hanging upside-down…

Can someone please tell me why someone would want to watch golf while they’re on the elliptical machine? I don’t even know why someone would want to watch golf, while they’re sitting on the couch, but while you’re exercising? Doesn’t it make you slow down, as the soporific effect hits you? (Just so you know, I’m not anti-PLAYING golf, just anti-WATCHING golf. There’s a difference!)

Of course, I can’t even watch anything on the little tv’s, when I’m on the elliptical at Fike, because I’ll trip and fall. Something about concentrating on the show throws me off my stride, and I stumble. When you’re up in the air on a moving machine, you should not be tripping. So, I always turn the tv off (for safety reasons AND I’m not really that into watching tv, anyway), and I stare at the glass wall above me, while listening to my headphones.

But while I worked out, I peered out at the assisted dip/pull-up machine (as usual), to see if it was in use. There are two, and I keep an eye on them, hoping to go straight there, after my starting workout. Why? Probably because it’s my favorite exercise machine, for some very strange reason. I think it’s a holdover from childhood, and I’ve been trying to nail down the reasoning for it.

No one but me will remember my first few weeks at Fike, back in January, when I was still uncomfortable with the location and all the people. And most intimidating of all, the weight machine areas, both free weights and assisted weight machines. But I finally made my way into the assisted weights section, because I wanted to use the dip machine. I still won’t go anywhere near the free weights (nope, not going in there by myself), but I will now use some of the other weight machines.

When I was in high school, we had dip bars off to the side of the weight room, and I would go there by myself, because no one else ever used them. Or maybe it was because no one else could climb up to them, as they were almost as tall as I am. But it isn’t all that difficult, just grab the bars, walk up the wall, swing your legs over, and then haul yourself up. Then get your hands on the bars, and swing off to do some dips. Most of my classmates couldn’t do it, though I never figured out why. Of course, the guys couldn’t out-bench me on the leg press, either. Go figure.

I think it has something to do with enjoying the feeling of climbing, acting like a kid again, and hanging upside-down. Like when you’re bending over backward off a set of monkey bars, or even on a merry-go-round. Into my 20′s, I was still doing one or the other, whenever I got to camp in Michigan, because they had a great set of monkey bars for climbing and hanging off of. There was no purpose to it, but since I’m not gymnast, I think I always took pleasure in doing something that proved I’ve got some flexibility. Or just doing something will surprise the adults.

The merry-go-round, now that was a favorite. The best ones will have metal bars, all the way around, and you can perch on them, hook your legs around, and then hang upside down…. while spinning. If you don’t like amusement park rides, you won’t like this, but I loved it. Haven’t found a good merry-go-round to try this on, any time in recent years.

Of course, this brings back a memory of being on summer staff, and the RA for the guys was trying to replicate my upside-down maneuver on the merry-go-round, but he couldn’t get his body to bend that far backward. So, I demonstrated again, and this time, all my friends stepped closer to look…. too close. I flew around once, and slammed my head into one of my friends, stars exploding in my vision, and being brought to an abrupt halt. Thankfully, except for having my glasses mashed into my face, I wasn’t hurt, but I definitely scared the daylights out of my friends. My poor glasses were completely bent out of shape, though.

But back to the dip machine. I use it with “assistance” (whatever you call that knee rest thing), in order to strengthen my arms, a bit at a time. One of these days, I’m going to be able to do them without help (just like when I was in high school), and then maybe…. I don’t know, what will it prove? There are no high school dip bars to climb now, since they tore down the old Daniel High School. But I’ll know I can do it, and then maybe I’ll just go looking for some monkey bars to climb. Or a merry-go-round.

i think i like to write…

I made myself read another chapter or two of The Book of Three, before coming downstairs and getting on the computer. I slogged my way through, and perhaps the story is starting to grow on me, especially after Gurgi showed up. But then I find him to remind me a lot of Gollum, so I’m waiting for more of the differentiating characteristics. Yes, I know he’s hairy, like a wolfhound, but he started off by trying to strangle Taran, talks in a very strange manner, and does a lot of whining about the cruelty of the masters. I do know, of course, that he’s a lot nicer than Gollum, so I’m waiting for the whole story to improve, too.

You see, I’m getting more addicted to my blogging and writing, and it’s affecting my reading goals for the year. Dreadful, isn’t it? I’m three books behind schedule on Goodreads, which is unheard of, for me. Do you realize, it took me two weeks to read Ben Shapiro’s Bullies, despite it being a completely fascinating and awesome read? That’s how into my writing I’ve been getting, that I write and write, or edit and edit some more, and then I’m too tired to read. I think my usual program of getting all the fiction in at the beginning of the month was a good plan. Now, if I could just find some fiction that I want to read!

Going to the gym has cut into my free time, as well, but I don’t consider that a bad thing.  : )  My original goal for the year was to get hooked on going to the gym, and it’s working. I still have no specific weight-loss goals, but I can see the difference in my clothes, and enjoy it when the scale decides to change with them, too. It’s a nice feeling when I can see improvements in my endurance and strength on the track, as well as the other machines. My foot continues to act up, as if it’s annoyed with me for giving it a regular pounding, but even that is getting better, when I run.

At work, I’ve been working on the… well, I suppose it’s actually “small talk”, right? Blast it, I hate small talk. I like to have interesting conversations with people, not just the bubbly, frothy stuff. But when you only have a minute or two with every customer, you have to either stick with the run-of-the-mill “How’s it going?” and “Have a good one!”, or for the regulars, you come up with different things to ask them. Try and show some interest in what they’re doing, or ask them an interesting question that gets (or startles) a response out of them.

It’s tricky, because I’m used to being able to have longer conversations with people, and this short stuff frustrates me. I manage it with a few of them, though, because I know a little bit about some of their projects, or know when they’re exhausted from grading a million papers, before being able to work on their own research. Some of them never seem to stop, even to sleep, while some occasionally get their weekends off. I suppose if I knew what they actually did in those labs of theirs, I’d have even more fun, but short, conversations with them.

But if I’m looking for a good conversation, I should be getting it soon! I have a road trip scheduled for the beginning of March, so I get to start work early, leave early…. and drive to Pennsylvania! Ok, I know that most of you wouldn’t be thrilled by that kind of schedule, but I just love the fact that I’m going. And that it’s a road trip. I love road trips! Even if I have to get up for work at 5am, in order to not have to take the work day off. I’ll arrive at my destination by midnight, get to enjoy the remaining 36 hours of my conference, and then drive back on Sunday. Could it be any more awesome?

No, I’m actually not being sarcastic. I enjoy long road trips, getting to listen to music, and just enjoying the freedom of the road, with no responsibilities, aside from not getting in an accident (or getting pulled over). If I get to spend 1.5 days, or more, with my best friends, see other friends that I haven’t seen in months (I used to live there, remember), and hear some wonderful messages from the Word of God, then the weekend is a total win for me. I know plenty of people that would only see the terrible amount of driving involved, and that would ruin it for them.

I think I’ll stop now, as I have a few blog posts coming up with subjects I don’t want to teeter over into. I can be a danger to myself, (or maybe just to my blog) when I get to rambling!

of southerners & snow…

The sun is going to come out tomorrow. No, I’m not quoting from Annie, but persistently believing that the weather report will be true. After a whole week of rain and grey weather, I could really use some sunshine. Some of those rays will allow me to play some frisbee this weekend, which is very important (I know you understand). We will get gloriously muddy, in the process.

