Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reading Room

"A room without books is like a body without a soul."  So said Cicero.

It could be said that my and Spencer's relationship is based on a book. Well...books (plural), actually.

I moved many times as a single lady. Many. Times. In ten years, I lived in seven apartments. Four in Dallas, two in LA, and one in DC. Moving for me means boxes and boxes of books to be hauled down the stairs...only to have to be hauled back up the stairs again at my new place (because I almost always live on the third floor somehow).

Amidst one of my many moves as I was boxing up my books yet again, I remember wondering aloud to my mom, "What if I end up with a boy who doesn't like books?"  She said she didn't think that was possible.

Spencer and I met three weeks after I arrived in DC in July 2009 and had gone out six or eight times before he moved to Australia that October. When he left, there was no arrangement, no understanding between us. But we kept in touch and would chat here and there--just small talk, mostly. And then! And then we had a conversation about Atlas Shrugged. He'd never read it, I told him he must. He bought the book and started reading it within the week. He loved it. He couldn't stop talking about it. And, for the first time, I started to think things could get serious. When he came home for the holidays he gave me a bracelet that had reminded him of the one Hank gave Dagny, and I gave him...another book: Shop Class as Soulcraft.

I hadn't yet read that one, but I wanted to, and I hoped he would want to. He did. He read it on the plane on his way back to Australia. And he loved it.

Before we were engaged, I'd given him two more books. He began reading every book I gave him almost the minute he had it in his hands. I'd never had a boy show so much interest in what I cared about. I wasn't even sure it was possible.

And now, a pattern has officially developed. A few weeks ago, when he arrived home from work, he surprised me with a book he'd picked up for me. The best part about this constant book exchange is the conversation it fuels. We talk and talk about what we are learning and about how our world views are being affected. And we are more connected because of it.

It seems my mom was right. It could never have been otherwise. Books have to be a significant part of my life with Spencer, else there would be no life with Spencer.

In every room a stack of books and in our bodies, souls.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Manly: Up Darley Road

Every time I leave our apartment without a camera I regret it. There is so much to capture--so many endearing things about Manly, so many details I've grown to love. I love the sidewalk cafes and little boutiques. I love the architectural stylings of all the old buildings. I love the traditional Aussie houses with their red tile roofs and swoopy waves on the peaks. I love the chimneys. I love the doors. I love the fences. I love the gates. I love the tiled front porches and the ornate overhangs. And I think I'll never forget what life looks like here. 

But then I remember. Time moves quickly and images fade and your memory is all too soon only able to offer up very vague renderings of what life was before it became what it is.

So. New goal. Take the camera with me everywhere I go more often. Even if I'm just walking up Darley Road to visit a friend in the hospital. Which, incidentally, is where these shots came from. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Great Barrier Reef: Check

An anniversary is a good excuse for a little trip, don't you think? We thought it the perfect occasion to check the Great Barrier Reef off our list.


We flew into Cairns on Thursday evening and drove north on a dark, winding, 2-lane road for what felt like forever, but what was really only about an hour. We arrived at our hotel in Port Douglas at almost midnight and headed straight to bed, as  we were scheduled to meet our shuttle for our snorkel tour first thing in the morning.

We spent Friday on the open seas. The Great Barrier Reef is 50 kilometers off shore (which takes about an hour and a half by boat).  It was a beautiful day, so we headed to the top level of the boat and claimed a couple of lounge chairs and thought we'd get some sun since we had some time to kill.

The water was a mite rough, and we were getting tossed around pretty good up on the third level of the boat...but we thought, eh, we can take it! The further we got from shore, however, the less sun we seemed to have. Dark clouds were on the horizon, and the wind was blowing something fierce. (For a second I wondered if we'd boarded the USS Minnow.) We kept getting pounded by huge waves of icy water, which is fine when there's sun to dry you off and warm you up. Less so when it's just cloudy and windy and cold. Needless to say, we didn't last long "lounging in the sun" and ran for cover down below.

