#14 It Happened In New Zealand…or Was It Australia…

“workaway.info” Host Families:

More than bed & board providers…read on…

It’s not only about the exchange of bed and board for  3-4 hours of work each day, but about the time they enjoy spending with us after work hours.  Host families want us to experience the sights, the sounds, the tastes of their country.  It all adds up to a grass roots, on-hands “feel” for their culture. Geoff and Jan do this so well!

Family Dinners…

Our daily family dinners are memorable for both the making and the sharing.  We all take

turns cooking meals, including Geoff and Jan..  The most fun one was when we (at my suggestion) all contribute to last night’s leftover gravy.  Geoff  grills sausage, onions and mushrooms.  Len chops up carrots and parsnips.  Then all the above are tossed into the gravy pot.  Me?  Well, biscuits and gravy always go well together, so, of course, I bake the biscuits.  This stew concoction is…ummm…what can I say…oh yeah…the yummiest!!  All dinners end with a fruit salad dessert.  And Jan always adds the option of enjoying it with custard, cream or ice cream!

1/26…Australia Day….

I sleep in until 8:30am.  We do a little work (I continue painting the fence and fence posts) and then we “knock off” and get ready to enjoy the Mornington parade.

Jan packs our picnic lunch…we raid the picnic basket and enjoy sandwiches and fruit under a warm sunshiny sky…we take in the sights and sounds of the fair…we ooo and awe as fireworks explode over the bay…

then, it’s home for a good night’s sleep!

 Reunion with Renee…

One of the very special events to be included in my Australian adventure was a  get-together with Renee and her family.  Renee is the daughter of my college friend Jane who lives in Seattle, WA.   I haven’t seen Renee since she was 7 or 8 years old.  Although Jane and I  continue our friendship, the last time we got together (in Seattle)in 2007 , Renee was already living in Australia. Finally…an opportunity to meet and catch up!  Renee  and her son, Balty (age 6…almost 7) arrive at KeWarra (the name of Geoff and Jan’s homestead) the afternoon of 1/28. As yet, Balty hadn’t visited a farm so Renee was excited Balty would get a chance to see Geoff’s horses and Poll Hereford cows.  When I explained the visit to Geoff, he said he would give Balty a tour of the farm and introduce him to the animals.  What a thoughtful gesture that was!  Thanks so much, Geoff!!  It was a great visit!!


Now it’s our turn to give back to our host family…

after a day’s work…of course…

There’s so much to see on their farm, and that includes the small, seemingly unimportant stuff like chunks of chopped cypress wood, discarded and piled up near the fence posts where Rebecca and I are painting.

Upon inspection, Len notices evidence of bug damage under the bark of these chunks of wood.  The evidence is the interesting  pattern left in the wood as the insects chew their way along the branch. Len’s idea is to create a piece of art and present it as a parting gift.

When Rebecca gets wind of this wood, she has a gift idea, too.  The pieces of wood are perfectly shaped for making a family Danish game called “Kubb.”  These game pieces will be her parting gift.

When Rebecca isn’t helping me complete our painting assignment…


See this fence? Look to the bottom left and follow it up…keep going…up past the tree… way up past the tree and to the left is a tiny, tiny shed.

Yep!  Our assignment is to paint all those cotton-pickin’ fence posts…all the way to…well…tomorrow! OK…OK…maybe tonight…

I’ll let you know when I get there!



…Rebecca  hides out in the barn and works on her gift idea.

Rebecca and Len collaborate on their ideas.  For starters, they both collect, saw and sand their chunks of wood.  Then their individual projects take separate routes.

Rebecca moves forward with her plan.  She paints her game pieces (kubbs and batons) white, lets them dry, then overlays the white with black  paint, which she wipes away exposing the bug trail (she overlays the white with red for the “king”) and finally paints the tops red for added detail.. This is what Rebecca’s gift looks like:



Len’s gift idea takes a different route.  After experimenting with overlays,Trails in wood 2015 he decides the

best formula is to spray paint each block of wood with clear lacquer.

Once it dries, he paints over it with red, which he wipes away

exposing the intricate, artsy bug trails.  And, last, he details

the tops red.  All in all, Len makes three pieces of art, one each for

Geoff and Colleen, Charmaine and Geoff and Jan.  This is one of his

pieces of art.



When Geoff, Colleen and Charmaine stop by to pick us up on 2/1 (Tasmania…here we come!!), you know what we do, right??  We split into two teams and play…KUBB!!

Team 1:  Len, Jan and Colleen vs. Team 2:  Gina, Geoff and Charmaine.  Team 2 wins the challenge, and, even though I don’t perform proud for my team, I have a rockin’ good time!!

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Back to work…THE GATES!  The gates are a mess!!  Wh20150128_105811at was white is now moldy green and covered with…what else?…mold AND lichens!  When the liquid poison/wire brush duo  fail to do the job (that’s me on the right still brushing away!), Rebecca (on the left…and what a clever girl she is!!) hooks up the…POWER WASHER…and voila’!…done deal and ready to paint!!  All in all, I paint 6 gates.  And that includes a few posts, too, if I do a sloppy job.  Geoff always expects the BEST from his workawayers!  Makes sense to me!!


My fave gate pictures!  The one on the left is Gate #5 photographed in the early morning…artsy, huh!  The gate on the right is Gate #6, my last gate.  Len and I actually returned to Mornington (after three weeks in Tasmania) so I could complete my gate assignment!

Thanks, Geoff and Jan for a fun adventure on your farm!



# 13 It Happened in New Zealand…or Was It Australia…

Good Morning, Mornington!!IMG_2605

Our good friends, Geoff, Colleen and Charmaine, drop us off at Geoff and Jan’s farm the evening of  January 20.

My first morning on the farm is a bit of a shocker!  My journal entry for Day 1  reads as follows:

Up at 7:45am…slept a little late.  First thing was “cow episode.”  She [a cow] wasn’t able to get up, flailing…according to Geoff, she had been failing in health for some time, and now that she wasn’t of any use, she was shot, winched up and carted off at the cost of $100.00.  And life on the farm goes on…

I wonder, says I to myself….does Geoff stage an ominous event for every new workawayer?? And if he deems  I’m not worthy of my bed and board, could  I too be shot, winched up and carted off?…(but probably for far less than a hundred bucks!)  What a bummer!  Just wondering….just… wondering…

And while I’m on a downer…let’s get on with the…


Here we go again!  If there’s a pretty girl  on the premises, Len will follow her around and show off.  He’s at it again!  This time it’s with Rebecca, a 20 y/o Danish girl…a remarkable girl at that! I decide to…once again…let it go, just have fun and ignore his presence.