But after two days of steady or even heavy rain, whenever I tell a college student that the sun’s going to show its face tomorrow, they don’t believe me! The weather has affected them so much that they pessimistically think that they’ll never get to see it again. However, as soon as they shoot down my comments about seeing daylight, they inform me that it’s supposed to snow tonight. Their expressions are delightedly hopeful. Being the cheerfully optimistic person I am, I tell them it “ain’t gonna happen”, or something to that effect. Aren’t I nice?232323232%7Ffp38 )nu=3238)464)3;4)WSNRCG=323568(362494nu0mrj

Snow is a strange and wonderful thing. Or at least, its effect on Southerners is. The mere prediction can cause a run on bread, eggs, and milk at the grocery stores, which comes friends of mine to wonder if they’re longing for French toast. A few flurries in the air will cause schools to close, or at least be delayed for several hours. Admittedly, it takes either several inches of snow on the ground, or ice, to close Clemson University.

Despite the cravings for bread and milk that accompany every weather forecaster’s dream of snow, most Southerners don’t believe it will actually happen. Until it does. Because it usually doesn’t. Freezing rain and extremely dangerous ice will cover the roads and cause pine trees to explode, but snow rarely falls here. And even more rarely does it stick to the ground.

So, my funny bone was tickled at how many college students wanted to believe there would be snow, but still remained pessimistic about sunshine. The sun has gone forever, they all think, as their rain coats leave huge puddles on the floor, and water drips from the leak in the ceiling.

Those of us that live here year round, talk of snow brings up memories. I know Northerners that have been here when it does snow enough to stick, and they’ve discovered that snowy weather is more fun in the south, if no car accidents occur (but they always do). There’s never enough snow to shovel, so we just play in it. Build snowmen, make snow angels, and go looking for any hill (even neighborhood streets) that’s steep enough to slide down. We’ll use almost anything to slide on, too.

But if you’re up north, the snow plows start immediately, and no one, except some of the kids, are ever interested in playing in it. I lived in PA for five years, and discovered quickly that playing by yourself in the snow isn’t any fun, and I couldn’t sled on the street that went by my house. But I did have to help shovel the sidewalks for work. I never actually owned a shovel of my own, I usually used a broom to clear my driveway and front stoop.

Down here, we tend to remember the ice storm at Christmas, two years ago, that knocked out most of the power in Pickens County, some areas being without power for up to a week. That was between Christmas and New Year’s. Think some people found that memorable? There was some snow that came down with it, but it was232323232%7Ffp387)nu=3238)464)3;4)WSNRCG=323568(362487nu0mrj the ice that did the real damage. Power lines down everywhere, people trapped in their homes with trees in their driveways, and grocery stores having to throw away all their perishables for lack of generators. My family was blessed to be in a pocket of town that did have power, thankfully.

My close friends and I still fondly remember about 8 or 9 years ago, when we had the best mix of ice and snow EVER. Two or three inches of snow, with just a little freezing rain on top. Not enough to make the roads completely unsafe, but enough to keep the snow from melting off right away. And it stayed cloudy, so the sun didn’t melt it away. We took my family’s truck to rescue friends from their apartment complex (at the bottom of any icy gully), and headed straight for Kite Hill.

That morning, we had finally broken both of our old sleds on a local street (I took out a big green garbage can, as I recall), and we were using cookie sheets and breakfast trays to slide on. None of our friends had enough winter gear, so we dug out every winter hat and pair of gloves (including motorcycle glove liners) that we owned, to keep them all warm. We made multiple attempts to sled on our assorted equipment, but ended up borrowing a large piece of plastic from another group of sledders, when they were down. Since you couldn’t see where you were going, if you went down headfirst (holding the plastic up and over your head), a few of us experimented by going down headfirst, face-up. Our church elder’s wife was with us, and I remember her refusing to go down headfirst, but she DID go down that hill with us, more than once.

Snow in the South, just the idea of it, makes us pessimistic, crazy (bread, milk, & eggs), bewilderingly hopeful (that it WILL snow), and then if it even happens, it causes some of the greatest and worst memories imaginable. Every schoolchild remembers the years they got to miss extra school for a snow prediction, but didn’t get any to play in. We all remember when we lost power or when our relatives drive off the road (Southerners don’t really know how to drive in the snow). Snow is the reason Northerners move south when they retire, but it’s one thing that makes Southern winters interesting. We can have 90 degree weather in January and snow in April. I’ve seen it happen.

You’ve probably heard that things are slower in the South, but life is certainly never dull. I love it when life is interesting, don’t you?

throwin’ a disc at Clemson…

I had been wanting to try out the Thomas Green Clemson course, ever since I first heard about it. Then daylight savings time got in my way. Yes, when you work until 5:30 or 6pm, you get off work when it’s dark… or nearly dark. Daylight Savings has been getting on my nerves this year, mainly because of my need for sunshine, now and then. But then, the University “helped” out, by closing for three weeks at Christmas.DSC_0634

DSC_0635Of course, some jobs on campus were open longer, and many professors and graduate students worked through the Christmas vacation. But most of the on-campus food services closed, and Fernow was among them. Three weeks off and no pay… but sunshine galore! Oh, wait, we had a good bit of rain. That’s right. Ok, so we had the potential for sunshine.DSC_0638

DSC_0639But my major longings for the sun involve getting down to Bowman Field to find a game of Ultimate, or dragging my brother there to throw a frisbee with me. And then, I tripped over a reference to an unofficial disc golf course on the Clemson campus. I can’t remember how I came across that Wikipedia link, but I was dying to try it out, from then on.DSC_0640

DSC_0641Please understand, I’m not very good at disc golf (especially with the official golf discs), and I’ve never yet been able to throw golf discs to their intended distance. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a putter or a driver disc, they go the same distance, when I throw them. But I was raised on Ultimate Frisbee, and can wing an Ultimate disc for quite some distance. And there’s something so enjoyable about playing on an unofficial course, where instead of aiming for chain bucket goals (or whatever they’re officially called), you get to hit statues, lamp posts, signs, and fences. What’s not to like?DSC_0643

DSC_0644From the start, I wanted to try it out when there weren’t many students around, so I could get a feel for it without worrying that someone would look at me like I’m crazy, when I go swimming in the reflection pond. So, Christmas vacation was perfect. Of course, it was the day before graduation when we set out, so I knew campus wasn’t completely empty. But most of those families were seeing the sights and checking out the stadium. We were headed from Tillman to the Cooper Library, and back again.DSC_0645

DSC_0646For the official course list, you can see either the ClemsonWiki or the link at Clemson’s website.  I only just found the second one, so Matt and I were obviously using the first. There seem to be some differences. And we’re curious about the course listed for the Botanical Gardens, too, but that can wait for another day.DSC_0647

