Thursday, 27 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

We have had a great Christmas season, our first here in the US. Upon returning from Seattle the first thing we did was buy a real North Carolina fir tree. It's different to Australian Christmas trees as it doesn't have a strong smell to it, which was a little disappointing. But to make up for this it is a very beautiful tree with short needles and sturdier branches. We all had a good time decorating it with lights, tinsel and red & blue decorations (that's another difference here - your tree decorations must be colour co-ordinated - no mixing of colours!)












During December we had an advent calendar that Lucy opened each day. She loved opening the little doors, unwrapping the tissue paper and then placing the object on the nativity scene. On Christmas Eve we attended a carols (by candlelight) service at church and then had dinner at Dean & Debbie's. The dinner was great - an informal gathering of friends for a meal complete with fireworks and carol singing around the piano (yes we are in America!)









Christmas Day was a luxurious sleep in until 9am followed by a pancake breakfast. Then we opened presents, had a light lunch and then napped again in the afternoon. We had an early dinner - the works with turkey, baked sweet potato casserole, apple sauce ande green beans followed by our birthday cake for Jesus. This year we had a non-traditional fruit cake with candied orange peel, chocolate covered almonds and golden raisins. The other main ingredient was egg whites so the cake itself was very light and very delicious as evidenced by Lucy in this video!

video

Friday, 21 December 2007

Seattle

The air is cold and I’m rugged up in an overcoat, scarf and beanie, sitting at a deserted graffitied bench at Pike Place Market looking out over a rain swept Puget Sound reading the New York Times Review of Books with a momentarily peaceful sleeping toddler snuggled into my lap whilst drinking a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha and eating fresh mozzarella and dolmades from the deli. A defining moment for our Seattle visit.

If I was to describe Seattle in winter in one word it would be bleak. I think it sums up the place well - the grey rainy days, the bone chilling cold, the dark, chilly, damp nights. It is not the rain or the cold that is depressing per se, it is the absence of the sun that breaks the spirit. And we did not see the sun for 7 days. Upon landing at an even colder-than-Seattle Wilmington we were still greeted with blue skies and sunshine requiring sunglasses that made everything seem ok again.

Now I’m not saying that Seattle isn’t a great city, because I think in fairer weather it would be an interesting place to be but I am railing against winter traveling (except for the purpose of skiing). Here are my top three reasons for not traveling in winter:


  1. Excess baggage. Traveling with children requires a lot of extra luggage. Throw in a few jackets, jumpers, and blankets it is nigh impossible to keep under the baggage weight limit. Also hand luggage becomes unwieldly.
  2. Helicopter rides are closed. Most tourist attractions shut down with snow. I know lots of people claim to be ‘travelers’ not tourists but at the end of the day we’re all tourists and if the sites are closed there’s not much to do.
  3. It’s dark when you set out at 8am and it gets dark again at 4:30pm. Also the daily temperature range is 35 - 43 F.

As you can probably tell this is the first travel we have undertaken in winter. Usually we escape southern winters and enjoy the extra sunshine of a European summer – long days filled with art, photo ops and gelato. We have enjoyed many more summer days than winter ones in recent years and I tell you it improves your quality of life, health, and happiness but does drain wealth. I am at loss to understand winter travel and I don’t recommend it.

I also don’t recommend traveling with a toddler who has reached the life stage of recognizing that they are their own person and would like to make their own decisions (compounded with a double ear infection). The old wives tale of not traveling with infants between 6 -18 months is a fallacy but I will save this rant for Lucy’s next blog.

So with that introduction did we do anything interesting on our trip to Washington state? Yes but just a few things so here they are.










Seattle Center. We caught the monorail to the Center to visit the Sci-Fi museum (next to the architecturally amazing Experience Music Project) so that Andrew could get his fill of all things trekkie. We ate lunch in the revolving restaurant in the Space Needle for a better view of the city (so now we’ve eaten at three revolving restaurants – Sydney, Berlin and Seattle).

Seattle Aquarium. We arrived in time to see the daily feeding of Omar, the seven legged Giant Pacific Octopus. We also saw lots of fish and the feeding of the otters and seals. Lucy’s favourite ‘shish’ was a bright yellow box fish and she loved watching the wave machine blow around a school of fish!

Olympic Sculpture Park (part of the Seattle Art Museum) is located along the water. It is a sparse desolate park interspersed with modern sculptures. Would be awesome to visit in summer with a jazz band, red wine and some sunshine.

Pike Place Market. Great range of fresh fruit and veggies, pastas, oil and fish. We visited the first ever Starbucks café which has been kept just so. The Starbucks logo has been changed into a more modest mermaid for franchising purposes but the Pike St store still bears the original trademark. Lucy loved her babyccino even if she did manage to spill it all over herself. Back in the market we saw the famous Pike Place fish company where the staff throw the fish around, sing, chant and have fun (remember applying these principles to CBA from the book these guys wrote??) We found a donut place that had great fresh cinnamon doughnuts to rival the Berry donut van and they were even packaged with flourish.

