Monday, January 29, 2007

My sister had a baby today!!!

Yippee!! My sister had a baby boy today!

He was 9lbs 4oz and 21 inches. He was born at around 7pm during a full fledged snow storm in Michigan. Both Tammy and he are doing really well. He has a little dark curly hair and is just adorable. Photos will soon follow. Here he is the newest cousin...Herbert Merrill!

The kids are VERY excited about their new cousin and Kay's 1st question was "What type of shoes does he have?"

I know his sister Georgia and brother Joey are very excited as well for their "Mommy's new baby".

I just couldnt wait to share the news with the world!!

Welcome to the great big world! We love you!!!!

The Short Bite

Websters defines Parenting as; the rearing of a child or children,especially the care, love and guidance given by a parent.

It defines Patient as; bearing or enduring pain, difficulty or provocation and annoyance with calmness.

There are several things that you are not told about when you under take the role of a parent. I believe that there exist tidbits of knowledge which are painstakingly learned and therefore are kept to ones self for just that reason. Why tell the poor fool all the tricks when he/she can learn them the hard way like the rest of us.

One of these precious bits of information surrounds the short bite.

The short bite is not a widely used tool by the child however it is most effective when determining the existence and depth of the Parents ability to be patient. ( see above)

The short bite is used primarily by the child from ages two through age 5.
I have no on hand knowledge as to the existence of the short bite after 5 as all of my children afflicted by this are still under 6.

The use of the short bite begins rather cleverly....
1) The child will eat quite a significant amount of their meal,to the point where you think, alright they are going to actually finish their plate this time, I rock.
2) The parent them becomes a little full of themselves, internally claiming victory for this meal and thus falsely thinking how great they are in this endless battle of moving food from the plate, to the belly of the child. This false sense of security allows the parent the freedom of mind to state " a couple more bites and you will be done"....
3) You proudly scoop up a large quantity of food and prepare to feed the child. The food source usually is something that will create the biggest mess such as , rice, cereal,soup,yogurt,etc.
4) The child reciprocates by actually opening their mouth allowing you to assume they are ready for the next bite.
5) Then as you approach the child's mouth with the serving you look away briefly to see how many more bites are left on the plate and then as the tip of the spoon passes the child's lips,CLAMP down comes the short bite.
6) Your forward motion abruptly stops,foods flies everywhere and so does your temper.
7) The child looks calmly at you and proceeds to chew the small amount of food they have taken giving you the look of ,what I took a bite...

Repeat .... This will continue until you finally admit that you never will be in control of this battle only given small temporary false assurances of success.

Websters does not have a definition of the short bite

Friday, January 26, 2007

Jeff and Mike

We had a great week last week with our friends Jeff and Mike. They work with Tracy at Target and we were able to drag them away from the long hours and tedious work schedule to tour Bangalore and the surrounding county side for fun in the sun.

Jeff is Billy's Godfather and travelled to Korea with us when we met Jimmy. Jeff and his wife Karen met their son Hayden at the same time. Mike is a hunting friend of Tom and Jeff's.
These are the 1st friends we've had visit and I was so excited. While we are making friends here, there is something totally different about sitting down with a really good friend and talking about anything and everything.

I took them into town to show them a few sites and to let them buy some souvenirs and gifts for back home. We went to commercial street which has many unique to India items and we managed to acquire a few treasures.

Jeff and Mike both expressed interest to go the now infamous "Wet Pets" store to see where we bought our Thanksgiving turkey. We however never made it. This section of town is highly populated with Muslims and it turns out there was an altercation between some Foreigners and the local Muslims in regards to the recent death of Saddam and those who worked for him. The altercation caused such a stir that all the local businessmen were upset and closed their stores and threaten to revolt so we were told to leave the area!!

On a side note this riot turned into a full blown incident with the burning of buses people being killed and the city having to close schools and invoke a curfew for two days!!

That night we had a fabulous dinner from our cook and retired early for our outing the next day.

We left the kids home and headed off to a place called Shivaganga billed in the tourist book "as a flight of 350 steps leads the way to the top passing several mysterious cave temples and a natural spring. The climb although steep is not strenuous thanks to a handrail and frequent beverage stops and should take one hour". Never believe the guide books!! I also think we can honestly say that NO Targeteer has made this a tourist destination on their work travels to India. We were going where no Targeteer had gone before....