DSC_0648If you’re going to play the Thomas Green Clemson Course, of course, you start with the Thomas Green Clemson statue, below Tillman Hall. “Hole” #1 tees from the statue to the bell at the top of the Carillon Gardens. Not a bad distance, but you can’t see the bell from the statue, and you have a street and some large trees (not to mention all the cars) in between. I managed to hit some tree branches and have my disc come sailing back into the road. After I picked it up, a truck pulled up and the driver asked me if I was trying to kill squirrels. Not a bad idea, considering Clemson’s overrun by them.DSC_0649

After crawling into the bushes a time or two, we hit the bell and considered the next shot. Hole #2 tees from the staircase at the end of Carillon Gardens to the third lamppost from the left encircling the amphitheater. This gives you a gorgeous bit of scenery, as you look down on the Cooper Library and the Reflection Pond. Or is it only a reflection pond when the water spouts are turned off? I can’t remember. With no one around, we had the opportunity to run out on the cement platforms (for lack of a better name) surrounding the decorative shrubs, and holler at  each other, at the top of our lungs! It’s a very refreshing feeling.DSC_0650

DSC_0651The problem was that as simple as this shot sounds, there are tons of lampposts surrounding the amphitheater. So, we debated over whether it was the inner circle or the outer circle, and where did one circle end and another begin? You can look for yourself, it was difficult to decide. Eventually, we picked one, ran back to the top of the hill… and Matt threw his frisbee into a hedge. I think mine hit a lamppost nearer to where we stood. That extremely sharp hedge allowed us to find another frisbee before he located his, and thankfully, before it drew any blood. Who planted that vicious thing?DSC_0652

DSC_0654For Hole #3, you tee from the center of the sidewalk above the amphitheater, with a mandatory dogleg through the door on the amphitheater stage, to the lamppost directly above the stairwell, next to the door. These are almost direct quotes from the ClemsonWiki, but I’ve been fixing their grammar and spelling, or adding the occasional translation. After some debate about the “dogleg”, we threw our discs at the amphitheater, and I got the closest shot. We were only keeping score per hole, so I was always pleased when I beat my brother. One more shot put my frisbee through the door, and then I easily got up the steps, and threw gently at the lamppost (not wanting to go swimming in January).DSC_0656

DSC_0657It took Matt about 5 throws to get it through the door, for some reason, so I can safely say I won that round. Hole #4 and #5 were a little more problematic. #4 called for you to tee from the lamppost in #3, across the reflection pond to the lamppost behind Olin that “juts” out next to the pond. Then, #5 says to tee from near the lamppost in #4 across the reflection pond to the central pillar beneath the staircase in front of the library. DSC_0658

DSC_0661Even on a bad day, I can usually throw my frisbee where I want it, and I have no trouble throwing it a significant distance. But trying to throw it over the pond, near a lamppost that juts out into it, and not have to go swimming? That’s just tempting fate. Of course it’ll end up in the water. And if you’d seen what’s in that water, you wouldn’t want to go in it, either. I saw all sorts of strange objects floating in it, including Christmas ornaments, and didn’t want to join the lone goldfish that I spotted. We skipped #4 and then from there, decided to skip #5. That was a shorter distance, but still, a stray breeze could cause us to go swimming. I just couldn’t bear thinking of it. Instead, we admired the trees draped over that corner of the pond, climbed a million steps to avoid the library construction (they’d yellow taped our normal entryway, so we couldn’t go through), and crossed over the pond on the bridge.DSC_0663

DSC_0664After a detour to visit a friend who works in the library, we came outside, and descended to the ground floor. I would’ve taken a picture of #6′s tee spot, but something “not nice” was written on it. Anyway, #6 says to tee from near #5′s goal to the yellow emergency phone which is right after the bridge, on the outside of Daniel Hall. So, we decided to aim to the right of the bridge, avoiding the pond, and go up the grassy hill and climb over the bike racks. Once up the hill, we couldn’t find a yellow emergency phone, and decided that wiki was written before they put up the blue Emergency posts around campus. I haven’t seen a payphone around there in a long time.DSC_0666

DSC_0669This was the spot where I had an easy shot, two feet from the emergency post, and stepped off the sidewalk to take my shot. Unfortunately, there was a hole, hiding under the leaves, right where I stepped, and I hit the ground. I think Matt thought something was wrong with me, as I fell for seemingly no reason. Thankfully, there was only one passerby to witness my fall from grace.DSC_0671

DSC_0673Hole #7 – Tee from the sidewalk next to the yellow (or blue) emergency phone down the path towards the fire hydrant at the end of the library parking lot. This was fairly easy, as the hydrant was in plain sight, and you just had to avoid any trees on the way there. Once there, Hole #8 tees from the behind the fire hydrant around the right side of Strode, to the double doors that enter Daniel from Jordan. At this point, Matt’s superior knowledge of the layout of Clemson University came in handy. I’m only familiar with a handful of buildings, and those are from their front doors. We seemed to be exploring all the back doors and other unknown areas. So, up the stairs we went, and then we aimed short of the doors, not wanting to risk breaking glass, even though I don’t think a frisbee could really do that.DSC_0674

DSC_0677There was a holdup at #9, when it called for teeing from beneath the bridge connecting Strode and Daniel, to around the right of Daniel and up the stairwell to the dumpster between Long and Jordan. We went around the left and right side of Daniel Hall, and I lost Matt for ten minutes while he explored, and I took pictures of the trees by the pond. Eventually, we went back to the bridge where I had fallen, and headed around Daniel. Unfortunately, I threw too high, and my frisbee went halfway up the stairs, onto a decorative… planted area. What else do you call that. I climbed up, threw my frisbee, and ducked under the bridge, looking for a way down. Matt assured me there was a way down. It turned out to be a jump from five feet up (or so), and it hurt more on landing than I expected. I know, I suffer so much.  : )  Did I mention that, at this point, I was somewhat lost, and really hoped we’d surface some place I recognized, if I got separated from my brother?DSC_0679

DSC_0681Up several stairs, we mistook a plastic storage bin for the dumpsters, and then finally found them. I was glad we chose the bin, because I didn’t want to touch those dumpsters with my frisbee. From there, #10 had us tee from behind the “chain guardrail” near the dumpster around Long to the first lamppost on the corner of Long (closest to the dorms). What is it with lampposts? This area has tons of them, and these other lamppost-ish things that might be part bug zapper. Also, we didn’t know which building was Long, nor did someone walking by. We took another guess.DSC_0682

DSC_0683#11 said to tee from behind the pylons prevent non-foot-traffic up the sidewalk towards Mauldin with the goal being the lamppost at the very end of the sidewalk on the corner of Mauldin. Oh, good, another building we don’t recognize! The directions seemed to suggest going uphill, so we started looking at the building signs, and Matt eventually found it. #12 was more of the same, with teeing from the corner of Mauldin to the pillar on the corner of Smith. Finally, #13 had us tee from the corner of Smith to the traffic sign at the edge of the large parking lot behind Sikes (back near the lamppost in Hole #10), so we were able to turn downhill and eventually hit the Wrong Way sign.DSC_0688

DSC_0690#14 said to tee from near the traffic sign along the sidewalk running to the right of Sikes with the goal being the final lamppost before turning the corner around Sikes. One look at that parking lot full of cars, belonging to families here for graduation, and we veered widely away from it, taking a detour to see a building that I’ve wondered about. I keep calling it a gazebo, because I’ve already forgotten its name and purpose, but I plan to take another visit there, soon.DSC_0692

