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Australian Journal - December 2003 - January 2004

November 28-December 16, 2003 - Countdown til Christmas:As is usual at Christmas time, the days are getting shorter, and the to-do list grows longer. Decorating is progressing, and the girls are into their last two weeks of school. Unfortunately, both girls are still under the weather. Clara stayed home with Sandy on Tuesday, while Lucy stayed home with Tim on Thursday, while Sandy went off to her last quilt group meeting for the year. Then, both girls stayed home on Friday.

We've added a few more pictures - here is Clara practicing clarinet; here, here and here are some sunset pictures from the balcony of our new house.

On the political front, the Labor Party has surprised people and decided to go for the "higher risk" candidate, Mark Latham, rather than the popular choice, Kim Beazley. The vote was close, 47 to 45, and it remains to be seen if the party can put their differences behind them and pull together in the next election, which is likely to be called early next year by the government. Latham is younger and has a reputation as a larrikin; he's promised to reform himself.

Friday night, Clara went to a birthday party for Sarah, a new girl in her class who just arrived from England. This party was at the SnowDome, which bills itself as "the world's first indoor "real snow" ski, skate & toboggan centre." It's major component is a spiral hill which is used as a toboggan course. There is also a smaller straight slope for younger kids on "tiny tubes." Clara and her friends had a good time - the tobogganing was followed by food and a disco / limbo dance. No injuries (although a couple close calls on the hill) until it was time to leave, when Clara tumbled down the stairs, and ended up well-bruised, but nothing broken!

Saturday saw yet another birthday party, this one for Nikola in Lucy's class. We also finished decorating the tree, and Sandy finally got to see her quilted tree skirt (started 10 years ago, and just finished a few months ago) put to use for the first time. Here's a picture of Clara and Lucy decorating the tree, while here's a picture of the final result (at night). Sunday we stayed around the house. Tim and the girls practiced a little tennis and bike riding - Lucy has just about got the hang of two wheels. Then, corn on the cob for dinner led to the next great excitement - a loose tooth for Lucy, which Tim managed to knock out while helping Lucy brush her teeth before bed. Now she has a two-tooth gap in her smile, and is going to be avoiding apples and corn for awhile! This year whenever we hear "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth," we'll be thinking of Lucy.

Monday was the annual "Red and Green" day for the Year 1 girls. They got to wear red and green clothes instead of the school uniform, and then had to bring something red and green for a shared lunch. Lucy was assigned to bring fruit, so she chose cherries and kiwis. Tuesday was Clara's turn to wear casual clothes, and to bring a favorite stuffed animal for a Year 4 "Teddy Bear" picnic. The girls also made costumes for their animals, and then the class voted for "most creative outfit." Clara's beloved dog, Spunky, came in second place with his hula skirt and shirt made of colored construction paper and his bright beaded "lei."

Wednesday, Lucy and Sandy were further under the weather, so they stayed home. However, Lucy stated in no uncertain terms that "There's no way I'm going to stay home tomorrow!" So, everyone made it to the last day of school - Sandy attended the last assembly of the year, where Clara played a variety of Christmas songs with the string orchestra. Tim unfortunately had a long-standing doctor's appointment and couldn't make it. Then, after the girls got out at noon, it was first off to an "end of year" party for the Year 4 girls and their Moms at the house of Miranda, followed by a going-away party for Holly, from Lucy's class, who is moving to India with her family. Along those lines, Sandy recently read the book Cuba Diaries, which talked about the challenges and adventure of a family of expats (European husband and American wife) living in Castro's Cuba. It made her very thankful that we're living in Oz.

The last few post-school days have been fairly quiet, with the girls staying at home, doing some more Christmas preparations, and generally trying to recover from the year. Both girls seem better, but Sandy has caught whatever they had - we're still hoping for a 100% healthy Christmas. Clara and Lucy spent most of Sunday morning working together on clarinet and piano. They worked through Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star note by note from Lucy's piano score, and transposed it for clarinet, then wrote it out for Clara. They then realized that once they had transposed this song, they knew how to transpose most of the notes in the other songs they were interested in as well. They then expanded their orchestra, and had stuffed animals "playing" maracas, rain pipes, etc. Here, here and here are pictures of Clara and Lucy hard at work transposing.

Although school is out for the year, Wilderness has a "Spinoff" week, where the girls can spend the week (or parts thereof) doing various activities. Clara decided to do two "tracks" in the afternoons. One is "Guides" which is the Australian equivalent of Girl Scouts; the other is Christmas Crafts. Unfortunately, the weather is projected to be in the high 30s (close to 100 F) all week - so they won't be able to do all the outdoor things which one would expect in the Guides! Lucy is only going for three afternoons; the programs available in her age group are more limited, and generally craft-related.

One of our (Sandy's and Tim's) favorite card games is "Hand and Foot" - a cross between several other games, most closely related to Canasta. We've been waiting for Clara and Lucy to be old enough to learn and enjoy it. We decided this Christmas summer would be a good time (when it's over 100 outside, you need indoor activities!), and began teaching the girls this week. They seem to have taken to it with a passion, and enjoy it as much as we do.