We began our ascent with a spring in our step and a helpful attitude. The first stop was at Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple, which was closed for prayer, really. We continued on our decent to the next spot which was the Honnadevi which was very cool. At this point we seemed to be running out of water but how hard are 350 steps and by the way where are these steps?

We passed many people taking naps and resting along the way but we were on a tight schedule as we had a trip to the spa and dinner plans.
Higher we climbed and our rest stops became more frequent and the helpful attitude stared to wain, do we really need to go all the way to the top? It appears to be twice as far as we have already travelled? Higher we climbed and started to notice that there was no one else on the trail and we wondered why. Cold water sounded great but we had none,higher we climbed. Where did the path go? Saravanna asked those people where we are and how much further? 30 more minutes lets go around the next bend and then decide. Where are we which way do we go, where are we going and why, I will be pissed if I break an ankle!

Higher we climbed and then through a mess of low hanging plants and finally we were there, the 350 steps loomed in front of us like some cruel twisted form of humor.

We took inventory. No water, no food and no desire to climb on.The top of this mountain awaits for another time as we bid the mountain good day we began our decent. The entire journey took four hours and all of our helpful attitude.

We made the spa appointment and our dinner as well. We dined at The Blue Ginger which is a fabulous Vietnamese restaurant and then sadly we had to take Mike and Jeff to the airport for their trip home. It seems slightly unfair that after the climb they would have to set in an airplane for 19 hours, hopefully they did not cramp up!!

It was great fun to see them , the kids loved the presents and attention they received. Having them was nice however saying good bye was hard.

Every morning for the next few days the kids kept asking, where's Mike, where' Jeff? Home ... Home....

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Melbourne, the Zoo & the Aquarium

Melbourne. WOW what a cool city. It has a great deal off local attractions as well as a few of the beaten path type things to do.

We stayed a the Explores Hotel which was right next door to a 7 Eleven, a bar and a backpackers hostel so you can imagine the people watching that was available. Melbourne is obviously a place for single, adventurous, party animal people in their mid-20's. The bars are open until 4:00am. It almost made me miss my youth.

Our goal destinations, the Melbourne Zoo and the Aquarium, along with a couple of nice dinners and a quiet night out for mom and dad. I think maybe the sarsaparilla has lingering effects! (Either that or our age is catching up with us)

We decided to hit the zoo on Saturday morning after an "in room" breakfast with the kids which mostly ended up on the carpet. I worry about what the hotel thinks of us!

We took the train again and Billy has now developed this REALLY annoying habit of pitching a fit every time a train goes by and we dont get on it. Keep in mind that trains go by about every 5 minutes so he was in a constant "state". AND, since he was in a backpack on my back, I got the full brundt of it. Fun....

After we actually got onto a train Billy finaly calmed down and Kay took over insisting she pay for the train ride. The slot to put the money in is about five feet off the ground and Kay being not "quite" that tall it was another mess. We finally ended up at the Zoo.

The Melbourne Zoo is wonderful. They have a complimentary service where as you can get a guide to walk you around the park on your own private tour. It was incredible. Of course we saw your standard koala's, kangaroo's, etc. Jimmy's favorite was the orange goo tans. Kay loved the Meerkats and Billy was crazy over the peacocks walking around "free". It was like our own personal Discovery Channel at our own pace. We were there ALL day. We finally caught a train back (yes, another BIlly fit) and they all promptly fell alseep. The cutest was Billy. He was in my backpack, holding onto the train rail above his head, sleeping. All the passengers were getting a total kick out of him.

Dinner was at the Waterfront Hotel. A VERY nice British pub (ahh.... Guiness) that had steak and rissotto. They also have techno dance music and disco ball. Billy danced the night away and had all the customers eating out of his hands. They didnt know they were getting dinner and a show. Jimmy was fast friends with the bouncers (pretending they were bad guys and he was a Power Ranger) and Kay charmed everyone by eating one piece of spagetti at a time. It was actually fun. The 1st time I can say that about taking them all out to dinner. Maybe we'll actually morph into a normal family at some point and we can actually go out to eat together!