DSC_0695DSC_0700After hitting the lamppost by Sikes (I kept having to fish my frisbee out of the bushes), #15 said to tee from the corner of Sikes across the massive stairs, over the fence, with the goal being the bell (once again). So, it was back to going over the Carillon Garden fence from a different direction, and hitting the bell. With an assist from Matt to keep mine out of the road, I hit the fence, but his went over and into the hedge. At that point, we lost his disc for about ten minutes. So, he climbed up the fence and looked down on the hedge from one of the posts. I just climbed the fence and went back and forth, looking. I saw it land, how did it disappear? I’m sure several passing grad students wondered what we were doing. Apparently it had fallen in a way that made it hard to see from above, but since it was inside the hedge, it was even more difficult to locate. Finally, success! And no, Matt never fell from the fence.DSC_0702

DSC_0703#16 had us tee from the lamppost across from the entrance to Carillon Gardens over to the bench looking down on Bowman Field. Since this bench is right near the cannon statue, I don’t understand why they didn’t call for hitting the cannons, instead. But from there, we had such difficulty finding our next goal, that we called a halt to our game. Also, the sun was going down. But #17 called for teeing from the bench looking down on Bowman over to the “Class of…” L-shaped bench beneath the large window of Tillman. We finally found the L-shaped bench, above the Military Plaza. And when #18 called for teeing from next to the soldier statue, ending with Thomas Green Clemson, I went to take a closer look at the soldier and the Military Plaza itself. I think they’ve fixed it up in the last few years, so I plan to visit it on a future photography session, and look closer at the wall of medals, and everything else.DSC_0704

DSC_0706As we passed the Carillon Gardens one more time, I recalled having seen one or two students that I knew from my workplace, but who probably didn’t recognize me in my “play clothes”. My frisbee/gym clothes are not what you expect, after seeing me in my work shirt with my hair just so. Besides, my workout clothes don’t age me 10-20 years. That’s always a plus.

If there’s an unofficial disc golf course in your area, you should try it out, even if you don’t have official golf discs. Running, shouting at your friends/siblings, and plenty of frisbee is the way to go!DSC_0708DSC_0715

home is in my heart…

The saying about the residence of heart and home is true, but I can honestly claim several places that I consider home. When I miss each of these places, I sometimes wonder if I left a piece of my heart behind, but I think it’s more like I took them inside my heart, and carry them around with me wherever I am.

Before I left for Australia, I lived in Pennsylvania for almost five years, working as the housekeeper of this camp. GWH is very dear to me, both the people and the camp itself. So, having missed the last Labor Day Conference, I was thrilled to make it to this one.

As part of the “young people’s group”, my friends and I stayed in the Den (where the snacks are located), where we enjoyed the added benefit of having an air-conditioner. The weekend wasn’t all sunny, but no matter the sunshine content, the air was swelteringly muggy. You know, that wonderful feel of walking through soup.

My friend C. had never been to GWH, and was pleased to find that our weekend residence is where all of the camp directors stay… which means the costumes for Girl’s Camp. She loved trying on the hats, as you’ll see.

It’s such a big conference that you can never spend a long enough time talking to anyone, so I compromise, and do lots of running around hugging people, assuring them that I’ll see them again before the weekend’s over. Old friends that I’ve known since before they had their four children, or newlyweds that have welcomed their first baby. Much older friends that are the support in the local church, and I keep a close ear/eye out for how their health is doing. If they go home to be with the Lord before I see them next, they will be blessed, but I will miss their hugs.

My dearest cousin was able to get out on Saturday, so we could enjoy her and her baby, as well as get her in on the Ultimate Frisbee fun. How many years has it been since we had all my cousins on that field? Way too long. I remember a year when the Funks and Dingers made up at least 10-15 of the Frisbee participants. And I will continue to warn the guys, do NOT underestimate the pregnant one that’s cherry-picking in the end zone. She will take you out.

I got to take a wander down the hill, one afternoon, and revisit some of the buildings that I once cleaned from top to bottom. The discovery of a fancy-schmancy new coffee maker in the Old Dining Room was a bit of a surprise, but I like the paintings on the wall. I wonder if anyone I know did them. The Welcome sign on the front door hasn’t changed in the last 70 years, though I remember that it took me three or four years to notice the pineapple design, or realize that pineapples are symbolic of hospitality. Who knew?

My interest in floral photography hasn’t let up, and I took advantage of every interesting bloom I could find. I will furthermore admit that the bumblebee shot didn’t look that cool until I played around with the effects on Picasa. I am not THAT good a photographer. But I finally figured out how to highlight the buzzy little fellow. Other plant life drew my attention in the main meeting hall, behind the Dining Hall, and in front of Nancy’s house. I still think those flowers look like someone drew on them with a Sharpie.

My bruises from the weekend are starting to fade. I got a bit sore after playing Ultimate (haven’t played since sometime in Australia), and then I bashed myself up a bit more playing volleyball for three nights in a row. I haven’t played vball in well OVER a year, because the local court in Emerald got flooded before I arrived. That and Aussies don’t seem to play volleyball very often. I know, it’s sad. I only have one or two pics of the games in the Annex, but I sure wish I had some pics from the final guys versus girls game. With about thirty people to a team, the guys not being allowed to spike, and the ref being determined to keep his son-in-law in line, it was quite hilarious.

I also got to go on a short hike to Caledonia, but we had a dinner deadline for two of the girls, so we weren’t out for THAT long. Muddy, steamy, and just nice to be back in Pennsylvania. Though, there was a bit of a speed competition going on between the cousins, but they had to slow up for a family photo, at one of the bridges.

Babies and kids, seemingly everywhere. Some of them, I just met, and others, I’ve known them since babyhood. How did they get so big? How did all my friends come to have children that are SO cute? I cannot resist taking pictures when they’re around, because who doesn’t want to capture this time in their lives?

At our Second Annual Justin-Sponsored Picnic, after the speech, and after the guys made sure the hotdogs were thoroughly cooked, I got to hang out with two of the girls that were making friends. One had just learned to point at her eye and nose, so there was a near-catastrophe when she tried to point at someone else’s nose. We switched to “where’s her nose?”, instead of “where’s her eyes?”, and then they began to play follow-the-leader around the picnic tables. Such a precious age.

My time there wasn’t really long enough, but I know I’ll be back, sometime in the New Year, and then I can talk to more people, one-on-one. There are friendships that never grow old, and you just keep making them stronger and stronger. These are the ones that you go “home” for. Because when I’m with those that I love, I am home.

road tripping & the Natural Bridge of Virginia…

On Thursday, I left Clemson at 8:30 in the morning, headed to Maryland, and figuring it would take me about 12 hrs (I hoped) to get there. Of course, depending on traffic, this could vary. My departure time was likely to put me in the middle of either D.C. or Baltimore traffic. But you accept these bumps in the road, even when you don’t like ‘em. I had a cinnamon dolce latte and a cinnamon chip scone from Starbucks, to start my day, and what could possibly be better? Of course, that was right after the ATM refused to give me any money, so I had to go get some cash, after buying some gum at Walmart.

