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Words I Love #8: Australia Edition


Having just watched a fortnight of Australian Grand Slam tennis, which is two weeks in case you didn’t know this odd word far more popular in England and Australia than here in the U.S., I am reminiscing about our half-year spent Down Under.   Because this was a driving trip, I sat with a map in my lap for months when I wasn’t driving myself, and the names of the towns just had such an interesting ring to them.

From my journal from August 17, 2002:

I’ll tell you straight, on top of the dreaded north/south/ east/west situation, reading a road map in Australia is linguistic aerobics.  When I attempt to announce where we are heading, it’s as if I’m five again, sounding out my letters one syllable at a time.

Oh sure, see how you’d do.

Murwillumbah is north of Mullumbimby.  Of course, you have to pass through Woolgoolga and Yuraygir National Park first.  National Parks are particularly treacherous, as you next pass Bundjalung National Park.  Because I’ve spent lots of time looking at the whole map of Australia, I know that down near Perth (ok, that’s easy) is Gnowangerup, quite near Jerramungup and Moulyinning.  While you taste wines near Margaret River (aah, the simplicity), you can attempt Cowaramup or Yallingup.  I’m pretty sure they threw in nearby Nannup to be kind to the severely inebriated.  Biddaddaba isn’t anywhere close to Nannup, but I like how that one sounds – or at least how I think it sounds.

There’s Indooroopilly, Queensland and Koombooloomba, Queensland.  Lest you think Queensland has a corner on the ridiculous name market, check out Iiykuwaratja, South Australia and Koorarawalyee, Western Australia.

If Australians like a town name well enough, they’ll use it twice for emphasis.   Wagga Wagga.  Willi Willi.  Grong Grong.  Ki Ki.  Curl Curl.  Boonoo Boonoo.  Gol Gol.  Jil Jil.  There’s the sexy sounding Milla Milla.  The tasty Kurri Kurri.  And the slightly raunchy Booti Booti National Park.

Imagine the embarrassment of trying to do serious work in Humpty Doo, Salmon Gums, Gympie or Dee Why.  Then again, other towns sound positively lovely.  To wit: Violet Town, Upper Plenty, Mount Pleasant or Daydream Island.  I’m pretty sure I’d pass on buying a home in Denial Bay or Weary Bay, and I wonder about the housing prices on Rottnest Island.  Snobs Creek must be a barrel of laughs.  There are dolphins in Monkey Mia, so I’m a little confused there.  And apparently Dead Horse Gap was particularly hard on horses.

I have a soft spot for the straightforward and highly pronounceable Big Green Island.



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I Yam Who I Yam



I’ve been thinking a bunch about how we judge each other.   And how we have built-in infrastructure that does it in the most cruelly effective way.  

I’m speaking of the Neanderthalic thumbs up, thumbs down.  No disrespect to Siskel & Ebert, the movie critics who ended their reviews by summing everything up with a thumbs up or thumbs down, and actually trademarked the phrase “two thumbs up.”  They were professionals, after all, hired to give viewers their perspective.  If we were going to plunk down our hard-earned cash on a movie, we wanted a clear sign that it would be worth it.

We wanted a thumbs up.

But now many platforms made to share creativity have adopted the thumbs up/thumbs down rating system.  And here is why that poses a problem to that very creativity they are hoping to spawn.  Younger creatives, and hell, even older ones with seemingly thicker skin but tender hearts, focus their own self worth based on the number of ups or downs a posted project receives.  I know some really creative young people (ahem) who have removed good content because there were too many thumbs down.  Or, even more tragically, decided what to create based on what gets positive reviews.

Isn’t that bass-ackwards?  Shouldn’t we be suggesting to young kids that they should create what comes from within, and find their own worth within the creation and not the feedback loop?  Does it really matter what other people think?

I mean, I don’t care what you think, but what do you think?


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Things I Love, And I Don’t Know Why #1

I love using something all the way to the very very end.

You know, squeezing that last little ooze of toothpaste.  Or putting a bit of shower water into the bottle of shampoo to make sure you’re getting the last bits out.  Plucking the last piece of wood from the pile.  Staying on my computer until the screen turns black, and there’s an almost audible sigh from the machine, as if it has done all it can do that day to help me.

