Tag Archives: Australia

Holidays in Noosa

Hello from the sunshine coast! I figured that after all the stress of being born Dominic deserved a holiday, so I packed him up and we’ve spent the last four nights at Noosa (also, the fact that some of my closest friends had planned to get-together for five nights up here may have been additional motivation). I was a little nervous about taking him away by myself at four weeks old, but it’s turned out to be a great decision to come crash this party. Three of my friends up here also have babies younger than nine months old so there have been many willing hands to cuddle little D, and lots of other parents to watch and learn from.

Learn I have. After some tutoring I’ve even graduated to bathing Dominic solo, and after an unfortunate poo explosion at the markets I’ve definitely learned to pack spare clothes in the diaper bag. Luckily for all concerned we’d just picked up Auntie Michelle at the airport and she was carrying a brand new outfit for him in her suitcase. Win. Well, except for the part where I had to strip off Dominic’s clothes in the park while he screamed so hard at the shock of the cold breeze and the general indignity of public nudity that he went purple.

We head home tomorrow and hopefully Dominic will behave as well on the four-hour car trip back as he did on the way up. And, look what we have waiting for us when we get home… Dominic’s first pet. He lives in and around the shed and Dad calls him Bruce. He’s not as big as the giant snake in Laos, but he’s still a good size. Big enough to play with, anyway.

Sorry, it’s been a while since we had a snake photo on the blog and I couldn’t resist. Here’s a couple of other less reptilian photos of what we’ve been up to lately. Hope you’ve had as much good quality time with friends as I have this week.

"I don't want kisses right now"

When I'm feeding in Ballina I can sometimes see wallabies in the garden

Hanging out with Dominic in Noosa. Do I look tired?? Yeah... I am.

Walks on the beach with friends at Noosa

Dominic - happy as a clam in the sling on the beach

Out for brunch with baby in tow

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Dear Dad, Love Dominic

Dear Dad,

Happy first Father’s Day! It’s too bad that you’re in Laos and I’m in Australia on this day, but when we were up together this morning at 3am Mum told me you had to go back to Laos in September to work because there are lots of mothers there who don’t get enough to eat and have trouble producing enough milk to feed their babies. She sounded really sad when she said it – like she might cry. I think she often thinks of sad things when she’s feeding me alone in the dark. Why is that?

Anyway, I miss you. I mean, Mum is great – all soft and squishy and she just smells so delicious with all that warm milk flowing underneath her skin, like a giant custard tart, don’t you think? But even a very little man cannot live by milk alone, and I was getting used to you and me having special times together. Mum’s not nearly as happy to see my eyes wide open at 5AM as you are, and I had all sorts of special things planned for us to celebrate this first Fathers Day. For example, I was going to wait until right after you undid my diaper and then do a giant poo all over the change table. Good times. And when you were holding me one-armed against your shoulder I was going to throw my head back and go all rigid– that’s always good for giving Mum a mini heart attack. She is afraid you’ll drop me one of these days but I know you won’t. Ever since I’ve been born Mum’s been afraid of all sorts of new things. Why is that?

Mum misses you too. While I was having my breakfast this morning she was talking about all the things you’ve been doing for her this last three weeks that she’s going to have to do herself now – like all the laundry, my daytime diaper changes, making breakfast, sterilizing the breast pump, and following up on paperwork. I wanted to tell her that she should be grateful that she’s not living in the 1800’s in a sod house on the Missouri prairies because then she’d have to do all that laundry by hand and I can bet you’d have been too busy farming to help her with it, much less bring her raisin toast and vitamins in the morning. But I had my mouth full, and I’ve been told it’s not polite to speak whilst eating.

Anyway, I thought you’d be glad to know that Mum has pretty much changed her mind about not coming back to Laos with you in October. She says that being in Laos with you is narrowly beating out being in Australia without you. I’ll keep you posted if things change on that front but I hope they don’t, as I’m really looking forward to meeting Zulu. Grandad’s horrified at the thought of you letting “that dog” come near me. Mum’s tried to tell him that she’ll be very careful with me around him, and that this is a dog whose mouth is so gentle that he can carry a baby chicken for two blocks and not kill it. Grandad countered by pointing out that the reason Zulu was carrying the baby chicken in the first place was that he grabbed it during a morning run when he was supposed to be following Mike’s bike and then scurried home with it still in his mouth the instant he knew he was in trouble. I’m not worried though, I’m a lot bigger than a baby chicken. Mum says I’m such a pork chop that holding me makes her back hurt, so that little dog doesn’t stand a chance of carrying me off anywhere.

It’s soon time for me to eat again and I don’t see Mum anywhere around here. I have no idea where she is – maybe doing those many loads of laundry she was talking about – so I’m going to have to sign off so that I can work myself up to yelling for her to come fetch me. I hope you have a great Father’s Day, even though we’re not together. Mum tells me all the time that I have the best Dad in the whole wide world, but I don’t need her to tell me that. That one is obvious.

Can’t wait to see you in a month.

I love you,

Dominic

ANZAC Day and a mystery of rememberance at Gallipoli

It’s ANZAC Day today – the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Day of Remembrance – and it’s making me think of Turkey, and Gallipoli, and a scene I witnessed more than three years ago now.

In 2007 I spent four glorious weeks traveling around Turkey in the company of some of my dearest friends. Among other adventures we sailed the Adriatic, slept in caves, marveled (and laughed) at the phallic rock formations of Cappadocia, ate Turkish delight in Istanbul, and toured Gallipoli.

I knew very little about Gallipoli before visiting Turkey. I knew it held an important place in Australian history and national identity. I knew lots of people died there. And I knew it was in Turkey. Apart from that I knew nothing except that it was a giant military stuff-up and Australia lost. I’d always thought it a bit odd that our most important day of military remembrance was celebrated on a date associated with our greatest defeat. I mean, what country does that?

