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.

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