I actually look forward to getting to that point in time when something is finished.  Not done, but finished.  Remember that over-enthusiastic, sing-songy “All Gone!” that we did with our young kids?  I thought it would make the idea of something great being finished more tolerable, because there was music involved.  I did it, let’s be honest, so my son would be distracted and not cry.  It worked often.

Like when the cookie was eaten, or the toy was returned to its rightful owner, or the last swirls of warm bath water had sashayed down the drain.  We would look up at me with that “say it isn’t so” raised eyebrow and quivering lip.  It even worked when the barber in town shaved my head because chemo had taken my hair follicles hostage.  My barber, kind old gentleman he, had turned the chair to face away from the mirror, and toward my son and husband.

I watched them watch me.  First, a metallic “click” and immediate hummmmm of the clippers, and without a pause, the barber paved a no-turning-back-now one-lane road down the center of my head, and kept widening it with every pass.  He had a deliberate and seasoned stroke, moving across the top of my scalp.  I appreciated how he didn’t waver in his job.  A waterfall of hair fell onto my shoulders and cascaded into my lap.  The essence of my femininity was clumped disgracefully all over my lap.

The whole procedure took less than five minutes and cost $8.  I walked straight to Anders and Hans without looking in the mirror.

“Where’s Mommy’s hair?” I asked Hans, and I bent my head down right in front of him.  His warm little fingers rubbed over my stubble and he giggled, thankfully.  “All gone!” I said as lightheartedly as I could at that moment.

Some women actually consider not doing chemo because they can’t imagine life without hair.  I can’t imagine life without life, so there you go.

So perhaps it makes total sense that I like to squeeze the tube until nothing else comes out.  Because that means, really, that you’re about to get a brand-spanking fat new tube.

And I love that, too.


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Get to Know Your Tea

If you’re like me, tea is a dried thing.  It comes either pulverized in a tin or pulverized in a little paper envelope affixed to a tag and string.  There is some mystery as to why some tea tastes a certain way, or even how exactly they make those tea leaves anyway.

I have tasted tea “in the raw,” as it were, three times in my life.  The first time was when I had an upset stomach, and Daphne, the housekeeper at the place we rent in the Caribbean, went out into the yard, picked some leaves off a bush, put them in a pot of water, boiled it, and gave it to me to drink.  It helped.  (I am reminiscing about this because I am back in Bequia, I have a head cold, and Daphne is not on the island.)  The second time was at my mother-in-law’s house.  A girlfriend had lemon verbena in her yard, and had dried the whole leaves and passed along a small bag of the feather-light leaves for making tea.  I actually wondered how exactly she dried them … upside down in a dark room?  Scattered individually on a cookie sheet?  Thrown after just picking them into the same little brown bag they arrived in?  So many questions.

The third time was in Morocco.  Leave it to the North Africans (those same industrious people who first introduced me to home-made yogurt) to change how I look at green tea forever.

Mint tea in Morocco is known as “Berber whiskey,” since they drink it constantly, on hot days and on not-so-hot days, instead of alcohol.  There is great ceremony around offering it any guest, pouring it from so high up that the light green stream cascading out of a very regal looking silver teapot falls with a satisfying burbling into the tiny little glass tumblers no bigger than your fist.  But I hadn’t seen it actually brewed until one evening, when a gentleman installed himself right in front of me, cross-legged on the floor outside of the dining room, flanked by a tray of tiny glasses and a pile of newly picked fresh mint.

This is how I can share with you the secret of making Moroccan mint tea.

You take fresh mint.  A lot.  You stuff it into a glass, right up to the top.  You pour boiling hot water over it.  You let it sit for 5 minutes.  You put in sugar, or maybe you don’t, depending on how you like it, and you enjoy every last drip drop.

When I saw this, it dawned on me that I too could make mint tea.  Because I have become a huge fan of mojitos, and as such, I have planted mint in my garden.  Mint doesn’t grow so much as it divides and conquers, so the one stalk I had pulled out of my mother-in-law’s garden and plopped into some dirt at home some time back had become a carpet of fragrant green pasture.