Mount St. Helens. After weeks of clouds blocking the view, the day we visited the clouds parted and we had a clear view of Mount St.Helens. We stopped in at the Silver Lake visitors centre and Mt Hoffsbladt centre but given the time of year not much was happening. We drove up to about 3500 ft before we encountered quite a lot of snow and ice on the road. Andrew frolicked in the snow and threw snowballs at the car until Lucy woke up screaming. She then refused to get out of the car to touch the snow! So Andrew and I had a walk around before heading down the mountain again.













Kirk & Bethany’s Wedding
. We had a great time catching up with the Meller extended clan and Auntie Lynda. On the Friday night we enjoyed a rehearsal dinner at the Monticello Hotel and Saturday we attended the wedding. There were a number of differences to what we’ve come to expect at Aussie weddings: special candle lighters entered the service before the bridal party, there was no singing, and the reception was more informal. But the bride and groom still said ‘I will’ and they looked enormously happy. Lucy refused to wear her beautiful shoes to the wedding and insisted on wearing her nike sneakers. After quite a bit of wedding cake (I think her first taste of cake ever) she was running around hysterically happy. We kicked on at the Aussie ‘after party’ at our hotel drinking Moet in plastic cups and having a great chat. It was a real highlight of the trip (and Lucy was tucked up in bed asleep with the baby monitor on)

Other interesting facts:

  • Lucy loved the plane landings (we had 5 in total this time). After the first one she said and signed ‘more’.
  • Lucy has decided that the way to say plane is ‘bobo’ and will not listen to any correction
  • 3 hour time difference is much harder to deal with than the Sydney-US or Sydney–Europe time differences. Waking at 4am is not fun.
  • Along I5 there are many signs saying ‘Do not pick up hitch hikers’. Why I do not know.
  • Inner city Seattle is truly a maze of asphalt. At one point we were on a 5 lane highway (each way!) with extra roads above and to the right. We had to cross 4 lanes of traffic to keep going straight ahead. Truly amazing!

Email me for access to more photos.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Pre-Christmas Dinner

We celebrated our last bible study for the year and the end of our studies on Malachi with a Christmas dinner. We provided the venue and (Australian) wines whilst everyone else brought the rest - lasagne, fresh bread, creamed spinach, apple sauce, and potato casserole. We followed with a 'Derby pie' topped with Reddi whip (the pie is some sort of chocolate gooey pecan pie namd after the Kentucky Derby) paired with Noble One botrytis that I sourced at a wine shop here. We then finished with Williams Sonoma Peppermint hot chocolate. In the end no one wanted to leave! Lucy even got an early Christmas present from her Grammy Lou and Poppy. Note the new blind in the background - the sheets are gone from our windows and we had new blinds installed on Tuesday.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Product of the week - Eggnog

Yes with Christmas comes eggnog (and we bought the organic version) Harris Teeter stocks many different varieties including 'original', 'cinnamon' and interesting a non-alcoholic Southern Comfort brand (is this an oxymoron?) We warmed up some eggnog in a saucepan and then settled onto the lounge for a relaxing wind down to the evening. Unfortunately for me I couldn't stand the stuff. Andrew drank his and then later decided he didn't really like it much so the rest of the carton was poured down the sink.

A better Christmas after-dinner drink is Williams Sonoma's Peppermint Hot Chocolate. Absolutely divine as agreed by all our bible study group. When the post Christmas sales start I am going to take a truck down to WIlliam Sonoma and buy as many hot chocolate boxes as I can. Along with any 'Top of the Pops' and 'Peppermint Bark' boxes that are left.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Seattle bound

We're heading across the continent to Washington state to attend Kirk & Bethany's wedding. We are very much looking forward to it and Lucy even has a new outfit with matching shoes. Prior to the happy occassion we are spending some time in Seattle sipping lattes and watching flying fish. And yes we are going to check out the first ever Starbucks cafe at Pike Place Market! Of course we will update you all later about our last adventure for 2007. The temperature over there is in the range of -1 to 7 degrees celsius. Unfortunately WIlmington has just hit a sweet spot and we are experiencing 25 degree heat (we were wearing t-shirts and eating ice cream in the backyard yesterday!) However the beanies, mittens and scarves are packed and we're nearly ready to go!

Friday, 7 December 2007

Baby its cold outside

Yesterday the temperature range (in celsius) was between 4 and 9 so it was very chilly!


Last night we had two adventures: watching the world's largest living Christmas tree being lit up and having a romantic anniversary dinner at Boca Bay restaurant.