After another breakfast that landed mostly on the floor in the room, we headed to the Aquarium. It was - as Jimmy said "This is Fabulous"! It is 4 levels right on the river in downtown Melbourne. You can see glow in the dark jelly fish, sharks, crabs, fish... the list goes on and on. The tanks all start at ground level so even the littlest kids (Billy) can walk right up to them and see the fish. Billy was transfixed. They had a whole aquarium that had sea turtles, sharks, fish, manter rays (sp?) etc that you could walk "through". Literally all the fish swam above and around you. We watched divers enter the tank to feed the manter rays and sharks. Kind of scary and cool all at the same time. I think it was the 1st time all trip that the kids actually sat still and were quiet. A HIGHLY recommended stop if you are ever in Melbourne, even if you dont have kids.

We then packed it up and headed to the airport for the 16+ hr ride home. Let's just say ...
Read the 1st blog all over again. We made, it wasnt always easy, but we made it.

As we pulled into our house at 11:00pm that night you could hear the whole car say "We're home". A nice feeling. As much as traveling is fun, exciting, adventurous and heartwarming. Its nice to say "We are home".

Our last night and saying goodbye

We put the kids to bed and the four of us stayed up talking and sharing stories of how we met,our lives since and now. We all were tired but did not want to say goodnight.

Duane is a fabulous maker of home brewed beer and has another specialty home brewed sarsaparilla. It has a fabulous flavor tasting like root beer but with a kick. So we sampled some of that and bid each other goodnight.

The following morning was sad for all of us. Tracy and I took out time packing the car, Duane and Leann made a leisurely breakfast and the kids keep right on playing.

We had such a great time with Duane, Leann and Cooper and leaving was no fun at all. We had meet each other over three years ago kept in touch via e-mail and photos for all this time and finally got together again and no we had to leave, it is not right.

We loaded up the family truckster keep hugging each other until we felt like we had an ample supply until the next time and the loudamericans were off to Melbourne.

The Gertners were the most gracious hosts, having five people invade your home for 10 days is a lot and we can not thank them enough for their hospitality and friendship.

The drive to Melbourne was "interesting". We got lost twice and waited WAY to long to feed the kids so had to deal with crabby crabby kids in a restaruant. NOT a fun experience. But... we finally made it to the hotel.

While Tom was returning the car, Tracy took the kids on this VERY cool free train ride around the city. It seems that Melbourne runs a free train that circles the city and on Friday nights (which it was) private owners of these trains bring their trains out and run them. The trains are decorated in ALL different themes. The one we got on was an Indian theme and had a live 3 piece band playing on it. WAY cool. The kids were transfixed. A very cool way to see the city too. After Tom got back, we went hunting for dinner. I was craving Mexican. We walked and walked and walked and again waited to long to feed the kids. We FINALLY found a Greek/Turkish restaruant and had gryos. Again, crabby kids at dinner.

I did learn an important lesson though. American is the only place that markets Mexican food. I did a lot of thinking on this and my new theory makes sense. Since Mexico borders us and there are so many imigrants, they have brought their food culture into mainstream. Other countries dont have this blessing and so Mexican food is a rarity outside of North and South America. Bummer for me as I still have yet to have a good burrito, taco, fahita in the last 7 months. I am going crazy!!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Umpherston Sink Hole and of course the Pool

Our trip with the Gertners is winding down and I'm sure part of them is anxiously awaiting our departure tomorrow. We have had a great time, seen ALL the sights and are really going to miss our reconnected friends. We had a couple more tourist places to visit in town and ventured out into the heat again...

The "Limestone Coast" boast many unique places to visit and the Umpherston sink hole is on that list. A must do before we left.

The USH (as I have decided too call it) is not your typical hole in the ground. It has beautifully manicure gardens, it is abundant with flowers and at night home to the ever present possum. (Not George Jones) As the smell reminds you. You are literally walking along a flat picnic area and then all of sudden, there is this huge hole in the ground with gardens all through it. We ventured the 100+ steps down and enjoyed looking at all the flowers/water/etc.

Up in the picnic area, they had old tractors, logging machings and plows that the kids could sit on. As you can imagine Billy and Cooper were in their personal version of heaven. There were HUGE sprinklers running for the gardens, so of course Jimmy was soaking wet by the time we left.

Off to the pool. When I asked Jimmy what his favorite part of vacation was, he said "the pool". Of course. It was his favorite part of Bangalore (our pool) Kerala (Le Merdiean pool) and now Australia (Mt Gambier pool) Why do we even bother to take this kid places, I should just buy him a St Louis Park seasonal pool pass and call it a day. I suspect it would be WAY cheaper (remind me of this when we are back...) Once again, the kids played their hearts out in the pool and fell asleep on the ride home.

