Friday, January 30, 2015

2014 and then some...and an early Happy Easter 2015 from the Leslie-Petersons

Greetings from Canberra, 2015!

Looks like we are morphing into the biannual shout-out, but hey, whatchagonnado?  :)

We are fast approaching 4 years here in Australia, hard as that is for us to believe.  A college education could have been had in the time we have been here.  And I suppose we have all received at least that in terms of international relocation life lessons!

2013 saw us enjoying Canberra's 100th anniversary as a city.  Stuff like that reinforces how young Australia is as a country compared to the USA.  Canberra threw itself a year-long party with lots of different cultural events and fireworks.  Lots of fireworks.

Other highlights in 2013 included a trip to Bali of all places.  While it is still the ever-so-exotic locale for us US expats, it is quite common for Australians to vacation here--and for those living on the East coast of Australia, just a bit farther to get to than a trip to Perth.  Quite a gorgeous part of the world, but a culture definitely caught in the "tourist trap."  As tourists, we want to see people working in the famed rice paddies, never mind that it is back-breaking work.  So tourism is the way of the future for the Balinese, which inevitably undermines the very culture us foreigners are interested in exploring.  Never mind the pollution that comes with "progress."  We enjoyed ourselves despite the moral questions I asked myself, staying in a nice Hyatt resort with more beach chairs than I could have sat in had I been there a year.

Mika has continued her rowing career, to good effect in 2013 - 2014, winning the Most Improved Rower for the Capitol Lakes Rowing Club at the end of the season. 

Kirsten also entered into the rowing fray, along with other parents, completing a learn to row program in 2013.  It has been a great experience, really testing the adage around old dogs learning new tricks.  I have graced (been unceremoniously dunked into :)) Lake Burley Griffin with my presence at least 10 times.

Dan has been kept busy with work.  His company, "General Practice Education and Training" (GPET for short) was unceremoniously absorbed into the government as part of the Department of Health in mid-2014.  It was touch and go for a few months as to whether Dan, as a non-citizen, would be retained in the new configuration but in the end, he was one of two non-citizens to be kept on. 

Mid 2013, Dad reconnected with the woman he dated before he met Wanda, my mother, and they reunited in September after 60 (yes, that's not a typo!) years.  Amy is a wonderful match for Dad and they have been spending a fair bit of time together ever since.  Amy lives in Arizona, which has meant a lot of transcontinental travel for Dad.  This is a picture of them when Amy visited Dad in NJ.

They have been an "item" ever since.

Mika continued other aspects of her sporting career in 2013 - 2014, including soccer and field hockey.  We enjoyed being field hockey spectators in the national field hockey venue in Canberra which features padded seating with cup holders...way better than the lawn chair action at the soccer fields.  Below shows her in her solo outing as goalie:

Kirsten continued her work travel with the Australian Women's Water Polo Team.  2013 saw her in China, then on a World Championship Tour that included Hungary, then training in Bilbao Spain, followed by the competition in Barcelona.  

After an improbable run of losing training games, the Australian team came storming back at Worlds to take the Silver.  A truly impressive showing and a lot of fun!

2014 had Kirsten again on the road with the team, travelling again to China, then to the World Cup in Khanty-Mansisk, a city in the Siberian region of Russia.  Again the Australians played well, taking another second place.  USA, as it happens, is the team to beat.

A 2014 highlight for our family was getting to spend time on the Great Barrier Reef, a big tick on the bucket list.  In anticipation of the trip, Kirsten and Mika became certified in scuba, which was an adventure all in itself.  The process included a rigorous 8 hour online course, then a weekend on the coast (in the middle of the winter yet) acquiring the actual scuba skills.  This included demonstrating swimming skills, then learning and donning all the equipment, pool diving and finally some shore-based ocean dive to demonstrate competency in skills such as clearing your mask of water, and proper descent and ascent processes.  Turns out that walking in fins, on sand, is not one of KP's talents.  She ended up falling backward--butt-first--on the beach, and crawling, crab-like into the water.  :)  Here's a pic of Mika on our last morning of certification.  Note Mika's jumper--it was cold on the coast in June!