The Christmas tree sounded excited though we were a little skeptical this being Wilmington and all. (For example our friends Rick & Erica went to the Nutcracker performance by the Wilmington ballet last week. Based on Rick's impersonations it was not something you would want to see for free let alone pay money for. But hey its Wilmington, a small coastal town not Broadway New York, so you can't have unrealistic expectations) It turns out it is not a 'christmas tree' in the sense that it is actually an oak tree rather than a fir tree but it was a 'christmas tree' in the sense that it had a ridiculous amount of lights. In fact the tradition started in 1928 and the same tree has been lit up every year with the exception of one year during WWII. The local tv station were broadcasting live so we even had to wait for the commercial break to finish before they pushed the button. It was kind of fun to count down and then see the tree light up and even grouchy Lucy was impressed with the lights. Now remember the temperatures I mentioned above!

video


Our dinner at Boca Bay was excellent. The food was awesome and some the best we've had for a while. Unfortunately the live band, who incidentally were also excellent, were way too loud and the smoke from the bar drifted into the dining room. But we had a great meal and enjoyed a meal with just the two of us.

PS In regard to the Netflix movies, the four I rated one star were: License to Wed (terrible terrible movie even if Jim was in it), Ten Canoes, The 40 year old virgin (I watched the first 5 minutes and then took it straight to the mailbox) and Annie Hall. I loved Evan Almighty!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Netflix

We joined up to Netflix a few weeks ago. When I heard about the business model, when living in Oz, it didn't really make sense to me. Finding a post box or going to the post office was always a hassle for me - I thought it was just as easy to go to the video store. Little did I know that in the US you can post movies back from your own mailbox! So we now have created a queue of movies and here's what we've seen so far (in reverse order):



Million Dollar Baby, 2004
Evan Almighty, 2006
Night at the Museum, 2006
License to Wed, 2007
An Inconvenient Truth, 2006
The 40-Year-Old Virgin, 2005
Ten Canoes, 2006
Memoirs of a Geisha, 2005
Annie Hall, 1977
Wordplay, 2006


I rated them all 5 stars except for four of the movies which I rated 1 star. Can you guess which four?

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

It's our 9th Wedding Anniversary!

Wow 9 years sounds like a really long time even though it doesn't feel long. We are going out to celebrate tomorrow as we have our small group bible study on tonight.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Product of the week - Peppermint

This one is for you Kevin - a non-edible product of the week! This weeks product is my Williams Sonoma Holiday cleaning kit. The kit comprises of hand soap, moisturiser, dishwashing liquid and counter spray. And they all smell like peppermint! It is really good fun and the kitchen smells delicious. To add to the festive mood we have Christmas songs playing each night and we have a magnetic advent calendar that Lucy gets to open each day to discover a new piece to put on the nativity scene. Isn't Christmas a great time of year!



Monday, 3 December 2007

Weekend update


A couple of different things happened this weekend:



1. We became members of our new church (Northgrove EPC) - photo of the new members left. Sharon on the right is the teaching director at Community Bible Study that I attend. Pastor Gary is up the back with the maroon vest on.



2. We attended our first congregational meeting at Northgrove. Sadly it turns out that these meetings can be frustratingly the same anywhere around the world.



3. Andrew & I had dinner with some of the Silex crew at Paddy's Hollow to celebrate Richard's 50th birthday. We skipped the ghost tour which turned out to be a very good thing as we were able to stay warm and wait fro them to finish in the warmth of the pub!



4. I attended a Christmas Tea (making the faux pas of not dressing up in the Southern tradition of red, green or other Christmas colours - I wore my bright orange Berlin jacket without thinking!!! Luckily they are used to me being different!) The tea was complete with wedding china and spiced tea with lots of cake and sandwiches. We had a great talk about making Christmas 'real'



5. Lucy is still battling a cold/cough but continues to be a trooper.



6. The neighbours all put their Christmas lights up on Saturday 1 December. Three doors down rivals the Griswolds. We brought a couple of decorations with us (nativity scene and three wise men bobbleheads) and have bought a cool advent calendar. Probably going to keep things low key as we will be away for a week but when we get back we'll be buying a North Carolina Fraser Fir tree. Will keep you posted. Strangely Andrew is not concocting some elaborate scheme of lights but I think he is just living by our family motto of 'keeping it simple'.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Unique Australian goodies

What goodies would you miss from Australia if you moved away? Whilst we can readily source tim tams and vegemite there are a few lesser known items that we really would like to be able to buy here. When Andrew travelled back to Oz he picked up a number of things we've missed including: mint slices, chocolate montes, gravox, dettol, milo, violet crumbles, SM33 teething gel (no colours or flavours), nurofen gel and dunlopillo pillows. Thanks to Rhonda for the Haighs chocolate.

At www.simplyaustralian.com we can source many things of these things at a slightly higher price. But sending chocolate biscuits through the mail between June and October is not a good thing. Also the cost of the meat pies and sausage rolls is prohibitive!

Thursday, 29 November 2007

A reason to blog

"But that feeling of impatience arose because I was aware that what I didn't hear now, I never would hear, there'd be no instant replay, as there can be when you listen to a tape or watch a video and can press the rewind button, rather, any whisper not apprehended or understood there and then would be lost forever. That's the unfortunate thing about what happens to us and remains unrecorded, or worse still, unknown or unseen or unheard, for later, there's no way it can be recovered."



a heart so white by Javier Marias

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Keeping up appearances

One of the cultural differences we have encountered is that Americans seem a lot more worried about appearances than Australians. Here are some examples.

