Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday to the Sunshine Coast, Queensland

Our holiday to the Sunshine Coast was so wonderful, so filled with amazing experiences, I cannot hope to capture it in a brief blog post. Let me then just give some highlights.

Day 1: We took a mid-day flight on Monday from Sydney to the small Sunshine Coast airport, located about 100 kilometers north of Brisbane (600 miles north of Sydney), on the coast of tropical Queensland. We arrived at 2.30, rented a car, and were at our resort by 3.30. It only took that long because the luggage was slow coming out. In fact, our resort was only about 5 minutes from the airport, and what an amazing place it was.

Our room at the Surfair on Marcoola Beach was actually a two-bedroom, two-bath condo with a full kitchen, appliances, and all the necessities of life. The huge balcony overlooked the pool area beyond which was the beach. I cannot do the scenery justice so you'll have to see the photos.

We spent the afternoon at the pool. Kent was fearful at first but soon came to really like the water. Miyako got to fulfill her dream of being a mermaid. She really loved the pool. That night we ate Pizza at the local Italian restaurant.

Day 2: We woke early to another perfect Queensland-blue sky. Jumping in the car, we set off toward Bribane to see some old friends from Sydney who moved up a year ago. On our way, we got a taste of Queensland's climate, topography, and fauna. It's quite different from Sydney: more tropical, much less developed, and interesting conical volcanic remnants scattered here and there.

Our friends live in Brisbane's northern suburbs, where they built a brand new house. The neighborhood, with beautiful homes, grassy parks, elaborate and very large playgrounds placed here and there, wooded bike paths, and a new community shopping center was the vision of an ideal world. The only thing I could compare it to, and I haven't been there myself, might be Celebration, Florida, a master-planned community built by Disney in the 1990s, meant to be the model American city. The irony is, however, that our friend's neighborhood is not all that unusual in Australia while Celebration, FL is truly an anomaly in the US. Moreover (and no offense to our friends if they're reading this), it's hardly a "rich" area. It's just a nice, new, middle-class suburb. By no means are all Australian communities perfect (not least of which includes our own) but so many look similar that I couldn't help but feel, once again, very fortunate to be here.

We spent most of the day with them at a massive indoor playground. The photos don't do the place justice. It was really wonderful, with slides, air guns, ball pools, and much more. Miyako probably had the most fun of us all. She got to see Claire, her first best friend.

Our friends followed us back to our resort that afternoon at which we enjoyed the pool together, checked out the beach, and shared a wonderful take-away Italian dinner. I washed it down with a newly-discovered dark beer from Tooheys.

Day 3: Another very hot day. We ventured off to the world-famous Australia Zoo, home to "The Crocodile Hunter," Steve Irwin. Steve died tragically last year, leaving his American wife, Terri, and two small children in charge of the zoo and their massive conservation and media enterprise. Since then, his daughter, Bindi, has become the star of her very own nature show, "Bindi, the Jungle Girl." She's a superstar in her own right now. Anyway, on the way to the zoo, I mused to Kyoko that it's possible we'll actually see Bindi and her brother, not because they are featured at the zoo itself but merely due to the fact that they actually live there (not in cages). Well, as fate would have it, just past the front entrance, there was an area where kids can play on a bouncy castle. And guess who was horsing around before school? That's right, Bindi and her little brother, Robert! I was surprised and excited but tried to play it cool. I just walked up to where she was, said hi and asked if I could take a photo. She was so gracious, forthcoming and almost frighteningly accustomed to the attention, I was really impressed. I thought it was a shame Miyako didn't recognize her but in retrospect, if Miyako had, she would have probably shied away.

The zoo was on the small side but it featured mostly native animals. We saw two giant tortoises. One was the son of a tortoise that was brought to Australia by Charles Darwin from the Galapagos Islands at the end of the 19th century. It died in 2006 at 175 years old. Miyako and mom fed elephants and lots of kangaroos. But the highlight of the day was the crocodile show. This, again, was beyond explanation but there is one thing I'll mention that really struck me. This was a live performance with extremely dangerous animals that cannot be trained in any way whatsoever. While the performers were doing the show--which boiled down to them feeding the animals large pieces of raw meat--you could tell that they knew what they were doing, but, shockingly, you could also tell that they were profoundly afraid of the crocks. They took no risks. They didn't tell jokes or mess around at all. It was all business as they fed the giant living dinosaurs.

On our way home, we stopped at the Giant Pineapple, a Queensland monument (significance: unknown). More time in the pool that evening.