Leanne and Duane had friends over for "a barbie". They have 2 girls (Charlie -5 and April - 8). I think Jimmy's in love. The kids played for HOURS. They played house, in the sand pit, cricket, bikes, sparklers, you name it. It reminded me of when we were kids and our folks would "drag" us to their friends house for dinner with the promise of new kids to play with. We'd argue for the 1st hour, pout for the 2nd and be inseparable by the 3rd. The world came to an end when it was time to leave. It was a great last night in Mt Gambier. A beautiful summer evening.

Banglore Traffice - shamelessly plagarized from another blog

November 8, 2005
Driving in Bangalore / India
Filed under: humor — pegasus @ 5:07 pm
For the benefit of every Tom, Dick and Harry visiting India and daringto drive on Indian roads, I am offering a few hints for survival. Theyare applicable to every place in India except Bihar, where lifeoutside a vehicle is only marginally safer.
Indian road rules broadly operate within the domain of karma where youdo your best, and leave the results to your insurance company. Thehints are as follows: Do we drive on the left or right of the road?The answer is “both”. Basically you start on the left of the road,unless it is occupied. In that case, go to the right, unless that isalso occupied. Then proceed by occupying the next available gap, as inchess. Just trust your instincts, ascertain the direction, andproceed. Adherence to road rules leads to much misery and occasionalfatality. Most drivers don’t drive, but just aim their vehicles in thegenerally intended direction.
Don’t you get discouraged or underestimate yourself except for abelief in reincarnation; the other drivers are not in any betterposition. Don’t stop at pedestrian crossings just because some foolwants to cross the road. You may do so only if you enjoy being bumpedin the back.
Pedestrians have been strictly instructed to cross only when trafficis moving slowly or has come to a dead stop because some minister isin town. Still some idiot may try to wade across, but then, let us nottalk ill of the dead.
Blowing your horn is not a sign of protest as in some countries. Wehorn to express joy, resentment, frustration, romance and bare lust(two brisk blasts),or just mobilize a dozing cow in the middle of thebazaar. Keep informative books in the glove compartment. You may readthem during traffic jams, while awaiting the chief minister’smotorcade, or waiting for the rainwater to recede when over groundtraffic meets underground drainage.
Occasionally you might see what looks like a UFO with blinking coloredlights and weird sounds emanating from within. This is an illuminatedbus, full of happy pilgrims singing bhajans. These pilgrims go atbreakneck speed, seeking contact with the Almighty,
often meeting with success.
Auto Rickshaw (Baby Taxi): The result of a collision between arickshaw and an automobile, this three-wheeled vehicle works on anexternal combustion engine that runs on a mixture of kerosene oil andcreosote. This triangular vehicle carries iron rods, gas cylinders orpassengers three times its weight and dimension, at an unspecifiedfare. After careful geometric calculations, children are folded andpacked into these auto rickshaws until some children in the peripheryare not in contact with the vehicle at all. Then their school bags arepushed into the microscopic gaps all round so those minor collisionswith other vehicles on the road cause no permanent damage. Of course,the peripheral children are charged half the fare and also learnNewton’s laws of motion enroute to school. Auto-rickshaw driversfollow the road rules depicted in the film Ben Hur, and are licensedto irritate.
Mopeds: The moped looks like an oil tin on wheels and makes noise likean electric shaver. It runs 30 miles on a teaspoon of petrol andtravels at break-bottom speed. As the sides of the road are too roughfor a ride, the moped drivers tend to drive in the middle of the road;they would rather drive under heavier vehicles instead of around themand are often “mopped” off the tarmac.
Leaning Tower of Passes: Most bus passengers are given free passes andduring rush hours, there is absolute mayhem. There are passengershanging off other passengers, who in turn hang off the railings andthe overloaded bus leans dangerously, defying laws of gravity butobeying laws of surface tension. As drivers get paid for overload (somany Rupees per kg of passenger), no questions are ever asked. Steerclear of these buses by a width of three
One-way Street: These boards are put up by traffic people to add jestin their otherwise drab lives. Don’t stick to the literal meaning andproceed in one direction. In metaphysical terms, it means that youcannot proceed in two directions at once. So drive as you like, inreverse throughout, if you are the fussy type. Least I soundhypercritical, I must add a positive point also. Rash and fast drivingin residential areas has been prevented by providing a “speedbreaker”; two for each house. This mound, incidentally, covers thewater and drainage pipes for that residence and is left untarred foreasy identification by the corporation authorities, should they wantto recover the pipe for year-end accounting.
Night driving on Indian roads can be an exhilarating experience forthose with the mental make up of Genghis Khan. In a way, it is likeplaying Russian roulette, because you do not know who amongst thedrivers is loaded. What looks like premature dawn on the horizon turnsout to be a truck attempting a speed record. On encountering it, justpull partly into the field adjoining the road until the phenomenonpasses.
Our roads do not have shoulders, but occasional boulders. Do not blinkyour lights expecting reciprocation. The only dim thing in the truckis the driver, and with the peg of illicit arrack (alcohol) he has hadat the last stop, his total cerebral functions add up to little morethan a naught. Truck drivers are the James Bonds of India, and arelicensed to kill. Often you may encounter a single powerful beam oflight about six feet above the ground. This is not a super motorbike,but a truck approaching you with a single light on, usually the leftone. It could be the right one, but never get too close toinvestigate. You may prove your point posthumously.

