Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Saying Goodbye…

I had plans today to write a post about my daily walk in Darling Harbor (so many postings yet to write!). Good intentions and all that…but I found myself stuck, writer’s block, too many emotions too close to the surface. At first, I couldn’t figure out what my problem was (really, I had things to do!) but here I sat, for most of the morning, trying to decide why I was so unmotivated. I finally pulled the things out of the hall closet here in the apartment so we could get a good idea of how much ‘extra’ we’ve collected on this trip, and it hit me- I’m really a mess of emotions about leaving…. so I decided to put it on paper. This is how I write, truly, the things that are in my heart and on my mind.
This has been, undoubtedly (with the only exception that of becoming a mother) the most incredible experience of my life. I am halfway around the world, on a different continent, in a different time zone, on a different day, in a different season. You know how you say you always want to go to (fill in the blank)? Australia was one of my “someday” places. Who knew? I had never been out of the USA except to British Columbia for literally one day!
Four months. January through May. A third of 2013. Hundreds of photos. There are so many ways to count the days that we’ve spent here. There were days when I was so ready to be back in my little house in Southern California. There were days when I was so struck by the beauty of this continent that I couldn’t believe my good fortune in being here. I knew I would be misty-eyed leaving (I am a nostalgic wimp), but I didn’t think it would hurt my heart like it has today. It’s like fostering an animal, I guess; you meet it, you get to know it, and then it’s time to give it up (I can’t foster for this reason- any animal I’d foster would become mine). I do know if for some reason I have to move here, I could do it. Australia is wonderful; the part of the country I have seen is breathtaking. The people are wonderful; I just wish they would give up smoking! (Side note: Apparently, my wishes have been heard as they are running ‘no smoking’ campaigns on television!)
There are so many things we did, so many things we wanted to do but couldn’t. Work was the primary focus. It’s what brought us here and paid our way, so it could not be ignored. In spite of long hours, we made the best of it. We got to see Sydney in a way that I’d always said I wanted to do anywhere that I traveled- I wanted to get to know the people, not just a 3-day tourist visit. We made friends through work; we made friends in the restaurants and shops that we frequented. There are some friends who will stay in touch; some I will most likely never see again.
I will miss those friendly faces. I will miss Darling Harbor, so close to us here. I love the harbor. I will miss seeing the koala on my morning walk (you will meet her in another post soon, I promise!), seeing Leo in the doorway of the wax museum, lol. I will miss the parrots! I love, absolutely love, hearing the parrots on my walks. I know some of the locals get tired of them day after day, but I never do. They’re hard to spot, which I always find amazing because they are so brightly colored, but they just blend right into those palm trees. The big ibis are interesting walking around with their curved beaks, too. I will miss the Saturday night fireworks. And the food! Oh… the glorious food here… I am bringing some of that back with me in pounds, although the plan is to get rid of them!
I won’t miss the cigarettes and the smoke that comes with them. I won’t miss trying to thread my way through throngs of people who seem to have no idea where they are going. I won’t really miss the sirens that seem to go hourly here; the police leave from the station nearby but never bother to let me know if the situation was resolved!
We’ve managed to pick up some of the lingo. Now my Texas/American accent has a bit of Aussie mixed in. G’day is common; ‘no worries’ is a part of our everyday speak. We tend to say ‘chips’ instead of French fries. We can pretty much add ‘ie’ to any word and have it be the Australian version. We say hall like ‘hole’ with a bit of an accent.
Going home though… what a feeling! We have so much to look forward to and so much we’ve missed! Our grandson… 4 months in the life of a busy 5-year-old can mean so many changes! Our house, our friends, our favorite places! Yard work! Dusty house! Projects! J
One of the best parts of all of this? Us. We found out after 27 years of marriage, we still have it! We are best friends, after all. Marriage is work, no doubt, but when you work with someone you really, really like, it’s mostly (ha) fun. We had to depend on each other here, and that’s a good feeling. We supported each other; when one of us was down or cranky, the other one helped them through. We laughed and we shared the adventures.
The other ‘best’ part? ME. I met ‘me’, really me, after almost 60 years of being on this earth. I found out that you can be your own best friend. I kept myself entertained and busy. I ate too much. I didn’t drink enough, ha! I read. I did whatever I wanted, pretty much when I wanted. I had fun! And isn’t that what life is about?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"It's All Happening at the Zoo" (Simon and Garfunkel)