Considering I haven’t done a long road trip like this, by myself, in over a year, I think I did pretty well. But I didn’t have any sleepy spells that required pulling over fast. I try and time my stops so I can fill up the gas tank, eat, and use the restroom, all in one stop, and keep the trip moving quickly. But I’ll still stop at a nice rest stop, like this, stretch my legs and enjoy the sunshine. I enjoyed the flowers, and the white ones smelled wonderful, though I have no idea what they are. Several other travelers were walking their dogs, and of course, for all your drinking and snacking needs, there are all the vending machines you could possibly want.

After about 4 hours, I stopped at a Love’s gas station, in North Carolina, and took notice of the station across the way. Yes, of course I’m familiar with Kangaroo gas stations, but it occurred to me that my Aussie friends would find it odd. I don’t know if they have them in Australia. On the way to this stop, I kept wishing I could find a good place to pull off along the highway, or that I had the nerve to do it, in order to get a good picture of some of the views. This stretch of I-77 and I-81 go through the Appalachians, giving you a glorious view of the “ground level” below. I may be a chicken, but I don’t want to be the person remembered for stopping to take a picture of the view, and then getting run over by an 18-wheeler. They really ought to make a Scenic Overlook for a spot or two, on that stretch, though.

When I was well into Virginia, and had probably been driving for about 7 hours, I started to see signs for the Natural Bridge of Virginia. Now, I’ve been seeing signs for this place since I was about twenty years old, but have never stopped there. I read about it, a few years ago, and found out that not only had Thomas Jefferson owned it (bought it for 20 shillings), but it’s still privately owned. The point being, the whole area is well-kept up, there’s no graffiti, and there’s no litter on the ground. A publicly owned property would generally be strapped for cash, and unable to keep people working there and caring for the area. So, please, if you go to visit, do not be upset by the $19 entrance fee (general entrance fee for one person, with no extras).

I followed the Lee-Jackson Hwy back into the hills, and then came around a corner to find a small hotel or two that take care of the tourists, and the gift shop which guards the entrance to the Natural Bridge. There are some caverns, Safari-type place, and something called Foamhenge, just down the road, so if you want a fun place to take the family for the weekend, this would be a good choice.

In the evenings, there’s a light and sound show at the Natural Bridge (at 9pm, every night), which is why there are benches all down below the Bridge. I think I read that Calvin Coolidge had something to do with starting that program, back in the 1920′s, but I still need to read my souvenir book, to find out some more details. It details the Biblical Creation story, as the signs will tell you, and I asked a couple, when I was down there. They told me that it’s amazing, so I think I’ll definitely have to come back, some time.

When I had my ticket, I could’ve taken a shuttle bus, but that would be wussing out, especially when I’d been stuck in the car for hours. I walked down the 137 steps, looking at some of the beautiful, dead trees that are still along the path, one of which was 1600 years old, before it died in 1980. At the bottom of the stairs, some older gentleman hole-punched my ticket, and wished me a good day. Such nice men. The building they were standing by is a restaurant on the creek, where you sit, eat, and enjoy the sunshine, before or after viewing the Bridge. But since I had a time limit for my stop, I kept moving.

I’ve never seen anything like the Natural Bridge. I read that it’s taller than Niagara Falls, which I’ve seen, and I’ve never seen the Rockies, which are obviously taller. But when you’re at the foot of a mountain, you can’t always take in the height of it, because you can only see the part that’s closest to you. And when you’re at a distance, you don’t often get the scale of it. If I’d been in some huge caverns, I think the height would’ve been disguised by continuing stretch of the ceiling. But here, I felt like an ant looking at a giant. You can see the top of the Bridge, but it’s backed by the surrounding blue sky. I have never felt so small.

Whether the pictures will even give you the gist of how little I felt, I can’t be sure. My video, which I may eventually post on FB might give you an idea. But it was only a little cool down there, but I was feeling shaky. In fact, the trembly feeling that it gave me, the feeling didn’t go away, the whole time I was down there. I felt more comfortable when I wasn’t looking at it, but you couldn’t really look away, though you couldn’t take it all in. If no one was watching, I think the feeling I got was of wanting to sit down on the ground, back up against a wall, preferably in a crevice where I couldn’t be seen, and try and take it in. I wasn’t in the presence of the Creator, but I certainly felt that I was in the presence of something He created, and it was unnerving.

I couldn’t stay long, like I said, so I walked under the Bridge, and went over to the benches on the other side. Someone working there was waiting for 3:30 to roll around, to give another spiel to anyone, on the history of the Bridge. I could have stayed, but I felt like if I sat down to listen, and got caught up in the history, I might never leave. And I had another 5-6 hrs to drive, still.

So, I didn’t dawdle, but strolled back the way I’d come, always feeling more comfortable when I wasn’t looking at the Bridge, but wanting to look, just the same. It’s beautiful, magnificent, mesmerizing. Remember how I told you to not be upset over the entrance fee? Well, it’s worth every cent, and I was only there for about 45 minutes, from start to finish. Though I was tired and having mono makes you get winded much more easily, I still climbed those 137 steps, instead of taking the shuttle up the hill. I needed my exercise for the day, you know.

Back at the gift shop, I purchased their souvenir book about the Natural Bridge’s history, and took a quick wander through the shop. It’s quite large, and has a lot of interesting stuff in it. If your kids can be trusted to not touch or break anything, you could easily spend an hour looking at everything in detail (unless your kids have a short attention span). I especially liked the stuffed animal section, full of stuffed toys that looked like American animals… squirrels, opossums, otters, and many others. I need to remember to look up Fiesta brand stuffed animals, because my Aussie girls would probably get a kick out of them.

Once I was back in the car, I followed the Jackson-Lee Hwy back to I-81, but on the way, I decided that I would really like to live on Off The Beaten Path. I kid you not, I saw a street sign with that on it, and “Path” was in smaller letters, just like “Road” is on my street sign. Wouldn’t you like to write on an envelope that you live at 15 Off The Beaten Path?

I caught the tail end of DC traffic, and some of that was from a car accident. But I knew that if I hadn’t stopped at Natural Bridge, I’d have spent all that time in traffic, so that made it even more worth it. When I was approaching Baltimore, I began to look for signs to the Harbor Tunnel, because that’s the fastest route (if there’s no traffic) to get to the other side of Baltimore. Following a deserted highway, I found myself second in line to pay the toll and go through the tunnel, but instead, we had to sit and wait for 10-15 minutes. My conclusion is that there was a fender-bender (or a flat tire) in the tunnel, because I saw blue lights coming and going, and then finally, the cops led each line of traffic into the tunnel. I didn’t think they’d let us in, if there’d been a leak, you know.

Finally on my way again, when I was close to my destination, I needed to put gas in the tank, so I stopped for that and ran in to get a bagel and white chocolate mocha from Starbucks. Just what I needed to get the rest of the way. The only thing left was to get off at the Havre de Grace exit (if you’re not paying attention, and miss it, you have to pay a toll at the next exit), and then pay the toll to cross the Thomas J. Hatem Bridge. I’ve always wondered what it was like for Mr. Hatem, growing up. Did he get teased about his name?