But….if he shows up in my space…I take it one step further…like I did tonight…

Rebecca and I are cooking dinner and throwing carrots and red peppers in the pot with complete abandon, when Len, always an astute observer, says to us, “Don’t put all the veggies in at once.  You know…carrots first…peppers later.  Otherwise the peppers will be cooked to mush.”

Quick as a wink I reply, “Just ignore him, Rebecca.  Len’s a pessimist.”

Oops!  Back peddle time for Len.  “That was not a judgment call,” says he, “just a comment from a cook’s point of view.”

Hey, I’m beginning to enjoy pulling his chain!  (Is that bad?)  He can sure dish it out, but as they say, “He can’t take it!”  Hey, I think, now that was fun…and fun-fun-funny too!


After breakfast on Day 2, I head outside to greet the day.  It’s a quick howdy-do ’cause there’s Farmer Geoff, standing tall beside a power washer and holding a scraper and a packet of sandpaper in one hand and a power sander in the other.  I am, said he, to wash, scrape, sand and paint the shed behind him and also the bigger one on his right. And so…it came to pass!

After I do the prep work, Rebecca is assigned to help me with the painting so that makes the task  much more fun.  She paints the upper half and I paint the lower half.  And as I paint I make up  some poems:  IMG_2659

I once met a girl from Denmark

On our walk I heard her remark:

“I love that bent tree

It’s my favorite you see.”

And she sat in the tree until dark!


And one for Farmer Geoff:

There once was a man from Mornington

Who fancied cows without horns…not one!

He jumped on his horse

And followed his course

and didn’t come home till morning sun!


And one for Len (I think he’s dreaming of Rebecca! Whadda you think??):

There once was a man from Conneaut

Who really loved learning a lot.

He hopped on a plane

And said, “I’m not insane!”

And headed to a land where it’s “hot-a-lot


And now…drum roll here!!… the amazing results of the Two Painters Extraordinaire!

Rebecca was standin’ way up top that ladder a minute ago…but then  down came this spider right along side her and sent poot Rebecca runnin’ scared outta her mind sir!!



More Mornington adventures  ahead!



#12 It Happened In New Zealand…or Was It Australia

Talkin’ like an Aussie…

We had some really fun adventures with Charmaine, Geoff and Colleen.  Not only did they pick us up and drop us off at our next workawayer’s doorstep once…but twice! and in between times kept us well entertained with Melbourne sights and sounds.  Aussie hospitality is AWESOME!!IMG_1903

Anyway, before I get to “Talkin’ like an Aussie,” I gotta tell you more about Charmaine’s penchant for the color red. The focal point of her bathroom was a bright red   flat-bottomed,  rectangular shaped basin! Stunning!  No can find a pic in my files.  So sorry!  But here’s a shot of Charmaine’s red shoes she loved to wear!


(Horseshoes for good luck!!)


Charmaine turns to me and whispers, “We’re goin’

sticky beakin’.  “Sticky beakin’?” I repeat…and think to

myself, What the hell’s that!  I stand back, watch and snap

away while Colleen and Charmaine “sneak” up on the

gate…I’m just a clueless American playing follow-the-

leader and hopin’ nothin’ dangerous…or scary!…lies


Charmaine gives us the “All clear…come on in!”


Horseshoes for good luck!!

Where am I?  What do I see?? IMG_3406

We’re  on the Sorrento-Portsea Artists’ Trail, situated along the bluff overlooking Port Philip Bay located on the southern end of Mornington Peninsula.

Jiminy!  What a spectacular view!!



To the right is “Sorrento from Point King”,IMG_3388

an oil painting by Sir Arthur Streeton

(1867-1943).   He’s just one of 14 artists

featured along the trail.





Gates along the trail are frequent….Just open….close….and keep on goin’…




Charmaine is ambushed along the way…

Sometimes Mother Nature gets the last laugh!  And, if I’m quick about it, there’s an amusing photo op too!!




“Private Property” signs pop up on both sides

of the trail, one leading to palatial palaces and

the other leading to the bay shore docks.


Around the bend you can look back and see where you were and the private staircases leading from the trail  to the shore below.



Thumbs up for sticky beakin’!

Thanks Charmaine and Colleen!

More fun times with C,C and G coming up!











#11 It Happened In New Zealand…or Was It Australia…

Wait…wait…I’m still in the States!   and…

Home for the Holidays 2015…

I’ve been back in the States for 9 months now, and up until two or so months ago, I was pretty dedicated about recapping my five month adventure.  Then…well…I sorta started doing some other fun stuff.  That’s what retirement’s all about…right?


During November I canned  3 dozen jars of apple butter, one of my annual pre-Christmas activities.  ThIMG_6938is year I didn’t peel the apples…just cored them…otherwise sooo much waste, including the pectin in the skins. I also deviated from my usual combo of Jonathan and Cortland apples. This year I combined Winesap with my Cortland. I got some questionable looks when I mentioned this duet, but…my taste buds tell me this year’s yield is exemplary!


Then I got a yen to make doll clothes for my granddaughter’s Groovy Girls doll.
A while back, I found this rag doll named “Kayla” in a Salvation Army bin and was so taken by her groovy smile, I just had to buy her! Clothes, I thought. She needs some clothes! So what did I do?? I stashed her away in the guest room closet for…Oh maybe a couple years.
When 2013 rolled around, I rediscovered her and thought, Clothes. She needs clothes. I know what I’ll do! I’ll make some dresses and give the doll and her wardrobe to Skye for her birthday!IMG_6934 (Skye was 3 years old at the time). I’m motivated this time around and proceed to design/sew some dresses, summer togs and a bolero.
When Skye and her family visited us that summer (they live in Idaho), I introduced her to “”Lucy Jo” (a more fitting name for an uptown Appalachian gal!). The next thing I see is Skye walking around with Lucy Jo in tow…nice Skye, but OMG not by her hair! I don’t know…maybe I carried my Lulu doll around by the hair when I was three, so I gotta be gentle about this rescue. I take the doll from Skye and say, “No, dear. This is how to carry your dolly.” And I cradle Lucy Jo in my arms.