Princess Margaret Rose Cave

Leanne woke up to another "sick" day and so Tom, Duane and I hurried to find the kids an "out of the house" activity for the day. It was HOT. If the 1st week we were there was mild (low 60's), now it was HOT (low 90's). Global warming is alive and well in Australia too.

Duane took us to Princess Margaret Rose Cave. This is a particularly interesting cave and park area. This cave was "found" by a couple of adventurous boys back in the middle of the last Century (1930's). The cave is around 17 meters below ground and is always the same temp of 50 degrees (Fahrenheit). The cave being made of limestone is quite remarkable.
You can travel down into the cave and escape the heat of south Australia,which we did, or you can picnic in the park or swim in the river, which we did not (Jimmy didn't have our permission).

Inside the cave is a guided tour that is given by one of the current owners.

Keep in mind that while there were 3 of us adults, there were also 4 kids under 6 yrs old and we are heading underground into a cave.... (This is a set up by the way....)

As I mentioned above the cave was founded by two friends who for several summers through garbage/sticks/rocks into this hole in the ground until one of them had the bright idea to climb down the hole and see what was there. I do not know what inspired the fellow to descend into this small hole with only a candle and some matches, fame or to many beers.
Whatever the inspiration it has become what they refer to in Australia as the "jewel of the crown"in the lower Glenelg National Park.

It was pretty cool. You can see where the rivers ran underground, where the bats and centipedes lived and they even turned off all the lights so that we could see how dark it was. We were able to take some photos but no video was allowed and NO TOUCHING THE WALLS!! This was repeated to three of the loudamericans quite often during the tour by the other two:)!
The reason for this was because you would kill the stalagmite of stalactite and that is a no no. Jimmy, of course, had an uncontrollable desires to TOUCH everything. Kay decided to talk the whole way through the tour including singing all her favorite tunes (Baa Baa Black Sheep, Twinkle Twinkle, Happy Birthday, I Release and I Let Go) and Billy kept saying, "I'm 'cared. I'm 'cared". Its a wonder no one wanted to walk by us, that we were the last people in the tour line and that I only caught 1 fifth of what the tour guide had to say.

We also walked down to the river (outside the cave not in it) and watched a couple of big kids (whose mom and dad gave them permission) swim in the river. It looked a lot like the river in Stillwater, lots of cliffs and pine trees. Very pretty.

We then wrestled everyone back in the car and headed home.

Cooper and Duane headed off to do a couple of chores and the loudamericans headed off to the pool, once again. Billy is now addicted to "swimming" and kept saying "I'm a crocodile Mommy" and would try to bite me. He also pitched a royal fit when we had to leave after swimming for 2 hours. I am sure everyone else at the pool thought I was pulling his toe nails out one by one.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sunday, January 14, 2007

New Years and the Beach

Dec 31 - Jan 2 - New Years, The Beach and Fishing

What would a trip to Australia be with spending time at the beach!!
There are a great many beaches in southern Australia and it seems they get more gorgeous as you go from on to the next.

On New Years eve Leann was not feeling up to par so we called it a vacation day and did errands, took the kids for a walk etc. Tom cooked the most amazing pork chops and salmon and we got to meet many of their friends as they all stopped by to say "Happy New Year". The kids did sparklers and we watched the Sydney fireworks on TV. Amazing.