We don't have blinds on the windows in the living areas of our house. So whilst Andrew was away in Oz we put up some sheets and picnic blankets on some key windows so that it didn't feel so open whilst I was home alone. When visitors came over during the week they were shocked about the sheets. They would prefer either nothing on the windows or proper blinds. Everyone was full of suggestions for where to get cheap blinds and someone even gave me a coupon. It's not that we don't want blinds its just that we need to save up to buy them (we just got the fence installed!) But it was interesting that nothing was a better option that sub-prime. In the land of convenience you must buy buy buy.

Another example about appearances is that Southern belles can't leave the house without makeup. I never see anyone (else) just whipping out to the shops in their trackies for milk. At the supermarket everyone is nicely dressed with perfect lipstick. In fact this is an easy way to spot northerners as they aren't usually so well turned out.

When we first moved in we didn't have a lawnmower (and still don't). The grass got really long and wasn't looking too good. All the neighbours offered to lend us their lawnmowers (one person offered twice). We were just waiting to get things sorted out at home so weren't too worried about having an immaculate lawn. But clearly others do worry and they spend an inordinate amount of time keeping it looking good. Two ironic things have now happened: Wilmington is now in drought and we aren't allowed to use the watering system anymore; it's winter so the grass has gone dormant (ie brown). Our front lawn is now looking good, aparting from its winter hibernation, but it was never something we really worried about too much.

Appearances can be deceptive.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Product of the week - Golden raspberries

There's nothing wrong with the camera - the raspberries are actually yellow! They taste fairly similar to regular red raspberries. So that's it. They're just regular raspberries. End of blog.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Weekend update

Since thanksgiving on Thursday we have kept a fairly low profile just catching up on sleep. The exception being that we ventured over to Mark & Sandy's for a catch up and an aussie bbq complete with chocolate pavlova. It's good to have Aussie friends here!

On an unrelated note over the weekend we did encounter some southern racism that TOTALLY shocked us. It was said "I wouldn't allow my [white] child to marry a black person because they would have tanned babies". WHAT??? Words fail me.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Thanksgiving

We are currently in the middle of a 4 day long weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving. In fact today is Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Yesterday we spent helping to put up Ava's Christmas present, a swing set which both Ava and Lucy loved playing on. Last night we were invited to a thanksgiving feast at Gary & Mary's and we had a fantastic time with their family and Grammy Lou & Poppy. The food was awesome so I am going to detail it out. We started with acorn pumpkin soup (butternut pumpkin) with apple and onion (Lucy devoured this), followed by spinach, cranberry and pecan salad, followed by main course - roast turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with pecans and brown sugar, asparagus with garlic butter and slivered almonds, homemade stuffing, and cranberry jelly. Dessert followed with chocolate cream pie, pumpkin pie, ferrero rochers and gerwertztraminer (brought back from Aus). Lucy enjoyed running around in the backyard playing in the autumn leaves with Elsie and Noah. She is wearing her new dress and boots and looked very gorgeous. Of course Andrew ate too much and felt sick when we got home! Despite this we all enjoyed our second thanksgiving in the US.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Indochine

We have been lamenting the lack of authentic Chinese restauarants around here so Andrew very much enjoyed going to Lots back in Sydney. We have pretty much given up on Chinese cuisine so last night we decided to check out Indochine - a Vietnamese and Thai restuarant. And it was GREAT! It's not a chain, it charges higher prices (like all good Thai restuarants) and it has a very unique decor including an outdoor courtyard with pagoda (and wooden monkey). We very much enjoyed the chicken dumplings, moo goo gai pan and bun-thit nuong followed up with chilled lychees (on ice) and mango with sticky rice and coconut sauce. Lucy couldn't keep still but managed to enjoy herself especially as the waitress brought her a special monkey plate to eat off. Andrew doesn't like going to Thai restauarants as many menu items contain shrimp and although this was the case at Indochine there were still enough options for him to choose from. I could tell he really liked Indochine when we were ordering dessert as he ordered another lot of chicken dumplings to go. We will be returning soon.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Autumn leaves

Everyone around has been telling us that we won't experience fall here in Wilmington. Summer bumps along nicely and then suddenly its winter. But I beg to differ as we've noticed many trees that have turned yellow and red before they start to lose their leaves. We have three trees in our yard turning red (the other 35 pine trees remain their usual green selves) and they look spectacular. Lucy is a little disappointed that there are not many leaves to crunch but she is making do with the available supply.

