly posting about our excursions. I've received a few emails with generic questions about Australia and Sydney, so I'll try to post some of that information too and we'll add whatever else we think of.

Please stay tuned and enjoy!