San Francisco Dreamin’

It’s late. I’ll try to make this short, although I’m not sure how well I’ll succeed. It’s 11.35pm, and the kids are up drawing in their hotel bedroom – their body clocks (and mine) are still on Australian time. Every night we try to make it a little earlier, but that’s the way of holidays too: late nights and sleep ins and precious little in the way of routine. It’s been lovely. I’m kinda tired now though. Here’s a brief rundown, mostly in pictures, of what we’ve been doing and where we’ve been.

Our house in San Francisco was a small piece of wonder. Located in the Mission District, which is apparently the oldest area of SF, it was an old house filled with art works, curios, books and collectibles enough to make me drool, and wish I could stay a month and simply dream and read.

Art and stuffed animals

Art in the toilet

IMG_5997Yes, that is an oil painting hanging in a toilet. Yes, that is a stuffed pheasant. There was a bison’s head and a deer’s head as well. And a five-foot crudely carved crucifix. I loved it.

And there were friends! The reason we came to San Francisco was to see Steve and Theresa and their girls, and we had such a wonderful time catching up with them. If people make a place, then they made San Francisco for us. We did the tourist thing as well though (of course!) and made our way down to Pier 39. I was shocked by the contrast between “regular” San Francisco and the tourist version (OMG so many TOURISTS!), and felt very privileged to be able to see both sides. Regular side is grottier, of course, and with  many, MANY less white people. It’s a fascinating city, and I found the architecture and layout quite unique. There are no suburbs, just masses and masses of city. No front gardens. All the houses joined up for block after block after block. Flat roofs. Dense, dense housing. And the hills!

San Francisco Mission District

 

You may notice the no parking sign. They were really common. We were told that parking is atrociously hard in SF, and it’s true! You are allowed to park in your garage, but not in your driveway (the part of the footpath/sidewalk leading up to your garage), or you could be up for a $350 ticket. You can park on the street, but not on Tuesday mornings (here, other days elsewhere) when they clean the streets. No idea where you have to put your car when they’re cleaning though…maybe you just have to drive around until it’s time to come home again.

Pier 39 sealsYes, those brown things are seals. Live, smelly, noisy, honking ones. The story goes that the city built a marina for the boats and the seals just took it over. No joke. It’s a tourist attraction in it’s own right. Off to the right (outside the frame of the photo) is the Golden Gate Bridge, and further around, in the bay, is Alcatraz. Pier 39 is full of shops, restaurants, tourist attractions, you name it, it’s there.

Bubba Gump Shrimp CoYes, even a fictional Shrimp company. Check out all those people! This was on a Thursday, and after peak season too.

Jellyfish IMG_6107

Aquarium

 

And an Aquarium! The boys spent their money in the gift shop, and we’ve now welcomed to our family a fluffy sting ray, and a fluffy octopus. An ugly creature, really, but highly intelligent. And, so it seems, a great companion when you’re 4.

So there you have it for San Francisco. A city well worth a visit, but when even the taxi drivers tell you not to drive there you realise you’ve got to take that seriously. We did…after we got our rental car. But it’s late, and that, my friends, is another story.

Good night!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Great Adventure begins

For anyone not aware yet, my family and I are off on a Great Adventure. We’ve packed up our kids and our lives and we’re off to the USA, the nation that’s captured my heart and my imagination. Two months. For two months we’ll be learning what it us to be the five of us, thrown together in long car trips, hotel rooms, foreign cities with foreign rules and foreign food. Two months to connect again, to learn how to find personal space in your own head, to be grumpy without hurting feelings, to forgive one another, to love one another, to be a family of five, to be a team.
It’s good. Words cannot express how grateful I am for this experience, even as I sit tapping out this blog on my phone on the toilet, supervising a kid in a bath plugged up with a bar of hotel soap. We are blessed.

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We are blessed to have eaten Italian gelato (lychee and pistachio flavours) with some of our dearest friends. We are blessed to visit Luna Park,

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Yesterday was Fathers Day, the first one since my dad died. I’m acutely aware that we wouldn’t be able to do this if it wasn’t for his death. It’s a bittersweet thought. It’s been a bittersweet year, and much as we have been blessed I need to allow myself the sadness that comes with it.
This phone was my dad’s too. It’s still got links to the strange photos he used to take. My suitcase was Dad’s too, and, I’ve noticed recently, my chin and jaw line. I’m glad I’m taking him with me. And tomorrow morning I’m taking him with me to the International departure lounge of Sydney airport, and off to San Francisco.