The other exciting part of the photo is that you can see part of our new fence. On this right side of the house there is a walk gate and a car gate. I can't express in words how good it feels to have this finished so that Lucy is now safe!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Product of the week - Easy pumpkin pie mix

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. It is a fun holiday because it is just about getting together with family and friends and eating a lot. No presents, no trick or treating, and no stress (unless you wake up on Thanksgiving morning and the turkey is still frozen!) The supermarket is jam packed with cans of pumpkin pie mix so I thought I would whip up a pie. All I needed to do was stir the can of pumpkin pie mix with some evaporated milk and eggs. Pour the combined mixture into a pre-made pie crust and whack it in the oven for a while. So easy and surprisingly good. Andrew was really reticent to try it as he couldn't get over the thought that pumpkin is a vegetable. But eventual he tried it and liked it. Bring on Thursday...

Monday, 19 November 2007

It's been a while...

but did anyone notice I was missing in action? The truth is that I am tired of blogging. I know that when you tire of London you tire of life but what does it mean to tire of writing trivial comments on the internet? The content is out there but the time and motivation are lacking. If I'm going to blog I want to do it well. But is it better to churn out sub-prime content for the sake of being out there and keeping a record of our life in the US? Not sure the answer to this so we'll see how things pan out. I invite readers to make comments! Offers for babysitting greatly appreciated.

Andrew was back in Oz for a week and has been working hard back here so I have gone 10 days straight as a single parent. And today he can't drop Lu off at day care. So much for having a quiet day at home doing my tax return.

In Andrew's absence we had a few playdates (Rory, Ava and Julian), read many many books and spent lots of time outside playing in the sandpit. We got the fence installed (hooray!), hosted bible study, and kept the house very tidy.

On the fun side Andrew had a very nice surprise coming home to Wilmington as Lucy and I met him at the airport with a home-made sign. And when Lucy spotted him in the crowd at the airport she ignored the 'do not enter' sign and ran half way down the corridor to greet him with a big hug. I waited until he got into the foyer before giving him a big hug!

Not sure if things will get back to normal anytime soon but 'product of the week' will return tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Asheville, North Carolina

Ok so I said I wanted some cooler weather but that did not mean I wanted to experience 29 degrees (F) at 9am! Whilst staying in Blowing Rock we were greeted in the morning with a layer of ice over everything, including the car, which gave the appearance that it had snowed overnight! That being said the weather was kind to us and was generally in the high 60’s. Let me take you through the drive, the food and the sights.







Driving

Driving with an 18 month old child that likes to run around wasn’t easy and poor Lucy had a couple of melt downs when she just couldn’t take being strapped down anymore. In between she enjoyed watching Colin Buchanan on DVD, listening to her kindermusik CD using Dad’s headphones and reading her books. We all enjoyed listening to Charlotte’s Web being read by E B White, watching the leaves change colour as we headed west and having a pit stop at the Tractor Supply Co at Monroe (stocking motorized toy horses, deer feed and tractor tyres).

We drove via Charlotte on the way to Asheville which was a slower but more scenic route. We saw trailer homes, the Pee Dee river and a beauty supply company selling ‘human hair’. We even saw a town called Shelby! There were many many traffic lights on the approach to Charlotte which made the going slow (plus it was pouring with rain). The way home was via Interstate 40 which was fast (70mph) but reasonably boring. Both sides of the road were lined with rows of trees and once we were out of the mountains it was no longer scenic.

One of the cool things we wanted to do on this trip was to drive the ‘Blue Ridge Parkway’. It is one of the top 10 scenic drives in the US so it was something we did not want to miss. We drove two separate parts of it and we were amazed at the beauty of the trees as the leaves changed colour. One of my favourite moments was when the wind was gently blowing yellow leaves out of the trees above us which then flew around in the breeze and sunlight before landing on the road in front. Spectacular! Despite the drought and the unseasonably warm weather in October it was still a site to behold.




Dining

Dining out fell into two main categories: national chain restaurants and single site operators. The chain restaurants as expected were fast, convenient, and clean with food of mediocre quality (Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Dairy Queen and iHop) The only exception being Waffle House which was extremely dirty and had a ‘smoking’ section which means little when patrons walk through the restaurant to the exit with lit cigarettes.

Fortunately we did a little foodie research before traveling and discovered a couple of gems including Corner Kitchen (Biltmore Village), Crippens Country Inn (Blowing Rock) and Melanie’s Fantasy Food (Boone). The highlight was the watermelon salad at Crippens that consisted of watermelon, fresh mozzarella, basil, rocket, toasted almonds and balsamic vinegar served with lavash. The single sites on the whole were excellent but we were very disappointed with Eastern Lights (Durham) which was a well recommended Chinese restaurant that was far too Americanised (though the Gwo Tieh “pot stickers” were awesome). We even got a Southern fix at the Farmers Market Restaurant (Raleigh) with biscuits and hush puppies, fried ham steak, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, grits and mashed potatoes (notice the fried theme!)

