Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Power of Asking, and the Beauty of a Small Town Community

The power of asking, and the beauty of a small town community…

My travels have taught me many things; one in particular is that a smile, manners, and a pleasant outgoing personality will get you places.  The generosity and care that I have experienced while traveling will often put a lump of emotion in my throat when I sit down and reflect and think about it.  Today was a perfect example of why it’s okay to ask for things… what’s the worst thing someone is going to say? “NO.” Exactly.  So, why not utilize your voice and exercise some movement in your life?  I did today, and haven’t stopped smiling since.

A minor “over-share” gets this story going.  I have had symptoms of a urinary tract infection for the last two days, and know that the only cure for this is antibiotics.  There are preventative measures you can take… several, in fact – but once the infection has set in, it can lead to kidney infections and even worse without proper treatment.  I was in hospital only briefly in May with a kidney infection.  Not a good time!  Anyways, that’s the basic seed for this story.  For those who have ever experienced this, it’s agonizing, and having the urge to pee every few minutes when there’s nothing to come out is BRUTAL.  (I told you it was going to be an over-share, this is just helping establish a proper setting.)

One of my best mates, Jess Bushell is here with me, traveling New Zealand for a few weeks!  We spent her first night with Sue and Anthony, friends of mine that I have been working and living with while I’ve been here.  We flew into Christchurch yesterday morning and were picked up by friends of Anthony and Sue, Andrew and Jane, at the airport.  We spent our second night with Andrew and Jane and their three lovely daughters, Bella, Heidi and Eliza, just north of Christchurch, in a gorgeous country home – the first leg of our South Island trip together!  Incredible barbecue dinner, beautiful company, and friendship.  Perfect evening! I was doing my best to ignore the symptoms I was having, figuring I would just deal with them and get to a Medical Centre after leaving Christchurch the next day.  I hate having to be waited on and have plans changed to suits my needs… I figured I would just deal with it on my own time.  Suck it up, you know.  Well, after drinking heaps of water and a few pain killers, I was in agony boarding the bus to Tekapo in Christchurch this morning, smiling through the pain.  My plan was to get to a medic immediately upon arrival in Tekapo.  I clearly didn’t know as much as I thought about Tekapo, and found out shortly after the bus left Christchurch that there wasn’t a medic or even a pharmacy in Tekapo… SHIT!  Now what… I wasn’t going to be in a city or place with a medic until Friday when we get to Queenstown, and between now and then, it would definitely make it’s way to my kidneys.  Our hike up Mount John and time in Tekapo would be beyond agonizing for me, and I would be slowing Jess down. 

Think think think.  Pain or no pain, I had to establish a plan.  Luckily I had enough service to check a few things online and make a few phone calls, and learn that even though Tekapo had nothing in the way of doctors or medics or pharmacies to help me out, there is a medical centre in another small town about on the way called Fairlie, which is about 45km east of Tekapo – we would be going right through it!  So I called the Fairlie Medical Centre and asked if there were any appointments available, and sure enough there was one at 12:15pm, but that I had to be there no later than 12:30 because the doctor was only there for half the day on Wednesdays.  It wasn’t looking like we were going to make it before 12:30pm, and if we did, I still had to walk another half a kilometer from the bus stop to the medical centre, since the bus doesn’t stop unless it’s on route… This is where the power of asking comes in.  I asked the bus driver if there was any chance of him dropping me off at the end of the clinic’s road, which was on route, which would save me 400m and would get me there much faster than if I had to walk… plus, I would be arriving around 12:40pm with the end of road drop off anyways, and that would put me late and holding up a doctor after his shift as it was.  The bus driver was fantastic, and told me if I was ready to tuck and roll, he could make it happen.  WIN!  What made being ready to get off the bus quickly was that Jess was staying on the bus and continuing on to Tekapo to our hostel, which meant I just needed the essentials, so I sat on the step at the front of the bus and was out lightning fast!  I called the ladies at the medical centre twice to update them and confirm that I was coming and was really aiming to be there as close to 12:30pm as possible, but that my arrival was dependent on the bus. 

What about getting to Tekapo?  Well, I had in fact thought that far ahead, and my plan getting off the bus was to hitch hike back to Tekapo after I got some meds, only 45km from the medical centre.  Heaps of my friends have done this and it’s very common for both male and female travelers, alone or in small groups, to hitch rides in New Zealand.  I was fine with this, and had to be, since there were no more buses passing through Fairlie heading to Tekapo until the next day at 12pm, and we had already paid for accommodations in Tekapo.  I was going to be getting to Tekapo, and hitch hiking was the only option. 

So I was off the bus and hustled to the medical centre, only 100m from where the bus driver Pat let me out.   I called once more to tell them I was almost there, and they smiled at me when I opened the door and asked if they were the ladies I’d been harassing over the phone all morning!  They smiled and welcomed me in.  So I did the whole fill out the papers on the clipboard thing, and the urine sample, (lovely!), then went in to see the Doctor who tested the specimen positive for a severe bladder infection immediately.  We had a chat about my overall health and that lead to my travels, then plans for another hot Christmas, and then how I was getting to Tekapo.  I told him that I had planned on hitch hiking, and he told me I was safe in this area, but that he was sure he could find someone in the area who was traveling to Tekapo later in the day.  I didn’t want him to fuss over me, since he was already staying later than he was supposed to be and I appreciated that more than I could express.  We left his office and he filled me up a prescription in another office, asking the ladies at the front if they knew of anyone in the area traveling to Tekapo… the three discussed a few options, while I stood off to the side blushing and insisting that they not worry about me!  While the doctor printed some paperwork and called a friend to ask about a ride, the ladies asked about my travels and I shared a few stories and plans with them.  They asked if I’d met a kiwi yet, and when I shared my special story with them, they were so excited and were smiling and asking all sorts of questions.  Before I knew it, it became a full on story time in the office, and they were in awe with their hands under their chins and eyes sparkling!  Haha!  (That’s for another post!)  Anyways, the Doctor came back and told me that he had a mate heading through Fairlie within a half hour, and was hopefully driving right by the service station just down the street.  He told me that this man’s name is Barry, and he drives a brown truck.  There was no guarantee, but that was a hopeful option!  I thanked them repeatedly, so grateful for their kindness and time, and headed out the door with a smile from ear to ear.  My discomfort was much easier to ignore surrounded by such pleasant souls.

