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'.