The packing list

I’m leaving home in 26 days. I’m leaving the country in 28 days, in a crazy, dream-come-true kind of holiday. It’s not that I’m stressed, not really. I’m breathing okay, see? In. Out. In. Out. Where was I up to?

Oh yes. I’ve got nearly all the accommodation sorted, which is a big relief. I’m slowly going through and putting all the details into a spreadsheet that we can share with family and friends, and so we’ve got a record of all our addresses/contact phone numbers/flight times/etc in one place. Sixteen cities. Two months. Sheesh! I ordered USA sim cards for our phones today, and the extra travel bed we ordered a fortnight ago should be shipped soon. I’ve started packing.

It’s okay. It is. It really is.

The shoes bother me a little bit. I am a woman, yes, but I’m not a “shoe girl”. Or, at least, I never used to be. I used to wear my Doc Marten boots with everything, and that was fine. Trouble is, I grew up, and I no longer truly believe I can get away with Docs and an evening dress at a gala dinner – even if the dress is floor-length. So I’m traveling with strappy heels, summer walking shoes, winter walking shoes (may be snowing in the Canadian Rockies), looking-nice-because-I-need-to-look-a-little-dressed-up boots and my everyday regular wear-everywhere Docs.

Swimming gear. Thermal underwear. Parka. Sunscreen. Woolly socks. Warm hat. Sun hat. Did I mention swimming gear? Vegemite. Milo. Enough underwear to survive ten days in the Canadian Rockies possibly without a washing machine. Possibly in the snow.

Remind me again why I’m driving through the Canadian Rockies with a floor-length evening gown and strappy heels?

Not that I’m stressed. Not really. Not that it bothers ME that I’ve been so busy that I haven’t done any laundry all weekend, nosireeeeee. Oh no. Clean socks are completely overrated.

I think I need to go buy a tumble drier today. I’m sorry environmentalists: I’ve tried, and I’ve failed. I wonder if I can buy a portable one that fits in my suitcase?

I wonder if I can buy one that washes and dries my Doc Martens?

So tell me friends, seasoned travelers, any great tips on what to pack, what not to pack, what to buy? I’m trying to keep it down to one suitcase, but I am allowed to take two. Thermal-lined formal-wear with detachable hood, perhaps? 

The Price You Pay For Dreaming

Once upon a time, on the night of April 16th 2012 to be exact, I read an essay online that broke my heart. Isn’t it funny how, at the time, you don’t realise it’s your heart that’s breaking? You don’t hear the sound of snap like with a bone. This night I didn’t hear anything at all.

My husband was out at a meeting, and, because it was late, the kids were all asleep in bed. It was nine pm. I’m an early riser, and I tend to go to bed around then or just after, and read till I fall asleep. This night I didn’t though. This night I read the essay and shut the computer off quickly, but I couldn’t go to bed. I couldn’t say anything, and I was grateful that there was nobody there to not say anything to, because silence is awkward when you can’t, or don’t want to, explain it.

It took half an hour for me to realise something had broken. I washed the dishes and tidied up the lounge room and wandered back into the study to turn the computer on again and reread it and then thought better of it and brought the cat in and checked the sleeping children and eventually, because there was nothing else left to do, went into my bedroom and shut the door.

It must have been the click of the door jamb that did it, or maybe the so-familiar mess of discarded clothes and things to be dealt with. My unmade bed looked sad and empty, and suddenly I realised it was exactly like me. Words of an old song ran through my brain, and I looked away; turned my face into the coats hanging on the back of the door, and, just as suddenly as my heart had broken half an hour before, the sobs burst out of me.

I cried for half an hour, no less. Every time my tears subsided that song rang in my brain again like a punch to the gut. I hadn’t heard that song in years, and I hated it right then with a passion that I couldn’t contain, and everything it represented. It was an old Laura Branigan song, and that one line “I don’t wanna know the price I’m gonna pay for dreaming/Now that your dreams have come true” pummeled me again and again.

Dreams are hard to bear.

The essay was beautiful. It was written by the very talented Vila Gingerich, and spoke eloquently of her childhood passion to travel the world, and how she’d buried that dream only to one day be able to live it. It spoke to me in the deepest places of my own childhood passion, to see North, and how my own plans for an overseas trip six months earlier had been thwarted by circumstances beyond my control.