One rainy Saturday in April, hubby and I decided it was time to get out even though neither one of us are 'rain' people. After all, we are in Australia! We should do something! So, we walked to the train station, took the train to the Circular Quay, hopped a ferry, and off we went over to Mosman, a suburb of Sydney, to head to the zoo. That sounds like quite a trip, but all in all, it was about 30 minutes, maybe 45 if you stretch it a bit. The Taronga Zoo is not too large but large enough to have a great variety of animals. It was opened in 1916, so it's been around a long time. Some of the architecture is amazing! I love studying animals so even in the rain, I was pretty happy to be there. Since a zoo is mostly visual, I decided to let our pictures do the writing for this particular post, with a few captions to help you understand what you're seeing.

a wet day, busy, but not crowded

this is a view of Sydney CBD from over at Mosman

i want some dinosaurs for my yard!!

guess who! he totally wasn't interested in posing for us!

hubby grabbed my arm and pointed up: this was over my head!

yeah... that's what i said, too! yikes! just garden spiders but HUGE...

do you see what's behind me??? OMG!

can you find the elephants in this picture? and be nice!

these pelicans are big! i'm glad they were uninterested in me...

the big cats were waiting for lunch... got some GREAT photos!

a happy couple, i'm sure

so close.. isn't she spectacular?

and she's hungry....

and bored with us! ha! look at those teeth!

the gorgeous snow leopard

he looks so relaxed perched up there!

peek a boo!!

who are these funny animals?

the king

is this the cutest penguin ever? this is a fairy penguin, native to australia

tyger, tyger burning bright (blake)

those people are not paying attention to that big cat in the tree! (it was not real)

you can't be at the zoo in australia and not see a (bored) koala!
We spent several hours walking around and having a really enjoyable day, in spite of the misty, drizzly weather. The big cats were certainly the highlight, since they were so active because it was feeding time. There were other animals, of course.. I just couldn't post every picture here. Thanks for coming along on this quick trip to the Taronga Zoo!


Monday, May 13, 2013

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Easter is a big holiday over here in Australia. So big, it’s a 4-day weekend. The USA really needs to take a lesson from other countries about holidays and vacations, seriously. These other countries value time off and get lots of it! With 4 days off, we actually wrangled a couple of dinner invitations with local families - 2 very nice families whose husbands work with my husband – so we actually had dinner plans for Saturday and Sunday evening. I was excited because I was finally going to see something besides tall buildings and concrete! While living in the ‘big’ city of Sydney certainly has its advantages, I was curious and ok, a little lonely, to see suburbs, families, pets, TREES. Top that off with a home-cooked meal and let’s just say I was ready!

The towns/suburbs around Sydney (and Australia) have the most interesting and romantic names. Similar, of course, to England, they evoke images of warm, cozy houses, smelling of something wonderful cooking on the stove… lovely parlors for tea… how I fantasize, eh? Too many Victorian novels and episodes of Downton Abbey, I guess. How can you help it when you see names like Warrimoo, Faulconbridge, Parramatta, Merrylands, Yagoona, Punchbowl, Canterbury, Kingsgrove, Tydalmere, Pendle Hill, Toongabbie??? The list goes on and on! My curiosity was piqued! What would I see? What would the houses look like? Our Saturday evening dinner was in a suburb known as French’s Forest. What were we about to see? J

Of course, half the fun with us having no car is getting there. We walked to the train station, rode the train for about 20 minutes or so and took a taxi for another 20-30 minutes to meet our friends. For those of you whose imaginations are more in control than mine, we saw exactly what you thought we’d see. Neighborhoods. Lovely, but very normal-looking, neighborhoods. This particular house was on a cul-de-sac. Neighbors friendly with one another, kids running from house to house… we don’t often get that in our California everyone-commutes-so-we-don’t-know-anyone neighborhoods. Our first impression was MIDWEST – we could be back in Iowa or Texas! Brick houses, nice-sized yards, kids, dogs, cats… it was great! The one big difference we saw was that, while the houses are mostly brick, the roofs are tile. No shingles around here. It’s possible that it’s the fire code; I never got the chance to ask, so I don’t have the answer but in California, that’s why you see so many concrete tile or regular tile roofs. The newest exterior change out here is that they cover brick with concrete to make it look like stucco and paint it. We were quite at home! I was having such a good time I forgot to take pictures, but I have taken a few as we’ve traveled around, so here are just a few shots to give you an idea. These were taken from the train, so I apologize that they aren't the greatest pictures, but it does give you an idea..