I made my way to the service station and sat under a tree tucked away in the shade but visible to Barry if he was to stop at the servo, or drive by.  I looked around, and saw a linesman’s truck a ways back that was parked on the shoulder of the road, and somehow knew it was him, but wasn’t going to interrupt him, and figured he would end up at the servo as mentioned by the Doctor.  Moments later, an Audi does a U-turn beside me… it’s the Doc, and he held up a finger as to say “just a sec!”  I turned around again, and the Doctor was pulled up beside the brown truck.  I watched as he turned back around and pulled up beside me.  He leaned out the window.  “Amanda, you’re in luck!  See that truck down there?  That’s Barry.  He’s just packing up, and is heading to Tekapo in five minutes.  Grab your stuff and wander down, he’s expecting you.  Safe travels!” … I was speechless.  Small towns and communities like this remind me so much of home.  They’re gorgeous, people and all.  I thanked him as he smiled and waved and drove out of sight.  As I made my way towards Barry and the brown truck, I noticed he had a golden retriever with its head out the window.  He smiled and leaned across the truck to open my door, greeting me with a smile and half a mouthful.  Instantly I relaxed and felt like I was hoping in with a long time family friend.  He told me he was sorry, he was just having some lunch… mate, no apology required!  I thanks him over and over, and he told me there wasn’t a problem, he was happy to help.  The drive was spectacular!  We got closer and closer to the mountains, some highlighted at the top with patches of snow.  Our conversation was a lovely two way flow of stories and questions and answers.  I was so grateful!

Barry told me all about Tekapo and the area.  He told me all about his hunting and trapping here, and why there are such beautiful weeds on both sides of the road between Fairlie and Tekapo.  I even know that the water level of Tekapo is maintained by a hydro electric dam and that the water level only ever varies 7m… I love local knowledge! I jumped out of his truck about a half hour later feeling more than happy.  I had arrived, safely, and more knowledgeable in numerous ways.  To the ladies at the front desk, the Doctor and Barry, this may have just been something simple, but to me, it was so much more.  It reminded me what kindness can do.  A simple gesture can make someone’s day.  It can help them when they need it most.  I told them I would write them a post card, and I just finished writing them before I started this post.  They’ll be in the mail tomorrow! 

I arrived in Tekapo two hours after getting off the bus… I wasn’t expecting that at all.  I arrived here safely, with a smile on my face, a lovely reminder that there are kind souls and strangers out there, and that it’s okay to ask for help.  It’s okay to ask for a bus to stop somewhere else.  It’s okay to ask for someone to keep an office open for another ten or fifteen minutes.  What’s the worst thing they are going to say…? “NO.” – and the chances are, the answer will almost always be “YES.”  Put yourself out there.  Sharing a little bit about yourself or about your life or a story proves to others that you’re human too.  Embrace your life!  I hope this post made you smile.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Traveling Teacher Trio's Trip!

I admittedly have become far too slack with my blog writing, and it certainly is time for one.  If I was to elaborate on everything I have done in the last three months, I might as well write a novel.  I will start with now and work backwards with the next few entries, aiming to cover as many important events as possible!  I hope you enjoy!

I am back in Robinvale, after nearly six weeks of sunshine along the east coast.  My most recent adventure was an eight day trip with two girlfriends (and fellow traveling Canadian teachers) up to Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands up in Queensland.  The trip had been a topic of discussion for a few weeks, and one day we finally decided to commit and book the trip.  We all made our way to Airlie Beach on Friday, September 20, although getting to Airlie Beach didn’t quite go as planned… I was to catch a train from the Gold Coast up to the Brisbane airport for an 8am flight, getting me into Mackay at 9:30am.  Ange and Jess were to fly into Mackay from Melbourne around 11am, and the three of us were scheduled to take a limo (we be ballin’) from the Mackay airport to Airlie Beach – champagne, laughs and starting the vacation of the classy way!  