Well, I guess Skye’s too young for the responsibility of a doll with a designer wardrobe. Sooo Lucy Jo and her wardrobe shall be a bequeathment. In the meantime I’ll just enjoy designing/sewing clothes for Lucy Jo.


skye in mermaid blanket

Then I decided to make Skye a mermaid blanket for her Christmas present.  It took a lot longer than the directions said it would, but…as you can see, Skye, now five!, happily wears her mermaid blanket!  shark blinket

And here I am showing off the shark blanket I crocheted for grandson Charlie, now two years old.  So solly!  No pictures of Charlie and his shark available.  But son Steve did say Charlie cried, “No! No! No!” when it slithered out of its box!  Maybe Charlie will make friends with his shark when he gets bigger!  Charlie…that is!


Sometimes I need a break from my projects and when I do…I go looking for my color books  ( I don’t know why, but even as a kid, I always said “color” books and not “coloring” books?!).  I decide whether to use my Prang or Crayola crayons or maybe a combination of both, find a comfy spot on the couch, leaf through the pages until one catches my imagination and…begin to bring the page to life with my crayons!  Oh, how I love, love, LOVE to color!!  I even wrote a book for kids about generational coloring!  It’s called Eva Blue!



Anyway, now that we’re all caught up on my “doings,” it’s time to  continue blogging about…

It Happened In New Zealand…or Was It Australia…

Good-bye Yalca!  Len and I bid a fond farewell to Margi at the Albury train station.  We chug along to Melbourne, change trains and continue on to Mt. Albert where Charmaine meets us at the station.  Well..that was the plan, but you know how it is with the plans of mice and men…right?   This is the “skinny”…what really happened.  IMG_2171

We weren’t sure of our stop.  I remember the train having stopped and wondering, Is this where we’re supposed to get off?  The train started up again, and as I looked out the window...surprise!…I see Charmaine standing on the platform!  Guess we missed our stop!!  Nothing gets by Charmaine!  Within five minutes after getting off at the next stop, there she was…bright and charming as ever.  She swooped us up and drove us to her lovely house.  Here she is preparing the evening meal for us and her brother Neil.  Note the red accents.  You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!!

To be continued…



#10 It Happened in New Zealand…or Was It Australia…

YalcaMORE Sights and Sounds at Home on the Range…where the sheep and the kangaroo play…

Since returning to the USA (we’ve been home 7 months now), I’m pleased to say Len’s behavior is back to the way it was before leaving for NZ/AU.  However, when I recount my 2014-2015 adventures, I relive the uncomfortable feelings in our relationship.  Sooo…in keeping with my SOH, I will continue to include updates of our Dueling Egos.  You know…Lights!  Camera!  Drama!  And now…On with the show!


We meet Charmaine, Jeff and Colleen.  Charmaine is a friend of MarIMG_1923gi’s and occasionally brings friends to stay at Yalca, which…upon request…opens as a B&B.  This is one of those occasions (this event also accounts for my 2nd all terrain vacuuming expedition!). We become fast friends.  Here we are posing beside the 400 year old Post Office Tree still standing in Beechworth.  Len is on left and Charmaine is on right.

Take 1  Episode 1    Lights!  Camera!  Drama!
My Journal entry for 1/13/15

He’s the Pied Piper of Yalca.  Not only has he captivated an audience with his sparkling conversation, but now he’s added  his creative photography to his “show and tell” agenda! Yes, he’s an amazing man…but one with an insatiable ego!!

All tenants (except horizontal me!) are now rising at 5:30am (or is it 5??) to join him exploring the grounds and taking/showing off his artsy pics, after which the gang gathers together for early morning coffee, tea and more sparkling conversation.

Good god, I’m beginning to feel I’m on the set of “The Big Bang Theory” !  I just “knew” there was “movie making” in the air when I arrived! Len plays Sheldon, a walking, talking book of knowledge with a Black Hole ego.  (To be fair though, my Len does have Leonard’s (TBBT character) Care Bear qualities which Sheldon definitely does not.)  I play Penny, the down-to-earth,  don’t-mess-with-me, cheesecake queen.  This episode is entitled, What’s Cookin’, Gina? which alludes to the stream of steam issuing forth from Gina’s head!  I’m still not a happy camper, but I’m working on it!

Take 1 Episode 2:  Gina’s Black Hole Cheesecake Recipe.

One of Margi’s five bedrooms serves as her library/study.  It was there while perusing her book shelves, Margi stopped by and inquired about IMG_2009my taste in books.  When I told her I was catching up on my childhood reading, she pulled a copy of Enid Blyton’s, The Magic Faraway Tree from the shelf and handed it to me.  Original copyright?  1943…the year of my birth!  I retire to my room and begin to read…

“‘You can go there by climbing up the top branch of the Faraway Tree, going up a little ladder through a hole in the big cloud that always lies on the top of the tree – and there you are in some strange land!'”

No doubt in my mind…I will be joining my new friends – siblings: Jo, Fannie and Bessie and their cousin Dick – and  tagging along when they decide to visit a strange land, like the Land of Dreams…or the land of Take-What-You-Want…or the Land of Presents…or the Land of Do-As-You-Please. In the Land of Goodies, I could ask for Black Hole Cheesecake and probably get it!  Now that’s a winning recipe!!  (More about Black Hole Cheesecake later!)

Note:  When I arrived back in the States, I ordered a copy of The Magic Faraway Tree for my own rereading pleasure. Some interesting changes have taken place.  The illustrations – including the cover- are copyrighted for 2007, and, although the text remains copyrighted for 1943, the names of the children have been changed.  Apparently the more modern nickname for Elizabeth has evolved from “Bessie” to “Beth,” hence, the change.  Jo is now “Joe,” perhaps to clarify his gender.  Due to evolved sexual connotations, Fanny is now “Frannie” and Dick is now “Rick.”  Thank goodness, no one has messed with Silky, Moonface, and Saucepan Man!


Take 1     Episode 3:  Bet Me and Lose!

IMG_2159Before Len discovered how to open this gate (Sorry…I didn’t take a picture of the “whole” gate!),  we had to either climb over a wall or go through the picture frame, probably 2 feet in diameter.  I chose to frame myself.