From Canberra, we headed to Port Douglas, a popular Barrier Reef jumping off point.  The beach there, appropriately named "Four Mile Beach" is wide as a highway and firm enough for bike riding.   Below, KP is wearing a lovely walking boot as punishment for "rehabbing" a strained foot tendon into a tear earlier in the year.

We visited the Reef itself twice during our time there.  The first time was a solo trip for KP and Mika so we could both take advantage of our newly acquired scuba skills.  The second trip was with Dan; Mika scuba-ed on her own while Dan and KP snorkeled.

That's Mika getting suited up in lower LH corner

September brought Mika's much anticipated World Challenge trip to Borneo.  The trip, organized via an experienced adventure trip outfitter, saw Mika and about a dozen of her classmates raise money and make plans for the better part of a year.  Here's a pic of Mika with her closest friends on the trip at the send-off:

The trip was part adventure (while there were adult supervisors on the trip, the itinerary was planned and managed by the students), part social action, part education.   Mika took on part-time work at a local big box store and paid for half the cost of her trip, with enough left over to buy herself a GoPro camera, which was put to extremely hard use!  To see the fruits of her GoPro labors, here's a link to her music video summarizing the trip:

November brought us once again to moving day, move #4 since we have left the USA.  After months of open house viewings and one disasterous attempt to buy a house at auction (within 30 seconds of the start of bidding, the sale price zoomed 80K over our ceiling), we reluctantly concluded that we could not yet afford to buy the kind of house in the location we wanted,  We instead settled on another rental house, this one fortuitously located next door to one of Mika's good friends. and closer to Dan's new workplace in south Canberra.  KP has decided that experience does not pay off much in moving, in that each one is uniquely horrifying.  Our new house has most of the living space on the second floor, which caused the movers no end of grief.  After 40 agonizing minutes, for example, they were able to ease our refrigerator up the stairs and slide it into the allotted niche in the kitchen, only for Dan to discover, upon firing it up, that the refrig was incompatible with the house's electrical system and quickly shorted out, rendering it little better than a big white bookcase.  After a few weeks of that and other growing pains--and a brand new refrigerator!--we are happily settled in.

Dad/Grandpa/Rob arrived for his annual migration to the Land Down Under in early December almost, but not quite in time for Mika's graduation from high school (poor man missed his overseas flight and came in a day late).  In Canberra, the last two years of what most of us would call high school are here termed "college" and Mika will be transitioning from Telopea Park School to nearby Narrabundah College for years 11 and 12.

As part of the many transitions associated with this time, Mika attended her first formal.  Getting "formal ready," especially for a sporty girl, meant many new experiences including learning how to don make-up, and shopping for the perfect dress, clutch, and high heel shoes.  At the end of the process, Mika stood a staggering 14cm taller than she is in bare feet!

So, apparently the tradition for these events is in how one chooses to "arrive" at the event, sorta kinda like pulling up in your limo at the Oscars, right?  Mika and her friends who all row, got the bright idea to decorate up one of the rowing trailers and arrive "float style."  Note Mika's graceful disembarkation style AND THOSE SHOES!  KP felt like a real part of the paparazzi, grabbing these shots while elbowing her way through the throngs of parents ogling students' arrivals.

Disembarking--it is all about the shoes.
So, after all the excitement of Mika's high school farewells and formals (and I will not even go into the after-formal-party!), we all felt the need for a break, so off to the coast we went for a week at Malua Bay.  Initially, we could only allow Mika to bring along one friend due to space limitations in our Subaru Impreza, but Grandpa came to the rescue.  As a graduation present to Mika, he rented a second car which allowed several more friends to join the party.  It was a glorious week, though we quickly learned about the quantities of food needed to keep that many more girls happy!

Mika, Beck, Sophia, and Lily pile-up
What became immensely amusing was how the girls all took to Grandpa.  What follows is a series of pictures where he was as game to pose-upon-demand as any cocky 15-16 year old girl.  Mika went on to convince Grandpa that he "needed" his own Facebook page and they had a ball setting it up.  Make sure to "friend" Robert Peterson, retired CEO of Unnamed Company, Mount Arlington, NJ.

