Thursday, May 31, 2012

Allenby Park

Thursday morning is the slowing point of our weekly routine. By then we have conquered three days of school, hikes, runs, ballet, jazz, playdates, and we simply take a morning to ourselves to pause before the final push of the week. Yesterday we decided to visit the Secret Closet and have a short hike around Allenby Park.  If you have children, the Secret Closet is a savers goldmine. How I miss my consignment shopping in Georgia! They carry quality gently used label brand clothing for kids, and I walked away with two knit dresses, new tights, and a pair of slippers for Ana under $50. They also sell some very artistic north shore wall art whom I was told is designed by a former Hanna Barbera cartoonist. 

Allenby park is just north of Warringah mall, and the council website makes it look like an enchanted find. Indeed, it may be better accessible from the bottom of the park. Unfortunately my GPS took us to a gated old service road. We hopped out and pushed Nolan along the steep decline, passing rotting cars and what appeared to be an old military bunker. We eventually came to what looked like a reservoir that has been freshly broken into. Ana was keen on climbing through the clipped gate until I told her that baddies had broken the law and snuck in with spray paint. Ana isn't much for rule breaking, so we returned to the car just in time to avoid the morning rain. Whatever picturesque rainforest lies within Allenby park will likely remain a mystery to me.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tunks Park and Flat Rock Gully Reserve

Earlier this month for our Redlands Mom track rock we hiked from Tunks Park to Flat Rock Gully. I enjoyed the park so much, I decided to take the family there on Sunday for a lazy stroll. The park is very close to our house, but easily overlooked. The entrance is rather hard to get to, and from first glance you might think it is a bunch of footy fields. Indeed when we arrived, an ambulance was taking one poor soul away on a stretcher after a rough go on the fields. After a few minutes of gawking we cheered for him and made our way to the trail head under a series of bridges.

Flat rock creek runs under the entire length under the park and feeds into Long Bay. Quaker hat and Long Bay are connected and I realized we could have kayaked to this park as easily as drove, just a bit on the chilly side. The trail crosses the creek using a stone pathway that is difficult for small children to cross. We turned around and headed back to the playground at the entrance. It looked rather new and had creative equipment, two diggers, a stone pit, and frogs to climb on. Nolan LOVED running around with the dogs on the footy fields after the game, and I enjoyed snooping at amazing homes perched up both cliffsides. It felt like one of those Sundays you hate to let go of to the week ahead.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Curl Curl Track Walk

Among the many wonderful activities Redlands provides for expatriate families is a track walk group for moms. The day I found out about the group I was so excited and contacted the track guide right away. Each walk is a two hour 7-8km fast walk around a beautiful part of Sydney. The 20 ladies that regularly attend are all in incredible physical shape and very accommodating. I am the only mum with a pram instead of a dog, and several of the tracks involve steps or hard-to-navigate routes. This past week we started at Shelly beach car park and trekked to Curl Curl and back.

Many of the ladies on the track walk are expats, and of the Sydney natives almost all of them have spent time living overseas. I thoroughly enjoy listening to their stories of life in Thailand, China, Singapore, and all over Europe. And how can you beat the scenery? One woman in particular that has taken me under her wing told me the story of her son's trials in beating a brain tumor at the ripe age of 2. After spending extensive time in Manhattan and the UK, she is building her dream home at Freshwater beach (where we walked past). As we returned to Manly she declared, "I will never leave Sydney again. There is something about the ocean we are drawn to as a human race, as if our souls heave a sigh of relief in it's presence." It reminded me of a famous quote from Antoine de Saint Exupery, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rocks Ghost Tour

This past Friday night my husband kindly volunteered to babysit while I went on a Ghost Tour of Sydney's oldest part of town, the Rocks. The tour takes you to several historical crime scenes over a two hour time period, all the described in gorey detail. The tour guide had to memorize an impressive amount of dialogue and never once broke character. Some of the memorable stops were the Australia Hotel, the Waterloo, hangman's hill, the Suez Canal prison, Observatory hill, Mrs. "Robinsons" home, and the excavated home at the end.

While I wouldn't call the tour scary or haunting, it was great from a historical perspective. Armed with our torches and imaginations, I felt like the Mystery Gang walking around Hangman's hill for a great night view of the city. At one point one of our friends went missing only jump out of an excavated fire pit and scare the crapola out of us. We were encouraged to take photos to spot paranormal activity, and in some instances role played as prisoners to more vividly paint the gruesome picture of their lives.  It would have been interesting to go inside they prison at Suez Canal or see the tunnel in the Waterloo Hotel. In the end, I mostly agree with the Time Out Sydney review of the tour, historically accurate and well guided, but not terribly frightening. Still worth the fun time spent with friends who did a great job organizing it for this fly on the wall.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mother's Day Classic

This past mothers day marked the first time I ever participated in a timed running event. The Mother's Day Classic was a 4km (2.5 mile) course around the Sydney domain on the route in the picture below.  This is a bit longer than the run I normally do twice a week, but flat as a pancake comparatively. I prefer training by hiking 8-10km a week at a decent pace, sometimes with Nolan on my back, so I wasn't completely unprepared. It was a bluster day as pooh would say, but that didn't keep runners from showing up in troves. Many were dressed in crazy pink ensembles, dedicating their runs to family or lost loved ones. Impressive also, were the number of children and volunteers that were set up to help along the way. It really blew me away how much work goes into race day.