First, I put my right foot through the hole and plant it on the other side.  Simultaneously ( or almost!), my hand catches the metal frame on the other side while I squish my body head to knee, squeeze through… then hang on.  Laughing causes my right foot to dance a bit while I pull my left foot through.  I wobble like a weeble but amazingly do not fall down!  The whole process is hilarious!  I’m laughing most of the time…well…not when I’m “head to knee”  anyway.  I did this twice! And I thought practice would  make it easier!!

Take 1     Episode 4:  Yalca in Pictures

Let’s try another approach to my Yalta Picture Gallery:  Note Margi IMG_1765continues the “church” motif in her chicken coop design.  I put the chucks to bed at 8pm.

When you’re ready to take your outside shower (designed and built by Margi…ain’t it IMG_2110cute!!) you just yell, “Hey everyone, I’m taking an outside shower.  Absolutely NO peeking!”

IMG_2152Here we are readying the grounds for a scheduled 60th birthday party.  I had some unexpected fun getting to design/paint the lettering for the “Gents” bathroom sign.  Can you see my goof?  I was pleased with my “fix” and told Margi it takes a “goof” to create a piece of art!

This is the “other side” of the  tree where the men “do their duty.”  I painted the Poo Pot, the Dribblers’ Pot and the Target for PIMG_2148ee Shooting practice.  All in fun of course!


I love artsy pictures!  This is Margi’s kitchen in the glow of her evening lights.  Note the vaulted ceiling and the drying bar from which she’s hung a variety of kitchen gadgets and utensils.


 Take 1    Finale:  Farewell in Rhyme

Reading The Magic Faraway Tree also jump started my  interest in making up silly rhymes like the Saucepan Man’s.  His rule was each line must begin with “Two” except the last one:

Two trees in a teapot.  Two spoons in a pie.  Two clocks up the chinmey.  Hi-tiddley-hie!

I used a different rhyme scheme to say goodbye to Margi:

There once was a gal from Wodonga

Who wanted to weld for so longa.

  She said, “Stay with me

   Turn the junk I got free

    into art before you go longa!”


#9 It Happened in New Zealand…or Was It Australia…

After a brief hiatus…I’m back!

Completing WordPress Writing 101 was a phenomenal experience!  Five days a week…Monday thru Friday…for four weeks…the firmament was lit with the brilliance of hundreds? or more?? of talented writers/bloggers!  And now I am part of that family.  What a gift!!

Writing/posting daily assignments, then reading and responding to what my fellow bloggers wrote and posted set me on fire!

Now it’s up to me to stoke those dying embers…


Our next stop is Wodonga, NSW, AU.  Our host is Margi.  She greets us at the airport and we head for “home” in her Toyota SUV.  We approach the gate to her almost-on-top-of-the-mountain homestead.  It reads “Yalca,”   Funny…there’s something…almost surreal about this setting…It’s almost as if…well, almost as if I”m on a movie set.  Great guns!  If that’s the case, just think of the photo ops awaiting me!  Welcome to…

 Yalca…the Sights and Sounds at Home on the Range

Yalca.  An unfamiliar name to me.  But then being on another continent, in another country, I’m getting used to the “unusual.”  Margi shares the history of Yalca, the name she chose for her homestead.

IMG_1771For starters, acquisition of these 100 acres was quite a challenge!  Many folks desired this location, but were turned down because to build a house on a mountain top would change the skyline.  It would chop up the continuous mountain view which was not allowed by Wodonga “law.”  Well, Margi got around that one with her proposal to build on the “side” of the mountain.  It worked!  Although it’s a relatively “new” house (built in 2000), the exterior has a weathered look of one built in the 1950s.

IMG_1757Yalca’s six Tudor Gothic windows are from the  dismantled remains of the Yalca Church of England built in 1888 in Yalca, NSW.  Margi artistically continues the Tudor Gothic “church” theme both internally and externally as you will see.  Yalca.  With this one word, Margi immortalizes the memory of these hallowed windows.  Viewing a sunset through one of these windows is the only needed explanation!



The shiny sound of welding (Can you hear it??) continues day after day.  Len and Margi work on her “Family” sculpture.  The family members of Mom, Dad and Child are represented by augers of different heights.

IMG_1794 IMG_1775

Back to me…
My journal entry for 1/7/15 says:
My spirit is happy here at Yalca.  It is a safe place to cry…not out of happiness or sadness…just tears/emotions that wish to be released.  I cried some tears today while I danced.  I love dancing and twirling around Margi’s house…it is sooo spacious!
And it’s this same spacious house I vacuumed from front to back and from side to side! Not just once, mind you, but twice during our two week stay.  No carpets…just hard wood floors accented with decorative rugs here and there.  Now picture this!  Here comes Margi carrying some crazy looking apparatus.  It’s a vacuum attached to some kind of a back brace with straps!  And I thought my backless, strapless bra was complicated!  She straps it to my back.  “You’re right handed so this should work OK.  How’s that feel?” she asks. My head wobbles a bit. “I’ll just lengthen the back strap a…bit…more.  Yeah, that’s better!”  She shows me how to change the nozzle heads, helps me find the “start” button,  assures me I’ll get the “get the hang of it,” and with a parting “Hi Ho Silver and away we go!”,  Margi heads for the door and I stumble around the floor.  Now, if I do that “Donald O’Connor thing” and skew the left side of my lip, I could pass for Quasi Modo’s twin!
IMG_1742This is another fun thing I got to do!  You are looking through Margi’s screen door from outside to inside.  See those hearts? They are cut out of metal screening material and  hand sewn over tears/holes in her screen.  I didn’t do these particular ones, but did get an opportunity to mend tears in her side door screen.   I’m a seamstress and thought it would be a snap…but it wasn’t! It’s a real balancing act to hold the door open while pushing the needle through the screen with my right hand and catching it on the other side with my left.  I only lost one needle!
More about Yalca:  The Sights and Sounds at Home on the Range in my next Post!