On New Years Day we set off for a full day at the beach. There is NO better way to start the year than at the beach. Jimmy was the 1st one in the water (again) and was totally loving jumping into the waves. Kay was playing with the sand toys and had sand EVERYWHERE. Billy was attached to my hip, but loving all the attention he was getting. We had a picnic lunch and then headed for another beach. This one had these cool caves and tidal pools. Jimmy went exploring in them with this silly bucket on his head and Billy fell asleep in my arms. Kay, who hadn't gotten nearly full enough of sand, decided to take off her swim suit and roll in the sand naked. Leanne and I figured it was just as effective as going to the spa to get a body scrub. We had ice cream as a treat and slept the whole way home.

We had a great dinner as usual with some awesome cold beer called Crown. We watched a movie after the kids hit the hay and were ready for another fun filled day.

We arrived at Nelson River ready to catch fish and catch them we did!! Cooper was pulling in fish with Duane left and right and then Jimmy,Kay and Daddy starting catching them and when it was all over we caught about 35 fish, not bad. We played in the park trying to wear the kids out as usual and to no avail; so we did the next best thing...went to the pool!

Mount Gambier has a great pool area boasting three separate pools along with a canopy over each one. It was very hot and the pool was a welcome relief. There is one for babies and toddlers another for 5-10 year olds and then a regular pool. The canopies over the pool is great because you can cool off in the water and not get sunburned for you efforts!!

Finally we got home and the kids had dinner and fell sound asleep. We, being the boring parents, watched another movie and had a quite evening.

Penola, Pathaway and Morambo Creek Winery

Dec 29 & 30 - We packed up the 2 cars and camper and headed out to spend the night with the Sue and Andrew (parents to Maddie 3 and Angus 5). They own a ranch/farm/winery about an hour & a half north of Mount Gambier deep in Australia wine country.

We piddled around all morning, trying to wear the kids out so that they'd sleep on the drive up. We stopped for lunch in this VERY cute little town called Penola. It was an old old town (200 yrs old?) and had a cute main street with an old fashion candy shop, antique stores and wine cellars. After wandering aimlessly for a little bit, we found ourselves in one of the wine cellars (go figure). These are the store fronts to the local wineries. You can taste the wine, eat crusty bread and buy kitchen supplies that would make William Sonoma jealous. After trying desperately to prevent my kids from breaking something, the owner brought in his brand new beagle puppy. Billy was smitten. The kids spent 30 minutes playing with this puppy and Billy was in heaven. It also gave Tom and I a chance to taste the local wine. Yum! God was watching over us again and we escaped without as much as a mark on anything.

After a picnic lunch in the park, we were back on the road. We arrived at Sue and Andrews about 3:00 and the kids proceeded to play like they had known each other for years. The best part about it was, Maddie and Angus were also born in Korea. So.. we all have a ton in common.

The ranch raises cattle and sheep, grows a variety of grains (wheat, canola, beans) and most importantly grapes for wine. The grapes they grow are part of Morambo Creek and Jip Jip Rock wineries. They had BOXES of wine sitting around the house. As you can imagine, Tom and I were in awe. The wines are really great. The have a fabulous Shriaz as well as a very tasty Chardonnay and if you can find some at your local shop it is worth it. Otherwise request them to put it in stock, Andrew and Susan would be grateful.

It was harvest season so the boys went down to see the combines and tractors. We could hardly pull them away. Jimmy even got to help by riding shot gun in the combine. After a pretty unbelievable sunset, dinner was meat/chicken on the "barbie", wine and the most unbelievable dessert "pav" (pavlovia). Its a spun sugar egg white cake topped with whip cream and 5 different types of berries. Tom declared it the "best dish" he had had in 5 months and Kay wouldn't stop eating the berries. All in all, a perfect afternoon.

The Bangalore 5 called it a night and retired to our camper. It was the best. We were in the country... the cool night air... sleeping in sleeping bags... total quiet. There were even little glow in the dark stars on the ceiling of the camper so that when you turned off the flashlight it glowed in the dark. The kids were TOTALLY impressed with this part. Billy kept popping his head up next to mine and say "hi mommy" "hi mommy" "hi mommy" until he passed out.