Day 4: We drove north up the coast to Noosa, the resort town with the unusual feature of a beach that faces due north (that's toward the sun down here). Noosa was pleasant but very exclusive, white, and expensive. We liked the visit but would not want to live there.

We took an inland route back to the airport to see a bit more of the bush. We were struck again by how undeveloped Queensland is. Just a few kilos from Noosa was nothing but fallow land all the way to the horizon. Despite this, the roads were very well maintained, another thing that reminded us that the state is so much richer than New South Wales, thanks to the mining boom.

We flew back to Sydney that afternoon. It was nice to travel but coming home's great too. We had a wonderful time. Please enjoy the photos. We're on our way to explore the remote regions of our own state next weekend and pay a visit to our capital city at Canberra. Should be fun.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Flouting the Law and Christmas Trees

I broke the law boldly and proudly today. In Australia, it is unlawful for anyone who is not a licensed electrician to do anything more with electrical appliances than plug them into the wall and flip the switch. I knew this early on but never took it seriously, until I tried to change a light fixture several months after arriving! Removing a light fixture cover reveals a veritable spaghetti cluster of wires in all colors and textures. It's truly mind boggling. Why in the hell does a single light bulb need 7 to 10 separate wires running to it? I still don't know.

Anyway, since then, I've experimented and have met with mild successful, but not with anything very serious. I was planning something bigger but just the other day a licensed carpenter warned me that even he would "never touch an electrical wire." I should stay away, he urged, with a throat-cutting gesture.

Well, I went ahead anyway and can now report that the whole thing was a triumphant success. I installed two new exterior lights on our back deck. I wish I had taken a photos of the spaghetti cluster but it was tremendous, truly messed up. The light fixtures are stainless steel and they house ultra-high output compact florescent bulbs! I only had one complication. The ohm meter was cross-tiered to the swash buckle, which interverted the PPK sub-channel ground impedance loop to the panel. The boys at KBR sorted it all out, though, so everything went well in the end.

Look at the image and you'll also see that we got new vinyl cladding installed on our eaves. New gutters too but no photos of those yet.

We also put up our Christmas tree today. Miyako was so excited to get started all day beforehand that she must have asked us if it was time about a million times. Kent too found the whole thing quite amusing. He liked biting into the Styrofoam ornaments and licking off the glitter.

Took the opportunity to break open the Bailey's Kyoko's mom bought us. It was very nice.

After all the excitement, Kent was feeling a little sleepy. (Cockatoos are engaged in a battle royale in the tree behind us. They were so loud all day.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Another Amazing Day in the City

We woke this morning determined to do something fun today. Work has been a little stressful lately and the back garden is now officially complete, so we felt it was time to get out of the house (not that it's all that uncommon). We jumped in the car and made the 1-hour trip to the city to visit the Australian Museum where they're doing an exhibition of dinosaur bones. Miyako went wild with all the displays, and much to our delight, Kent really seemed to get into the whole thing as well. He was squealing with joy as he ran from one display to the next, touching many things he shouldn't have. Miyako wanted to watch a movie about life in Queensland 10 million years ago but was horrified when it showed a swarm of baby dinosaurs being ambushed by a much larger meat eater that roared with contentment when it was done chewing.

After the museum we walked across the street to Hyde park where there was an outdoor photography expo, which was also very nice. The weather was absolutely perfect (quite typically so, however) so we stayed out for quite some time. Kent chased ibises. Miyako picked flowers. We felt like tourists, taking so many photos. We wrapped up the morning with lunch at our favorite Japanese noodle shop in Victoria Gallery. It was all very pleasant.

Tomorrow starts the last week of the semester. It's been a tough one, yet again. I had to go into work THREE DAYS A WEEK FOR THE PAST 13 WEEK! Slave boy, slave boy...

Enjoy the photos and leave us a comment, please.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dressup and Reptile Show

Miyako's long been a fan of dressing up but mix that primal desire with her current obsession with princesses and you have hours, and hours, and hours of fun. See the slide show for her newest looks as well as a peek at how brave she was at a recent reptile show held for the kinds in her play group.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Voting, Fireworks and Sculptures by the Sea

I've done it! I've cast my vote for Barack Obama. He's the first candidate I've ever voted for who really excited me. My last vote for president was really a vote against Bush, even though I thought Kerry was pretty good anyway. Gore, before that, was okay but I wasn't really interested in politics at the time.

Last night went to the grand opening of a new hardware store near the house and were treated to what must have been the best fireworks display we've seen in quite some time. The best part was that it was almost directly over our heads. Kent was asleep when it started but when the sound woke him, he was quite thrilled.