#8 It Happened in New Zealand…or was it Australia…

Stuck in Sydney…Part II


January 1, 2015…Len has been thinking about a BridgeClimb since 2013, when he first noticed walkers high atop Sydney Harbour Bridge while we were in Sydney for my birthday concert at the Opera House.  Ahh, I thought, a paid-for BridgeClimb ticket  would make a great Christmas present!  So, Christmas 2014…that’s what Santa put in his stocking!  That meant, of course, we now had to make plans for another trip to Australia!  Funny how these ploys work, isn’t it!… hee, hee, hee!

Len opts for a twilight BridgeClimb walk so there isn’t any rush to get to Sydney…again.  While Len semi-enjoys his climb (he isn’t permitted to take pictures…bummer!), I walk across (and back) the Harbour bridge taking pictures along the way.  From start to finish, Len’s adventure takes about three hours, so when he returns, he’s a bit weary and so am I.   Since our favorite Fish-n-Chips joint is closed, we finish the evening with pricey gelato ($5.70 per small scoop!); then we sleep all the way back to No. 14 in Katoomba.

January 2…We check out of No. 14, head for Sydney (again!), but this time to buy train tickets to Albury, Victoria, where our next host will pick us up and take us to her mountain almost-on-top home. (There’s a story there!)

Here’s where it gets complicated, and…in retrospect…no wonder dueling egos ensue!

What did not occur to us is this:  New Year’s Eve is on a Wednesday so the entire Sydney population is on holiday until returning to work on Monday, January 5th!   This means a mass exodus on Sunday, January 4th, (if not before) which means the entire population of Sydney (plus adventurers, sight-seers and other out-of-province cling-ons) has already booked a plane, train or bus for home…except us, of course!

Scratch Plan A:  Rail travel out of Sydney is booked solid through the 4th!  Plan B:  Bus?  Plane?  But first:  Where to purchase bus tickets?  After several false leads, we’re told bus tickets can be purchased either at Convenient or 7/11 stores.

Second:  Probably because the city is changing over to a tap-on/tap-off method of travel payment (instead of purchasing individual destination tickets), each business has only X number of tickets available for sale.  So let’s play another game:  Ticket, ticket, who has the ticket?

We take to the streets in search of bus tickets, and…finally…we find a vendor who sells Len two pensioner tickets for $5 with the parting comment, “These should work.”  In the meantime, in-between time, the he says/she says drama routine is getting old, so I just button my lip and let Len do the footwork he does so well.

What he discovers (thank goodness for his smart phone and its on-line capability!)is:  in terms of time and availability, plane fare is far cheaper than bus fare.  He books the first available plane from Sydney to Albury, which departs on 1/5 at 8:05am.  He then books a night’s lodging at the Captain Cook Hotel in Botany, just minutes away from the airport.

January 4…Not only “should” those pensioner tickets work, they DO work!  We board the bus in Sydney, get off at Botany, walk the short distance to the hotel and cool off in our AC room.  Ahhh…

January 5…6:36am…A taxi picks us up at the hotel and 5 minutes later (641am…I checked my phone) we arrive at the airport.  The cost of the ride was $15.50 or $3.10 per minute.

Curtain falls

If you’re interested in what we did on 1/2 and 1/3 to fill in the unexpected time in Sydney, write me a comment…

My Curtain Call or Dueling Egos Update

When I wake up on the morning of the 2nd, Len is ranting about not being able to post his BridgeClimb pictures on FB, and everyone is waiting to see them (or so he says).  But…he can’t do it because he wasn’t permitted to take photos (BridgeClimb policy) during the climb.  (Boy, is that BridgeClimb outfit in for a tongue lashing!)

Well, that did it for me!  OMG, now FB is his audience…how BIG is that!  What an ego!  (Oops! My sense of humor (SOH) is waning…waning…)

So how does Gina Blue (me) survive the massive ego of the Krash Man (Len)??  I mean his ego is so friggin’ large that there’s no space or time for me to speak unless spoken to!  (Uh oh…my SOH meter says, EXPIRED!)

A little history here about my sense of humor…

I was raised with lots of do’s and don’t s (Aren’t we all!).  What finally occurred to me is: many of the do’s were a tricky way of saying don’t without actually saying the word don’t.  Like when my dad told me, “Put your shoes on!”  what he really meant was “Don’t go barefoot!”  That one was pretty easy to figure out.

And when my mom told me, “Go to church,” what she really meant was, “Don’t have fun!”  It took years to boil that one down to just three little words!  Some of these do’s (like the church one) that were loaded with hidden don’t s, were a bit convoluted and not easy for me to figure out.   (I’m a slow learner, a late bloomer and find it keeps me young because I’m always experiencing the past as if it’s today!)

I liked the easy ones like when my dad said, “Don’t pick your nose!”  That meant don’t put your finger in your nose.  I did it anyway (when he wasn’t looking) because I couldn’t figure out any other way to get rid of the dry bugger itch.  So the don’t message took…but with a slight modification:  Don’t pick your nose…if someone is looking.  And you know what?  I never saw anyone else in my family pick his nose, so I guess we all share the same secret!

My childhood was a serious matter (down a notch!)…very serious (down another notch!)…nothing to joke or even laugh about…hence, I acquired an atrophied…indecisive…miniscule…almost non-existent sense of humor…now EXPIRED!

I went through this whole SOH rigamarole back in 1999 when I was a substitute teacher working three jobs to keep the status quo.  While subbing, I would take notes of the crazy things the kids said and did, then go home and write “incredible and satirical tales of a substitute teacher.”  It worked!  It may have been a dark and stormy winter outside, but in my cozy cottage i was laughing my ass off!  I titled the book, Desperately Seeking Humor:  Incredible and Satirical Tales of a Substitute Teacher, which I self-published in 2002.

And now, here I am…desperately seeking humor…again!!

Well, “home” to Katoomba where I will continue reading Flawless Jade by Barbara Hanrahan.  As we chug along, I dream about these words from Barbara’s book…

My memories do not have to be exact facts because I like to fantasize them so they stay in my mind as, forever, sweet memories.

Curtsy…Exit stage left

It Happened in New Zealand…or Was It Australia…

#7          Dueling Egos  II        or          Stuck in Sydney …Part I

Not only are we temporarily stuck in Sydney after the New Year’s Eve fireworks (I’ll get to that part of the story later), but…I am just plain stuck about what to do…It’s the…

ol’ dueling egos…again!

Lights!  Camera!  Drama!!

