Thursday, March 29, 2012

The True Cost of Anything

When it comes to spending habits, I have my fair share of strange ones. I tend to cut corners in strange areas. For example, I still don't own a wedding band; I've never paid someone to pull hair out of my body; I regularly buy outfits from second-hand stores; With the exception of my lemon tree, I haven't spent any money on gardening and until recently I was an avid couponer. One area, however, that I tend to spend more than usual on is media and electronics. We have one computer per person in our home (two if you include smartphone/ipads), and our Amazon book bill for the year is quickly approaching $500.

Ana's Birthday video 2009

This year for Christmas I spent more on software/hardware for myself than any other category. I finally made good use of it this week and put together our first video in years (previous two are above and below). While I found the results amusing, Paul correctly commented it was more a showcase piece than making memoriable use of our video footage. He prefers hearing commentary but since my brain is almost always running a song at any given point in the day, this is more of how life feels through my lens. The true cost of anything is the amount of time you spend on it, and in spite of my geeky habits I'm more than happy with the way I chose to spend my money AND time. This is also a reasonable explanation for why my blog has a plethora of grammatical errors. :)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Modern Art Gallery of New South Wales

When Paul's brother Dave came to visit early March, we spent an hour wandering the lower levels of the Art Gallery of New South Wales which has several interesting modern art displays.  I think modern art is very powerful at conjuring human emotions, and I thoroughly enjoy ones that involve design work and seemingly impossible balance of objects. Typically with modern art, I find myself wondering more about the artist than the actual artwork. If this person is alive now, what sort of eccentricities evolve around their daily lives to make them create up something so extreme? If the message is received, is it actually powerful enough to linger and change my perceptions? How much CAD work is involved in the composition process? Do these artists make enough from their work to sustain themselves? Do they personally oversee when their work is being installed?

The pendulum and the emu egg by Rebecca Horn was likely my favorite display. Watching the menacing point swing within inches of the unborn egg that lay below is a stark reminder of how fragile life remains. Another interpretation might be that the egg, made of solid iron, represents our resilience on earth to continue on in spite of its forcible circumstance.  Even after Mt. Saint Helens erupted in 1980, devastating 100sq kilometers, life showed promise and returned after only a few weeks.  Ponder the former, but hold steadfast to the latter; that the glass is half full. Hopefully the NSW art gallery rotates their Modern Art exhibits so the next time I bring a visitor, I can have a fresh set of media to share.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Manila & Taal Volcano

This week Paul announced to me he could begin regular consulting work on a project in the Phillipenes as early as next month. He has traveled there seven times since last July, taking the red-eyes home and continuing to work on Fridays. Usually there is no time for sight seeing or travel, but on his last visit I encouraged him to get out, if only to allow me a more vicarious lifestyle. As someone who has been such a source of inspiration for me to get out and see the world, the last thing I want to hear is that he doesn't have time for adventure.

There is a famous volcano near Manila called Taal volcano.  It's one of the easier day trips from Manila, and one of the only places in the world where you can see a lake in a volcanic island in the middle of a lake.  These shots of Manila and the volcano are from his camera phone. He described Manila similarly to Sao Paulo, large, sprawling, crowded, and not a desirable place to raise a family. 20 million people would probably say otherwise, but perhaps I wouldn't put it down as my first crowded city to visit. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo are all densely populated and are still on my travel list. It makes me wonder, what makes one city more desirable than another? Wealth? Climate? or simply personal preference? Having called so many different places home I am beginning to think the actual city is irrelevant to happiness.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

George's Head, Chowder Bay

The large area collectively known as Chowder Bay in Mosman covers several separate parks that are all part of the Sydney Harbor national park system.  This week I did an intense 8km track walk with a dozen mums from Ana's school all around Mosman. Afterwards, I felt convinced I could trek the entirety of Mosman in a day without kids. What a wonderful trek it would be too, Mosman is just beautiful! Here is a great spot I found solo hiking on Sunday off of Chowder Bay rd. It was completely empty when I got there, making it even that more delightful.

An old military outpost off Chowder bay road is open to the public and can be explored (without kids). There are bats in the tunnels, so I opted to stay above ground and scale the cliffs.  There are a number of walking tracks to various other locations around Mosman that start here at Chowder bay.  It is also home to Mosman's only nudie beach, Obelisk beach. There are two restaurants for both fancy and laid-back live music atmosphere goers, a large pier, and of course tight parking. I definitely want to take my sister-in-laws here if they come in August, just not to the nudie beach.

Taken from sign post: "In 1890 a base was built at Chowder Bay for the Submarine Mining Corp. Mines were attached to cables that went underwater from here to the other side of the harbor. They were designed to be detonated if an enemy ship entered the harbor.  In 1891 a terrible accident happened with the Mine Corp demonstrated mine laying before a crowd of thousands. Four men were killed and 10 more injured. With changes in technology, these mines became ineffective and were eventually disbanded in 1922."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

St. Leonard Park

At least once a month the Backscheiders take a library family outing. It gives both adults a free moment to explore books, and there is almost always a park nearby. Having tried every library in the Shorelink system, our personal favorite is Stanton Library in North Sydney. It is has the largest volume of books, is newly renovated, and is next to St. Leonard Park. Neither the library or the park are exceptional for kids as there is no playground. The book collection, however, I found to be better than Mosman, Crows nest, and Willouby library. St. Leonards park has a basketball court with an incredible view, and a small WWI & II memorial. I imagine something will commence there in a few weeks for Anzac day.