On my early morning train ride, I got a text message from JetStar informing me that my 8am flight was delayed until 12:40pm. Awesome.  I informed the girls, who said no worries – we will just have the limo driver wait…?  The girls called me when they landed just after 11am, and by this time, I had received lovely news via airport intercom that my flight was delayed even further, and was to leave at 2pm. Sweet.  This is when we find out that Mister Limo Driver can’t wait due to a wedding, and the last shuttle bus from the Mackay airport to Airlie Beach was scheduled to leave at 1:30pm. I haven’t boarded a plane yet. My plans had gone from hunky-dory to shit.  At this rate I had two options upon arrival in Mackay.  Pay for a taxi, which was quoted at $200+, or stay in Mackay for a night and catch the 11am shuttle from the airport the next morning.  Naaayyhhh, neither were up my alley.  Wasn’t happy about it, but I just figured I would deal with it when I landed.  Meanwhile, waiting for this delayed plane to show up at the gate for inspections and a refuel, I ended up talking to the lady next to me.  We quickly started chatting about how inconvenient this was, and that our days had been turned over pretty quickly.  Natasha was her name… an absolute gem of a human being.  She asked me where I was heading, and smiled and offered me a ride after I told her Airlie Beach! – What’s up good karma?!  She wouldn’t accept money for petrol, and told me she was happy to have the company.  We got along famously, and she drove me right to the hostel Ange, Jess and I were booked into for the weekend.  WIN!  Vacation begins now.  
Being greeted by Jess and Ange was terrific. It had been months since I had seen Ange, and nearly a year since I had seen Jess.  Regardless of how much you maintain contact with someone, it’s always so great to be with them in person.  The hostel we stayed at was perfect, and the fourth person in our room was a girl named Mallory from Texas!  She fit right in with our little crew, and tagged along for the weekend – and coincidentally was going on the same sailing cruise as the three of us were, leaving on the Sunday!

Over the course of the weekend, we went out, spent time at the beach, and met some seriously incredible people. One night, we went down to the beach.  Jess brought down her ukulele, and has an absolutely incredible voice.  We sat on the grass listening to the waves roll in, while Jess played us a few songs.  

There were a few fire spinners on the beach that were entertaining to watch, and they ended up joining our circle of music and friendship.  There were three younger kids, and young boy and a lady in her late twenties who sat down.  After a few songs, we started talking and sharing names and basic travel stories about what we were doing in Airlie Beach.  The kids were all from families that live on boats! – No kidding.  They travel up and down the east coast of Australia, going from marina to marina, port to port, and live and sleep on their boats.  The one older boy was so well spoken.  He was short and thin, but you could immediately tell he is highly intelligent. He asked me how old I thought he was, and my answer was twelve or thirteen.  He smiled and said he wasn’t offended, but that in fact he was sixteen – then he proceeded to give us a very modest and humble, brief but informative background on who he is and why he is the way he is.  His name is Coen Ashton.  He has Cystic Fibrosis, diabetes, and just received a double lung transplant.  I have put the link to his blog at the bottom of the entry... Please check it out! 

On the Sunday, we got up early and checked out, then lugged our bags up and over a big hill, then down a treacherous, steep, rocky hill, down to Abell Point Marina.  We took a large ferry over to Hamilton Island - a forty five minute boat ride through some of the clearest, most perfect shades of aqua blue, teal and turquoise water I’ve ever seen.  It was quite mesmerizing, and we were all rather tranquil on the ride over.  There were a few stops along the way, dropping passengers off and picking others up at Daydream Island and at the Hamilton Island airport, before arriving at the Hamilton Island Marina. Hamilton Island is the largest inhabited island of the 74 Whitsunday Islands in Queensland. Hamilton Island is used almost exclusively for tourism, although we did meet one lovely lady named Judy that lives there permanently!  There are roughly 1500 people that live on the island, and the employees all of the island all know each other!  It’s a very small island town, with tourists that come and go in constant waves.  After a day spent at Hamilton Islands renowned beach and resort, Cat’s Eye, we made our way back up and over to the other side of the island where the marina is to meet at the Sunsail office for our sailing trip!

Onboard were Briony, a 25 year old property laywer from Sydney; Jacob and his wife Molly, a married couple from Chicago, Molly is a scientist and Jacob works for Google!; Ange and Jess, my two fellow traveling Canadian teachers; Mallory, a 19 year old marine biology student from Texas, studying in Australia; and our Skipper, Lisa Blair, a 28 year old Australian who is planning to circumnavigate the world! BY HERSELF! I have put her link at the bottom of the entry as well! :) 

Once we established each other’s names, we unpacked the styrofoam eskies of food provided for us, included in our trip fees for us to cook on our boat for the three days out at sea.  We spent the first night at the marina on the boat, and got acquainted with the crew and the boat.  Up Monday morning, fitted for snorkelling gear, and off we went!  We sailed for a few hours until we got to Hook Island, where some of the best snorkelling is amongst the Whitsundays.  

Lisa was such a terrific Skipper.  We anchored offshore and used the dinghy to boat further into the reef and shore to snorkel.  Lisa stayed in the boat while we all toured around the reef floating on the surface of the water enthusiastically with our faces in the water.  Talk about visual stimulation!  Fish and coral of all shapes and sizes!  This section of the reef is not as vibrant as it is further north, but considering this was the first time I had seen coral and heaps of fish, all colours of the rainbow, I was ecstatic!  Lisa had told us that we were highly likely to see sea turtles while snorkelling based on time of year, so that was my main focus!  I’ve been dreaming of that for ages… Lisa stayed in the dinghy to keep a look out and for safety reasons, and yelled “TURTLE!” and pointed in the opposite direction we were swimming!  We all swam as quickly as we could, and the flippers certainly came in handy for speeding through the water!  Some of the best moments of the trip were sharing those experiences with the group.

One morning we got up at 5am to watch the sunrise over Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island.  We spent the night in Turtle Bay anchored amongst other boats in the bay.  We were all keen to get up early and watch the sunrise, since seeing it over Whitehaven Beach was said to be spectacular – and it was.  We all were on the dinghy and heading to the island by about 5:15am, Lisa driving carefully through the reef since the tide was on its way down.  We pulled the boat up on the beach, and trekked the 15minute walk through the bush trail and over to the lookout on the eastern side of Whitsunday Island. The walk up and over was certainly a hike that got your heart rate up, climbing rock stairs along the way.  The sunrise was indeed spectacular, and the sky was clouded perfectly for the occasion, offering enough of a coloured palette without hiding the sun.  As the sun rose, we could see little craters scattered over the beach around where the shallow water pools and waterways between the pools stay full when the tide is out.  These little craters were where the sting rays bury themselves and sink down into the sand!  Lisa told us we would be able to see the sting rays later in the day when we went back over to enjoy the beach.  