Off that bridge, and a few minutes later, I was hugging my cousin. 9:45pm, about 13 hrs after departure. Not too bad for a first road trip, after getting home, wouldn’t you say? My return trip will be shorter, in two weeks, because I’ll be returning from Pennsylvania, which only takes 10 hrs. I hope you enjoyed my trip, and please join me again soon, as I’ll have baby cousins and friends to show off.   : )

put…the camera…down…

I never thought I would tell myself this. Since I returned to the U.S., rather than take pictures of people, I’ve been photographing places, such as stores and our yard, pretty much any food I come across, and the books that just arrived in the mail. I take my camera everywhere with me, in my purse, and regularly confuse customer service people by asking them if they have a policy on customers taking photos in their stores. I’m sorry, I don’t have a fancy phone to be unobtrusive with, I have a regular camera, and don’t want to be stopped after I’ve started taking the photos.

There are at least two posts involving food, from when I was in Australia, that I’m still in the middle of writing. I have to blog about what I’m reading and the aforementioned packages, though about half of the books in them have been covered on here, already. Some of them were bought in Sydney, and some, right before I left AUS, though, so you haven’t heard about them yet! In another hour or so, my post about birds and birdhouses is going up, and I have at least four posts that will come from my trip to Pendleton, SC, from yesterday. After that, I have a post concerning Walmart and shopping carts that I will fit in, somewhere in the sort-of-near future.

And while this is all happening, the flowers are blooming in the local Botanical Gardens, and even though I missed the azaleas, it will still be very beautiful! But I’ve got to slow down. I’m slowly getting back onto the correct sleep schedule, but in addition to that, my doctor has told me that I’m having a mono (glandular fever) relapse, not just a sore throat. Yeah, cough drops are my friend, because no medicine is fixing it, this time.

So, I’m supposed to get plenty of sleep, eat properly, take my vitamins, and don’t get exhausted, overheated, or stressed out. Ok, some of that translation is no running or jogging, if I wanted to try and “officially” exercise (I was thinking about it!). Some things make me tired, or get my heart rate up, that shouldn’t be tiring. Not exhausted, just tired. And since I’ve rarely ever been sick, before this last year, I don’t like anything keeping me from doing what I want to do.

For now, I think I need to catch up on my blog posts, and maybe I’ll go to the Gardens, one of these days. That’ll be just one post. But after that, I think I need to… put… the camera… down. Give it a rest for a few days. Because you can get just as tired from too much writing and trying to keep up, as when you’re running around. And the more pictures I take, the more I have to write!  : )  But keep checking in, I have lots of stuff to share.

Have I mentioned that it’s really, REALLY good to be home?  : )

a forgotten subject…

I just noticed that a few people were looking at my post about keeping to a steady jog/walk, from back when I was exercising. In case anyone has been wondering what came of that, I’ll explain quickly. Or maybe you figured it out. I had forgotten to explain myself, before this.

I did “fall off the wagon” with my eating and exercising, right before Christmas vacation, but then, while I was away, I got sick, and couldn’t have officially exercised. Of course, my friend and I got plenty of walking in, while doing our traveling all over Townsville and Magnetic Island. The plan was to get back on track, after the temptations of Christmas were over.

Of course, getting sick and having to fly back early to Emerald, and taking the rest of the week to recover… well, I didn’t have the strength to exercise, though I lost 8-10 pounds while I was sick. That was the upside, I suppose, though I gained it right back, once I was feeling better. Food never tastes so good as when you’re coming off a “starvation diet”. Oh, I know I didn’t really have it bad, compared to people in other countries. But when you’re used to eating well, being unable to eat anything except bread and butter, because you CAN’T eat and don’t WANT to eat… it’s a bit frightening.

Anyway, I’m not looking for sympathy, that was all awhile ago. My point was that when I get home, I’m looking forward to eating the familiar foods from back home, so I’m not planning to diet. But once I’m past all the stress of packing and making my way home, I do plan to up the exercise again, possibly even going back to the jog/walk plan.

I just felt like some people who had shown and interest, and even encourage me at the time, deserved to know what happened, and why. I hope to once more be an encouragement to others, in this area, once I get my feet back on my home turf.

the Rocks District, the Bridge Pylon, & the Aquarium LEGOs…

Thursday, April 5

Now that I’ve become such a dab hand at getting around on the bus and the train, I found that I could even oversleep slightly, and still get myself down to Circular Quay by 9:30am. A momentary pause to decide which train platform to go to, and off I went.

After breakfast at Maccas, I decided that the easiest way to get to the Harbour Bridge Pylon was to walk there. Besides, it was a lovely day, and there was a cruise ship in the harbor. I walked to the left of the quay, and headed into the Rocks district.

I haven’t been on the Rocks walking tour, but I did come upon its museum, by accident, so I’m aware that it’s an area full of slightly more historic buildings than most of the high-rises in Sydney. Also, it was home to most of the working class of Sydney, for many, many years. But it looks like they’re trying to hang on to the historical buildings, and not let all their history get buried.

On the way to the Rocks, I passed a fun little sculpture that was labeled “The Children’s Statue”, or something like that. The kids seem to like this, and one little fellow was sitting on a metal turtle, steadily attempting to feed a lizard some leaves. Not sure how well that was working, but he was persistent, so maybe the lizard will eventually decide to swallow. If you look closely, you’ll see the echidna (looks a little like a porcupine) and a platypus, as well as several other creatures, hiding on the statue.

As I made my way along the wharf, I was attracted by the sights of both new and old. The Sydney Opera House and the Bridge were always in the background, the hotels were new, but the buildings on the edge of The Rocks were even older than the Bridge and the House. And amidst all that, was The Radiance of the Seas cruise ship. Boy, did that ship make me want to go for another cruise.

My assumption, as I approached the base of the Bridge Pylon, was that I would easily find signs to tell me where to go, to explore the Pylon itself. But no, I didn’t find any. So, I continued along the path, enjoying the view of the underside of this marvel of engineering. Also, as you can see, it was a perfectly gorgeous day, so no harm in enjoying the lovely weather.

After I wandered up the hill, I saw the remains of an old observatory, but beyond that, it was all construction. So, back down to the road, and then I worked my way uphill, again. Coming back under the bridge, I finally began to see signs that would lead me to the Pylon Lookout, but I was occasionally distracted by the people walking above me, as they did the Bridge Climb.

Now, some of you may be wondering why I didn’t do the Harbour Bridge Climb. Isn’t this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which I should take advantage of? Well, now that I’ve been to Australia, I have no intention of this being my last trip here, so I will be back.

The other factors that came into play… it’s expensive, you have to book ahead, and I decided that I just didn’t want to, this time. It really was as simple as that. Up until the last few weeks, I couldn’t understand why you had to pay to walk across the bridge, and you weren’t allowed to bring your camera. Someone finally explained that this was climbing through the “rigging”, not just the pathway, along the road. Well, I hadn’t known, and hadn’t cared enough to look it up and find out.

Anyway, my point is, I have no fear of the heights involved. It would be magnificent to be able to climb across that beautiful bridge. But I’d really rather do it with a friend, have a memory to share, instead of all these ones that I’m creating by myself. So, there you have it. I just chose not to do the climb. Next time, though.

As it happened, I found the Bridge Climb start point, before I found the Pylon Entrance, so I stopped in to ask directions. And bought a book about the Bridge, while I was in there. So, I have a bag that proclaims “I climbed the Bridge!”, and I’ve “tricked” one or two people today, making them think I’m so much more splendid than I actually am.