We've added a couple more pictures related to the new house. Here's a picture of the fish pond at the new house, with three of the resident goldfish visible. Here's a picture of the "formal" living room, Christmas tree included.

December 17, 2003 - January 18, 2004 - Christmas and New Zealand: Another long break for Christmas - and a trip to New Zealand!

Clara and Lucy enjoyed SpinOff during the week before Christmas, in spite of the temperatures, and Clara thinks she might give the Guides a go. Christmas came early (doesn't it always!), with extra stuff to get done in preparing for the trip to New Zealand - especially as we were flying for a change, and couldn't just throw stuff into the Tribute without worrying (much) about space or weight.

Right before Christmas we had some true tropical weather--very humid, hot, and heavy rains. But that didn't alter the neighborhood plans for a "neighborhood watch" gathering at one of the nearby homes. There was a good turnout, and we all gathered on the veranda for a nice visit, and we met more of our neighbors. Then on Christmas Eve, we went to visit friends who live at the beach and had a lovely festive dinner with them and a long playtime on the beach for the girls. Sandy tried a new chocolate cake recipe with whipped cream and fresh raspberries for dessert. Even though the cake was a bit overbaked, everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Christmas Day was a quiet day for us. We leisurely opened gifts in the morning and then had a small "Christmas lunch" as the Aussies would say. Clara and Lucy thoroughly enjoyed setting the table in the dining room with table cloth, Christmas napkins and of course, Christmas crackers for everyone to pop after the meal. After lunch, it was on to packing suitcases for our trip to New Zealand. The taxi picked us up at 8:00 am on the morning of Boxing Day (Dec 26), and we were off to New Zealand. As with our other trips, Tim is documenting our adventures in New Zealand on a separate page. Since Tim had to go right back to work the morning after we returned (at 11 pm), and there are lots of post-Christmas and post-trip chores to get caught up on - and with just over 900 pictures taken on the trip - it will take a while for us to complete the trip pages; so far, we've only made it through the first three days of the trip! Here's where it will be, in the usual format: one page for the text, and another for the pictures.

We arrived back in Adelaide a bit surprised to find such pleasant cool temperatures (70s)! Sandy started working through the mountains of laundry and mail, and Clara and Lucy were content to play in the yard and with toys they hadn't seen in weeks. They also enjoyed helping Sandy try out her new bread machine, and Clara may become the bread baker in the family. Friday afternoon Sandy and the girls got in the car to go the supermarket for a few groceries, but when Sandy turned the key, it wouldn't start. It behaved like a dead battery. The Holden roadside assistance truck came and got it started for her, and she took it straight to the mechanic's. The fan apparently had not been shutting off and had drained the battery. So Tim ended up getting a few groceries for us so that we would be ready for Clara's friend, Nicole, to come spend the night with us. She then joined us the next morning for the first swimming lesson of the season for Clara and Lucy at the beautiful Burnside swimming pool. The girls enjoyed their lessons, but after more than 2 km of laps, Clara was looking a bit tired (although she strongly denied it!) After taking Nicole home, we came back to start working on the journal and taking down the Christmas tree.

We've been reading the reports of all the Mars-related events with great interest - the girls have been spending time on NASA's Mars site - between the apparently-lost Beagle 2, the Spirit already on the surface and ready to roll, and it's sibling preparing to touch (or should we say bounce) down next week - plus President Bush's announcement of a reinvigorated space program, we've been having a real bout of astronaut fever around the house! On a more local note, January 15 marked the opening of the long-awaited (first proposed in 1907) rail line between Adelaide and Darwin. The line has run Adelaide to Alice Springs for years (that's the line we followed on our Ghan journey) but the remaining northern half has been hanging fire for years. The first train was a freight train; passenger service will commence next month - from what we've heard, the response has been tremendous, with lots of bookings.

January 19-24, 2004 - More New Zealand: The girls have been enjoying their time at home, with swimming lessons each day this week. Both are doing well. We've managed to get the Christmas tree and decorations put away, and both girls have had more visits with friends. Katerina came to visit Clara, and, shortly thereafter, there was a knock on the door and Rebecca and Nicole were there - it's great for the girls to live so close to school and there friends that they can now walk to each others house. Friday was the first birthday party of the new year, with Lucy following in Clara's footsteps to the Snowdome for a party for Harriet from her class at Wilderness. Lucy is anxious for next week to arrive, since she'll be having a friend over for her first real sleepover. And we've added some more text and pictures to the New Zealand trip pages.

January 25-29, 2004 - Australia Day Weekend and still more New Zealand: Saturday was a day of swimming lessons and chores around the house (Tim is still trying to get caught up on the New Zealand trip, and has barely made it to the South Island in his travelogue.) Sunday we had our former neighbors and friends, Shane and Katrina, over for lunch out on the picnic table, along with their children William and Francesca - the kids all had a good time riding bikes, playing tennis (or trying to), etc. Since they are from New Zealand, it was fun sharing our impressions of their home country with them. Sunday night there was a big fireworks display (the biggest and best we've seen in Oz) over at (we think) Bonython Park - we didn't go, we just watched from our balcony! Monday, it was a relatively early start up to the Adelaide Hills to the house of the parents of friends, Anj and Pete (parents of Katarina and Zofia) for swimming and another delicious lunch. We had a lovely visit, and had to disappoint the girls and come home to catch up on other odd jobs before they could get in a second swim.