Since the tide was going down, we had to make a move back to the dinghy to get back over the reef before low tide.  We all hiked back up and over the island, and started climbing back into the dinghy when I realized – ohhh shit, my clutch (which had my phone in it) and my camera bag were still at the lookout!  I was so embarrassed and disappointed with myself.  I am never “that person” who forgets things or inconveniences a group, and absolutely hated the feeling of it – especially knowing that I was going to have to haul myself up and over that island at a pace I was not happy about – I’m certainly not as in shape as I should be!  Everyone was so understanding, and I totally understood when Lisa said I had better run, but that she would have to take the group over and then come back – and that if the tide was too low for her to come in – I was stuck… So off I went, as fast as I could, jogging, running, walking, panting, nearly dying at times it felt like! Plus I was fuming that I had been so absent minded.  I just needed to get it, since other traveling groups would be heading there after the tide went back up, and I didn’t want to risk it not being there later in the day when we went back.  I made it to the look out, scooped up my things, quickly admired the sunrise at its most recent stage, and headed back up the path!  Heading down the last portion of the trail, some more steep rock steps, I could hear the boat in the distance, wondering if I was in fact stuck here for a few hours without anything but my camera and my phone – without any service this far out – no water, and we hadn’t eaten yet.  I sat on the beach, watched everyone from a distance climb onto the sailboat, and watched Lisa come back across the water.  When she reached the reef, she turned the dinghy around and guided the small yellow boat backwards through the reef, as to see where she could drive through without damaging the coral below.  I felt like a twat, and she could see that feeling all over my cherry red, exhausted face.  She cut me off when I started to apologize and told me it’s fine – much worse has happened and to just let it go.  I enjoyed my own personal tour back over the reef, talking to Lisa along the way.  She is so interesting, and knowledgeable when it comes to the sea and sailing. 

Low tide was at 7:10am, so around 10:30am, it was back high enough for us to go back over to the island and walk a different path over to Whitehaven Beach.  B r e a t h t a k i n g doesn’t even describe Whitehaven Beach.  Every shade of aqua marine, turquoise and teal that you can imagine, surrounded and accented with fine white silica sand.  The sand is so unique, since it stays cool, but is so reflective.  As the tide rises and falls, the look of the beach changes, hiding or exposing the white sand.  We walked through areas where there are pools of water with sting rays swimming around us.  Some were the size of a pizza, with some larger ones perhaps as big as a crokinole board.  Ange and I spent an hour or so walking and talking, and I truly enjoyed every minute of her company.  It’s so nice to experience a new place with a great friend.  We were all thrilled to be on this particular beach, since it’s such an iconic beach in the Whitsundays.

The rest of the day was fantastic, spotting sea turtles as they came up for air, and dancing on the boat with music blaring.  We sailed around to Tongue Bay for the rest of the day and anchored there for the night.  We took the dinghy in to a small private beach for a few drinks, and enjoyed a barbecue dinner that I cooked!  Over the course of my time with Jess and Ange, I learned to play a few cords on the ukulele and can even play the whole song “I’m Yours” by Jason Miraz! It may not be the most popular song, but at least I can say I can play a song!

The sailing trip was hard to say goodbye to, having had such a great time.  Even after docking the boat, we all spent the last few hours together on Hamilton Island again, at the same resort we hung around at prior to leaving four days earlier.  Ange, Jess, Mallory and I took the ferry back to Airlie beach on the Wednesday evening, and had a reasonably low keyed night. 

Something I love about Australia, and I am sure I have mentioned it before, is that the high majority of public parks have free barbecue facilities.  It is a common understanding that you clean up your messes and this understanding is very well respected by everyone.  Mallory left early Thursday morning, and we were back to our traveling teacher trio.  The three of us used one of these barbecues on the Thursday night, and grilled up some sausages.  We had some snags and veggies for dinner, and enjoyed a few drinks by the water before getting ready to go out for the night.  Airlie Beach introduced us to two Italian brothers, Filippo and Simone that night.  We ended up meeting up with them again at the lagoon on the Friday afternoon, and they cooked us a barbecue that night!  Over the course of the afternoon and evening with these two, our faces all hurt from laughing.  They’re honestly two of the most lovely guys I’ve come across in ages, and I’m still in touch with them.  They’re both diving instructors, recently back in Australia for their second year, after spending time in Bali.

Saturday came around too quickly, and the trip was over.  The girls’ flight out of Mackay was just after 5pm and mine was just after 7pm – but we all had to take the 1pm Grey Hound to Mackay.  I wasn’t too twisted about it, and we just sat and visited and reflected on the trip over a drink before Ange and Jess caught their flight.  Until next time, eh ladies? J

I’m going to cut this here.  I needed to get some news out onto my blog and I will start a new entry now.  I still have heaps to talk about, and I don’t reckon it will be in any particular order!


PS – On September 29, Kinley turned ONE!  Biggest hugs and kisses sent her way, as always. Xx

PSS - I couldn't select only a few pictures, so please scroll down and enjoy a heap of extras! 