The next day we took a tour of the grape fields, the wheat fields and took the kids 4 wheeling. They "picked" eggs from the chicken coop and jumped on the trampoline. We lunched on a Plough mans lunch (cheeses, meats, breads, chutneys, pickles, mustard's, fresh veggies .. you know, my favorite lunch) and then tried to rally the kids for pictures. This did not work so well. Like dogs that can tell when they are going to the vet , they could sense that we were leaving, they were tired and all very uncooperative. After 3-4 different tantrums that ran through 3 different families, we gave up all reason and bribed them with ice pops (or icy poles as they are called there). This finally calmed everyone down enough for some group photos. The only draw back is that each kid has one sticking out of their mouths in all the pictures. At least they were quiet.

We packed up all the kids and once again, they were all asleep before we hit the end of the driveway.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mount Gambier-Valley Lakes-Mount Schank-Allendale

Dec 27 & 28 - We had a great night sleep and we were all ready to go see some of the cool sites around Mount Gambier.

Mount Gambier is a lovely town of about 30,000 people, great parks,swimming pool and many differnt shops. Its part of the Limestone Coast and is built on a bunch of underground caves, waterways and sinkholes. It is a great place for really brave and highly skilled scuba divers as you can actually scuba dive under the city through the waterways. That sort of freaks me out a bit.

We set off for the "blue lake" which the locals refer to this unbelievable lake. It is a sink hole that is the bluest lake we have ever seen. The lake is in a sunken volcano which there are several around the area. The color of this lake is one of the great debates because it changes constantly from grey to blue depending on the time of year, day, sun,cloud cover,etc. When the sun is out and the sky is clear the lake takes on the color of a raspberry blue Popsicle. That is about the best way to describe the color. It takes your breath away. We hiked around the lake a couple times during the trip, and I (Tracy) was constantly amazed by it. I guess that scientists haven't figured out yet why it changes color. The photo attached really doesn't do it justice.

We then all headed down to the animal sanctuary to see koala's, kangaroos, emu's and the like. The kids loved it. You can walk right up to the animals and there is very little gating or fencing to prevent you from feeling close to them. The kids loved seeing the animals as much as they loved just running free for the 1st time in 2 days. Jimmy and Cooper were holding hands and hugging. Jimmy started to call Cooper "The Coop" "Coopsie" and "Coops". That's when you know you've made it. When Jimmy gives you a nickname.

Leanne did a great job planning our trip. We had something exciting to see everyday, but none of the days felt like too much. The kids were still home to have a nap and relax. Sort of the perfect pace.

The next day we loaded up the group and headed off to Mount Schank.

Mount Schank is also a sink hole however unlike the blue lake that you can drive to, you must hike up to the top of Mount Schank to see into it. The climb was quite steep however there were some very handy steps that we later found out Leeann's father put them in 20 some years ago. The climb was hard with the 2 kids in backpacks on our back, but it was totally worth it because when we got to the top the views were great. I must apologise here because for some reason we have no photos of it:(. (We forgot our camera that day, but we do have some really cool video of it...) I wish we had had our camera with us as you could see all the neighboring towns, the other "mounts" in the area and you could see the ocean. You could also see Kay's bare bum in the "wind" as she peed in the backpack on the way up and had to walk around butt naked from the waist down as we didn't haul all the necessary provisions to the top with us. It was cute in hindsight but frustrating at the time.

Once Kay aired out, we packed up the troops again and headed into Port Mac for lunch. This is a tiny town on the Southern Ocean. I ordered fish and chips, the kids ate the worlds largest hot dogs and Tom had a steak sandwich. It felt like heaven. We then braved the cool weather and headed to the 1st of many beaches. It was amazing. Rock cliffs, shallow tidal pools, white sand beaches, huge crashing waves. I told Leanne how gorgeous it all was and she said "really, this isn't even one of the nicer beaches, wait to you see the others". We walked out to an island and of course Jimmy managed to "go swimming" despite the cold weather (it was about 65 the 1st week and then hit the 90's the second week. Global warming is alive and well in Australia too....). We then went driving along the coast. Imagine HWY 1 in California past Monterrey Bay, etc. Stunning. We stopped at a couple of places to take video and wiggle our toes in the sand.