My confusion was that the entrance to the Pylon wasn’t at the ground level, it was at the Bridge level, so I had to to take a bunch of stairs up to a sloping walkway, which led onto the Bridge’s pedestrian walkway. Then, you walk to the bottom of the Pylon, and you’ve found your entrance.

The whole thing is only 200 steps, but I’ve been doing a lot of stairs, lately, so it was still felt like a workout. But well worth it. There’s a small movie theater, a gift shop, bathrooms, and lots of little museum bits, all inside that Pylon! Amazing.

When I reached the top, I enjoyed looking in all directions, but I was a little worried the wind might blow harder and I’d lose my hat. So, I was very careful while climbing around on the benches, which are there so you can actually see over the wall. Also, the glass has these really neat markings, helping you find local landmarks, even while you’re up so high.

I made my way back through The Rocks, afterwards, stopping to have some lunch. Then, back to Circular Quay, where I first went on an expedition to the opposite end of the Quay, towards the Opera House, looking to see if a certain gift shop had the Sydney satchel bags that I was looking for. They did, which made me happy.

Then, I decided to go to Darling Harbour, to use up some options on my iVenture Pass, so I took the ferry to get there, because that particular ferry takes you under the Bridge. So, you get some great views of the Bridge from another angle, and you get to see a good bit more of the harbor, as the boat makes several stops.

I made my way up and down the stairs of the ferry, several times, before I finally settled on the lower level, on the outside benches. You can see everything from there!

By the time I arrived in Darling Harbour, I was really starting to get tired. Don’t judge, I have been doing a LOT of walking over the last few days, and I’m usually lugging a bag or two around with me. Long days, lots of sun, even with a hat on. It’s draining.

I’m afraid I didn’t have enough energy left to fully appreciate either the Sydney Aquarium or the Maritime Museum. In the Aquarium, I was enjoying the LEGO statues more than the fish, as you’ll see. But the prize goes to the Moby Dick display, with the white whale made out of large LEGOs, but the background “painting” was made from an array of little ones. It reminded me of a cross-stitch pattern, where the pattern looks like it has too many varieties of color, but when you stitch it together, you see that every bit of color and variation was necessary.

The penguins were quite fun to watch, despite the crowd around that location, but the Shark tunnel was so very crowded that I only glanced in to take a picture or two. There were plenty of things that I’d already seen at the Aquarium in Townsville.

The paintings on the walls were quite cool, too. The mermaid and manatee picture made me think of a certain restaurant, back home, where the bathrooms are labeled for “Mermaids” and “Manatees”, when we always thought the guy’s bathroom should be for “Mermen”. But for some reason, the wall painting of a sea turtle made me think they used Darth Vader for a model, instead of Crush, from Finding Nemo. Something about the turtle’s expression. See if you can see the resemblance.

The Maritime Museum was near to closing. If I’d had any energy left, I think I would have found the museum and the boats enthralling. I had decided that I would use this visit for my last item on my iVenture card, but I’m afraid I didn’t make it quite as worthwhile as it could have been.

Outside of the building, there was a sign about the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic sinking, so I thought there would be an exhibit I would be interested in. And once I got through the door, I found that the bottom gallery was called The United States of America Gallery. It celebrated the ties between the American and Australian shipping industries.

Upstairs, I found the exhibit about the Titanic, but it was split between details about the actual Titanic and a costume exhibit from the movie. Now, I haven’t watched the entire film since it was in theaters the first time, so I didn’t recall right away that these outfits were even from the movie. But they are quite beautiful in their detail, and I believe the film’s costume designer was supposed to be very accurate in her historical detailing of the clothes.

There was a large gallery about some famous yacht racers of Australia, and lots of pictures and bits of memorabilia, from families that left Nazi Germany and Communist Russia for freedom in Australia. I really can’t imagine making such a trip, on a large ship, in complete exile from your home. These people weren’t convicts, but cast out for other reasons.

After the Tasman Light, you’ll notice what looks like a big painting, or you might suspect me of adding another Lego “painting”. But that image of a ship caught in a storm is actually a woven tapestry, though I forgot to take a picture of it, up close. An amazing bit of craftsmanship, wouldn’t you say?

In the Museum’s gift shop, I woke up enough to want to buy every book about the Titanic that they had, but wasn’t able to, because I don’t have any room in my luggage, now or later. I can see what the Barnes & Noble has, when I return home. But my, weren’t those books tempting!

More important needs came after leaving the Museum. I needed to eat and I needed to sit down. I had intended to take the Monorail, immediately, to get back to Newtown, but I was so tired of stairs that I took a shortcut through the shopping center, in search of an elevator or escalator. And I walked past a restaurant called Pancakes on the Rocks.

Now, would you have been able to walk by? I’ve been in Australia for a year, and excepting the occasional pancake that’s leftover from a Saturday breakfast (after I woke up), I haven’t had a plate of real pancakes since I left the United States. I kid you not.

Therefore, I looked at all the dessert options and the savory pancake choices… and still chose to get four huge pancakes with butter and syrup. Oh, yes. I didn’t want the extra sweets, I just wanted a bit of home. You wouldn’t believe how normal it is to occasionally visit Perkins, IHOP, or some other pancake place, when I’m at home. Then, I found that my eyes had been bigger than my stomach, and wasn’t even able to finish all of my pancakes. They tasted so good, though.

Finally, I had to give in and walk up several flights of stairs to reach the Monorail. I had to stop and really catch my breath, before reaching the top, so I hope it was just too many stairs, all in one day. It wasn’t even that bad when I was climbing the Pylon! I don’t really want to find out that I’ve got another “hypersensitivity” to something that’s keeping me from breathing properly.

My highly improved sense of direction got me off the Monorail at World Square, where you’ll see that funky swirl design over the staircase. Then, with only one or two checks of my map, I found my way back to a bus stop, even before I reached Railway Square! Meaning, I picked an unknown stop, got on the right bus, and it was relatively quiet and my journey back to the College was very easy. I think I’ve improved over this whole week, don’t you?

the Royal Botanic Gardens & the Manly Ferry…

Monday, April 2

After a lovely lunch at the Studio Café, under the Sydney Opera House, I was debating what to do with the rest of my day. Between all the stairs in the House, all the stairs in the dorms I’m staying in, and all the walking down Bennelong Point, I figured I would need to do something less strenuous, eventually.

Of course, not quite yet, but the Manly Ferry was on my to-do list for later. First, I walked back down the point, and made my way up the hill, looking for the entrance to the Royal Botanic Gardens, where I should be able to see Government House.

When I found the entrance, I also discovered that Government House only has tours on weekends, so I took a few pictures, and then left. While I was looking at it, though, I kept feeling like I was looking at a toy castle. Not fancy enough or old enough to be like palaces in London. And considering I’ve been to the Biltmore House in North Carolina, this place was tiny.

Right near the entrance was a lawn covered in broken bits of a building. I couldn’t decide if it was supposed to be decorative or if a bomb had blown something up, back in the day. There were no signs to explain what the point of it was. It made me think about what I remember reading about the Elgin Marbles, in England, but I don’t even know if these are similar, or if I imagine they would be. If anyone knows, feel free to tell me. What do you google, “broken building bits outside botanic gardens”?