PSSS - This is the link for Coen!  http://www.coenashton.com.au/site/home/ – we were all beyond inspired and touched by this young man’s story.  We were all lost for words when it came time for him to go to his boat for the night.  This is the link for Lisa! http://www.lisablairsailstheworld.com/ She is another extremely inspiring woman! 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Traveling: a series of goodbyes and hellos...

Traveling can be emotionally draining.  The amount of times you say goodbye when you’re traveling can make you really sad and can often have you questioning yourself and what you’re really doing with your life.  Then you end up somewhere new.  You’re still in touch with the friends you’ve made and talk to them often, while meeting new friends and seeing new places.  When it comes to my “year” in Australia, I haven’t really done it how others have expected me to, or how other traveling teachers I’ve met have decided to spend their year.  Everyone makes their own decisions according to what makes them happy and what spikes their interests.  Myself, on the other hand, have just gone with the flow with some minor penciling in – and it’s been glorious.  I’ve been asked often if I have “seen the sights” of Australia, and for that I have two answers.  No, I have not seen Uluru (Ayers Rock) yet, nor the Sydney harbour, nor have I driven the Great Ocean Road or seen Kangaroo Island.  But yes – yes I have seen the outback, yes I have seen the several ways Australians live, yes I have grasp on Australian politics, and yes I have seen places that many younger tourists might not see because they aren’t on the top 10 list of things to see in Australia.  I have met so many terrific Australians that I keep in touch with almost daily, and have become a part of people’s lives.  I’ve been invited out for dinners and for overnights with friends, and offered to stay in their houses while they travel – as long as I feed and water their pets!  Solid deal if you ask me. I’ve always loved and can now really appreciate the quote: “your life is your story – don’t let anyone else hold the pen.”  I may not have had the chance to go and see the top 10 things of Australia just yet – but I have acquired my second year enjoying one of the most unique traveler experiences in the outback, and have a second year to explore this beautiful country.  Nearing eight and a half months here in Australia, I can say I’ve had an incredible adventure, with a six week stint teaching in another rural community just beginning, before a three week house sitting stay on the Gold Coast again, and then hopefully finding work on a station somewhere before going to New Zealand for a few months.  My pen is doing a fantastic job writing my story if you ask me.

My time in Toowoomba was incredible – and I didn’t expect anything less than that.  I just adore the Girdler family, and the kids keep me laughing and on my toes every day I’m with them.  I was originally going to leave Toowoomba on the 5th of July, but then with the acceptance of the Robinvale contract for six weeks, and turning down my job at Victoria Station, (the handbag and luggage store), I decided that staying for the weekend and for Rachel’s birthday on the Sunday only made sense!  Rachel and Dave and the kids were happy I stayed, and we had a great weekend.  The British and Irish Lions played the Australia Wallabies on the Saturday night, and the Lions won.  Rachel and Dave were so pleased about the win, and apparently it’s a once every twelve years dealio – so it was pretty awesome that I got to watch it with them, in Australia!  We will have to meet up in twelve years from now when Ava is 16, Charlie is 20, and Michael is just turning 22!! We laughed about the thought of that, but I can totally see it happening somewhere in the world. 

On Sunday, Rachel had her birthday!  Dave and I had some team work skills going on, and with my help and Dave’s wallet, Rachel got a stylish heart rate monitor/watch that she wanted and was beside herself when she opened it!  I did a craft with the kids for her gifts from them, which were personalized art pieces - Sharpies and ceramic plates – who knew?!  They each picked a plate, which worked well because the boys got bigger ones that matched and Ava got the smaller version.  I asked them why they loved their Mummy, and was so impressed with some of their answers!  A little coaxing was needed for the right words, but we got them!!  Check out the pictures.  They were so proud!  If you’re interested, these, or mugs, or the tea pot we made for Dave are such great gifts!  Dave got a teapot because “we don’t want Daddy to feel left out.” Sweetest trio ever.  – Sharpies! Ceramic. Go nuts and design things, write things, draw things, write things you love about someone or write a poem or quotes.  Get artistic.  Then bake them for 30min at 350C. after 30min, just turn the oven off and let them cool down naturally (possibly best to bake them before bed?  Then they can cool down and you can take them out in the morning.) – After opening her cards and gifts, we got sorted and made our way to the Sunshine Coast!  Forecast said 21 and sunny! 

We weren’t heading to the beach to tan or do the summertime thing, just enjoy the ocean and the beach, let the kids muck about, and sit in some warmth for a few hours.  Toowoomba was so sunny!  Heading towards the coast was sunny too!  Then we got closer and closer to the coast… whilst the forecast still said clear sunny skies… and it was overcast.  Bummer.  We still stayed for a good hour two hours or so before heading elsewhere.  The kids played in the sand, making sandcastles and burying each other’s legs and such.  We had some cake on the beach, and coffees from a convenient cafĂ© too.  Since I was to fly out from Brisbane on the Monday, my plan was to spend Sunday night on the Sunshine Coast with James’ family when the Girdler family headed back to Toowoomba.  I gave Heather a call, and she suggested we go up to Maleny for some ice cream then head to their farm for milking.  (James’ Dad David is a dairy farmer.)  So that’s exactly what we did!  The drive up the range to Maleny is breathtaking.  You can see for miles, and on to the east, if you look closely, you can see the sea.  Looking inland, you can see a series of volcanic mountains.