Asheville

Biltmore Estate
This estate inspired our whole vacation and it lived up to its reputation. A family owned property built by George Vanderbilt in 1895 it is the largest home in the US. With around 4 acres under roof and 5 stories tall the house is amazingly large with 61 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms. It houses an indoor pool, a gym, a bowling alley, an architectural model room, library, observatory, billiards room and tapestry gallery. The kitchen comprises of 5 refrigerated rooms, the house keepers pantry, the canning room, the vegetable pantry, the pastry room, the rotisserie kitchen, the main kitchen, the kitchen pantry, the small pantry, servants dining room etc etc! The thing that amazed us about this place was the electrical innovations for its time. The house was awesome but not as good as Windsor Castle, the gardens were pretty but not as breathtaking as Versailles but nothing we have seen compares to the amazing things done here with electricity – pool lights, refrigerated rooms, and electric dumb waiters. Unfortunately with Lucy in tow we couldn’t do the behind the scenes tour which would have revealed so much more. Instead we picked up a picnic basket at the Bake Shop and headed off into the gardens exploring the hot house and playing in the fallen leaves. We ended up at the bass pond where Lucy watched the ducks. We then headed over to River Bend Farm (still part of the Estate) where Lucy patted horses, sheep and donkeys but was mostly fascinated with the chickens and owls. We ate ice cream, watched a blacksmith in action and wandered around a corn maze.

Mast General Store
“Quality goods for the living, coffins and caskets for the dead”. A small town department store on the national register of historic places specializing in camping and hiking gear but also full of tourist knick knacks. The first store opened in 1883 but this Asheville post is the youngest branch opening in 1940.

Peanuts – Pumpkin Patch Express
We boarded the Great Smoky Mountains train in the quaint village of Dillsboro for a trip to the pumpkin patch. The train traveled alongside the river (where the train wreck in The Fugitive was filmed) to the pumpkin patch where we bobbed for apples, took photos with Lucy & Charlie Brown, had a hay ride, patted the goats, and roasted marshmallows. And we picked a pumpkin too! Lucy was dressed in her ladybug costume and she looked SO GORGEOUS!!! The photos don’t adequately capture how beautiful she looked.

Malaprops Book Store
A fun bookstore with the poetry section at the front and the fiction section at the back it was an oasis I could have hidden in all day.


Blowing Rock

Linville Caverns
Underneath Humpback Mountain runs a river that has formed a limestone cavern. Now a tourist attraction but previously a hide out for deserters from the civil war we took a guided tour inside. There are blind rainbow trout living in the 42 degree water and Lucy was quite keen to jump in to take a closer look at them. We also saw a couple of bats hiding in nooks in the ceiling. The stalactites and stalagmites were impressive and there was one particular point that a column was formed where the two met. If only the guide who had a really strong southern accent had spoken slower we could have learnt a lot more.

Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock is a huge piece of granite 26 stories above Hickory Nut Gorge displays awesome views. Although there are trails to hike up we took the easy option and caught the elevator – yes an elevator in a national park, inside the rock itself! We had to go up a staircase of about 30 steps to get right up the top and boy was it windy and cold up there! Lucy wanted to do some rock climbing herself and was unhappy when we restricted her. It is a long way down! Well worth the visit and if we ever get back here we are definitely doing some hiking.

Blowing Rock
Given that we were staying in Blowing Rock we thought we should check out the actual ‘blowing rock’. A big disappointment and in fact it is so ordinary we walked past it the first time without even realizing. Lucy slept through the whole thing and we got her back into the car asleep and kept driving without her even knowing we had stopped.

Durham & Raleigh

Duke University
Pronounced ‘dook’ by the Americans we stopped in at the chapel of this famous college. Although in the middle of the city the campus had the feeling of a country estate as there were so many trees around. The chapel impressively stood at the end of a drive lined with trees. Brick work, stained glass windows and huge wooden doors. Lucy liked the sound of her screams echoing around inside so we couldn’t stay for too long but she enjoyed running around on the grass chasing squirrels.


Raleigh Farmers Market
Compared to Wilmington these markets are large but still weren’t all that impressive. Lots of pumpkins, mums and tomatoes available. The restaurant was great and we did some caching here (1 successful and 1 yet to be found). Probably more produce available on the weekends.


Wilmington

We got back home in time for our church’s ‘Fall Festival’. Instead of celebrating Halloween we had a night full of activities based on Pilgrims Progress. Lucy was so gorgeous firstly wearing a burden, then arming herself for the journey with a sword and shield and then traveling to the celestial city. It was so cool and she got lots of prizes, petted puppies and made a puppet. It was much more fun than trick or treating and she didn’t eat any candy (though she did have pepperoni pizza for dinner).

And thus ends our mountain vacation. I’ll leave you with some awesome pictures of the fall.






Monday, 5 November 2007

Weekend update

After our week of travel it was good to spend some time at home.

Friday night saw us at the ACME Art Studio for Gail and Michelle's art exhibition premiere. It was good to see the Silex crew but what was more amazing was seeing other people I knew. We met some more Aussies who live here (including Lucy's signing teacher's husband) and it felt like a really small world! 7 degrees of separation (or only 3 in some cases) is really true.