As the sign said that we were welcome to walk on the grass, I took advantage of that, and walked down to the water. This was Farm Cove, on the other side of Bennelong Point, across the water from Mrs. MacQuarie’s Chair. I keep meaning to look up some more history on that landmark.

On the way to the water, I passed some Aboriginal sculptures that were only meant to be looked at, though one of them looked like it was a playground. I guess if they’re Aboriginal, you’re not allowed to call them “hippie droppings”, like my family calls weird art sculptures, back home? They went to a school that specialized in art and engineering, so it was full of “interesting” works.

After examining the signs, I headed back towards the Opera House, to get a few more photos from a different angle. Then, going in the opposite direction, I followed the signs to the Garden Gift Shop, wanting to see what they’d have for sale there.

Along the way, I tried to get some pictures of the beautiful rainbow lorikeets that were making so much noise in the trees. If there’s something you’ll notice about the birds in Australia, they’re often noisy, and they’re often beautiful. Lots of parrots flying around, which you would never see at home. But they can be quite destructive, too, doing a lot of crop damage… or so I’ve heard.

I passed some kids feeding the birds, and watched a bird fly from a spot right next to me, to the top of a pretty statue’s head. I’d hoped to get a shot of him taking off, but it never happened. The gift shop was nice, and I wanted to get all sorts of things, but reason prevailed, and I just got some more postcards.

Lots of interesting statues and beautiful trees and other plants were all about, as I headed for the exit to the gardens. When you look at the pictures of the Cupid statue, I know some of you are going to try and suggest I was just getting a close-up of his bum. There were plenty of other nude statues around, though, if that were my goal.  : P

But if you look closely, can you see what’s sheltering under Cupid’s wing? The bird was even looking at me, when I took his picture, but didn’t fly away. That’s probably because that circle of water was keeping everyone outside of his “personal space bubble”.

Finally exiting the gardens, I made my way to the ferries, and swiped my pass, in order to take the Manly Ferry. Taking the ferry to Manly is one of the best ways to get great view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. So, away I went, for a half hour boat trip. I’ve since learned that Manly is not an island, but it’s located on a strip of land that’s quite close to the Outer Harbour, and the open ocean. A big destination for beach-goers, but it looks like there’s some amazing rocks and landscapes to hike around, too.

When I arrived, despite having lunch at 1pm, I was starving (it was 4pm), so I must’ve worked it off during all my walking. I grabbed a sub, and then Gloria Jean’s Coffee really saved my life. A white chocolate mocha was just what the doctor ordered.

After feeding my face, and savoring my coffee, I began talking to an older couple who had stopped in for coffee, and ended up talking to them for almost an hour. I’d have suspected Mr. S might be trying to pull my leg, but his wife was so sweet, I couldn’t believe they’d both make up any stories for my benefit.

They told me about some great places to go see on the Inner and Outer Harbour, though I don’t know if I’ll be able to. He told me about some of his trips on-board a merchant ship, and how he and his wife had traveled around the world with his job. And then, I’m still not sure if I have the story right, but because of his help, in Perth, with a shipload of Italian sailors, when he and his wife were next in Italy, they got to meet Pope John Paul II.

But the kicker of the story is that the Italian gentleman that told them they needed to meet “Papa”, he said they needed an appointment. And Mrs. S thought it so odd that you needed an appointment to visit your parents. They had no idea that the man meant “Papa John Paul”, as he told them later. This couple was quite young, then, with one small son. They ended up at a large audience come to see the Pope, and then they got to meet him afterwards. Mrs. S was somewhat mortified, knowing that she’d only come in a plain skirt and blouse, instead of dressing up a bit more.

Oh, our talks about Australia and America were quite fun, though the loudness of the wharf sometimes made hearing difficult. His sister married an American sailor, and he never saw her again, though his brother did. I found the first part romantic, and the last a bit sad. But back then, a plane ticket for two of them was way too expensive. The really sad part of the story is that his brother found out that his sister was dying of alcohol poisoning, when he visited her. She had taken to drinking, after she found that all of America wasn’t as “glamorous” as Hollywood.

Yes, we had some talk about what the rest of America is really like. You know, how most of us don’t like being compared to Hollywood, though the rest of the world still judges us by what they see in the movies. When we just wish that the Hollywood actors would keep their political opinions to themselves, and stop giving most of America a bad name. My, haven’t times changed! But back in their day, they thought all of America was just like Hollywood and that we all lived like movie stars. I’m sure Red Bluff, WA is quite beautiful in its way, but if you’re expecting the glamor of the Hollywood elite, you might be disappointed.

At the last, they expressed the hope that just like a boomerang returns to you when you throw it, that I will come back to Australia again, someday. Except they expressed it better than I just did. And for all those people that say they “wish they could visit Australia, some day”… well, if you do nothing but wish, you’ll never do it. Now that I’ve been here, one visit (even a year-long one) will never be enough. I’m coming back.

Finally, I had to get going, and caught one of the Fast Ferries back to Sydney Harbour, so it didn’t take half an hour to get there. The sun was going down, so I got some really pretty pictures of the Bridge and Opera House. Yes, more of them. But if you’ll picture me racing up and down the steps on a “wobbly” boat, as I tried to get pictures from different angles, before they were out of sight, maybe you’ll forgive me for more of the same.

Once back in the Harbour, it was time to return to Newtown, but I couldn’t find a bus stop labeled with the right letter, for the place I wanted to go. Giving up, I headed into the train station, and got on a train for Central, worrying the whole way about what might go wrong this time. Once I was on the train platform in Central, down the stairs I went, and back up another set and… yes, I was back on a train platform again. I went down the steps, and stopped the first guy I saw, and asked “How do I get out of here?”, and didn’t even try to hide the slight wail in my voice.

It was probably not the first time he’d ever given someone directions, but he cheerfully led me up to his train platform, and pointed me the way out. I was so happy to have freedom in sight. Of course, my happiness was a little dampened when I got a soda out of a machine, dropped it, and then wasn’t careful when I opened it. So, a soda fountain erupted in my hand. Sigh.

I asked the train ticket guy (a much more cheerful individual, this time!) where the bus stop was, found it in a different place than last time, and managed to get on the right one. And though I probably should’ve swiped my bus pass, but didn’t (maybe that’s why the bus driver was glaring at me), another girl was nice enough to get off at the same stop as mine, so I didn’t have to hit the “Stop” button before getting off. I exited at the correct street (hooray!), and made my way back to my building.

Only a text message away, and my friend let me in the side door. Glorious showers and chocolate-covered sultanas awaited me. And now, my fingers, along with the rest of me, are very tired, and I have another day ahead of me.

I’m meeting a friend, tomorrow, who happens to be a Sydney native, but she’s been living in Emerald, and goes to the same Bible study with me. Barring any problems, this time, I have to get to Central Station, and we’ll probably have breakfast at Hungry Jack’s (that’s Burger King, for those Americans that are interested).

And now, bedtime! Hooray! And before someone calls me on it, “hooray” is one of the two correct spellings for that word. And since I tend to say it that way, that’s how I spell it. So there.