The sun didn't really come out all day, but luckily, our snorkel guides were fully prepared and provided wetsuits to help make our adventures in the water a little less chilly.

The Great Barrier Reef is amazing. Its sheer size alone is almost unfathomable. The water is crystal clear and there is plenty of sea life to hang out with, of course. Our favorite sightings of the day would have to be the reef shark and the giant clam. (Oh, and Angus--the huge blue groper who was hanging out under the boat at every stop. How did he know where to find us every time?) The red, blue, orange and yellow coral just goes on forever. We didn't have an underwater camera, but our snorkel tour peeps had a photographer in the water with us so we got this amazing shot of us in action. Christmas card material? Hmmmm, perhaps not.

Other than adventuring "way far away from the dock" to see the reef, we spent the rest of our time totally relaxing and enjoying the scenery of Port Douglas. Oh, and eating. Lots of eating.

We loved getting to see such different terrain from what we're used to in our 
neck of the woods. Much more tropical and mountainous in that part of the country.

Rock oysters and a bottle of Pellegrino equals one happy husband.

 The view from our table for our anniversary breakfast.

 Mmmm.... A delicious brekkie. Please, could someone 
make me stuffed french toast for breakfast every morning? Thank you.
I may or may not have snagged some protein off the 
mister's plate. Really. Who needs that much meat in one meal? 
And the most interesting part of breakfast was this guy hanging out in the water. Spencer was
less intrigued than I.  He forged ahead with his meatlover's special while I grabbed the camera every time 
the croc came close and went running to the edge of the dock trying to get a shot.

I sang, "Don't ever smile at a crocodile," the rest of the day. 
Obviously. I mean, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

As the Shadows Fall

I took this picture from my window as we flew back from Cairns last Sunday night. I had become rather involved with my book as we flew, but looked up just in time to see this golden ribbon of sunlight momentarily resting on Australia before the indigo sky gently pressed it down into the shadows.

In that moment, I became very aware of the space our silver airplane occupied as it moved through the sky in what suddenly felt like slow motion. I thought about all the life that was being lived on the ground below as the darkness gathered--life that is rich and satisfying at times, cruel and heartbreaking at others--and how none of it ends just because night comes. I wondered at what God must see from above that ribbon of light. How many individual circumstances and struggles. How many tragedies, how many triumphs. How many loves and hurts and joys and fears. And how He knows them all. And feels them all. And holds them all in His hands.

"And [my] heart swelled wide as eternity." Because I have a part in that great scene playing out below. And, tiny as my role may be, I am tied to the whole of it.

As the shadows fall, O Savior,
Turn our thoughts and minds to thee.
Help us, Lord, that we may strive for 
Peace, and find our rest in thee.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Grass So Green

We took this picture when we visited Kangaroo Valley last Christmas, and I think it's so pretty.  And so green!

You know that thing about how the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence from wherever it is you’re standing? Well, I’m here to tell you it’s true.  The grass is greener.

A year ago yesterday, Spencer and I tied the knot. Before finding  him, I had moments here and there (slash everyday) where I wondered if he was ever going to turn up.  Sometimes, in such moments, people would tell me that marriage isn't all it's cracked up to be anyway, so not to worry about it--to enjoy my single life while it lasted 'cause, you know, the grass is always greener. But a year ago, I hopped the fence to inspect the grass myself.  All I can say is this grass is so dang green! Greenest grass I’ve ever seen, I tell ya. 

Maybe I'm still experiencing a bit of a honeymoon phase...? Perhaps it's that I was single into my 30s and had plenty of time (not to mention reason) to wonder if there was ever going to be an end to that chapter of my life--so, now I can look back on my single days and know for sure what I'm missing (or rather, not missing...).  Whatever the case may be, I'm not worrying too much about what's making the grass look this way. I'm just enjoying the view.