So how did I finish? Well... better than average but I'm no speedy Gonzales, and the crowd was more about pleasure than competition. I placed 519th out of 2349 4k participants. 44th in my category, I finished in 23.37 putting me in the top fifth.  I'd like to run another race just to have something to compare it to, but I'm not convinced distance is my strong sport. The last time I've competed athletically since having children was in Ultimate Frisbee league at IBM. I didn't join a gym in Mosman since our time here is limited and I wanted to be sure to spend as much as possible outdoors sight seeing or kayaking.

The best part of the whole experience was the inspiration you get from watching the frontrunners, friends, and adolescent athletes compete. There were a group of 10yr old girls that finished just ahead of me with amazing stamina. Watching the 8km athletes run past the finish line at 24 minutes was incredible. And watching friends overcome personal goals was an amazing feeling too. I was so proud of them for working their hardest! Since the runs started at 7:30, I was home and refreshed before lunchtime. Ana gave me the sweetest mothers day necklace and card she made at school. I'd say it was one of my most memorable mothers days to date!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bobbin Head Warrimoo track

Bobbin Head is one of several heads that make up Ku-Ring-Gai national park. Cockle & Cowan creek split just after the Bobbin Head marina which eventually meets the Hawksberry river and the ocean. We decided to pack up Nolan and head down the Bobbin Head track towards the Sphinx memorial. The track is mostly shaded sand and pine needle. You follow the creek for the majority of the trip, crossing several small streams and narrow boulders. We quickly learned we should have brought hiking shoes for this trail as the sand made for an unpredictably slippery terrain.

Ana's picture of Bobbin Head
Unfortunately just after handing over Nolan to my husband, he took a spill down the embankment. I've never seen Paul fall on a trail in our 8 years of hiking together, and my first reaction was to scream then chase after them. They were headed straight for the river and with Nolan strapped in I didn't want to picture the results. Luckily a tree halfway down broke their fall and everyone ended up with a few mild scrapes and bruises. Nolan was shaking and looked a bit like his cheeks were hit with a cheese grater, but everyone recovered. We swallowed our pride and cut the hike short, heading back to the playground for some bandaged fun. The Bobbin Head trail has a fair amount of traffic, and I would learn from our mistake by using walking sticks and suitable hiking shoes.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


This past Monday I had the opportunity to explore a bit of western Sydney with members of the Redlands Book Club. We had just finished Anh Do's The Happiest Refugee and headed for Cabramatta. Home to Sydney's Vietnemese district, we stopped for a tasty (and very affordable) bite at Ban Trang. I'd never experienced authentic Vietnemese cuisine, and I'd classify it as similar to Thai, maybe with more soup. The ingredients were fresh and served with a variety of sauces to make it spicier. The server was polite and hard working, going out of her way to make sure Nolan remained entertained. Afterwards I took a stroll through the city center and down the main shopping drag, John St.

The city center of Cabramatta was neat and clean. The shops bustling and crammed from head to toe with as much merchandise as possible. Petite elderly Vietnamese women proudly walked their tiny dogs and chatted happily in the middle of walkways.  Immediately outside of the main streets painted a very different picture. Litter lined our walkway back to the car, and there were many signs of neglect from stores to residential properties. The Woolies we stopped at to pick up groceries was a good $50 cheaper than my usual in Balgowlah, and showed every bit of it from older carts to broken flooring. A quick search on crime in Cabramatta confirmed my suspicion that there is indeed recent cases of trafficking in the area. I felt very conflicted as I was ecstatic to explore a more cultural side of Sydney and stretch my comfort zone, yet you will always hear that tiny voice in your head saying, "whew, NIMBY." A women recently made headlines by openly (and legally) selling herself for $12k as a means to "ease financial burdens." How do you differentiate between someone who is oppressed into that situation, and someone who agrees to it? The topic makes me all the more excited to hear first hand opinions on the matter in my next book, Half the Sky.  I wouldn't paint Cabramatta as the leading area for crime in Sydney, but the experience definitely stands as a reminder of what a bubble I am raising my children in. I suppose the truth of the world will be revealed all in good time.

Cabramatta fabric store

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Cockatoo Island

For our excursioner family Sunday trip last week, the Backscheiders headed over to Cockatoo island. The round trip from Mosman involved 4 ferry rides of half an hour each for the grand total of $7.50. CI is a historic landmark in Sydney, one of 10 sites renown for its convict history. There will be a film festival here in October, and you can understand why. Walking through the creeky abandoned buildings and old machine shops is extremely haunting. If I were to ever write an apocalypse style video game, this is where I would go to capture renderings. There were several historical trails to chose from, including the Maritime, Convict, and Highlights trail. Audio guides are $5, but we opted to use our loose change on hot salty fish and chips instead. You can pay to camp here overnight, tent provided (below right).