As I write this final paragraph, it is nigh onto February 2015.  Any more procrastination and we will be ringing in 2016 and then some!  For those who have persevered to the end, you have my thanks and admiration, and our family's best wishes to you and yours.

Cheers, Dan, Kirsten, Mika, and our cat, Angel.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year and a Look Back at 2012

Well, it turns out that I (KP) am as bad a consistent blogger as I am a consistent pen-pal, so at least some things never change.  :)  But perhaps I can commit--since it's New Year's Day and all--to at least quarterly updates of our lives here in OZ for 2013.  We'll see how that goes!!

In the meantime, here's what's been happening with the Leslie-Peterson family in 2012.

January.  Having just procured a new rental to move to (our first home was being sold), we spent most of our holiday break packing up for the transition, but found time over the new year period to visit Jindabyne--a town that in Aussie winters passes for their version of, say, Dillon, CO.  Higher altitude and beautiful lakes.  Mika wanted to climb Australia's highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko, which stands at 2228m above sea level, just so she could say she did, so off we went.  Here we are, having scaled the summit.

Almost immediately post-house-move, Kirsten's Dad arrived from the US for his first-ever visit to Australia.   We took off for a Grand Road Trip to Melbourne to, among other things, see the Australian Open Tennis Tournament.  Dad was a great car passenger, eschewing technology such as GPSs for the old-fashioned map and providing interesting details of our trip along the way, while never once asking to take the wheel, which I know was a sacrifice for him.  :)  We were taken good care of by our friends, the Parker-Simmons family who lent us the use of their "beach shack" (their term, not mine) on the Mornington Peninsula for the duration of our stay.

Mika with styling sun protection and KP at the Open.

Mika managed to brow-beat a signature from Novak Djokovic, the eventual winner of the tournament on one of those over-sized autograph balls.  Ebay profits were discussed, but not followed-up on.  :)

After our day at the Open, Dan, KP, and Dad walked to a yonder cafe on the Yarra River.  A thoroughly enjoyable day.

Road Trip #2 was to Darling Harbor, Sydney for a long weekend.  We toured the Sydney Opera House and sailed the harbor on a tall-masted ship.

Mika and KP were allowed to climb into the rigging of the ship (for a fee, of course)...great views!

February.  The month brought Dad's departure back to the US and back to school for Mika.  Bummers, both of them.  It also brought, on the bright side, Mika's 13th birthday, which we celebrated with a Masterchef inspired cooking competition party.  

Here are the members of Mika's team enjoying a well-deserved break from their cooking duties on Mika's birthday present, a trampoline.

Note the tape across the kitchen island, separating the teams, who both performed well beyond the expectations of judges (that would be Dan and KP).  We had the foresight to including clean-up of the kitchen as part of the judging criteria and I kid you not when I say that the kitchen has never been so clean.  Got to love those Aussie girls!!

With March came the official arrival of fall--a phenomenon I just can't get used to.  I still reflexively think that March is spring and September is fall, darn it!  Work for KP was shifting into high pre-Olympic gear, while Dan was increasingly finding his footing with promotions and added responsibilities at his work.

April.  Easter brought a visit from the Parker-Simmons clan who were able to wring just about every ounce of fun there is to have in Canberra.  Susie, Jeff, KP and Dan made a point of hiking all of our local mountains/hills, we museumed, toured local nature preserves, and ate well.  Risk was also played.  :)  All freaking weekend!  

Later in the month, we took a shortish family vacation to the Sunshine Coast hamlet of Noosa, about 2 hours north of Brisbane.  After what turned out to have been one of the rainiest summers Canberra has had in recent memory (complete with significant local flooding), it was great to have some warm and sunny beach time.  Mika and KP had our first surfing lessons, which was great fun--more than I expected!  So much so that we rented boards for a second afternoon of extra training.  Speaking only for myself--Mika was much more successful at this--it took me so freakin' long to get up on the board that by the time I did, I could have waded through the surf faster than the board was travelling.  Thank god the pics are stills and not video...