Wait a minute!  My alter ego is sending me a message…

Think back, Gina, to that very serious time in your life when you immersed yourself in AlAnon to recover from your marriage to your alcoholic ex.

Oh yeah…My family believed I joined a satanic cult and tried to “save” me by inviting me to my own inquisition!  It didn’t work, of course.  Once I realized what was going on, I picked up my fast food ploy and booked…fast and far away!

Stop interrupting and let me finish…please!  The dynamics are similar:  think behavior versus no-think behavior…adult behavior vs. child behavior.  A person with this no-think/child  behavior is sometimes called a “brat.”  It may even be an “ism” like brat-ism and a person might be called a brataholic.  Even you, Gina, qualify as a brat…now and then…

OK…OK…I got it!  And now I DO know what to do!  I’m such a silly girl, I am!

In the past, I’ve been a professional chemical dependency counselor.  That’s right.  My personal life becomes my professional life.  I acquire my CCDCIII and LSW and work in the field for ten years. I use confrontation as a tool for the possibility (not probable however) of changing a person’s behavior.  And confrontation can be effective…

Wait!  Hold on…I’m getting another incoming message from my alter ego…Gina dear, confrontation does work, but only if a person chooses to change his behavior…

Oh yeah…that’s right.  Now that I think about it, Len has told me, “I don’t like confrontation.  I avoid it!”  A little louder, please.  I don’t believe you.

“I don’t like confrontation.  I avoid it!”

OK…I believe!

Sooo, confrontation is O-U-T.  What to do???  Well, I guess I’ll have to play the role of the think/adult and just ignore Len when he plays the role of the no-think/child (read on).  Yeah, that’s the ticket…for now anyway.

Dueling Egos II     or     Stuck in Sydney…Part I

Act I, Scene I

Dateline:  Conneaut, OH, USA… August, 2014 “Hey, Gina!  Wanna be in Sydney, Australia, for the New Year’s Eve fire works?”  shouts Len down the stairs from his upstairs study. “Yeah!  Watcha got goin’?” I answer. Well, he’s on it!  Even though it’s a full three months before the event, Len finds the hostel and backpacker facilities in Sydney are booked solid!  The closest we’re going to get to Sydney is Katoomba (nestled in the Blue Mountains), a two-hour train ride away, and that’s only one way!  He books a four night stay at Number 14, a lovely two-story backpacker house built on the slope of a hill and a 20 minute walk from the train station.  Sounds good to us! Now…exactly how close to Sydney can we get to observe the fireworks?  Len by chance finds the availability of Neilson Park (as the crow flies about three miles across Shark Bay to Sydney Harbour Bridge)  It is a gated event with a maximum of 400 tickets available.  The next  hurdle is to get those tickets in our hands before we leave.  The Park administration does not send tickets directly to patrons out-of-country; instead, we need to give them an Australian address.  Tickets will be delivered to that address, and then that person sends the tickets to us in the States.  There’s bound to be a glitch somewhere in that plan, right?  Right!!  As it turns out, our tickets are returned to sender, but the Park administration won’t reissue them to us until the “return to sender” tickets are physically in their hands. On the upside, they’ve changed their policy and will now send the tickets directly to us! Long story short, the tickets arrive at 567 Liberty Street just a few days before we leave for NZ.  Whew!!  That was a close one!

Act 1, Scene II

Dateline:  Number 14, Katoomba, Australia…December 31, 2014: Len says the weather forecast for this evening’s event is in our favor:  only 32% chance of rain and a high of 21°C.  He’s gone on an uphill walk to the ATM while I prepare/pack 6 sandwiches, a combination of tuna-n-egg and ham-n-cheese for our evening meal at Neilson park. Len returns upset…and without needed funds.  His ATM receipt says he’s used his daily limit ($1000.00 per day per card), which is false.  Now he’s thinking our account may have been hacked. An explanation is needed here:  My bank changed over to a new system the day after we left the country, and although each time we contacted my bank and were assured that the problem of extracting money from international ATMs using our PIN  (sometimes it worked and most often it did not) was “fixed,” it remained a problem throughout our five-month adventure.  Three weeks before we left for the States, however, we were told by an employee of Westland Greenstone in Hokitika, if we didn’t use our PIN, but requested to sign for each purchase, there was a 90% chance the purchase would go through.  We had NO problem with our purchases after that! I suggest we give the ATM at try with my card since I haven’t used it as yet.  Now we’re off on our upward trek to town.  Usually it’s butterflies that cross my path to give me good luck, but as the NZ fates would have it, my charm comes in the form of a sleek, green-eyed, all-black cat, wearing a belled collar.  ABC (All Black Cat) crosses my path right in front of the ATM.  My card works perfectly…of course! Now that we have money for the evening’s event. in my mind the crisis is over.  We head back to No. 14.  I turn to Len and nonchalantly say, “Have you cooled down now?” Angry words leap from his mouth.  Words, quick as a lightning bolt, escalate into a nonstop tirade!  I stare at him in disbelief!  The best I can do is turn around and head across the street.  The last words I hear him say are, “Go ahead…Put your head in the sand!” What the hell is he talking about?! I wonder as I head toward No. 14.  Downhill, thank goodness! Well, here we go again! I think.  It’s time to choose think/adult behavior to deal with Len’s no-think/child behavior.  Or I can fall back on my lemonade recipe and focus on the water ingredient:  Ignore the man!  And…for Pete’s sake, be a good little co-dependent and act as if nothing has happened!