Again, there is something innately satisfying about making your own food. Now I realize that plucking a few greens and torturing them with hot water is far from making my own food in the way that whipping up pasta from scratch would be.   But it does mean that I don’t need to go to the store and buy little sachets of the stuff.  Which is satisfying in its own way.

Anyone else out there grow their own tea?

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Frosty The Carman

We were the proud owner of a Italian snowman until Anders hit the windshield wipers, and his head flew off.

And why did we have a snowman?  Because of a trend of extremely cold weather meant that not only did Rome have snow for the first time since 1986, but the top of Vesuvius, yes that volcano, was covered in it.  And when you are near a volcano and you are traveling with an 11-year-old boy and a man who has a yin for getting to the highest spot, then you are going to attempt to see it up close.  So we did, in our Opel stationwagon.  We got as far as the two people aboard the motorcycle in front of us, at the point where the snow on the road started to really stick and things got slippery.  That’s when we pulled off the road and did what every other Italian was doing – scraping snow off the ground and attempting to make a snowman on the hood of the car.

With careful driving down the very curvy road, we managed to get all the way into traffic in Naples before Anders forgot about our newest 4th passenger, Vesuvio, and switched on the windscreen wipers to clear the light rain that had started to fall.

The attempted summit of Vesuius was the natural completition of our trip to Pompeii.  At first Hans didn’t want to visit Pompeii, for fear that the volcano could suddenly wake up and entomb us.  We had to repeatedly explain that nowadays seismologists understand when a volcano is waking up, and we are in no danger of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We took the train from Sorrento and spent the day walking through Pompeii with a fantastic audio tour.  It really is mind-bending to think that this city, 2000 years old, has rooms where the color on the walls, or the mosaics on the floor (which basically says “beware of dog” here), look as if they were painted yesterday.  We walked around for close to 4 hours.

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The View

Best view from hotel room?  Winner:  La Minervetta in Sorrento, Italy.

That’s Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

Kindest action?  When the waiter from the little seafood restaurant comes and picks up up at the aforementioned hotel – in his own car – and then drives you home after you’re finished.

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Love That Dirty Laundry

Laundry Hiku

Mound of cloth, stinky.

How long have I worn these pants?

Five weeks is too long.

Other than rinsing out our underwear and Anders quick-dry workout shirts at the hotels that supplied heated towel bars, we have worn the same garments since we began this trip.

Note to self:  we wish our clothes way too much at home.  I wouldn’t suggest going five weeks, mind you, but certainly the “wear it once and wash it” mantra of home is overkill.

Note to friends:  be grateful that you have American he-man washers and dryers at home.  We spent close to five hours at a laundry mat in Barcelona, not because there weren’t enough washers (we took over all four of them), but because the two industrial dryers must have been programmed with the “gentle breeze” cycle instead of the “high hot scorched earth” of home, and as such it took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to dry our four loads.  We struck up a conversation with the Pakistani-born guy behind the desk, who is studying to be a dentist.  I think he took pity on us, because during our marathon time there we played chess (which was fun), and attempted to do math with Hans (which wasn’t).   He tried to suggest to Hans that studying habits are very important (at which Anders and I nodded vigorously), and that math is at the root of everything.

The flip side to the very boring (and at time trying) day was our evening, which was spent at a Barcelona vs. Getafe soccer match in Europe’s 2nd largest soccer pitch.  We joined 75,000 enthusiastic fans to watch Messi and his friends dismantle the other team.  Barcelona is ranged #1 in the Italian league, and you can see why.  Anders and Hans understand the game far more than I, but it doesn’t take a soccer aficionado to see when someone can take a ball away from another player, or can dribble it up to, around, and then past a defender.    It’s pretty.  We had shared a taxi with a Swedish man and his daughter, and he explained that the Swedes are very enthusiastic about Ibrahimovich, who is Swedish but plays for Barcelona.  Indeed, I sat next to probably 8 older men all speaking Swedish.

Final score:  Barcelona 2 Getafe 1.  (Getafe scored in the last minutes on a penalty kick.  Barcelona played a good part of the first half and all of the second half a man down thanks to a red card received for going into a tackle with cleats facing up), and they still won.  They are that good.

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