Bruschetta, Aboriginese, and pressed flowers, oh my!

We have also been taking advantage of having a children's library available to us at Ana's school. On Mondays we check out ten books, and I'm determined to have most of the collection read by the end of the school year. They have comfy stuffed animal nooks for reading, and entertainment for Nolan's age. Lately I've been reading up on healthy food recipes since I am determined to take less and less menselazine.  We definitely need to find material on flower drying and pressing.  Our first two flowers ended up as mush!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ana behind the Lense

A few weeks ago Ana dug up an old Chameleon Largon digital camera. It was a freebie giveaway when buying a dell ten years ago and takes teeny tiny photos. It is a great way to teach photography basics and I allowed her to take it to her school playground to practice. It also teaches photography manners, something increasingly important in today's paparazzi world. We always ask when taking or using a photo of a friend, and remember that some people have certain sensitives about their photos. I remember going post crazy when I first joined Facebook. I have since learned my lesson, but not without hurting feelings in the process. I'm hoping Ana will figure it out quicker than I did.


In addition to our regularly scheduled weekly programs, we had a classmate's birthday in Narabeen, dinner guests, family library time, and Paul took Ana on a daddy/daughter co-birthday dinner in Clontarf.  We've traveled there by Kayak a few times and it is one of the rare beaches for watching the sunset as it faces westward.  Ana asked for breakfast in bed with a Lemur for her birthday but settled for the next best thing, a baby lizard. Her imagination has really taken off in the last few weeks, and she regularly gives dialog to inanimate objects. She really melted my heart this morning by whispering over breakfast that I was the best cook in the whole world. I have house guests that could attest otherwise, but somehow none of that mattered all in an instant. What... a... feeling.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Uncle Dave's Sydney Adventures

Uncle Dave had exactly ten days to fit in all the kayaking, hiking, ballet dancing, and babysitting we could manage. We took him to several of the usual hangout including Bondi, Darling Harbor, Taronga, Botanical Gardens, Cremorne, Mosman Barracks, and Manly Head. We also fit in a few new places at Ku Ring Gai, Mt. Kosciuszko, Canberra, and part of the Australian Art Museum. The weather cooperated for about two-thirds of the trip, leaving plenty of rainy days for Kayaking and playing settlers of Catan.

It was a very satisfying feeling watching Ana spend so much bonding time with family, a rare and wonderful treat. Even if we lived in the same town as David, we would never get this much of his free time for watching movies, playing games, and exploring together. David helped Ana embrace her artistic and problem solving side, while embracing the challenges of living with four other people all at once. He cooked, cleaned, repaired, and even did my laundry. Life is so enjoyable when it is filled with the people you love, and it is a sad reminder of how far away we are from family living in Sydney. I'm thankful for the time we had together and only wish it was longer!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mount Kosciuszko

On Thursday night Paul and Dave took a mini mancation in Canberra. Their final destination was to be Mount Kosciuszko on Friday night, the tallest summit on continental Australia. Seven summit purists would argue Carstensz Pyramid is the true tallest peak of Oceana, and a much more difficult climb. Kosciuszko's  trail is 18km and took 4 hours round trip with an approach from the Charlotte pass. The vertical change isn't technically challenging, and the trail is fairly wide and manageable in summer weather. It was sleeting near the top, which Paul and Dave reached around 10pm. I won't claim it was the smartest decision to summit at night, as the drive back was full of animal road crossings. I'm happy they made it up and down safely.

Meanwhile, back home Ana was having her first birthday slumber party. I made it easy on myself and kept the number to half a dozen guests, only two of which stayed the night. It was a good thing too since I only own 3 sleeping bags! I am the ultimate procrastinator when it comes to planning parties, and again cut a bunch of corners. I looked up party games on Pinterest two hours before their arrival and threw together a pin the crown on the princess, scavenger hunt, lego ring toss, and clothespin drop (pictured below). I also picked up Disney movies and a delicious strawberry cream cake the day before since Paul was gone with the car Friday night. The entire evening went fairly smoothly, and we only had one slice of leftover pizza. Ana received so many clever gifts, a puzzle, shamu floatie, fairy wings, and a flower press. Ana is fortunate to have so many wonderful friends!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bond Street to Redlands

Starting last Monday, Ana has been attending a new pre-school called Redlands.  For the previous six months she attended Bond St. Montessori daycare, a small facility of 7 teachers and 30 kids.  She has really grown fond of the teaching staff and her mates. It is always hard to say goodbye and on our last day we brought in cupcakes. It took the better part of a day and several attacks from our aggressive ant colony, but the look of satisfaction on two dozen faces was worth it.

Plan B
This William Sonoma Pan makes me hate my life

Her new school is a bit more structured in pace and curriculum, offering french, music, art, sports, and library days. Everyone in her class is closer in age, and there are too many after school activities to keep track of. I can tell Ana hasn't made a close friend yet, but she seems happy enough and brings home lots of creative art. Overall I am pleased with the new more formal classroom setting, and get the feeling that Ana is too.