Act II, Scene I

Guess what?  Life continues as if nothing has happened! Our train/bus trip to Neilson Park is uneventful; we arrive around 7:00 pm.  The park is located on the banks of Shark Bay facing west towards Sydney.  The sun sets behind scattered clouds.  The silhouetted city skyline and Sydney Harbour Bridge seem to rise up from the mist…a lovely sight indeed!  Families arrive, set up comfy picnic sites, eat and chat and enjoy the warm summer evening.  We strike up a conversation with a lovely local couple and…there we are sharing our picnic baskets! Lili and I spread a blanket near the bank and make ourselves comfortable lying on our backs watching the bats fly around, star gazing, watching searchlights pan the sky and just enjoying the fun of getting acquainted.  The guys are somewhere else doing whatever it is guys do. Finally, it’s 9 pm and time for the first pyrotechnic display.  It’s a good one!  Fifteen minutes of fiery sky lights and lots of pops and booms!  This one is especially for the kids (probably in response to parental request); it’s early so kids are still awake to enjoy the sights and sounds and then are home in time to get a good night’s sleep. It’s a long…drawn-out…wait…until…midnight.  Lili and I snack and chat, but my eyelids droop and the Sandman stands by.  Finally…midnight.  The Show of Shows is on and who cares?  Not me!  I just want to pretend I’m in my bed at No. 14 and sleep and dream.  When I wake up, I can enjoy at leisure Len’s spectacular images of New Year’s Eve in Sydney, Australia…

Act II, Scene II

Wake up, sleepy head.  It’s 12:30 in the morning and time to go!  My eyes pop open…OMG…there are people everywhere!  and going in every direction!  Hundreds of people!  We say goodbye to Lili and Andrew and they head for their car.  We stand on the curb along with hundreds of other revelers waiting..waiting…waiting for a bus to take us to the train station…the same bus… 130 am…Still waiting…Oh, we’re on a side road?  The buses don’t come down here?  We’ve got to walk to the main road?  Well, let’s start walking…sooo we join a moving wall of people, all headed for that same bus…Keep your fingers crossed the buses are still running… 2:30 am…The buses are already full going this direction..Wait a minute, I see a taxi.  I don’t care what it costs!  At least I’ll ask the driver.  Are you for hire?  Oh, already booked.  Thanks anyway…OK, let’s try for a bus going the other direction.  Yeah, let’s cross the street. Tuck in behind me…Jump!  By golly, it worked!  We’re on our way…Standing room only…Oops…Sorry!  The bus just zigged and I zagged!  What again??  Wanna trade places?  No dice, huh!…What was that thud?  Just a pissed off drunk gettin’ rid of his beer bottle.  I understand… 3:00 am…We arrive at Edgecliff where we change buses and stand in line to buy tickets to Central.  Len hits all the right buttons and…voila’!  tickets to go.  Next stop: train station! 4:00 am…Thank the stars we bought a round-trip ticket!  And now the start-n-stop ride to Katoomba…ZZZZZ… 6:00 am… Fourteen stops later we arrive at Katoomba station.  Now for the 20 minute downhill walk to No. 14.  And here comes the sun! 6:30 am…We’re tucked in for the day! Len!  Hey, Len!  Isn’t today your BridgeClimb day?  January 1st, right? Yeah, let’s get some sleep…ZZZZZ You mean we have to get up and do this all over…again??!!

Curtain falls

#6 It Happened in New Zealand…or Was It Australia…

My Kiwi Christmas!

Christmas is up in the air.  We have a committed host family on Waiheki Island through December 24th, but because they are shutting down their catering business over the holidays, we have no place to go until Dec. 29th.  That’s the day we are scheduled to fly  to Sydney, Australia.  What to do??  All Len and I want for Christmas is to experience a Kiwi Christmas, and, as it turns out…we get our wish!  We are invited to stay through Christmas at the Clansman Motel!

My Kiwi Christmas is the most joyful Christmas ever in my life!

Not only do we (Belinda and her two kids, Sophia (8) and Kayden (6), Brandon, Len and I) become friends over the five weeks we stay there, we become a family.  We work together and we play together.

And lucky us!  We even have an extended family!  Gwen and her family: her husband and their five kids ages 10 – 22, are included in our holiday and family celebrations.

The sights...the sounds...the smells of a Kiwi Christmas…

The Tree

One December afternoon, Elijah (18) and India (15), next-door neighbors of the Clansman, show up with a live pine tree, flooding the atrium with the scent of pine.  (Apparently their parents raise pine trees and donated this one for the holiday season.)

What a flurry of activity!  Everyone gets  in on the act.  Len secures the tree in standing position, making sure it has plenty of water.  Brandon and Elijah dig into closets and cupboards bringing out tons of Christmas decorations.  Sophie and Kayden hang pretty baubles at will (as kids are wont to do!),  Belinda gives the kids’ tree trimmings a skeptical eye (as mothers are wont to do!), but says nothing.  I take pictures. Perfect!!  We all clap while Kayden does his dance and chants, “Santa Claus is coming, O yeah!  Santa Claus is coming, O yeah!…”  you know how it goes.

Waipu Primary Prizegiving Program

It’s December.  In the USA, kids are getting ready for Winter Break whereas in New Zealand, the Land Down Under, kids are getting ready for summer vacation.  One of the traditions (as in the USA) is end-of-the-year prizegiving or student achievement awards.   Belinda invites me me to attend the Waipu Primary School Prizegiving.  When we arrive, the Bream Bay College Auditorium is packed to capacity with excited grandparents, parents, siblings and friends.  Lots of bustling around and happy chitchat.

And what a show!  Waipu Primary School is multicultural with emphasis on both Caucasian and Maori cultures, so, of course, the program includes traditional Maori songs and dances.

My favorite dance presentation is Tihei Mauri Ora (the sneeze of life), which is danced/sung beautifully by girls from both cultures.  They dress in their school colors of black and turquoise.  Faith (Gwen’s daughter, age 10) and her classmates look stunning tip to toe!  Their ensemble includes ankle-length black dresses accented with turquoise ribbons around their waists, and it’s topped off with turquoise feathers in their hair.

But what really gets my attention, (and what I wouldn’t see in the USA at a Christmas-themed program), is the stage filled with little boys, naked to the waist, wearing knee-length native skirts!  Their performance is called Kapa Haka group.  Apparently it’s a ritualistic dance/song “associated with hand-to-hand combat practice by Maori in pre-colonial times.”  And you know what that means!  A goddam raucous good time, that’s what it means!  Painted faces…thunderous stomping feet…loud ferocious singing/chanting…and wildly gesticulating arms!  Man alive!  I just want to jump on the stage and join the fray!

Needless to sat, the actual achievement presentations are but a postscript!

Christmas Eve

December 232rd…Belinda takes me Midnight Shopping for the kids’ Christmas presents! I drive the cart and Belinda fills it!

December 24th…Waipu’s annual Christmas Eve Parade which passes right in front of the Clansman on Cove Road!  My favorite float is the Waipu Primary School decked-out trailer.  The kids sing and dance to “Greased Lightning.”  Dine-O-mite!

December 24th…We elves are busily doing our Midnight Wrapping in Mrs. Claus’s workshop…Shhhh….