The view from their house: “breathtaking” doesn’t describe it well enough. It’s captivating, and can have you standing, sitting or laying in bed just staring at it.  Throughout the day, it changes so much, as the sun travels from east to west, touching the different edges of rocks, leaves of trees, and faces of the mountains.  No wonder Heather gets so much inspiration for her artwork living there!  Tess and I went out for some ice cream and enjoyed the main street shops before heading to the Simpson’s house for a tour of the dairy.  Rachel grew up on a dairy farm, so the milking process wasn’t anything new for her, although she could really appreciate the size and simplicity of the one man operation.  Tess is the new owner of two miniature horses named Phoenix and Noah, and man are they sweet!  Ava loved that they were “bubble” sized horses, since one of her nicknames is Bubble!  She’s so cute!

Another sad goodbye with the Girdlers, but with some foreseeable visits within seven or eight weeks once I’m back on the Gold Coast!  They headed back to Toowoomba late afternoon, and I helped Tess brush the minis.  Once Heather was home from work, we relaxed on the couch while the soup finished warming and cooking in the slow cooker. It was lovely to sit and visit with Heather and Tess, and Dave once he’d come back up the hill.  Dave and Heather had a friend staying with them, and he joined us for a delicious soup that Heather had made.  We didn’t stay up really late, since it had been an all around long day for everyone.  The next morning, Tess and I drove down to a little beach called Moffat Beach, just up the coast from where I’d been with the Girdlers the day before.  We had a huge breakfast together, and then had a little walk down the beach to get out toes in the sand and the cold seawater.  I got to see Nan again when we made our way back to the house, which was fantastic!  She’s such a sweetheart, and I enjoy catching up with her.  The plan for the day was to meet up with a heap of close family friends of the Simpson family!  Heather and Dave have are best friends with a couple of Steve and Sally Dykes.  Sally and Heather went to boarding school together, and Steve and Dave go way back as well. 

Steve grew up in Kenya, and has cousins in South Africa and in the UK.  Since his family is all spread out, they arrange a family vacation in a different location.  It’s beautiful!  This visit was for an 80th birthday celebration, and started in Brisbane.  Everyone made their way up to Maleny to visit the Simpsons, and the picnic was amazing.  Sandwiches, turkey, cheese, veggies, fruit, salads, you name it… beer, wine, soft drinks too.  The weather was perfect, with a slightly clouded sky and a hot sun.  The wind was soft enough and cool enough to keep the heat off of us without chilling us too much. The younger kids played around in the park, while the others mingled between picnic tables and lawn chairs. After a few hours of visiting and eating, we to the farm so everyone could experience milking!  The Dyke’s family had seen it before, but the others hadn’t been to Maleny, and quite enjoyed the experience! 

After milking, we went back to the house for some snacks and to relax for a while before we all parted ways.  I hopped in with Steve Dykes and one of his sons, and his cousin Gilli and her son.  They gave me a lift to the Brisbane airport, since I was to fly that night around 9pm.  Their company was fantastic, and we had some really great conversations about the livestock/agricultural industries and mining industries in Australia.  Gilli an Steve told me all about Africa and things they’ve done there, and things they will take me to see when I get myself there one day!  I was at the airport for a few hours, but was happy to do so!  It gave me time to read and write and make a few calls.

I slept a bit on the plane, and had an empty seat beside me which is always nice for night flights.  A late arrival into Melbourne and a bus then taxi back to the apartment had me in bed shortly after 1am.  Ange and I had plans to meet up the next morning around 10am, so we could spend a day together before I left! – She had only just come back from her month long trip to Canada with her boyfriend. We ended up meeting at Flinders Street Station closer to 11am, before finding the platform we needed to be on to get to our destination: Brighton Beach!  I had wanted to go for quite some time, and now was able to go, and couldn’t have thought of someone better to go with.  We had a lovely few hours walking along the beach checking out the beach houses, all painted in bright colours, with pictures and patterns on them.  They’re stunning, the way they line the beach for a few hundred meters of humble existence.  Apparently, one will sell for $250 000 minimum, but more often don’t sell, because they’re in a family and are passed down the line.  They’re repainted and maintained, and used as storage only – but bring in people every day to see them and take in their authentic beach house beauty.  Ange and I had lunch near the train station at a little Italian restaurant.  We both had lasagna, which Ange had had previously and highly recommended.  I was carrying around an extra purse all day… an empty one, a brand new one, full of little goodies to send home with a friend who was traveling to Canada the following week!  So once Ange and I headed back in to Melbourne, we took a different train from Flinders Street Station out towards Box Hill, where we wandered around for a while in the little mall there trying to find Ange a chain for a really pretty one of a kind pendant she had from her grandmother.  Once successful, we met up with Liz, the friend traveling to Canada, and gave her the purse and a bag to put into her suitcase to take home to my Mom!  Liz was heading elsewhere on her way to get the purse from me, so we only had a quick visit and exchanged best wishes and a warm hug and went our own ways.  Ange and I headed back into Melbourne, acquiring a hefty appetite for some more Italian food! (Why not?)

We took a tram to Lygon street, where we walked down the street looking for the most enticing restaurant.  It was a quite night, being a Tuesday, but there were still owners and managers and servers out on the streets in front of their restaurants, really talking up their menus and offering perks that varied from a bottle of wine with the main course to free appetizers by just sitting down. We found one with a great menu and an attractive Chilean server, with whom I spoke some Spanish!  That made me pretty happy – it’s been a while.  I had raviolis and Ange had the gnocchi that she had been craving, in a tasty creamy sauce.  The next day I had to make my way out to Geelong to pick up my bags from Kristen’s house, and the journey managed to consume most of the day.  In the afternoon, I packed and organized as best I could before meeting up with Ange and going to a mutual friend Jess’ house for pasta dinner, red wine, and a night out at an open mic.  The entertainment wasn’t nearly as good as the girls’ company!  I headed home around 11pm to continue packing for my early departure from the apartment to the airport for my flight to Mildura – my newest adventure.

