Sunday, February 14, 2010

Acca Dacca Back-ta-back-a

Not really sure how to spell the title. It's Aussie-speak for when the radio DJ plays two AC DC songs in a row. Acca Dacca (sp?) is common slang for AC DC, and they've been in concert here in Melbourne so we've heard it used quite a lot. We're learning all kinds of Australian slang....bathing suits are bathers, Aussie-rules football is footie. Chili-bin is a New Zealand term for a cooler. (I think it would make a great band name, btw, The Chilibins.) I'm sure we sound like big dorks trying to work some of these terms into conversation with our blatently American accents, but there you go.

I'm used to being a dork, having spent a great deal of my life convinced that's what I was. Heidi was always the cool one. She was the leader, the one I looked up to most when we were kids. We're close in age, only 16 months apart. That made us pretty competitive, and as a survival strategy Mom encouraged us to persue different interests. Heidi was the dancer, and I was the swimmer. Heidi was the cute one, the boy magnet, and I was...well....not. I remember once when we were in high school in Guantanamo Bay, one of my friends told me about an assignment that had been given to the Junior year English class. They were to write about the person they respected most. My friend said Heidi wrote about me. I couldn't imagine what she'd found say.

We haven't spent two weeks in the same house since Christmas of 1985, when I came home to Seattle from Honolulu for Christmas break. That week was a blur of getting dressed up and driving in the snow to different dance clubs. We played pretty hard. Honestly, we've played pretty hard this week too. Heidi still likes a party, and I've been happy to go along, but it's felt like daily life, not like a flashback to our wild youth. We've gotten on much better than I anticipated. I guess age does have its benefits.

When Heidi comes home to Seattle, it's always a big dramatic event. She's a flash of neon running crossways to our misty Seattle grey. Now that I see her real life, though, she makes more sense to me. The amount of energy she throws at life, her caring, her generosity, her discipline, is astonishing. She and Kevin together are providng the platform from which their oldest son is developing his national and international swimming goals. That means one of them gets up at 4am to take him to practice, then Heidi picks him and 4 other swimmers up at 7:30 to take them to school. Then she drops her younger son off at school. Then she goes to work. She's second in command for a company that has offices in 16 cities in Australia and New Zealand, and has 44 people working in her Melbourne office alone. Her focus is strategic development and HR, and the work I've seen her do this week is brilliant. I've heard her end of several conference calls, and she's been been clear, kind, and confident; all the things you'd want in a good leader.

After working all day, she knocks off at 6ish, goes for a run, then picks the swimmers back up at 7 from their afternoon work-out. That's the Monday through Friday routine. Weekends are more relaxed, though Swimmer Boy has a three hour workout Saturday morning and usually finds some reason to swim on Sundays as well. He's golden, handsome, and awsomely, incredibly driven. His younger brother is wrapped in the stormclouds that 16 year olds find for themselves, but has a sly blue-eyed grin that speaks well for his future.

The only time Heidi and I have come close to an arguement was standing in the butcher shop. Kent asked us to buy some thin-sliced steaks to saute. Usually what we get at home is from the cheapest cut, sliced very thin to disguise how tough it is. The only thin sliced beef they had was labeled weiner schnitzel, and was $20/kg. That was twice as much as any of the other steaks, and Heidi's like, "Give me a kilo." I'm freaking, "Wait, that's too expensive", and she's like, "Get over it. That's how we do things here." So we bought 1.5 kg of this weiner schnitzel and Kent sauted it in garlic and onions and a little red wine and it was lovely. That's how she works. She and Kevin have more money than they have time. It seems extravagant, from my more tightly-budgeted perspective, but having seen a little of her reality, I understand better.

Yesterday Kevin's brothers came over with their families for an afternoon of fun and food. Kevin's older brother's wife is from Thailand, and they'd been to the market on Friday to get stuff to make dinner. They brought chicken, beef, shrimp, vegies, and sauces and spices for seven different Thai dishes. We had pud thai, yellow curry vegetables, cashew chicken, spicy beef salad, thom yum soup, way more food than we could eat. I've heard so much over the years about all of Kevin's family, so it was beautiful to finally attach faces to the names. We ate, we swam, and we watched cricket, which is a sport I'm only beginning to sort of understand.

Seeing them yesterday afternoon, it was clear that Heidi's Australian family loves her. She's part of the fabric here, and while I miss having her nearby, I understand better why she chooses this life. It might feel weird to sort through these ideas on a blog, but there are people who I want to see this, to help me process. My sister is one of the most powerful, complicated figures in my life, and its been too long since we've been this close. I love you, Heidi, and I'm in awe of what you're doing here. As usual, you are the cool one.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Aussie Rules Football

Here we are, over half way through the trip. Good times! On Sunday we went to Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral. It's an impressive, no, imposing place. The architecture is Gothic Revival, and while you all know I like me some goth, this place makes Blessed Sacrament look like a bright and airy space. (Well, it is for a Gothic church, but that's another discussion). The exterior is black stone with tan spires and roof. Don't think I've ever seen a black stone church before. The interior is all narrow nave, high arches, dark wood and gilding. It's beautiful but somber.