I still feel it in my body, that night of the heartbreak. I carry it with me, and maybe I always will, like a ridged scar where a wound has healed. I didn’t know then that, only seven months later, I’d be stepping off an aeroplane onto American soil for the very first time and getting my very first stamp in my virgin passport. You never know what’s going to happen in the future. This is the hard place. All you can do is bear the heartbreak of the present, and keep moving forward.

I didn’t know, either, when I sobbed my heart out back in Australia after I returned home with a heart full-to-bursting with love for the good old US of A, that I’d be going back again so soon; that I’d be packing up my entire family and planning a mammoth two-month hike over most of the North American continent. You never know what the future will hold. That can be a hard thing.

I’ve tried not to talk about the upcoming trip that much, mainly because I’m so painfully aware that, while this is my dream come true, so many of my friends and people I love dearly are still waiting for their dreams. It’s a hard place. There’s a price you pay for dreaming.

I’m not writing this to say “Hey folks, it’s okay! It all works out in the end, and you’ll get your dream!” I can’t say that. I’m writing it to say exactly what that song said to me: dreaming hurts. Waiting hurts. Not knowing the future hurts. Watching other people walk out into your dream hurts too.

This is why I’ll cry, yet again, when I’m on that aeroplane. This is why I’l never, ever, take my dreams for granted.

I know it hurts. But keep believing.

Flotsam and jetsam

I spent the day yesterday sorting through the last (okay, nearly the last) of the flotsam and jetsam washed up in canvas shopping bags into a corner of our lounge room by the tide of our renovations. I chucked a lot of stuff, and that was good. I found homes for a lot of stuff, and that was good too. There’s more to do (and a garage-sale-to-be-had waiting for me in the garage), and I’m very tired, but it’s good.

But I miss my dad.

Our new carpet is fantastic. It warms the house like never before, it’s made me clean out piles of stuff that I’d otherwise leave in place for…for…a lot longer. It’s made me re-look at everything we have and simplify simplify simplify. Our new kitchen windows I love, and have helped me look at our shabby little place with a whole new potential. Our new kitchen comes in four weeks. Once that’s done I need to go to the travel agents and finalise our trip to the US. I’m amazed, truly amazed at the weirdness this year is bringing.

But I miss my dad.

Dad and I didn’t always get along. Most people didn’t get along with Dad that well all the time. Dad was a dreamer, a visionary; he knew what he wanted and he set about making it happen, in his own way. I understand that. I’m a dreamer too, and a visionary. I guess this is the reason I fell in love with a run-down house, because I once saw how beautiful it could become. And now it is.

But I miss my dad.

The thing is though, the important thing, we wouldn’t be doing any of this stuff if he were still alive. We inherited money from him. We are truly blessed in that regard. Dad’s death is making some dreams come true for us.

But every time the phone rings on a Sunday I think it’s him still. He always rang on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes I didn’t bother ringing back if I missed his call, because he prattled on so much about his dreams and visions, things I knew full well would never happen. It’s not like we got along fabulously all my adult life.

But he doesn’t call any more. Not even on a Sunday. His ashes, all that’s left of his mortal body, are in a big plastic box in a paper shopping bag that the funeral home gave me. It’s incredibly, surprisingly heavy. They sit (ironically) in the fireplace in my bedroom, along with the last of the canvas shopping bags of flotsam and jetsam of the new carpet’s tide. I’m not ready to get rid of them just yet, to scatter them or to inter them anywhere. Nothing feels right, not really.

You know what I would do, if this were a story and not real life, if none of it mattered? I’d open that box and l’d take a little bit of those ashes out each time, and I’d scatter them with each new development we’re doing with Dad’s money, as a thank you. I’d lay some under the carpet. I’d put some on the top and vacuum it up with our new vacuum cleaner. I’d sprinkle some on the kitchen floor before the new cupboards go down. I’d bury some in the new patch of land we’re buying next door to ours. And then I’d take the rest overseas with me, not enough to make any government make a fuss, and I’d drop small pieces of ash wherever we go: a little in a cigarette-disposal-ash-tray thingy outside an airport; a little on a lake, a little in a park. A little near a tree, a little near some water. A little in a garbage can in Edmonton, which is the northern-most city in Canada. He never went to the US or Canada. He always expected me to go though. I think he’d like that. And a little leftover for me, to add to the clutter and junk that I’m trying to rid my live of.  Just a little to keep, to remember.