May.  Fall was in full-force now.  Mika's semester school load included a class in cooking.  She'd always been interesting in cooking anything that was sweet, but has honed her skills in savory dishes as well.  Here she is showcasing a frittata which Dan and KP had to grade as part of her assignment.  Extremely delicious!

June brought the start of KP's summer (as in European summer, that is) travels with sports.  She spent two weeks with the Australian Olympic Rowing team in Lucerne, Switzerland.  Befriended by the lone female coach for the team (who happens to be Canadian and thus we bonded over mutual issues of family transitions to a different country), KP had a wonderful time both personally and professionally, getting to know the team and enjoying touring the area on off-time.

On the heels of one of KP's trips, she was able to swing a day in Shanghai before heading back to Canberra to visit with Toni Barton, a friend of ours from Colorado Springs.  Toni's family had spent the previous year living in Shanghai, so it was a great way to see the city through the eyes of a pseudo native.  We walked a lot and booked in for some wonderful and cheap massages!

July-August.  Big trip for Mika and Dan to Borneo for a friendly soccer tournament featuring Mika's soccer team.  See the earlier blog entry written by Mika for more details of this exciting trip.  Dan enjoyed the trip as well, since the girls all entertained themselves almost constantly, he had lots of good adult time with other parents along for the trip.

July also heralded KP's pre-Olympic and Olympic trip to Italy and London with the Australian Women's Water Polo Team and Rowing Team.  The Australian Institute of Sport has built their own European Training Center in the northern Italian town of Varese.  Both teams conveniently (for KP) staged their pre-Olympic training camps there, so she was able to spend time with both teams at the same time.  It was busy, but in a beautiful setting complete with nightly runs to yonder gelato shop, not much to complain about!  :)  The picture below is from a cable car going up the side of the mountain overlooking the town of Porto Ceresio.

After two weeks in Italy, we headed to London.  The Australian Olympic Committee issued standard gear for all to wear upon their arrival to London, and I must say that it was pretty awe inspiring to arrive as part of the Australian Rowing Team, who number over 50 in total.

KP spent the first week of the Olympics with the Rowing Team, housed in a satellite village about 30 miles from London, since their venue was the Eton rowing course.  Since their competition commenced the day after Opening Ceremonies, the rowing team elected not to travel to London for the Big Show, but staged our own mini-Opening Ceremony in our own digs.  Here is KP dressed to the nines in the team's official opening ceremony gear.  With her was the other American on the team, the coach of the men's eight.

Once we finished marching around, the team's alternates staged what has become a tradition, creating the team's own opening ceremonies entertainment segment.  In this picture, they are enacting what I can only describe as an above water synchronized swimming routine.  And let me just say that other countries were really jealous of their ingenuity!!

KP's first Olympics with a non-US team was a bit surreal.  Once in the main Olympic Village, she actually knew more people on the US team than on the Australian team!  Here, I run into the US Women's Wrestling coach and one of the US athletes, Clarissa Chun, who would go on to win bronze.

The second week of the OIympics was with the women's water polo team, who went on to win bronze after a heart-stopping series of games that added years to my life.  Here is the team in the locker room, celebrating their victory before ascending the medal podium.  Australians know how to celebrate a win...they had enough booze to also cheerfully share some with the US team who had won the gold medal!

And finally, for those Wallace and Gromit fans out of the cheese selections in the Village cafeteria (look sharp at label on the right).

September.  After a short post-Olympic respite, we enjoyed the early spring with the annual Floriade festival in Canberra (if you recall from previous blogs, the annual fest-o-flowers held yearly here) and local wildlife viewing.  In the other notable sports news of the year, Mika enjoyed a successful second season with her Majura Football Club team, and was elected "Players' Player" by her teammates at the conclusion of the season.

October brought the annual migration of KP and Mika back to the US.  This time, Mika detoured on her own to Colorado to catch up with the Putz family AND act as a ringer foreign player on Grace Putz's soccer team for a tournament in Vail, CO.  Here is a picture of Grace and Mika...

