Friday, January 27, 2012

Excursioner Sundays

Ever walk away from a deal feeling like you just uncovered Hatchesphuts tomb, or fountain of youth? I love coming home with a full bag of clothes for only $50, or delicious meal for under $30. This Sunday, Paul and I struck the mother of all deals in Sydney. Every Sunday, unlimited public transport is only $2.50 for parents and free for kids. For FIVE dollars you can roam around the entire city by bus, ferry, or train. THAT is quite a deal.  So this past Sunday, Ana and Nolan embarked on their first ferry trip across Sydney harbor. 

When Ana saw a huge cruise ship parked at circular Quay she remarked, "Mom! Those people are celebrating. I want to celebrate too!"  With that in mind we made our way through the botanical gardens, past the Fernery and bamboo trail towards The New South Wales art Gallery. After spending an hour at the art gallery, we were ready for a rest in Hyde park. I should have known better as "rest" is not yet in Nolan's vocabulary. He spent the better part of an hour chasing the pigeons around the park and splashing in the fountain.  Hyde park is near Paul's Ausgrid office and he frequents it for lunch.  I'm glad to finally see what part of his working day is like.

After a quick bite from a sandwich stand, we hopped on the nearest train back to circular quay and caught the Mosman ferry back home. The entire trip took four hours and cost a grand total of $15.00. The botanical gardens and art museum were both free. If I had been touring the city, I would have included the free walking tour of the opera house nearby (I later discovered there is no free tour of the Opera house, just a very cheap one for kids).  If traveling with kids, I recommend using a double stroller. Ana walked for most of the 3km trip, but still enjoys being pushed around like a princess. After her baths she still wants me to "hold her like a baby", something I'm secretly not ready for her to grow out of yet either. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Art Gallery of NSW

Have I ever mentioned I love art? Surprising since we don't have a huge collection, and hardly any is original. I enjoy the emotion a work of art can unsurface, similar to an old song you hear on the radio or replaying your father's old mixed tape. I spend around an hour a week on art, on pinterest, creating galleries on, or simply collecting images for a screensaver on my computer. With image search tools, virtually any painting is available at your fingertips. If you see a piece of work you like, simply snap a phone photo and send it to's image match database.  In our visit to the NSW's art gallery last week, I may have embarrassed my husband with my enthusiasm. Snapping photos, taking notes, it was better than being in a candy store as a kid. Picasso was the paid exhibit, but since we already have been to his museum in Spain and Germany, we opted for the free tour. Below are some of the more exciting pieces in their collection.

Claude Monet: Port Goulfar, Bell-Ile 1887
Philip Wilson Steer: Ludlow Castle 1898

Vincent Van Gogh, Head of a Peasant 1884.

Edgar Degas, Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot, 1919.
Sir Alfred Gilbert, Comedy and tragedy, 1892.

Edward John Poynter, Helen of Troy 1881.

Giulio Paolini, L'atra figura 1984
Eugene Von Guerard, Milford Sound 1877

Friday, January 20, 2012

Clontarf Reserve by Kayak

Saturday morning I embarked on my first major kayak outing. Anxious to put my mom role down for a few hours, I plotted a course from Quaker hat bay to Balmoral beach, a 3.5km 1.5hr one way trip. The plan was for Paul to meet me at Balmoral and resume control of the craft with Ana in tow. The weather was mostly cooperative, with a few light showers that are hardly noticeable in a kayak. While passing under the spit bridge I passed a skull of 4 boys no older than 10 with a tiny coxswain showing nothing but the crown of his head and microphone. They were booking it pretty fast and used a seating arrangement counter-intuitive to my previous rowing experience.

While drifting along I passed several marinas, mansions, and groups of tourist kayakers headed in the opposite direction of me. Some of the harbored boats were so large, they had two or three dinghy's attached. One even had a speed boat, and two jet skis on the top deck! I made a my way across from the spit marina to Clontarf beach. Clontarf jets straight into the ocean with a good deal of shallow sand for 50m or so. It houses several private properties right on the beach, something you don't see much of so close to Sydney. I watch an older couple take down their matching kayaks from their beach-side mansion and book it across Hunters Bay.  I didn't stand a chance of keeping up, and was tired and chilled but happy to receive curbside service at Balmoral.
Waiting for pickup under the Balmoral Gum tree

