Saturday, January 22, 2011

Holidays. Sydney-style.

I’ve never not been with my family for Christmas. Mom. Dad. Brothers. And me. Every year. My whole life. (In more recent years, there have been sisters-in-law and an increasing number of nieces and nephews added to the mix, of course.) And since both my older brothers married girls from our hometown, everyone stays right where they are for the holidays. And I fly in from wherever I am to spend a week or so. At home with the people I’ve known and loved the longest.

It has always been this way. Except, last year. Last year it was not this way. Last year J-dub and I decided to stay in Sydney for the holidays. Barely 3 months had passed since we’d had more than our fill of flying back and forth across continents and oceans and such. So. We thought we’d give that a rest for a bit.

Plus, we thought the idea of spending our first Christmas together, just the two of us, in a faraway land sounded like the romantic, newlywed thing to do. And so. We celebrated our first Christmas together about as far away as you can physically get from everything that has heretofore made Christmas…Christmas.

Sydney at Christmastime, in many ways, is very much like most US cities at Christmastime. Evergreen garlands adorn store windows, and all the familiar tunes about Santa Claus and silver bells and chestnuts roasting are piped into all the shops. There is a hustle and bustle that is different from the usual comings and goings. But. It is not the same. Mostly because all of this—the garlands, the Christmas tunes, the holiday hurry—is happening at the height of the Australian summer. It’s hot. It’s humid. The air is heavy. It’s right there. Pressing against you. All the time.

Somehow, the usual activities…sipping hot wassail, baking fragrant breads and spicy cakes, cozying up in front of a fire to let your bones thaw from a jaunt out in the wintry air…just don’t hold the same appeal when it’s hot as blazes outside. You know? Yes, well.

It’s all part of the adventure, you see. We will likely spend most every Chris
tmas season for the rest of our lives much the way we always have. Which we are glad about, and look forward to. For that is Christmas as we know it and love it.

But. There will always be the year we spent Christmas in Sydney. And that’s pretty fun, too.


Here’s how the holidays went down.

We hit up the city for some Christmas shopping. Obviously. We checked out the tree downtown and pretended not to notice that it doesn’t hold a candle to the tree in Rockefeller Center.

I sufficiently wore out the J-dubhub with our very own hustle and bustle. He’d just flown in on a red-eye from India that morning and hadn't even had a minute to rest, so I let him sit a spell while we waited for the train.

We didn’t have a traditional evergreen tree, as they’re a mite hard to come by where we live. But I managed to come up with a mini, makeshift tree that served the purpose. Found these adorable little red, glass birds in a boutique on the path to Shelley Beach, and couldn’t resist. A few homemade paper snowflakes finished ‘er off.

We spent Christmas Eve outside enjoying the sunshine while walking part of the trail from Manly to the Spit Bridge (a 10-kilomaeter walk that runs all the way from Manly to…well, the Spit Bridge).

I love this walk, ‘cause it gives you a little bit of everything. A harbor full of sailboats, a view of the lighthouse that hangs out all by its super charming self over on the South Head, some good bushwalking, and some not-too-shabby views of the harbor and the city from afar.

From this point, we could look back and see our little neck of land, otherwise known as Manly. (I love how that skinny little stretch of ground just lies there all lazy-like on the water between the harbor and the ocean.)

My family’s tradition for Christmas Eve dinner is a full Mexican spread. Most of the ingreds you’d need to pull that kind of feast together aren’t easily obtained way out here where the Mexican influence hasn't seemed to reach so much yet. (I know, right? Who knew there was such a place on earth?) So, we had to do something different. Some steaks from a nearby butcher shop got our vote. And for an appetizer, we decided to try our hand at making mussels for the first time ever. I was proud of us for being so adventurous and brave but I didn’t expect them to be so dang AMAZING. (Or oh-so easy.)

I've never had a Christmas morning quite like this one. We spent it at the beach with friends. Everyone brought food to share for breakfast. Needless to say, our traditional southern grits and fried eggs and hot biscuits weren't on the menu. BUT...the Stephens served up some pretty amazing Australian eggs benedict, which I thought made for a pretty perfect stand-in.

Our little friend, Davis, (who belongs to our friends, the Helmers) came to show us the jellyfish he'd been catching in his bucket. (Look closely to see the translucent jelly blobs in their hands.)

The husbands braved the chilly water for some diving, and I was overcome with pride knowing that this icon of grace belonged to me. I mean, just look at that form, would you?

And, don't worry. The ice cream man comes by sea in Australia.

The Hubs and I spent the rest of the day delivering goodies to members of our ward, and then came home and opened our gifts. The whole thing was so small and quiet, and kind of great.

Best Christmas gift ever = a pack of dish cloths courtesy of the good ol' US of A. When my mom told me she was stumped as to what to send in our Christmas package, I told her this was at the very top of my wish list...which makes me think my wishing needs a little work. But the heart wants what the heart wants. And a simple dish cloth is just one of the many things I can't find in Australia. Now I have seven. Merry Christmas to me!