Ana loved walking through the air-raid bunkers (above left), while I enjoyed the Industrial Precinct. Its not the first hike I've done through an abandoned style town, but definitely the creepiest. The overcast weather kept crowds away, making the abandoned experience more authentic. Few convicts escaped the island, but you can read the amazing story of one Fredrick Ward who did. In 1869 the prison was closed and for a while turned into a Girls School. Can you imagine trying to receive an education in such a place? crazy. For nearly 100 years the island was off limits, so I'm happy to be part of a period in history that allowed for a first-hand experience.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Crazy Love

A lifetime of commitment
Over a decade ago on a lonely Friday night in Duhme Hall, after finishing my counselor rounds at 2am, I sat down to analyze who it was I was really seeking in a life partner. A three year relationship had come to an abrupt end, leaving me with a feeling of poorly defined objectives about human character. It was time to do some serious soul searching, even if only on paper. My best thinking usually happens just before bed, and what better time to put your emotions to work than right after they've been challenged. Here is the poetic self-pact that ensued:

Teaching the Jedi ways
The person I marry will be so tall that when he is on his knees, his heart reaches all the way to heaven.  His shoulders are broad enough to bear the burden of a family.  His lips are strong enough to smile, firm enough to say no, and tender enough to kiss me.  His life is so deep that it takes its stand in God and so wide that it takes the whole world in.  

Strong  Boiler Loyalty
He is active enough to save souls, big enough to be gentle, and great enough to be thoughtful.  His arms are strong enough to carry a child.  His loyalty is like a stamp; sticking to its purpose and helping it get there.  He finds the greatest use for life is spending it on something that will outlast it.  His character is clearly disclosed just by the way he discloses others.  His work will become his self-portrait, and his kite will rise high to be seen by everyone because he flies against the wind.  

The world is not enough
His passion towards life elevates souls to do great things.  He never sees any obstacles in his way because his eyes are always on the goal.  His laughter is glowing, contagious, always leaving you wanting more.  He is natural, frank, and honest with everyone he meets, and he always know when it's better to be alone than in bad company.  He is not only popular by man’s standards, but he is just by Christian standards.  He knows something because he is such a good listener, not because he can tell you anything about anything.  He never finds himself in a hopeless situation because he never thinks hopelessly.  When he is wrong, he is willing to change, and when he is right, he is easy to live with.  
Life as a Champion

His courage is not the absence of fear, but the master of it.  He never despairs because his helper is omnipotent.  He has the best of manners, always says please and thank you; excuse me, what can I do for you, pulls out chairs, opens doors, knocks before entering, waits his turn, and returns things in better condition than he borrowed them.  He holds authority figures in the highest respect and is the master of compliments.  

Aiding the Ukraine
He is too busy to worry during the day and too smart to worry at night.  When he labors for others, it will be with greater effort than for himself because others always come first.  Many people may be smarter, but no one will profit as much from advice.  He is always on his way to something great because he is so focused, dedicated, and disciplined.  

Resisting temptation
He uses things and loves people instead of loving things and using people.  He knows that in one hundred years it will not matter that he got the big break or won the battle.  In one hundred years it matters to him that he made a spiritual commitment and lived to tell about the war.  Instead of cornering people, he gets them in his corner.  He always shoots for the moon and lands in the stars.  He can do the common things uncommonly well.  

Wholesome beginnings, leading 11
He prefers the dreams of the future rather than the stories of the past.  He is never doomed to disappointment because he trusts in God instead of himself.  He is mature because he accepts responsibility, not because he is old.  He is always happy because although he does not have everything, he makes the best of what he does have. 

Taking the road less traveled in life
He learns from others good experience because he keeps company with good people and in return learns to live like them.  He makes decisions easily because he knows he has good values.  He conquers himself rather than the world.  He knows he is only one, but still one can do something and so he never refuses to do the something one can do.  He is never afraid to turn his back on the crowd to lead the orchestra.  

Seeking extraordinary challenges
He never crosses a bridge he doesn’t get to first, and his long-range goals keep him from getting frustrated by his short-range failures.  He sees possibilities before they become obvious because his mind is clear of failure and can’t.  His “I will” is higher than his IQ, and if he fails nine out of ten times, then he just does ten times more work.  He exercises digging for facts instead of jumping to conclusions.  

Navigating corporate waters
He never uses two words when only one will do.   He has the courage to discover oceans because he in never afraid to leave the shore.  His success is due to his enthusiasm and perseverance.  He never regrets saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.  He carves his name on hearts instead of marble and captivates the soul.

This may look like a tall order to fill, but why would anyone commit to less? It is through this crazy lens of marriage I have awakened spiritual and cultural senses I never knew possible. Our first full month of dating felt like tiger balm on the temples, dreaming up endless possibilities of a lifetime together. I am so proud to call Paul my husband, through thick and thin. When the day is done, he makes me become the person outlined in my own words. Rightfully so <3