Tuesday was the day Lucy (and Clara) had been waiting for - it was Lucy's first sleepover - she had school friend Emma Rose (two Roses!) over for the night (and Clara got to go to Nicole's for a sleepover.) All had a good time. Lucy and Emma played tennis, then starting playing Uno with Sandy (it was the Annual General Meeting for Tim's whisky society, so he was out for the evening) - they eventually ganged up and trounced her, enjoying it greatly. Bed wasn't a problem (Lucy fell asleep immediately; Emma wanted to call home and say goodnight to her Mom and Dad, then fell asleep as well.) When Tim left the house in the morning, the girls had dragged their sleeping bags from the play room into Lucy's room, and Lucy was reading a story to Emma. Emma went home mid-morning, but Clara didn't get home until nearly dinner time. While waiting for Clara, Sandy and Lucy played two games of Mancala - and Sandy won both (very unusual!) - so Lucy must have been tired (and she was quite grumpy over the losses as well.) Thursday was another day of visiting - this time Lucy went to Emma's house (not Emma Rose - this is a different Emma - like Lucy, Emma is a relatively common name in Oz.) They had a good time, baking Anzac cookies, playing in the sprinkler, etc. Clara stayed with Sandy, and had an afternoon nap to catch up on a couple short nights. Then in the evening, both girls wanted another game of Hand and Foot. Just a few days left until school starts...

And we've added a bit more to the New Zealand pages - it's been slow going.

January 30 - February 6, 2004 - New Zealand Redux: The girls enjoyed their last few days at home. Shanna came to visit Clara on Friday. Saturday was swimming lessons, followed by a matinee performance of Mama Mia, the musical based on the songs of Abba. The girls received a mini-HiFi system for their playroom for Christmas, along with a couple CDs - including an Abba CD, with Karaoke (i.e., music only, no singing, so you can sign along) version. This is their favorite CD, so they know a lot of the songs pretty well. The musical was very well done, and the girls really enjoyed the song and dance numbers, and a lot of the physical comedy, although a lot of the jokes went over their heads (especially the copious 70s references). They were singing and humming along, and bouncing in their seats. The grand finale turned the colored lights on the audience, and showed a lot of people dancing along - including some apparently in their 70s and 8os - so it really was a musical for all ages! It also seemed very Australian to us - and not just the accents, but some of the humour, both verbal and physical - so we'd be interested to see an American version to see how different it really is.

Out where Tim works, flocks of galahs (medium-large pink and grey parrots), grass parrots (small bright green parrots) and little correllas (medium large white cockatoos) are common - and loud. This past week, he noticed a phenomena he has seen before - occasionally, the correllas will all flock to one large gum tree, where they will space themselves out to cover the whole tree, sitting near the ends of branches - from a distance, the tree will then look like a huge flowering tree, covered with large white blossoms - it's an impressive sight, and one we hope to get a photo of someday!

The girls have really gotten into Hand and Foot, and we finished our last pre-school game tonight. Going into the final round, Sandy was far in the lead, and Clara we trailing the rear by a lot. However, Clara really fought back from last place in the final round, and held Sandy down to very few points, allowing Lucy to slip by and claim her first Hand and Foot victory, to her great excitement. They girls have really mastered the game, and need no help from Tim and Sandy to play very well. We also discovered a batch of spots on Lucy - so we're waiting to see if they are chicken pox or something else. Tim suggested circling all the existing spots with a marker to make sure we knew if more appeared in the night, but the girls (all three!) vetoed that idea...

As in the US, this is shaping up to be an election year down under, and the two main candidates are out pressing the flesh. In particular, Mark Latham, the new Labour leader, has managed to get his party somewhat united behind him, and is currently doing a bus tour of the New South Wales coastal regions in an attempt to get the rural regions behind him (he has a reputation as a Sydney East-sider.) He also made the first trip to Tassie to visit the Styx Valley region and see first-hand what the wood-chipping industry is doing to the magnificent old growth forests (home of the tallest flowering trees in the world - see here and here for a couple pictures we took while there two years ago.) In the meantime, John Howard has also been on the campaign trails - and spending much of his time like Tony Blair and George Bush, defending his decision on Iraq.

The girls had a good first day back at school, and came home really chuffed, as the Aussies might say (it means pleased / excited / happy). Dinnertime was spent discussing just how many extracurricular activities the girls wanted to do (more than Tim and Sandy thought they could support!) This was followed by some tennis practice, where the girls kept Tim running - looks like we'll have to keep up the tennis lessons to take advantage of our backyard tennis court while we can! The rest of the week also went well, although the weather has changed from the coldest January since 1992 (i.e., highs in the low-mid 80s) to a more typical February (high 30s, heading towards 40 for Sunday - that translates to 106 F.)

And of course a few more pictures and some new text have gone up on the New Zealand pages.

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