Favorite Memories of Christmas Morning…

Happy voices greeting each other with, “Merry Christmas!”

Watching Len play Leap Frog, his new game (a lot like Tidally Winks)

Seeing Brandon’s bewildered face when he opens his vintage Buzzy Bee toy, a lost toy (up to now) he loved!

The sound of rain (like the sound of a rain stick) emanating from a long narrow box when Brandon passes the box to Len.  This is a very curious Christmas present, and as it turns out, it contains  two cowboy hats (one for me and one for Len) since we are going to Australia next.  The sound is made by cascading beer bottle caps!  Who would’ve thought!

Thanks Brandon and Belinda!

The sound of r-r-r-ripping paper as the kids open their presents!

Not believing my ears when Brandon hands me a present and says, “And this is from Jamie!”  Surprise!  Len asked my daughter Jamie to send me a gift all the way from Idaho and it arrived on time!!  Of course I cry.

Christmas Dinner

There is a most awesome gazebo on the Clansman premises, which, when you step inside, becomes a banquet hall.  This  hall contains a table made from a seamless slab of Kauri at least 20 feet long by 4 feet wide.  Gwen remembers when the slab was delivered and how a crane lifted it off the truck to the ground.  Kauri is the most famous of New Zealand’s trees, a very dear commodity.  The only other time Len and I saw this size of Kauri was at the Kauri Museum (where I bought a 12 inch Kauri spoon for 22 NZ$).

Brandon sweeps the premises, shines up the table, rearranges the bench seats, strings lights throughout the hall, and now he sets the table in preparation for our Christmas dinner.  Gwen and her family arrive.  All in all there are 14 of us in attendance.

Once seated, dinner is served.  It is a noble feast indeed!  There are three kinds of meat:  lamb, pork and chicken, along with roasted potatoes, a sumptuous salad (I made it!), deep-fried pork rinds, garlic bread and a carved-out circle of bread filled with spinach dip.  We toast one another with sparkling wine (soda for the kids) , eat, chat and enjoy the warm evening by candlelight!

But…The Most Magical Moment is watching Kayden get ready for Santa’s arrival.  With Brandon’s help, Kayden wraps Santa’s present  and writes him a note which says:

To Santa

Hop you have a merry crismis

From Kayden and Sophie

I Bilev in you

#5 It Happened in New Zealand…or Was It Australia…

Meet My Kiwi Family


Belinda, as you may recall, manages the Clansman Motel.  She needs a lot of help to keep the business going.  It’s an unusual situation  for her and for us.  The owner up and deserted the business, and now it is slated for receivership on  December 17th.  At this time, it will be owned by a law firm, directed by a board member and, according to the attorney, managed by Belinda.  Yes-sir-ree, Belinda needs  lots of help, and Len and I are the perfect workawayers to do the job!

Len, a man of many talents, is able to make needed repairs.  He stops the freezer from overheating, repairs the sanitizer and deep fryers, cleans out the fridges, and figures out what switch goes to what convenience, not always an easy matter.  He even finds a switch which turns on security lights along the front of the motel.  It ‘s in the laundry room of all places!

As for me, I assist Gwen with servicing and cleaning motel rooms in the morning and don my “pink ribbon breakfast” apron  and report for “short-order cook” duty in the afternoon.

But, Belinda’s most important role is being mom to Sophie and Kayden.



The kids (Kayden and Sophie) and I start hanging out together.  Six and soon-to-be-seven year old Kayden loves to play games and so do I…a perfect match for having fun!  We usually play Snakes and Ladders, the original moralistic Indian/British version, which morphed into amoral Chutes and Ladders when it was marketed in America.   But we play it with Kayden-amended rules.  For instance, sometimes we reverse the process with the snakes going up and the ladders going down (the British version has more snakes then ladders…you get the drift), and sometimes, if a piece of the ladder spills over into a space you land on, even if it’s a teeny splinter of the ladder, aha!  Up you go!  This rule, however, does not apply to snakes.  And sometimes, if the dinner bell is gonna ring soon, the rules change in mid-steam!

Kayden  loves checkers sooo much he wants to keep a game going forever and doggone if he hasn’t  created a clever way to do it!  Here’s how it goes:  Once his opponent, me, kings his man, Kayden is off to obliterate my army.  But…oops!…sometimes Kayden gets his king between a rock and a hard place and I jump  his king.  “Uh uh,” cautions Kayden as I reach to remove his man.  “Now he’s a half-king.  Just take the top checker off and keep the game going.”

“OK, but can the half-king still do the 360 stuff?” I ask.

“Nope, he’s gotta get kinged again.”

“But the game will never end,” says I.  Kayden just gives me a sly knowing grin!


Sometimes Sophie, age 8, joins in playing Crazy Eights, Go Fish or Snakes and Ladders, but mostly she likse to watch TV.  One time we walked to town together (10 minutes tops!) to run errands and buy ice cream at a local dairy.  “May I have a $2 dollar coin?” she asks.  I hand it to her.  “I’d like a chocolate ice cream cone, please,” she says to the teen girl in charge.

Boy, do my eyes pop open!  Here I think  I’m sooo smart, buying frozen confections like a strawberry swirl or Magnum bar for $3.50…or more …when for two bucks, Sophie gets a mammoth chunk of chocolate perched on a cute pointy cone just like the ones I got as a kid at Islays in Ashtabula, Ohio!  Here is a very savvy kid! I think as I walk up to the counter and order a $2 raspberry cone.

We stroll along toward Waihoihoi River Park licking our cones and finally sit down on a bench near the river.  Here we compare notes on how to eat an ice cream cone.  We both like to keep pushing the ice cream down with our tongues and then, when there’s only two or so inches of the cone left, we mound up the frozen stuff and make a perfect miniature ice cream cone!  For a finale, I, for one, pop it into my mouth and savor the last surge of raspberry!  Yummm!



And now meet Brandon, the fourth grown-up member of my Kiwi family.  Oh, that’s right!  You’ve already met him in my #4 post: Sit down/Stand-Up Comics.  Well, in addition to being a comedian, he’s also a woofer/workawayer who puts his talents to use as an awesome groundskeeper.  But, of course, like Len and me, he pinch hits wherever and whenever needed!

Next post…My Kiwi Christmas!