Once again, we were home for naps and a good homemade meal with Australian red wine:)

Dec 25 & 26 - Travel Days

So... despite all my worries, we actually made it to Melbourne and then on to Mount Gambier. While we have flown through the Bangalore airport before, I'm not sure what I expected. There is only 1 international terminal and its really a glorified bus station. Considering how many people fly in and out of Bangalore every day, its a wonder that they get here at all. It also explains why they have flights leaving and coming 24 hours a day. At least we knew we were at the right gate. The flight to Malaysia (to change planes to get to Melbourne) was the worst part. We left at 12:30am and Billy got a case of the "Kay's". I had flash backs of our plane trip from hell to Michigan when Kay stayed awake until 5:30am running wild through the airport. He refused to go to sleep. Its a 4 hour flight and he FINALLY fell asleep at 3:30am. Nice. It didnt help that they keep the lights on in the cabin until 2:45am even though everyone on the plane was trying to sleep. It was actually a pretty good airline (Malaysian air) and they even served beer/screwdriver as a "welcome on board" drink.

We hit KulaLumpar (sp?) about 4:45am and had a 2 hour lay over. Now, this is a REALLY nice airport, it reminds me of Seoul. We even saw a Starbucks! Yummy! The flight to Melbourne (8 hrs) was actually pretty manageable. Billy and Kay passed out for about 4 hours and Jimmy made a new friend. There was no easy way to sit 2 adults and 3 kids (that need supervision) on this flight, so Jimmy ended up across the aisle from me. He was NOT happy about it. He was sitting by this great big (6'4") Brit named Morris. I took it as a good sign that my grandfathers name was Morris. Luckily Morris travels a lot and was very patient with Jimmy. Our seats each had their own TV monitors and the movies/tv/games were all on demand. So, Morris showed Jimmy how to play video games and we didnt hear from him for about 4 hours as well. Thank God for Morris. I wanted to give him a hug when it was over, but he just said "I've sat by worse". I'm sure he has. When we were deboarding the plane, Jimmy said "Wow, you are a big guy, Morris." In more ways than 1!

We got into Melbourne about 9:00pm and after waiting forever for our luggage, customs, car, etc...Tom braved driving on the "other" side of the road and I tried not to push the brake or flinch every 2 minutes. The kids kept asking why Daddy was driving and where was Saravanan. We reached the hotel and needed to find food. Keep in mind, its Christmas day 11:00pm. Nothing was open, but I found an IGA and loaded up on premade sandwiches/beer/juice and chips. We ate and passed out.

The next day we had to drag the kids out of bed at 9:00am to get going for our 5 hour drive to Mount Gambier. The drive was amazing. We were basically heading south west towards the Southern Ocean. It reminde me of a strange combination of Nebraska and California. Flat as far as the eye could see and miles upon miles of golden wheat fields, cattle and sheep. Then, out of no where, you'd be heading down hill, just to hit the "bottom" and go up again. In MN, if you do that, you usually end up at a river or something at the bottom of the hill. Not here, just random down hills followed by flat flat flat. It turns out Australia is experiencing a major drought (hence the brown fields) and was once under the ocean. So, all those sudden hills were like the tiering of the ocean floor. Very cool.

They are also MAJORLY bike friendly. It is legal and almost encouraged for bicyclists to ride on the highways. They have signs and paths all marked out. Wendy, you would have been in heaven! We saw tons of cyclists.

They also seemed very concerned about people falling asleep at the wheel. There were signs posted everywhere "Arrive alive, Revive! Power Nap! Nap area 2 kms, etc." I guess loads of people die every year from falling asleep as they are driving across the country.

Also, every town has a McDonalds. Now, keep in mind that we have only seen 1 McDonalds during our whole time in India. So, the kids were going crazy. Every town had a McDonalds and the kids would "magically" have to go to the bathroom when ever they saw one. "Hey, I have a good idea Dad, let's stop at Old McDonalds to go potty". Its a wonder we made it to Mount Gambier.

We reached about 3pm and our friends (Leanne, Duane and Cooper) met us on the highway on the way into town. We all jumped out our cars for hugs and greetings. It was SO incredible to see them again after 3 years. We all had big big smiles on our faces.

Monday, January 08, 2007

We're Back.....

We are home and safe and sleep deprived and behind in house work and work work.

We got into Bangalore at 12:30am Monday and the kids were awake at 6:00am yesterday and at 5:00am today. I've been at work and they went to school. Jimmy has a temp of 102 today and I have a slew of guests at work this week, including 22 MBA students from Yale.

Needless to say.....I'll write more when I am coherent.

All our love and well wishes in this New Year!!