Saturday we had a sleep in before checking out Carrabas for lunch. This Italian chain resataurant was highly recommended to us (esp. because it has a wood fired pizza oven) but sadly it was over priced and lacking in quality. The pizza base wasn't cooked all the way through, the tomatoes were flavorless and they brought out our mains about 1 minute after our appetisers were served. The service was good but its unlikely we will go back there.

With full bellies we set out into our garden for some pruning and weeding. You can see Lucy was trying to help by putting on my gardening gloves. Our rose bush continues to produce roses, on average producing 10 per week, and still has many more buds on it. It is an amazing plant and our house is constantly full of the perfume of roses. We also cleared out the canna lillies and have replanted them to make way for our fence to be put in this week!!! So exciting!!! Now Lucy can be contained in the backyard without having to worry about her running on the road. It seems a strange thing to Sydneysiders that many backyards have no fences. We have been waiting some months now for the fence and it is finally happening this week. I will post a picture on Friday when it's finished.

Stay tuned for an Asheville post tomorrow.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Sneak peak: Asheville

Lucy loves leaves! Here is one of the many videos of her playing in the crunchy leaves - this one was taken at Biltmore Estate.


video

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Hitting the road...

We're off to Asheville for a week. We haven't seen much of North Carolina yet so this is our first real taste of the 'better place to be'. We are going to be travelling across both the northern and southern parts of the state and we are excited about experiencing fall! Asheville is located in the Smoky Mountains and we are looking forward to some cooler mountain living!

Blogging will resume again on Monday 5 November.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

NC Fauna II











Our backyard continues to teem with wildlife. After a heavy rainstorm last week we had a visit from a tortoise - he has very unusual colouring as seen above. We also have bright green lizards (about 8cm long) that run along the deck and bask in the sun. They change their colour into a kind of brown when they run along the house bricks so maybe they are a type of chameleon.


On the bird front we have Eastern blue birds, woodpeckers (with bright red heads and black & white wings) and cardinals (a bright red bird that is the state bird for NC) We also have heaps of butterflies, more than I have ever seen in my life, flittering around looking for flowers.

It is a wonderland for Lucy.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Product of the week - Rats

Halloween seems to be a really big deal here. We have been receiving catalogues for months with lots of costumes, garden decorations and pumpkin paraphenalia for sale. Here is one such example from http://www.lillianvernon.com/: "Invite them to your party, then listen for the eeks and ughs. Life-size rodents have tattered and matted acrylic fur over polyfoam bodies. Mean faces have beady eyes and long whiskers. Set of 3, each 6"L with slithery tail. Use solo or in a pack just like real rats!" Come on, who wants rats in their house! Seriously!

Monday, 22 October 2007

Weekend highlights

With Andrew getting back from Boston on Saturday morning we didn't have a lot planned for the weekend but catching up on sleep was a high priority!

Saturday night saw us at Dean & Debbie's to celebrate the arrival of Pearl, a baby girl adopted from Guatemala. We enjoyed chicken on the grill followed by a marshmallow roast on the firepit.

Sunday saw us at church followed by the monthly church luncheon. A leisurely afternoon where we hung out in the backyard whilst Lucy played in the sandpit.
PS I was incorrect last week in stating that fall had started. It is still summer here with Saturday being 32 degrees again! Go away summer, we want to wear jackets!!! (Or as everyone here says 'we want to wear our fall wardrobe') It is really interesting how people go out and buy specific clothes for the season - fall colours are brown and orange and everyone seems to be wearing them. We will be wearing our Aussie winter clothes so we will continue to stand out in the crowd as being different. Though my Hawthorn jumper will be right at home!

Friday, 19 October 2007

From U-boat to Pulpit

I finished reading this book a few weeks ago and although it's a departure from this blog's regular theme I still wanted to tell you about it. Since visiting Sachsenhausen I have been wanting to get hold of the book written by Martin Niemoller “From U-Boat to Pulpit”. I tracked down one English copy in Fort Wayne Indiana - a green cloth bound 1937 edition. On the flyleaf is a list of the members of the “Conference reading Circle #2 1938”. It is an amazing adventure story of the life of a German submarine captain during World War I. Reading abou tthe war from an alternative perspective is really challenging! Niemoller later went on to become a minister and whilst first siding with the Nazis in the 30’s soon realized that they looked to corrupt the church. He took a strong stand on this and for this he was jailed in Sachsenhausen and Dachau but survived. This patriotic German who served his country with so much fervour in the first world war was incarcerated by his own countrymen in the second from 1937-1945. A very brave man and author of the famous poem “First they came” (check it out as it is still so relevant today) It is worth quoting something he wrote during his u-boat days: “Is there peace anywhere? Will peace come to us – or shall we, like the Flying Dutchman, spend year after year at sea without rest or respite? And we are, as ever, faced by the eternal questions: life, the universe and God? These questions are not prompted by curiosity – they force themselves on us. All we know is that we have not found the answers to them.”