The acoustic was wonderful, although whenever I opened my mouth to sing Ruby elbowed me and told me to be quiet. Wow, I'm looking forward to adolescence. We went to the 9:30 Mass so that we could get to Max's swim meet, and there was only a cantor rather than a whole choir. He had a beautiful voice, although it was a bit of a disconnect to hear him go from singing perfect round vowels and diction to announcing the hymns with a flat vowel Aussie twang. They must have a pretty good choir, though. Their bulletin listed the music for all the Masses, and the later Masses used Mass parts by Victoria and a closing piece by Couperin. In my experience, you don't sing Couperin unless you know what you're doing. We won't likely make it back to Mass there next Sunday, although it would be cool to hear the choir.

Monday's big event was the Super Bowl. It was broadcast live at 10am. We made a big pot of chili w/ guacamole, shredded cheese and cornbread (Yum, Heidi!) for lunch, which we ate during the 2nd half. My brother-in-law takes Super Bowl Monday off from work every year, and he spent the whole game sending text messages to one of the kids one the swim team, keeping him updated on the score while he was in school. According to my sister, if you asked 10 people on the streets of Melbourne if they knew what the Super Bowl was, fewer than 5 would know, which makes Kevin and young Harry the exceptions, not the rule. Most of us were honorary New Orleans fans, so we liked the outcome. We missed the commercials, though. They didn't broadcast the US commercials, so instead we watched quite a few bits advertising life insurance, then long stretches showing highlights of previously played games accompanied by music. You guys sure got to watch a lot of commercials, especially towards the end of the game. Sorry we missed them!

Tuesday we practiced with the bus system, riding the 301 into town to the Fitzroy district. It was fun to poke around in the little shops and restaurants. Got some great pictures, then spent the afternoon by the pool at Chez Halson. Wednesday we got bolder and went by bus and tram to the Melbourne Zoo. It's one of the oldest zoos in the world. It's set up with naturalistic exhibits, but the emphasis is on creatures from the southern hemisphere. My son needs to write an article for his class newspaper as homework while he's here. He hasn't come up with anything yet, and I kept suggesting potential topics as we went along. Like, how about the Philippine water crocodile that's an endangered species, and the Melbourne Zoo is part of an international effort to preserve the species. Maybe the Woodland Park Zoo is part of the same effort, which would give the story a local angle. He didn't like that one.

Then I read aloud the sign by the pen holding Mary the wombat, who was rescued from the fires that burned throughout the states of Victoria and New South Wales this time last year. That topic was also a nonstarter for the school paper, although we've heard a lot about the fires since we've been here. Last Sunday was the one-year anniversary of Black Saturday, when 173 people died in the fires. The sermon at church last Sunday was in part a commemoration of Black Saturday, and we've heard mention of the fires on news stories over the last few days. You can really feel the strength of the shared group memories. Heidi says they only thing that affected them was that they could see ash raining down into their yard, which is probably closer than I'd want them to be to something that horrible.

Both of our tourist days have been somewhat limited by the 35C temperatures. (XC x 2 + 30 = YF; X = the math). We've been saved by the pool here at Chez Halson. Last night the kids went for a swim after dinner, practicing with their boogie boards for the beach today. The grown-ups sat by the pool sipping wine and watching the fruit bats fly over the backyard. Every night they fly over on their way to the Botanical Garden in Kew. Not a bad way to live....

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Aloha from Melbourne

We've been here two days now. My sister and her husband have been so gracious. Their home is lovely. Heidi must have memorized the Martha Stewart chapter on how to welcome guests. She's done many many Good Things. There were thick robes and slippers and little samples of shampoos and lotions in our room when we got here. The whole house is so open and clean; lots of windows, lots of light.

They live down a country lane, one with large and lovely homes all around. It reminds me of New England, the suburbs around Boston where Kent's Aunt Caroline & Uncle Dave live. The view from her back yard suggests Italy...or at least pictures I've seen of Italy. They're surrounded by hills that roll down to the Yarra River, with stucco homes settled on their flanks. It's very much what I'd imagine Tuscany to look like, except for the gum trees and eucalyptus.

The yard itself is huge. Green grass flows down hill to a triangle point, lined with trees along both sides. Heidi has a vegie bed that's bigger than my front yard. They say they lost a number of trees and shrubs to last summer's drought, and she had to completely plow under the vegie bed because there was no water to spare for it. It's raining more regularly this year, and Kevin says their reservoir levels are up over 35%. The grassy areas along the highways are still brown, but their yard and the hills around them are generously green.

Last night we sat outside and had dinner by the pool. The cicadas were loud, which Heidi says means it's going to be a warm day today. They don't come out when it's cool. We've seen lorakeets and cockateils and kookaburras, and yesterday morning we hiked down toward the river to see the kangaroos. Even more unusual for us Northwesterners, in the afternoon we walked through downtown Melbourne to see AC-DC Lane and Batman Avenue. Go figure.

This morning we'll go to Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral. My nephew has a swim meet, so we'll go see him swim this afternoon. Apparently the meet's being held in a complex that has both indoor and outdoor pools, and there's a wave pool that we'll all be able to swim in when we're not actually cheering on the Surrey Park swimmers. This is where I wanted to paste in a couple paragraphs written by the kids describing their experiences so far. Funny, I can't get them to sit down and write anything. They've been too busy. Maybe later today.....