(That's Miyako's friend, not Kent)

Today, we went to Tamarama beach to see the annual art event, Sculptures by the Sea. It was wonderful and the seaside was more amazing than ever. While walking along the cliff wall, we talked about how it wouldn't be unreasonable for someone to spend thousands of dollars to visit a place like this. We live 40 minutes away. We even got to see a whale and her calf making their way down the coast along with a pod of dolphins. I even got a picture of the mother.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Some more photos

Here are some nice recent photos. Click HERE to see them in album format.

This, to me, is Australia

The sun-burned gum-tree siding, single Federation finial, rusted tin roof, and the perpetually cloudless, bristling azure sky all meet in a single vista to create what is for me the archetypal Australian scene.
From Home, Darling Harbour, and New Swing

Taken today at the summer farm festival, Camden, New South Wales.

A busy week

We had a very nice two weeks with the visit of Grandma Takeo from Japan. Celebrating her birthday and visiting the Blue Mountains were among the highlights. I think she most enjoyed quiet days in the garden with the kids.

Last night we went to the Outback Steakhouse to get a taste of the "real" Australia. I was so impressed by the lengths the restaurant went to make the experience seem authentic. They had large murals of the desert on the walls, piped in aboriginal music, and all Australa's finest on tap. Best of all, it seems the customers really wanted to get in on the act as well: all of them were speaking in an Australian accent! (I could tell it was fake, though)

Today was "Free Farm Day" in Camden and we had a wonderful time: petting animals, milking a cow, having a picnic, watching sheep shearing, listening to country music. It was very enjoyable.

Here are some photos. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Encounter with the Bra Boys

We went to Maroubra today, one of Sydney most pleasant seaside suburbs. Despite the beautiful atmosphere and the amazing foreshore, Maroubra has a poor image for its being the home of Sydney's most infamous surfer gang, the Bra Boys. This has never bothered us, however, and every time we've visited, we've only come away liking the place more. Today was no different, despite a brush with the "boys."

We had a picnic high up on the bluffs overlooking the sea before deciding to make our way down the coast to Maroubra beach. Kyoko took the car around to the carpark while me, Miyako, and Kent walked down alone. Arriving at the beach, we began slowly descending a long flight of winding steps that led to the sand below. I was carrying the stroller with Kent on board and Miyako was trailing behind. Half way down, we arrived at a landing before a turn and immediately, right there in front of us, appeared about 15 very large and darkly tanned young men, loitering and cavorting loudly on the steps and beach below. This alone would have been enough to cause some concern but it was what I saw next that really had me scared. The men were bedecked in the hallmark tattoos of the Bra Boys!

To be honest, fear was not my first emotion. In fact, I was more intrigued that the gang I had heard so much about was actually real and that their members were standing right there in front of us. In that split second, I made the decision to continue going down the steps, despite the fact that several of the "boys" were blocking the way. Several other families were also passing by so I had some reason to think it was okay. Just then, as I was about to leave the landing and continue lifting the stroller down the last flight of steps, one of the gang members came bounding up the steps, flailing his arms, pointing at us, and shouting commands to his mates.

I wasn't immediately scared but at the very moment, I wasn't quite sure what was going to happen. Then, just then, I grasped what it was that this burly surfer was doing: He was exhorting his fellow gang members to help me bring the stroller down the steps, and apparently, he was someone of some influence. Three or four of the guys immediately jumped to our sides, grabbing the stroller, and in a moment, it was delivered, with Kent strapped aboard, safely to the base of the steps. I was speechless, for two reasons. One was shock. The other was that I didn't want them to hear my accent. Who knows, maybe the Bra Boys don't like Americans.

The whole experience was surreal and it added a bit of spice to what was a wonderful day at the beach.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Summer is Here

Summer has well and truly come to Sydney. We're enjoying our first string of really warm days and it feels great. Here are some new photos with captions. Enjoy.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Extending the lawn

I extended the back lawn, about 3 meters further back and about 4 meters to the right and some other little bits here and there. All up, we (meaning I) laid 100 square meters of turf all by myself. I'm exhausted but it looks great. In a few weeks, all the gaps will be gone and we'll be smiling.

Here are some before, during, and after photos:

See bigger images HERE.