The bus ride to the airport was via Skybus, an airport shuttle servicing all of Melbourne. I don’t mind airports at all, and took the time I had to call home and read for a while.  The flight to Mildura was a total of 50 minutes, which on a flight is literally up – seat belts sign switches off, you take out some music to listen to or your laptop as I did to type for a while – then the flight crew has to prepare for the arrival!  Bam, you’re there.  The airport was really small, which I was happy to see as it’s just another indication of how small and country Mildura and Robinvale were going to be!  I was thrilled to be greeted by the assistant Principal Rod and his partner Cathy, which made starting at Robinvale P-12 on the Monday even more real.  We made a few stops for bedding for my room before heading to Robinvale, which is roughly an hour’s drive. 

The house I’m staying in is no mansion, but is certainly better than hostel alternatives.  My roommate Eliza is 26, and is a secondary teacher at the school I’m working at!  Since internet is nonexistent for me these days, I’m struggling to post reasonable blogs and pictures with my laptop, but will be able to do so soon! 

This blog updates until only July 15th! (Scary…) I am working on one from then until now, so stay tuned.


BELOW! 1. The love of my life. 2. My current office, which you will hear much more about that in my next post! 3. The most thoughtful gift I've received in a while! It's from Allison, and has three little charms for Allison, Kinley and Joe, three of my favourite people to be with me at all times.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Teaching, Holidays and a Contract!

June 28

I’m above the clouds again – literally.  It seems that life these days hasn’t been able to hand me enough time to sit down with a clear slate and write about my “edventures” or life in Melbourne.  Flying for some, as you can see, is terrifying.  For others, it’s a challenge to keep your young children calm and quiet for the duration of the flight.  For others, it’s nothing more than a flight to work, or back home after a long week.  Most often for me, it’s a vessel to something new, or long awaited, or is the way I start a new chapter in my life.  In this case, today, I’m sitting on a plane – in a window seat… always a window seat - on my way to Brisbane, where I will board a Greyhound bus to Toowoomba for a few days!  I haven’t been this excited in a while, and have been in touch with Rachel for the past few weeks about how I could get there without Michael, Charlie or Ava finding out.  A quick refresher, Rachel, Dave, and their three children are the family – my family – in Toowoomba, where I stayed for a month prior to the cattle station.  I fit into their family perfectly as Auntie Commander (with an Aussie/English/Scottish accent combo, Amanda and Commander sound alike, and since Ava started calling my Commander, it just stuck.  Michael’s birthday is tomorrow, and I am so happy to be there to surprise him for it!  I was with the Girdlers for Ava’s birthday and for Charlie’s, and one afternoon, Michael was pretty down about the likely chances of me not being in attendance for his birthday.  “Mummy, will Commander be here for my birthday?”  I will be on a Greyhound at 3:10, pulling into Toowoomba at 6:10, where I will be picked up by a happy and excited Rachel and her three gorgeous children, who had best be ready to be bear hugged by Auntie Commander. I’m not sure what we will get up to, but I am ecstatic.

Today is the first day of the two weeks break from school, which separates me between random teaching days here and there, in scattered grades, and a four week teaching contract in Melton, which is about a fifty minute train ride from down town Melbourne.  I have worked there for about a week in different classes, getting acquainted with the staff and students of the school, and it’s quite a lovely community.  I am very fortunate to have been offered such a contract, especially when there are not many of them being handed out or offered.  I got a bit of a tease offer though, as did some other girls working for anzuk, for a six week contract at a rural school near Mildura, (several hours north of Melbourne), teaching Prep/Year 1, which is right up my alley with rural schools and further north than here.  I’d see some more sun and meet new people and see new things.  I’m always up for a new start, and for a new experience.  I made my interest known, and now I just wait.  It seems too perfect.  Very affordable staff accommodations are available within a two minute walk from the school, and other young Canadian teachers.  If the Melton contract can be filled, then by the looks of things, the six week Mildura contract is mine!  I should find out today, but we will see what comes about.  Fingers are crossed, although I’m truly lucky to have both options and one guaranteed regardless.  I’ll be able to stay in touch with the friends I’ve made here, and can visit them whenever I’m back in Melbourne or we can meet up as we travel, which is such a great thing about traveling teachers.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been between a few different schools, including the high needs school I’ve been at several times before.  I haven’t been called the big “C” word again, but have definitely been developing and strengthening my behaviour management skills and patience, to say the very least.  Last week though, after two solid weeks of 5:30am wake ups and long days, I’d had it.  It wasn’t so much that I was a grumpy mess, more of a touchy teacher that was actually on the brink of tears from the crappy and defiant behaviour of a PREP STUDENT! … that’s a five year old.  It was such a combination of things, from arriving to schools without a plan or daily agenda left for me, and having to wing a whole day, to being time release, and bouncing around from class to class, which can get more difficult that you can imagine in a big school, when you’re done in one class at 10am, and to start the next time cover at 10am, but need to hike the length of the school to get there on time – to find a class of wild rat bags, no plan, and no seating plan for names.  It’s a known fact amongst teachers that knowing new students’ names is power.  They think you don’t know them, but we teachers have methods of memorizing students’ names and antics quickly, and can usually rhyme out a class list after a period teaching them.  “Aaron, sit down please!” or “Kelly, please stop talking.” or “Jesse, keep your hands to yourself please.” – is much more convincing, useful and powerful with a stern look than, “girl with the--- what’s her name?! Sit down please!”  Ask any teacher.  Anyway, this little feral prep student was in a class that actually had a plan left behind for me, and several things that the teacher wanted completed by the time the bell rang.  Game on! I’ve got this! … this student was beyond being a nuisance. The last period of the day, on a Friday, after a long week, he was distracting the entire class.  No one could focus with him yelling out profanities, crawling around the classroom, sticking out his tongue at me when I tried to get him and the class in line, and then refusing to move or leave the room when I’d asked him first to move to the corner, and upon refusal of that, to completely remove himself from the room.  Every ounce of me wanted to lift him up and physically carry him out of the room and leave him in the hall, but that is pushing limits.  After accomplishing nothing with regards to the work I was to have completed with the students and with this student, and the class wasn’t helping with their noises and chirps, I’d had it.  I actually had to call the principal to come and remove him, which upset me to think I actually needed to call for back up.  What upset me even further, was that she came for a minor “chat” with him to see what the problem was.  Kids are smarter than we give them credit for at times.  He knew he was winning this little confrontation, by being a little angel for her, telling her he had a lot going on a home and that he was just having a bad day.  Yes he would behave for the rest of the day, and yes he would apologize, if I would take his “reflection room” punishment down from recess and lunch the next week down to just one recess.  She said that would happen, and … do you think he behaved after she left?  Get serious.  What a little manipulative monster.  The very best part about being a casual relief teacher is that after a long hard day, you get to leave when the bell rings.  You get to forget about the issues and mishaps of the day, or the things that you saw or heard.  You get to go home and enjoy your evening.  It’s much better when you’re in a class for a longer period of time, because you can establish a routine and the kids know that you’re coming back again and again and they gain the utmost respect for you, as their teacher – another reason I am looking forward to a contract position after the break.