Green. As far as the eye can see.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

One Day More

Everyday we spend living here, I can’t help but think about how we're one day closer to returning back to a life in the States, which is to say, everyday here brings us one day closer to leaving this adventure behind. Every time I take a run to Shelly Beach, I think about the day I’ll be running on sidewalks on regular streets in a regular neighborhood in regular America. Every time I see the Sydney Harbor bridge and the Opera House, I think about the day we’ll only be able to say, “Oh, we’ve been there,” instead of, “Yeah, we live there.”  

We often talk about how our lives will never again be the way they are right now. And we know that there will be days where we will long for this life when we no longer have it. Still, we feel drawn to what our lives will become on one of those regular streets in a regular neighborhood in regular America.

But right now, we have this life. For at least one day more.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Home, Sweet Home

We got to go home to the States a couple of weeks ago.  Spencer's sister was getting married, so that gave us an excuse (thanks, Katie!) to make the trip across the pond and spend some time with family and friends. (And stock up on all the items we can't get over here in Australia. Hauling one empty suitcase home to fill with goodies is just SOP these days.)

First stop was Salt Lake City for the wedding. Our first night in town we went into the city for dinner and, while there, took an obligatory picture on the wedding pedestal and wondered if we'd made a mistake getting married in Dallas. (I think I'll always be torn on that one.)

How could I not feel a little bit that way when we see this as we're coming up the sidewalk?  Really.

Before leaving Utah, we took a day and drove down to BYU. I haven't been back since I graduated and wanted to see what had changed. The "Y" is still up there on the side of the mountain. (Whew.)

While the new Joseph Smith Building is beautiful...I'm not gonna lie, I was pretty sad to see so much concrete between the SWKT and what was once the SFLC, where there used to be a nice grassy quad.  So many sunny afternoons spent lounging on that green with friends, then heading to class (on those rare occasions when we actually chose to go to class) only to come back to find a whole new group of friends spread out on the grass with books open and notes out.  (Who were they kidding?  None of us ever got any studying done like that.)

We hit up the BYU Bookstore. I think we spent almost as much at the candy counter as we did on books.

On to Dallas, where it was ridiculously hot and humid.  I think they were on day 26 of over-100-degree-temps when we got there, and we didn't have a day with a high below that our whole trip. (Last time I was in Dallas they had the ice storm that threatened to shut down the Super Bowl.  I seem to always be there for the extremes in weather.)

We got to attend the baby blessing of my newest niece, Reese.  We got our Tex-Mex fix at Chuy's.  Two words: shrimp taquitos.  Oh, man.  

 We also hit Wild About Harry's for some hot dogs and our favorite banana pudding shake...

...and some wedding day deja vu.

And speaking of wedding day deja vu...seeing as how we're almost at our one-year mark, and how we will be far away from home when we actually hit it, and how there was wedding cake waiting in the freezer for the traditional first anniversary commemoration, we dug in a little early.

I'm pretty sure this bite never made it into Spencer's mouth...but some icing may or may not have made it onto his chin. 

Take 2.  Success! Mmmm, tasty. Freezer-burned cake! It actually survived pretty well, considering.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Birthday Boy

Once upon a time (a month and a half ago, to be exact), there was boy who had a birthday to celebrate.  The boy whose birthday it was had to be in Singapore for the week leading up to the big day, of course, arriving back in Sydney the very morning of the birthday bash. (And when I say "bash" I mean a quiet day spent just the two of us.) So the night before, I stayed up late decorating the apartment and making a big fat cake and writing sappy cards and other such birthday-related silliness which silliness is exactly what make birthdays so much fun. 

When Spencer arrived home, he found that our apartment number had been changed to 35 in honor of his new age.

He received a series of less-than-life-altering, but very thoughtful (if I do say so myself) gifts. You know it's a good birthday when you get the all-about-China issue of"The Economist." 