It’s a bit late to lift the carpet now, but the rest…I still miss my dad. But this, this…

If you see me in the US or Canada, lurking strangely near a garbage can, or checking as I open a ziplock bag near a rose bush, don’t be alarmed. Stop and say hi. And be aware if I cry more than I ought to about throwing out some old lunch scraps, it may be because I miss my dad.

Have you ever had to deal with a loved one’s ashes? What did you do? Have you ever considered taking them overseas? Is that just a little too weird do you think? How do YOU remember, or say thank you, to someone who’s no longer here?

Dear Theresa: I am not a pessimist…I think.

Hello Theresa!

I do hope you don’t mind me addressing my blog to you today. I’ve been thinking of you a lot lately, and, well, like sometimes in public speaking when it helps to pick out one member of the audience and address your talk to them, the same can be true for blogging.

Is it sunny in good old Southern California today? D’uh. Sorry. Of course it is! It’s cold in Tassie–light the fire and put on a thick dressing gown type cold. No, I bet you don’t miss that one bit! It feels like only a few short months ago (d’uh! It WAS only a few months ago) that I was getting up to 5am daylight and sitting here in shorts and a t-shirt, in complete denial that the weather could ever be anything different. Well, it’s definitely different. I’ve lived here all my life, I can’t believe that cold weather takes me by surprise every single year. Denial, I guess.

The mountain. Taken from our front porch. Yes, that's snow already.

The mountain. Taken from our front porch. Yes, that’s snow already.

I. Cannot. Wait. To. See. You. Again!!! We sat around together on Saturday and did some research into accommodation and transport and all those other practical things you need to know about when you drag a family of five across to the other side of the world. It was fun, but I was tired, and had had a lot going on. And about half-way through the conversation I realised something weird about myself: I didn’t want to go.

Now don’t get me wrong, yes, we ARE coming. Yes, we ARE hauling the family over to the other side of the planet to explore yet another handful of new cities and, yes, actually drive a crazy-big RV on the wrong side of the road while our kids sit in the back and play Lego or argue. Yes, I AM a wild adventurer who’s been desperate to travel and see the world for as long as she can remember. Yes. That’s still me.

But…

Here’s something that occurred to me a while back. I’m pretty sure that inside every optimist is a hidden pessimist. That inside every calm and relaxed person is a hidden drama queen. That inside every shy person is a tiger ready to fight its way to the surface. 

Most of the time we ourselves don’t know it’s in there. I’m pretty sure of that. But have you ever had a friend who, under great stress, does something wildly out of character? I’m noticing it a fair bit. I’m pretty sure it’s true for us all. I think we all have, like, an “outer personality”, the who-we-are, but that the other, opposite side, is also present, and manifests itself when we’re under pressure. Now I’m no psychologist, but I am a student of human nature. I think this is why I was always such a poor finisher of things – a true 90-percenter. Passionate about starting anything new, but scared to fail, so I wouldn’t complete. I noticed it with my last US trip: I was so gun-ho to go, but as it got closer the fears nearly threatened to overwhelm me. And now it’s the same again.

I. Love. Travel.

It’s true. I’m a travel nut, and I’ve been missing you, and my other friends there, and the US itself, ever since I got back. I can’t wait to come again, that much is true…I’ve just got to get over my fear that my kids will be kidnapped by satanists on Superbowl weekend (granted, I don’t know when Superbowl weekend is), or stolen in a shopping mall because I turned my back on them to check out the price of toothpaste for a minute.

What IS the Superbowl, any how? Is it football? It can’t be baseball surely, because they have the World Series. Ah, who knows.

Your kids live there. They’re such gorgeous, happy things, too. Do you ever get afraid they’ll be kidnapped by satanists?

I like my optimist side much better.

Hello Theresa!

Hello Theresa!

Well, that’s all for now. It’s the first day back at school for my guys today, so I better go make lunches. Sigh.

It’s been nice talking to you like this. I’ll see you soon. I WILL! Just a soon as I get my pessimistic nature firmly back in its box, where it belongs.

 

The stranger at the airport

Want to hear a story?

Over the weekend I rearranged my bedroom. I moved my big old wardrobe from one side of the room to the other, and in order to do that I needed to take everything out. Everything. There’s not many times I do that. Do you have drawers where you put special, random stuff underneath your jeans and jumpers? I think all of my drawers have certain amounts of special weirdness in them, and mostly I know what it is and where it is, but this day I uncovered something I’d been wondering about, something that had been missing for a few years. This is it. Let me tell you its story.