Miyako's 4th Birthday

We celebrated Miyako's 4th birthday today. She had her friends Hugh and Kai over for pizza and chocolate mud cake. She received some wonderful books on Greek myth and a statue of Pegasus, her favorite magical creature. Grandma Takeo also sent her some nice new books with a DVD to help her learn her ABCs. The Kimball grandparents and mom and dad got her what is her first "big girl" bicycle. She was extatic. It was a very good day.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Obama Blend from Compos Coffee

Compos Coffee, Sydney finest coffee house and roaster, is now offering "The Obama Blend." Their description of the new coffee is great (and, for Australia, surprisingly free of odd racial undertones):
Great depth of character, strong, and eloquent. This very appealing blend unites coffees from Africa and the Americas to produce a cup which has gotten us excited. Formidable middle palate flavors, syrupy with an uplifting finish.
Excellent drink for going forward.
I bought some the other day but haven't yet brewed it. Will report back later.

Notice the image in the background.

Monday, August 25, 2008

3 Sick Little Ones

We spent the last 4 days in and out of emergency rooms and doctors' offices trying to find out why both the kids and dad were so sick. There was plenty of chunder'in and brown chowder to go around, believe me, but it's all over now and were back to our normal routine.

Miyako still very sick. That's the food before it goes in. We didn't get a photo of it coming out a few minutes later.

On the mend.

Much better now; using mom's home-made Playdough™.

Celebrating grandpa's birthday.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Picnic at the Olympic Park

We went to the Sydney Olympic Park and had a picnic on Saturday. It was such a beautiful day. The kids had a great time playing with the sand.

Kent got all wet and sandy after playing in the sand.

After we got home, Kent had a bath and got all nice and clean.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Reading and Singing

Mom caught us all reading at the same time.

Kent trying to sing one of the themes from Anpanman.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Good Fences, Good Neighbors

New Fence

Peach tree in the backyard

Kent brushing his teeth

Miyako at the Krispy Kreme

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The fence is being replaced.

Miyako and Kent playing in a park with their friend Hugh.

They love cookies!

Kent enjoys looking at the pictures while daddy reads to him.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sister and brother

Kent likes to play with Legos.

He is very good at it!

Sometimes it is fun to get into the Lego box.

Miyako likes to play "tea party."

She set the table nicely.

Sometimes she gets into the tea set basket.

Are they related???

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Simple Green Solution

Kyoko thought of a simple way to save a good deal of energy. We make tea and instant coffee several times a day and we make instant soup several times a week. To do this, we usually heat up water in an electric hot water pot that is very fast and easy to use. It boils about 1.5L of water in about 1 minute, which makes us think it consumes a great deal of energy. Rather than repeating the heating process several times in a day just to make tea or coffee, we now just do it once in the morning and then put the remaining water into a nice new Thermos. The water stays warm all day and we never have to use the pot again. It's a very easy way to save energy. This and our new compost bin make us feel like were doing something good for the enviornment. Soon we'll have a garden that will do even more.

Weekend in Newtown and Victoria Park

We drove into the city today to eat at our favorite vegetarian restaurant in Newtown and walk around Victoria Park. The weather was great and the kids had a wonderful time. We also visited the famous Compos Coffee on Missenden Road, said to serve the best coffee in Sydney. This evening, we made cookies, played with Legos, and read some books.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Miyako's Growing

Lately, we've noticed that Miyako seems to be eating a bit more than usual. Could she be going through a growth spurt? Kent's waking up a lot in the night late seemingly hungry too. I guess it'll just get worse here on out, on their way to eating us out of house and home.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Kyoko Doing the Blog Thing

Kyoko is trying to figure out how to use Blogger. She's determined to get it right and I admire her tenacity.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Exotic Flower

We saw beautiful orange-red flowers blooming on the side of the road. I remember I saw the same flowers last year and was struck by its exoticity. It was such a beautiful warm winter day. Can you believe it is the coldest time of the year here in Sydney? We stopped and took some pictures. We picked one flower and took it to the garden store. They said it looked like a kind of succulent plant. I looked up and learned that it belongs to a family of Kalanchoe. It is also called "Devil's Backbone."

Kent can say "fower" meaning flower.

Lunch at the outside cafe.

Beautiful sunset.

Kent is 19 months old

Our little boy Kent is 19 months old. He has the vocabulary of about 60-70 speaking words both in English and Japanese. One of his favorite words is "shooooo!" He brings his shoes and says the word when he wants to go outside.
He still wakes up and cries in the middle of the night. Daddy and mommy cannot wait for the day he sleeps through the night...

Kent is good at puzzles.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

First Post

This first post is just a test to guage the format of this template. This first post is just a test to guage the format of this template. This first post is just a test to guage the format of this template. This first post is just a test to guage the format of this template. This first post is just a test to guage the format of this template. This first post is just a test to guage the format of this template.