Rockefeller and Gratitude

This is a guest post from Bob at Please note I did NOT author this blog post, but thought is important enough to share.  Bob writes about personal finance from a Christian perspective. John D. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil company in 1870. He was the first American billionaire and one of the richest men to ever live. I am sure many people today wish they could have walked in his shoes. If, somehow they could, I think some would find it to be eye-opening.
As wealthy as he was, Rockefeller might have had anything that money could buy. But what a few hundred dollars may buy today, couldn’t be bought with millions 150 years ago.  Today, we have central heating and air conditioning, cars, planes, Tempur-Pedic mattresses, iPods, and millions of other gadgets. Even Rockefeller in his day couldn’t buy air conditioning. Maybe he had fifteen people fanning him on a hot summer’s day (because he could afford it), but I would rather have air conditioning. He probably had chauffeurs to take him by horse and buggy all around town, but I would much rather be riding in a ten-year-old Chevy. Wouldn’t you?  If we change the way we think of “wealth” and compare our standard of living to Rockefeller’s, we’re doing pretty good. In fact, I would go as far to say the majority of Americans live an all-around more “comfortable” life than Rockefeller did. Who then, is actually richer?

Meeting Ariel at Fairyland!

Ana baking cupcakes for a friend

If your household annual income is over $50,000, then you are in the top 1% richest in the world. (See for yourself at the Global Rich List.) And if we can agree that most of us are living a more comfortable life than a billionaire at the turn of the Twentieth Century, then shouldn’t we be happy with what we have? Should the fact that someone is living a more comfortable life than we are make us less comfortable? Or couldn’t we be satisfied knowing that we live a more comfortable life than 99% of the world’s population, or the richest man 150 years ago? And maybe we aren’t complaining — maybe we are just using our credit cards instead. Do we really need all the junk we are buying or are we forgetting how good we actually have it?

What’s the point with all this? Why spend energy trying to be grateful for the things we have? Why not just try to keep up with the Joneses? Here are a few reasons:

Trying not to be annoyed by made-in-china inc
Freddie from Scooby-Doo @ Chatswood

  1. Life is far more enjoyable when you are grateful. Grateful people divert their energy to seeing the good things they’ve been given rather than focusing on what they don’t have. This alone makes them much happier and far more enjoyable to be around.
  2. You can save a lot of money. When you are thankful that you have a car rather than having to ride the bus everyday, it makes it a lot easier to break the habit of buying a new car every year. This can apply to anything — HDTV is great, but so is having color TV. Remember when that was the new break-through technology?
  3. Forgetting about the Joneses can set you free. Doing things to impress and appease other people is a dangerous trap. So many people voluntarily become “puppets” to those they are trying to impress — trading control of their lives for temporary social approval. Having been enslaved by it for years, I suggest forgetting about what the Joneses think. They’re overrated anyway.
  4. You can actually enjoy the things you have. Everything loses a bit of its appeal as we get used to it. From a new pair of shoes, a new car, a spouse, or anything else — they are all really exciting while we are anticipating them. But, once we have them for a while, they just aren’t as exciting as they once were. By truly appreciating it and focusing on the benefits of it rather than the “greener grass” elsewhere we can truly enjoy what we have.
I don’t say all this to suggest that we all should live like we are hovering around the poverty line. I merely want to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we have it a little bit better than we think. Regardless of whether you have 60″ HDTV and new BMW or a 19″ Sanyo and a 10 year old Chevy — be grateful. Either way, Rockefeller would be jealous.

Related Articles at Get Rich Slowly:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reef Beach, Balgowlah

Nearing the end of a very rainy weekend, and our patience with indoor kid activities, The Backscheider fab-four made our way to Reef Beach. There are a plethora of awesome looking beaches you can spot on google earth, or by simply kayaking around. This one was accessible only by hike so we were ready to give it a go. We strapped Nolan in his pack, threw water, towels, and nuts into my pack and made the 1km decent from Tania Park down to reef beach. I later learned there was a much quicker route than the one we took.

Similar to Barrenjoey, this hike was a reverse climb starting with an easy 20min ascent past several lookouts and a split-off trail towards the spit bridge in the opposite direction. Ana said she could smell the beach from the start and knew the way to go. Her stamina never fails to amaze me! Paul was positive and encouraging the entire return trip, complimenting her pace and strength. As I strode down the hundreds of sandy steps, I always remember how fortunate I am to live in an age of prosperity. To have enough modern conveniences to use our daily energy for pure pleasure, instead of relying on it to make ends meet. I never forget that it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants that we are able to travel and achieve so much in our lives.

Once down to the beach we indulged in a little seclusion and snorkeling. The reef was teeming with large fish, sea urchins, and unfortunately blue bottles. I was so excited to get a chance to finally do some Sydney snorkeling and will be on the hunt for some fins and a working breathing tube this week on gumtree. The pinnacle of the day is always over too quickly, and we made our retreat to the car. Not before taking this awesome picture of my sea-curls. That mane is enough to keep even the most curious sharks away!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Primrose Park & Brightmore Reserve

If the temperature in Sydney is 20c by 9am, you know you are in for a hot day. With that in mind, Nolan and I made our way to Primrose park early morning after dropping Ana at Montessori. Situated on the north side of Neutral Bay, the larger park offers several unique features including an arts & craft center, tennis courts, cricket nets, and a small race track for scooters and bikes. Much to one child's dismay, there are no scooter petrol stations available on the course.