Meanwhile, KP was attending a professional conference in Atlanta, GA, then both KP and Mika flew to NJ to join up with the rest of the Peterson-Ward clan for a week of family vacation.  We took the train into NYC for a few days with Aunt Laura Larson and Uncle Jack Cage, visiting Times Square (several times for both night and day viewing), the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial,  and buying literally pounds of US-unique candy to keep Mika in sugared-up heaven for, well, a few weeks at least.

Once back in NJ, we had some great family visiting time with Mika's grandfather, cousins Tucker and Cooper as well as her Aunt Zoe and Uncle Todd.  We got in our autumn season "fix" with a visit to the local corn maze which KP had thought would be a bit of hokey country fun, but ended up taking almost an hour of bewildering twists and turns to extricate ourselves from!!

November brought real signs of spring to Canberra, and some beautiful flowers to our yard.  We also heralded the long-awaited arrival of chickens to our backyard coop!  It is all the rage in Australia to have your own "chooks" as they are called here, along with the nutritional value of locally sourced eggs. 

Below, Mika "welcomes" the chickens into the newly refurbished chook house in our backyard.  

Within our first few weeks of chook ownership, I was happy to find our first actual egg!  All were shocked and stunned.  :)

December.  The end of the year brought on high summer, KP's long awaited hires to complete her AIS staff team, KP's father's second trip Down Under, and the start of our Family Holiday Vacation (with Zoe, Todd and their family) to Tasmania and Torquay/Great Ocean Road area of south Australia.

Our trip started with a reprise of Dad's first road trip with us, from Canberra to Melbourne to catch the car ferry to Devonport, Tasmania.  Not before, however, KP left her purse in a rest stop in Gundagai (home of the aforementioned Dog on a Tuckerbox statue, but alas, I digress).  Grandpa and Dan were efficiently installed in the bucolic town of Beechworth (our intended overnight stay) while KP and Mika sped back the 120K to try to reclaim KP's purse, phone, and wallet.  The holiday spirit did not disappoint, and the purse was recovered.  Whew!!  Below, we sit at the (I kid you not) Best Bakery in Australia, the Beechworth Bakery.

After a night in Beechworth, we continued our trek to the ferry, Spirit of Tasmamia, for our overnight voyage to Tassie.

From Devonport, we traversed the length of the state just in time to meet up with the Ward family at the Hobart airport who had jetted in from their arrival point of Melbourne.  We then set up housekeeping at our Clifton Beach holiday digs, about 20 minutes outside Hobart.  The house had, on one side, a lagoon, and on the other, the ocean--a beautiful location.  We did our fair share of touring: Port Arthur (preserved compound that illustrates the convict past of the area), beautiful ocean vistas, surf lessons, sea-kayaking around Coles Bay, browsing the famous Salamanca Markets in Hobart, as well as the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) which had something for everyone...or not, depending on your taste for in-your-face modern art.  Wonderful family meals rounded out the end of each day as well as lots of board games and hikes through the local bushland.  We procured a Christmas tree and decorated it with seashells, and had a low-key celebration on the day, capped with a family-produced dinner (kids outdid themselves with both fudge and mud pie for dessert!).

Kids on Clifton Beach

Kids in leg irons at Port Arthur

Zoe doing the "pose" at the head of the Remarkable Falls

Kids being appropriately "arty" outside the MONA museum

Dan with one of our guides, Matt, during our sea kayaking adventure

The tree.  And Zoe.

Boxing Day had us transitioning back to the Australian mainland, some by sea, some by air.  We reconvened in the town of Torquay, the beginning of the 200+km Great Ocean Road.  On the day we "did the road" or about 120K which was as much of the curves as we could collectively stomach, we found a stretch full of koalas in the trees--a rarer sight than you might think in Australia.  It was our family's first in-the-wild sighting of these cool creatures.  In one memorable interlude, we were all treated to the sight of one koala descending from the tree in front of us and bounding into the forest.  Amazing.

And what a fitting way to end this missive!  Dan thinks it's pretty narcissistic to have included so much, but KP's feeling is that there was a lot of ground to make up on.  You be the judge.  Happy New Year and we look forward to catching up with you all in the new year!

Cheers, Dan, Kirsten, and Mika