Last weekend, I went to Kristen and Colin’s house for a night, and they got a babysitter for the girls so that we could go see the new Fast and Furious 6!  I am suck a sucker for the men they showcase in those movies.  Such badasses.  With the exception of one “are you kidding me?” part where Vinny leaps through the air and catches his little woman midair and they collapse together on the hood of a car, I thought it was really well done.  Best ending, too: a preview for Fast 7! AND IT HAS JASON STATHAM IN IT!  That cannot come out soon enough.


July 3

Took a few days off from writing and got myself settled into my other family!  The rest of the flight and Greyhound bus ride were uneventful, and I waited for only a short time in Toowoomba at the Greyhound stop for his arrival.  In that short time, I got a fantastic phone call from Ana, the principal from Robinvale 9-12 College!  I got the six week contract!  So that was a big bonus, and we chatted about basics until Dave picked me up, and have been in touch since to finalize things and get things sorted for my arrival.

Pulling into the driveway was magical.  Rachel and Dave had both kept their promise of keeping my visit a surprise!  Timing was ideal, since as we were pulling into the driveway, Rachel and the three kids were outside, the kids each on their own scooter or skateboard. Michael, the eldest, had the best look slide across his face – a combination of confusion and surprise, as I half heard/read his lips as he asked his Mummy, “Mummy! Is that Camanda?!”  Charlie played it cool, but the excitement was hard to hide, and Ava was shy for about four seconds before we were BFFs again.  I feel at home here, just as I did when I was here before my adventures at Wentworth. 

The last few days have been a blur – but a fantastic one, full of laughs and smiles and funny stories.  We’ve been to the park, coloured, played outside, watched a few movies, gone on walks and made meals together.  Michael’s 10th birthday was on Saturday, so we had a lovely day together and had pizza for dinner, while watching the British and Irish Lions vs the Australian Wallabies rugby union game.  Rachel is the long lost older sister I never had.  She and I are so similar on so many different levels, and I love her company and friendship.  In the Girdler household, I don’t have to be someone I’m not, and am accepted for the wild bunch of energy I am – and I fit in perfectly with this lot!  You wouldn’t believe how loud this household can get, in the most positive way!  Listening to the kids play and laugh and joke and of course, squabble, can be tiring, but mostly makes you laugh and appreciate the simplicity of a good imagination and sibling friendship.  The things that Michael, Charlie and Ava talk about and say amongst the three of them can have the adults within earshot in stitches!  The trio are three of the best, most well rounded, happy and respectful kids I’ve ever come across in my life! (Hence why I’ve adopted them as my other family!  I just love them.)

I extended my stay until next Monday, and will be spending the night on Sunday on the Sunny Coast with James’ family again.  I’m unfortunately missing him by three days, since made a quick trip home for a few days prior to going to New Zealand skiing and snowboarding with a heap of friends.  On Sunday, the whole family (as the kids call it, including me in the lot), is going to Brisbane for Rachel’s birthday for the day.  I’ll be dropped off somewhere before they all head back to Toowoomba, and I’ll be heading north to the Sunshine Coast. 
I head back down to Melbourne Monday night, arriving quite late.  Tuesday will be a busy day, picking up my stuff from Kristen’s house, organizing for Mildura/Robinvale, and meeting up with my friend Ange who is back from a trip home after her first year visa was completed.  I am planning on flying out of Melbourne on Thursday morning, arriving into Robinvale mid day.  Robinvale is about an hours from Mildura, and has a population or around 2200.  It’s situated on the Murray River, just south of the VIC/NSW border. It’s known for the production of grapes, olives, carrots and almonds.  I am really thrilled about my placement there, and can’t wait to try a different slice of rural Australia!

For now, I need to hit the hay!  I will add pictures to this post soon, and will be sure to write a solid update about my travels to Mildura and Robinvale next weekend!