We rented a car the day after Christmas and drove down to Kangaroo Valley which is a 2-hour drive south of Sydney. We stayed at a cute little B&B and spent a couple of days exploring the neighboring towns and doing some bushwalks, and generally enjoying the scenery. It was misty and rainy and cold, so we got a little taste of the type of weather we're more akin to this time of year.

(As a side note, we did not see any kangaroos in Kangaroo Valley, but we did see many a wombat. We’d catch them in our headlights and they’d slowly lumber away. Just exactly the way you’ve always imagined a creature answering to the name of “wombat” would lumber. And don't pretend you haven't imagined that, 'cause really. Who hasn't?)

On New Year’s Eve, we got up close and personal with the Sydney Harbor fireworks show. Kinda surreal to be standing right at the base of the bridge for one of THE grandest New Year’s spectacles on the planet.

I've always thought that someday I'd like to be in Times Square to welcome in the New Year. I think if I never make that happen, having been in Sydney to say goodbye to 2010 is pretty good.

Why hello, 2011. Welcome.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2010 Highlights: Singapore

Okay, so I probably shouldn't go backwards, but I finally downloaded some pictures, and thought it wouldn't hurt to review some of the stuff that happened in 2010 before I get on with a new year...and a new country...and a new life....

So, here goes. Starting with the most recent haps.

I joined Spencer on his work trip to Singapore at the end of October and we stayed for Halloween weekend. We could see the newest, most outlandish hotel in the city from our hotel room.

A ship perched atop three huge towers. A little weird, yes. But far be it for us to not do the touristy thing and go check out the view from the top.

We walked and walked and walked and tried to hit every pocket and park we could.

We saw a boat race on the river. (I'm sure this is actually called something other than a "boat race" but I don't know what that is. Anyone? Anyone?) The team member sitting at the front of the boat beats on a drum to help his/her team members keep pace with each other while simultaneously pushing them to increase their speed to pass their competitors.

We saw great British colonial architecture.

I tried my hand at learning to use Spencer's fancy camera and became acutely aware of random things like fire hydrants.

We ate amazing seafood, including S's favoritecrab at Jumbo Seafood. (Don't look now, but I think his Jumbo bib is on backwards....)

We hung out with the merlion. ("What's a merlion?" you ask. "It's a legendary sea creature with the head of a lion," I answer. Duh.)

We went to church.

Then we took a little detour through Little India on our way back to the hotel and visited another place of worship...

...and saw all the hoopla for the Diwali/Devali/Deepavali (whatever your preference) festival.

Our best discovery of the trip: you can get ROOT BEER in Singapore. And you don’t even have to go to an import store to do it. You can get it at regular places, like 7-11.

Of course, for root beer to truly fill the measure of its creation, vanilla ice cream must be involved. A can of A&W, a little McDonald’s soft-serve, and voilĂ .

All is right in the world when a root beer float is present, is it not?

2010 Highlights: Wedding/Honeymoon

And...the wedding.
The amazingly talented Rachel Thurston took our wedding photos. (She also took our engagement photos way back during my blogging hiatus.)

The wedding was so much fun. A whole crew of my closest girl friends came from all over the country, and I wished there was more time in the day so I could just play with everyone who was there. Some of my favorites in the whole world.

Spencer and I frequently say we would just re-live the day over and over again if we could. It was such a good time with friends and family, and just went so fast. Everyone said the day would be a blur. Everyone was right.

We haven't received our disc of pics yet, so I can only share the ones Rachel posted on her blog at this point. When we get the other images I may post some, 'cause there are lots to love. But of the shots she got with just the two of us, this one’s probably my favorite.
It's so smoldery. Or something….

We honeymooned in Fiji. Spencer surprised me. In a word, it was dreamy.

See? Dreamy, right?

We took a little tiny plane from the airport in Nadi to the other side of the island.

Kinda scary to climb into a plane with the same guy who had just given us our boarding pass now sitting in the cockpit. But we took the risk and got some great views of the island.

And I amused myself by taking pictures of the mixed messages aboard the plane.

It says "No Smoking" here.

But wait...this is a clearly marked "astray."

I’m confused. Maybe I'll just ask the ladies in front of us to check with our pilot. Spencer also wanted me to see if they could ask when our beverage service would be.

After our quick plane trip, it was a 45-minute boat ride to the island where the resort is locatedthe resort is the only thing on the island. Hard not to relax and enjoy it when you're this remote.

Here’s our little villa. Number 9.

From our villa, we had access to a little private beach where Spencer spent some time contemplating the events of the past couple of weeks.

I call this one "What Have I Done?"

And this one…"It’s Not Unusual." (Any guesses why? Here's a hint.)

We lounged. We snorkeled. Sometimes we did both at the same time. Here we are. Doing both at the same time.

We visited a Fijian school in a village on a neighboring island.

We ate amazing food. Lots of it.

We swam. We read. We got treated to a couple's massage. We mostly just relaxed and enjoyed a week of being in the same place with no wedding to plan. Not a bad start to our life together. Really, it can only be downhill from here, right?