My amethyst crystal

My amethyst crystal

It was September 1993. I’d just turned twenty, and was leaving Tasmania to fly to Perth, Western Australia, to see my dad for the first time in about five years. I had an hour-long flight from Hobart to Melbourne, then a two hour delay before I could board my flight to Perth. I didn’t mind so much. I loved airports, and Melbourne’s is a big one. I took the opportunity to wander through all the shops, and to check out the International departures lounge, dreaming that one day I too would fly out from there to somewhere exotic*

I bought some lunch at one of the cafes there, looked through the book shops and the way-out-of-my-league jewellery shop. I perused handbags and scarves and tiny, fire-coloured opals set in rings and watches. I had a lot of fun looking through the tourist shop, trying to imagine what overseas travellers thought about Australia, and wondered where in the world these “Kangaroo Crossing” signs and outback calendars would grace the backs of toilet doors, and whether people in other countries really did believe koalas were everywhere** and kangaroos hopped down the main street***. I bought a couple of postcards, just to fill in the time, and sat down on a padded bench outside the tourist shop and started writing them, pulling out the massive study bible I carried in my backpack to rest them on.

I’m not great at knowing what to say in letters and postcards, and there wasn’t much news so far. I read a bit of the bible while I waited for inspiration to hit me, and sat quietly and watched the people walk by. There were a lot of Asian people, which I wasn’t used to seeing, and old round men wearing the brightly coloured jumpers I’d seen in the shops just near me. People in smart suits, and people who looked haggard and travel-weary even by the early afternoon. A dude in a Raiders jacket with his hair curly at the back. He reminded me of Tony, because Tony was growing his hair long at that stage, and, because it was orange and curly, gave him the appearance of having a basketball for a head. To deal with this (this was 1993, a time when afros were very much not cool) he wore a Raiders cap constantly. To this day I have no idea who the Raiders are, where they are from or even what sport they play, but I’m as familiar with their logo as if they were my own hometown team.

I wrote some more, and read some more, and people-watched some more too. I tried hard not to be nervous, and so I prayed. I hadn’t seen my dad in years. We’d never been close, and the years before he left had been so fraught with tension and violence that I was glad to see him go. I didn’t know what to expect from him, or from this trip to Perth, where I knew nobody but him. I was confident enough to know I could look after myself in a strange city if everything went sour, and excited to visit a part of the country I’d never seen, but nervous enough to cling to that bible and search through it for promises of hope, for reminders that God was with me, that I wasn’t doing this on my own.

That’s what I was doing when it happened. I was reading the psalms, although I forget which one, when a hand appeared on my bible. A man’s hand, not in a vision or anything spiritual like that, just entering my field of vision while I was reading. And on my bible the hand left that beautiful amethyst crystal. I looked up. It was the dude in the Raider’s jacket. I held his gaze for a few seconds before he turned and walked away with his friend. I picked up the crystal. It was still warm from his hand, and as I held it I felt a shy peace creeping over me. This was my promise. Things would be all right.

And they were.

I still have that crystal. I’ve searched Melbourne airport a few times since that day, and have never found a shop that sells things like that. I don’t know why he was holding it, where he got it, why he decided to put it on my lap like that that day, or who he is. I love the idea that one day all mysteries will be revealed though. One day, maybe in Heaven, I’ll meet the man in the Raiders jacket, and I’ll smile, and I’ll say, finally, “thank you”.

How about you? Have you ever had an unexpected encounter with a stranger? Did it change you?

And another thing, this is the internet. You just never know who reads these things. Do you know a guy with curly brown hair, maybe in his 20s, who wore a Raiders jacket and was passing through Melbourne airport in September 1993? If you do, tell him I said hi, and thank you!

*And lo and behold, nineteen years later, I did! To Los Angeles, which was uncannily like Melbourne, and to the wildly foreign and terribly exotic city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Madonna, Eminem, and Susie Finkbeiner are all from Michigan. It’s cool.

**They are not. In fact, koalas don’t live in Tasmania at all, so although many people on the mainland have seen them in the wild, I have not.

***They don’t. Not really. Well, not in the major cities, anyway. Weeeeellll…not unless you count Glenorchy as a major city (which nobody does, and this fella is a wallaby, not a kangaroo anyhow). Because summer was so dry, and because the bushfires were so severe, a lot of animals made their way to the suburbs for food.

Wallaby

Yes, this guy DID hop round the city…or at least, the suburbs.