We took a ferry to Watsons Bay to hike to the two lighthouses there--something we've been meaning to do for a while now. (I had hiked to the red and white one before, but he never had.) The weather was crisp and cool and windy, but sunny and beautiful. 

 After a yummy seafood dinner, we headed back home for birthday cake. Quite the inferno, no?

I had whipped up a Chocolate Peanut Butter Layer Cake that was waiting in the fridge. (Although, since I'm not a coffee drinker, I actually only used this recipe for the peanut butter mousse and the frosting.  For the cake, I used a recipe for Velvet Chocolate Cake that I pulled out of one of my mom's "Southern Living" magazines a million years ago.) It was a huge hit, as the birthday boy is a chocolate/peanut butter lover. Seriously. LUV-er.

Happy birthday to the Hubs.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gargoyles. Apostles. But No Kangaroos.

A friend of mine came to visit a few weeks ago.  She's a PoliSci professor and was doing some research in New Zealand and here in Australia.  She stayed with us for a few days in Sydney and then went on to Melbourne and Canberra. The Hubs was traveling, as usual, so I tagged along for the adventure.  

Melbourne is such a cool city.  It has a totally different vibe from Sydney. Like LA is to San Francisco as Sydney is to Melbourne.  That kind of different. It has a fantastic art and food scene. The architecture is so interesting--a ton of Gothic Revival and Art Deco style.  (My fav.) 

I was obsessed with the gargoyles, of course.

The streets are the broadest I've ever seen in a large, metropolitan city.  
Sometimes up to four lanes on either side, with wide medians where the trolleys run. 
Oh, and traffic turns right from from the far left lane. Because of the trolleys, we think.
(In the States, that would be like making a left turn from the far right lane. What the?)

We loved all the old homes that look like spooky haunted houses. So lacy and ornate!

The Great Ocean Road
Jessica had it on her list to drive out to see The Twelve Apostles, so she rented a sporty little 
Mini Cooper and we made the trek. (I was happy to join her, as that's been on my list, too.)
The Great Ocean Road is comparable to the Pacific Coast Highway. 
It's a 151-mile stretch of road along the southeastern coast.  
(The arctic winds were definitely not comparable to the Pacific breezes of the PCH.  Oh my brrrrr!) 

We pulled off at several lookout points to take in the view.  
Or at least what we could see of it through the mist.

We appreciated this reminder getting back on the road. Really. We did.

We saw many a "kangaroo crossing" sign...but never any actual kangaroos. We actually would have preferred to see many of the latter and none of the former. I mean, if we could've had our druthers.

The Twelve Apostles are a collection of limestone stacks just off the coast, about a four-hour drive outside of Melbourne.  There are actually only eight "apostles." 
There were nine until one collapsed. Never twelve.  So why the name? 
Apparently the rock formations were originally known as The Sow and Piglets.  But it was decided that something named after swine wasn't going to draw the tourists.  And so.

Apostles.... Piglets.... Whatever you call them, they sure are beautiful.

On to the capital city of Australia. Since Jess was doing research for her PoliSci-ness, 
Canberra was kind of an important stop.  When she wasn't in interviews, we poked around a few of the government buildings.

We toured the Parliament House.

The grass on that side slope goes all the way up onto the 
roof of the building.  The idea here is that the elected officials are not above the people, 
but rather beneath them.  Get it?

We visited the Old Parliament House. It was in use until 1988 and is now a museum 
where you can roam around freely.  Many of the rooms and offices are set up very much the way they would have looked when the representatives moved to the new building.  Retro office furniture, early desktop computers, rotary phones, the whole bit. Kind of fun.

We visited the Australian War Memorial, which is a museum dedicated to Australia's veterans. It is huge. H.U.G.E. (I think I actually spent six years in the WWII wing.) 
The interior is divided by each war Australian soldiers have ever fought in. It was fascinating to view the wars of history through eyes other than my usual American ones.  Never done that before....