The sports fields are a popular place for dog lovers, and Nolan chased after them with delight. Willoughby bay surrounds the north end of the park and harbors several boat/mansion combos.  The kayak ride from our wharf to Willoughby bay looks to be around 1km on the map and if I can ever get Nolan to sit still, I may venture out with him in that direction. He hasn't shown signs of being much of a morning person and prefers to nap early and stay up late like his Grandpa Bock.

On the way back to the car I spotted two men flying a remote controlled plane, something I haven't seen since visiting my Chicago cousins in the early 90s. There wasn't enough sun cover to be a close spectator, but Nolan was still able to spot the plane. I used to be surprised by the number of people you find on the beach or in parks on any given random weekday, but I've now gotten used to it. Work to live is the Ausi no-worries way, even if it means missing a Friday here or there. 

A man and his drone
Primrose Arts & Craft Center

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A New Year, A New Look

This year is off to a fresh start, a new look, and lots of fun with friends. We started the week with a bang at the 9pm viewing of the Sydney fireworks.  It was well worth the 2km walk and long day of travel to see the look on Ana's face as she watched the show. She was so excited and rushed to tell everyone in school about it her first day back.  We snuck onto a beach right next to Taronga zoo and to Ana's delight several other children were already there playing in the water. I was too wiped to stay up for the midnight show, but enjoyed the bonding time and some Kiwi wine straight out of the bottle.

Goodbye baby curls, hello Manly Nolan.
The first week after the holidays brought three honeymooning couples to Australia. I wasn't surprised with the Australian open right around the corner.  We also had a busy week of just pure post-holiday maintenance, car tuneups, haircuts, redecorating, returns, new computer setup, and embarking on a maiden kayak voyage (see video at bottom).  I've started to plan out in my head some of the Kayak adventures I want to attempt and post in our blog. The weather, my energy level, and kids all have to be accounted for just for a simple 1hr ride. When did exercise involve so much planning? If Paul and I enjoy it enough, we may install a roof rack for some trips up around Barrenjoey.  Hopefully some of the other visitors that travel our way such as Paul's siblings and my parents, will also enjoy traveling on the harbor.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Milford Sound & Invercargil

Wired and fully rechared at 9am, the Backscheider Family Four was Milford Sound bound. The 100km drive is reportedly New Zealand's best, and many Japanese buses were stopped along the way for photos. Paul and I later concurred we would included it in the top three most beautiful national parks we have visited, next to Yosemite & Denali. You can easily see why someone would spend a year sailing the 14 Fjords, or even hiking the various famous tracks. Outside of the sound, the ocean is rough and all things considered we were lucky to have good weather if even for one hour.

The drive through the very steep pitch black Homer Tunnel felt more dangerous than any tunnel I have visited before. I expected to emerge in China, or perhaps a huge cave like in journey to the center of the earth. Milford sound receives 6m of rain annually creating spectacular waterfalls and drenched tourists.  We were lucky to see seals, dusky dolphins, and even the top of Mitre Peak.  I was disappointed my children didn't particularly care for the cruise and by 1pm Nolan was very cranky and ready to nap. We departed in a full downpour and made our way to Manipouri just north of Te Anua.

Upon arival I was begining to second guess our choice of town for the evening. There were not many vacancies and only one restaurant to chose from.  Paul finally spotted a budget motel that I later learned was where the cast of LOTR stayed to film the Great Marshes. We stayed in a full two bedroom apartment with livingroom and kitchen decorated straight out of the 50's. Even the musty smell and faded couches reminded me of my grandparents home in South Bend. After pizza and mashed potatoes, we took an evening drive around the lake to an abandoned sub-division project. There was a hilly vantage point on the east side of the lake and we made our way to the wheat-covered top. The sun breaking the clouds and filling the faces of my children made for one happy mama.

The last day of our New Zealand journey was spent almost entirely in the car. We took the scenic rout around the very bottom of the south island past Invercargil, and endless amounts of sheep pastures with ocean views. Invercargil reminded me a bit of Fairbanks, flat and likely very cold in winter. We stopped to stretch in the gardens and have a bite to eat along the ocean. Watching the cars drive along the beach further confirmed how desolate this place must be in the winter.  After hours of driving we were ready for some Indian food and a stroll through the Botanical Gardens. I relish not having to cook or clean on vacation almost as much as the vacation itself, and I savored every bite of that hot Naan and curry. Part of me is always sad to have to return to a civilized routine.