Saturday’s family offered us BBQ or for those of you who want to say it, ok, steak on the barbie. It was just lovely sitting out on their patio by the pool, getting to know the family, their cat, and listening to the birds. Birds everywhere. Cockatoos, parrots, mynas, crows. A warm, lovely evening to be outside.

The meal was delicious! Steak, potatoes, salad, great wine, and for dessert, pavlova. I would call them meringue nests but here in Australia, they call them pavlova. The story is that they were named for the Russian ballet dancer, Anna Matveyevna Pavlova, because they were ‘as light as Pavlova’. They were delicious! We stuffed ourselves full and then headed back home via taxi and train.

On Sunday, we once again headed out for adventure. This time, we were going over to the city of Manly. You can read about it here:
For us, that meant walking to the train station (this is only about a block and a half), taking the train to the Circular Quay (pronounced ‘key’, and also the location of the famed Sydney Opera House), and then a ferry across the harbor to Manly, where our host picked us up in his car. Manly is about 11 miles north of Sydney; it only takes us about 10-15 minutes to get there by ferry. It’s a quaint, beach community. We would compare it to Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, or any of the beach cities we are familiar with in Southern California.
The houses here are a bit more eclectic with a modern feel. The neighborhood we were in was very lush, with lots of trees and beautiful patios. The houses again are stucco or concrete with tile roofs. Another great family with another great cat (playing with the cats made me very happy!).
BBQ again! This time, salmon and chicken were on the menu and again, it was delicious! It was so nice to be treated to fine wine, good food, and great company. One of the interesting techniques we noticed about bbq-ing in Australia- they don’t usually cook their food directly on the grill (nope, no grill marks here). They use a pan, much like a cookie sheet, and heat that on their grills, then toss their meat of choice onto the hot pan and let it sear and cook there. No grill marks but it still tastes delicious!
It was a good weekend. We made new friends, had great food, and got out of the city for a while. Both families made us feel very welcome in their homes, and it was nice to see something of suburbia for a change!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What Is It About Soap Operas?

My soaps are back! My stories, as our grandmothers or mothers used to say.  In 2011, ABC/Disney announced the cancellation of 2 longtime running soap operas, All My Children and One Life To Live, after 40 plus years on the air. The excuses ran from budget to low viewership, but the general feeling among soap opera fans was that they didn’t really want to save them. It was even said that one studio executive commented that viewers could be trained to watch reality TV in the daytime instead of soaps. With thinking like that, what chance did the shows have? The ultimate injury/insult to viewers was done, and the studio gave these 2 shows the ax. While I have simplified what is a very complicated and complex issue, I believe if they’d wanted the soaps on the air, they would have found a way to keep them.

What ABC/D didn’t count on was the fans’ reaction. We were furious! And we were LOYAL to our soaps. So we fought back. We called ABC until they actually asked us to stop calling! We inundated them with emails, letters, tweets, and any other way we could think of to let them know how unhappy we were. We were relentless. The more they asked us to stop, the more we hit them with requests to bring our shows back.

We learned of a company named Prospect Park that was trying to buy the rights to our beloved shows. We were so excited! Someone heard us and was going to bring the shows back! Then legal issues started up; Prospect Park got bogged down in wading through the legal muck and our hopes were dashed. There wasn’t enough money; ABC wasn’t giving Prospect Park what they needed, etc. etc. It was dismal. Did we fans give up? NOT. AT. ALL. We picked up our swords and began the battle all over again. Facebook pages and Twitter were full of encouragement to keep the battle cry going. So the fight began again.

In a way, ABC did us a favor. That sounds odd, but because of their decision to kill the shows and the fans’ decision to come together and fight back, we found a new way to connect with our favorite stars. Thanks to social media like Facebook and Twitter, we’ve come to know these fine actors, as well as some of the executives and crew, on a whole different level. We supported them and they supported us. It became a personal fight for all of us, and we became a real family, fighting for the lives of our shows.