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Church signage

Seven days without church makes one weak


There is no mother earth only father God


If you think education is expensive try ignorance

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Slow boat to China cancelled

I went to the post office the other day to post my parents birthday presents only to discover that USPS has stopped sea mail. Only air mail is available with prices starting at $21! The good news is that parcels will be delivered quickly but at a high cost. In researching this on the internet I discovered the Country Conditions for Mailing to Australia. Check them out as some are quite funny.

Prohibitions

Restrictions
Meat and other animal products; powdered or concentrated milk; and other dairy products requires permission to import from the Australian quarantine authorities.
Permission of the Australian Director-General of Health is required to import medicines.


Observations
Duty may be levied on catalogs, price lists, circulars, and all advertising introduced into Australia through the mail, regardless of the class of mail used.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Product of the week - pink

October is breast cancer awareness month and as a result many many manufacturers have come out with 'pink' products to raise money for research. From clothes to mixing bowls to bibles there are pink products throughout the stores. Although Halloween has caused many stores to turn orange there is still a significant amount of pink around. It is amazing how much effort some of the big names have gone to for this cause and it is a pleasant surprise compared to the ghost and gravestone products nearby.



Monday, 15 October 2007

A happy hearty weekend

It is officially fall. On Monday we had beach weather of 32 and now we are in the daily range of 9-24. It is amazing how quickly the change came but we are now enjoying awesome afternoons in the sunshine of the backyard.

Saturday morning saw us head out for another breakfast adventure – this time to ihop We have been wanting to try out this restaurant chain for a little while but every time we have ventured here the place has been so packed out that we couldn’t even get a car parking space. This time we were in luck with the last spot. A two minute wait for a table and then Crystal was ready for our order. I had a ‘Rooty Tooty Fresh n Fruity’ (10 points for guessing what that means), Andrew had the original buttermilk pancakes and Lucy devoured her French toast before we could blink. It was a super quick move’m in move’m out kind of place but the food was very good and inexpensive. The menu even has senior specials (smaller portions at smaller prices). Whilst open for breakfast, lunch and dinner it seems that breakfast is the most popular time to come.

Saturday afternoon we put up our hostess gift from Katrina – a hammock for the backyard! Andrew enjoyed lying in it for a while until Lucy climbed in and insisted on playing ‘horsie’ on his stomach.

Not feeling like cooking dinner we decided to check out the Outback Steakhouse for their autumn specials. The level of cringe is going to be high but we decided we needed to see it for ourselves. Take for example their radio jingle. In an effort to get people to go out for dinner on a Wednesday night it goes “Let’s go outback tonight! Start your weekend two days earlier” We get there but it’s a 40 minute wait for a table. So we went around the corner to Cracker Barrel.

Cracker Barrel is to American cuisine as Outback Steakhouse is to Australian cuisine. Kind of kitschy especially with the Old Country Store attached, the rocking chairs out the front and the old farming equipment hanging from the ceiling. But it’s new to us so its kind of fun. The menu is pure comfort food – Sunday home style chicken, meatloaf and mashed potato and smoked country sausage ‘n biscuits. We celebrated the autumn applefest with apple cheddar chicken and fried apples. A good hearty meal for the three of us cost just $30. We also picked up a free touring map and had a look around at the Christmas decorations in the store. Lucy had a great time sitting in the old fashioned high chair (with leather straps), playing with the old fashioned solitaire game made with a wooden board and pegs and drinking her milk in front of the huge fire place. So although we were disappointed to miss out on our Aussie experience we felt very contented and full after our American feast. We thought about buying a jar of fried apples to take home but discovered the second ingredient (after apples) was high fructose corn syrup so we left them on the shelf. OVerall our exeperience was two thumbs up.

Sunday saw us at church followed by a lunch at our house. We invited Scott, Michelle and Wade over for a lamb roast and pavlova. We hung out in the backyard whilst Lucy played in the sandpit, Wade lay in the hammock and the rest of us chatted. Then Andrew had an afternoon nap given his 4am bedtime trying to fix the church computer.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Edge of urge

I made it to the funky downtown shop 'Edge of Urge' the other week and got a new tshirt (left). The shop is stocked with lots of cool clothes and accessories. Check it out at www.edgeofurge.com

I also discovered 'Planet' thanks to Katrina which is similar to Dutchee Dutchee in Cronulla but with an emphasis on nick nacks rather than clothes. Both open late in the morning (sometimes 11am) but are open quite late at night (10pm).

Thursday, 11 October 2007

NC Fauna

Jim, our neighbour and one of the few native North Carolinians around here, told me last week that the only inspect/spider/snake to worry about in our local area was a 'walking cane'. He described it as a black stick like insect about 10cm long. The problem with them is that they are predatory and if you disturb them they shoot out a mist of foul liquid into your eyes. Sounds a little freaky but I wasn't too worried as in the 6 months or so we have been here I haven't seen one. 30 minutes after Jim told me about them I encouter a nest of 4 of them (plus babies) on the side of the house where I am pruning bushes! They are mostly hiding under the plastic in the photo but as you can see they look a little scary. I am leaving them in peace and have left the pruning for another day!