In a nutshell, we won.  On April 29, 2013, our shows were reborn, giving 200 or so employees a job again and making soap opera fans very happy. This is a significant win. How many times can you remember where fans fought to have a show brought back and won? Prospect Park did what it had to do, we fans kept the battle going, and lo and behold, our soaps are back. Not on TV this time, but online. Why is this so significant? Why is this groundbreaking? These are not reruns of shows. Shows are being filmed and setup specifically for online viewing. You can watch them through Hulu, Hulu Plus, or ITunes. The shows are made available for downloading Monday through Friday in the wee hours of the morning and when you are ready to watch (at least for me on ITunes); I download the episode and tune in. I can watch at breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. I can watch while I get dressed. I can watch while I do my household chores or go to the park! Anywhere I can take my IPad with Wi-Fi, I can watch my stories. And I can watch them again and again if I choose. Needless to say, that makes me one very happy soap opera fan.

So back to my title question: what is it about soap operas? Why are they so important to us fans? Why are we so loyal to our shows that we are willing to fight to have them brought back? How can shows stay on the air for over FORTY YEARS and keep a fan base? Because I have friends who really question my sanity over my love of soaps, I have been thinking on these questions for quite some time.

There is not a simple answer. Soap opera fans come from a wide variety of backgrounds and ages. We are not, as some would believe, just ‘bored housewives’. We are productive people- homemakers, every day workforce employees, lawyers, actors, writers, doctors, college professors- we all have a valid place in society and we earn our way. There is also a wide age group that watches soaps, from teenagers and 20-somethings right on up to the elderly. Subsequently, the shows mean different things to different people but bottom-line, all of us involved in these shows, from actors to crew to fans, are family. We are watching people grow up from children. We see them go through the angst of their teen years. We watch their parents and their grandparents struggle with life issues. We see characters fall in and out of love; some get it right, most struggle with finding that one true love. The characters in these shows are US, in a slightly exaggerated and, for me anyway, much more beautiful form. They have great houses, great clothes. It’s a fantasy version of our own lives.

Agnes Nixon, the mother of soap operas, has a unique gift for weaving complicated stories that are also contemporary. She has tackled subjects that many TV shows didn’t want to touch. AIDS, rape, homosexuality, rape pregnancies, drugs, alcoholism, human trafficking. She doesn’t shy away from current topics and yet presents them in ways that enable us to understand the human side of these events. People marry, people divorce, businesses thrive, businesses fail, people are born, people die. It all happens on our shows. And we can relate.

There are mysteries along the way. New characters get introduced, and the story weaves in and out like a hidden trail through the forest. We are so intrigued by what’s going on and what might happen. We have characters we love; we have villains we love to hate. When you stay tuned in to something like this for years (and some of us have been watching for the entire 40 plus years), you don’t just STOP because somebody decided the shows were boring and costing too much!

Imagine your favorite genre/hobby. Say, for instance, you’re a sports fanatic. You love it all: basketball, football, soccer, golf. Or you love DIY TV - the horrible fixer upper; the pain of repair jobs gone wrong. The beautiful gardens you want to plant, just like the ones the magic crew whips together for you on a weekend. Whatever floats your boat, as they say. Let’s stick with the sports analogy: you watch your favorite teams every season for years (the Lakers perhaps?). You agonize over the bad plays; you jump for joy when they win a championship. Now imagine after years of watching them on television; someone at the top makes the decision – sports are boring! They cost too much to air! So they just rip your heart out in one bad decision and before you know it, there are no more sports on television. Maybe you can find a few reruns of games on a few channels if you surf long enough. Or, you just have nothing. You try to watch other shows, but it’s just not the same. You loved your sports! You need your sports! Life isn’t the same without them! This is what I felt when my shows were ripped from me. They ripped out part of my heart. These were my ‘chapter a day’; my escape from reality. Their problems were much more interesting than mine! Their lives were a part of my life.

So I am thrilled they are back. The production quality is excellent! There are some changes with online viewing; the shows have more freedom, so now we can hear some of our favorite characters say the same kind of 4-letter words a lot of us use when we get frustrated. It’s caused a bit of a stir amongst longtime viewers, too. It’s different. We have new characters to get to know and some of our favorite characters/actors have yet to return. We have new actors playing long-loved characters, so we don’t see the face we expect to see. The shows are 30 minutes instead of an hour. But it’s all good in soap opera land. We fans are nothing if not flexible and resilient.

And grateful. Ever so grateful to Prospect Park, the producers, the writers, the actors, and the crew that do all those things that make these shows possible. We are deeply grateful to Prospect Park for their creativity in making these shows happen. They did what ABC wouldn’t. They found a way to make it happen. And we love them for that. The world seems in balance again… our beloved shows are back!