In addition to my shocking ignorance, I didn’t even want to go and visit Gallipoli. I’d already seen more than a few battlefields in places as far apart as Vietnam and Bosnia and I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to spend part of my holiday wandering around World War I trenches feeling all sober and depressed. My dear friend, Tash, however, did want to go and visit, and because she was in Turkey with me just because I’d asked, I figured spending one day at Gallipoli was the least I could do.

I don’t know what I expected to find at Gallipoli except for sadness – and that was there, all right. As we wandered over the ridges and hills of the peninsula we could see just what a debacle the whole campaign had been right from the start. An estimated 10% of the troops disembarking from the carriers drowned before they even got to shore, weighed down by their gear. Those who made it to the beach were hopelessly exposed to fire from the steep hills flanking the cove – hills they would not have had to scale foot by torturous foot during the coming year and a half if they’d landed almost anywhere else along that rocky coastline. Half a million people died at Gallipoli during that time. You couldn’t help but shake your head at the useless, senseless, waste of it all.

But that wasn’t all I found at Gallipoli.

After we’d toured many of the significant battlefields and clambered in and out of trenches, our guide took us down to Anzac cove, the site of that first fateful landing. There he urged us to pick up a stone to take with us.

The stone I selected was red. Round on one side, rough on the other, it has been split in half. White veins of quartz marble the red in a bizarre reversal of the pattern of our own human bodies. I carry this stone in my camera case now and whenever I see or touch it I don’t think first of blood and loss and needless sacrifice, or even bravery and mateship. I think of graciousness.

Turkey has carefully preserved this entire area of Gallipoli and consulted closely with Australia in the process. Reportedly, when the Turkish government recently wanted to pave access roads into the battlefields, the Australian government lodged a formal protest something along the lines of, “Hey, you can’t do that, that’s our sacred ground!”

In response, Turkey didn’t reply, “Wait just one minute! You invaded our country, you killed hundreds of thousands of our citizens, you lost, we kicked you out, and now you are trying to tell us what to do with our land? We won, and it’s our sacred ground, too.”

No, the Turkish government basically said, “Oh, good point. OK then, we won’t pave the road after all.”

The whole area has been turned it into a virtual shrine and, in the process, Turkey has not only carefully and deliberately honoured their own dead but the dead of the ANZAC troops as well. They have erected giant granite monuments – equal in size for the ANZACs and the Turks – to commemorate the bravery and the fortitude of all who fought here and the respect that troops on both sides reportedly held for one another. There are cemeteries for the Australian and New Zealand soldiers scattered over the entire area, often lying directly adjacent to the cemeteries for the Turkish troops. And down on their knees in these cemeteries were Turkish gardeners carefully tending Australian graves.

Engraved in granite and standing watch over the battlefields are these words by Mustafa Kemal (known as Ataturk), a soldier who fought at Gallipoli and later went on to become Turkey’s first president:

Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

I’d never seen anything like this extraordinary generosity of spirit before on a battlefield, and I haven’t since. Perhaps it would be a little like North Vietnam (or Northen Laos, for that matter) setting up war memorials to the US of an entirely different flavour to those you find in Ho Chi Minh City. I think about that and I wonder why they would, just as I wondered how and why Turkey has embraced those who once invaded them. I don’t come close to fully understanding it, even now, but three years down the track I continue to marvel at it.


Two years ago today

Two years ago today Mike and I put on fancy clothes and stood up in front of many people that we love and made a whole bunch of very serious promises about, essentially, loving one another. It was a wonderful, glorious, happy-filled, day that still makes me smile when I think of it.

To be honest though, it wasn’t all bubbles and champagne that day. I threw my back out the morning of the wedding, forgot to put together a reception run-sheet for our long-suffering MC’s, Emma and Asha, until four hours before the ceremony, and felt more serious and stressed out than giddy and love-struck right before it was time to walk down the aisle.

But there was advil for the back, and thankfully the lace-up style of my wedding dress acted as a very efficient brace that allowed me to forget the pain and move relatively freely once it was on. One of my bridesmaids came and sat down beside me where I was lying at noon, flat on the floor, waiting for pain killers to kick in, and helped me plan out the reception program. And there, at the end of that walk down the aisle, was Mike.

As the ceremony progressed and we got through all the serious stuff I felt myself start to relax, to inhabit the moment, to float, and from the moment we finished out vows and walked back down the aisle together it was bubbles and champagne. There were smiling people we loved everywhere I looked. The day was a sultry sort of gorgeous. The wine plentiful and cold. The Thai food, amazing. The marquee in the lush garden setting of my parent’s backyard, very Arabian nights. The dance floor under the stars, magical.

I’ve been thinking about that day this morning, and about the promises we made to each other, so I thought that I’d share them here. But first, here’s an excerpt from the book I’m working on at the moment where I write about these vows…

… “We wanted to write our own wedding vows, Mike and I, and we also wanted to be in sync with what we would promise each other on the day. So we each put some thought into the vows separately, and then came together with our drafts to blend them into one unified declaration.

I think my favorite section of our vows is what we settled on for the ring exchange: As I give you this ring, I give you my heart as a sanctuary. I give you myself as a faithful companion to celebrate life with. I give you my promise that as I choose you today, so I will choose you tomorrow. This is our covenant.

To get to these four simple sentences we each had to make a compromise that, initially, felt quite painful.

“We can’t say it that way,” Mike said, when he saw my draft. “The second sentence ends with a preposition.”

“What’s a preposition?” I asked.

He looked at me, suspicious. “You,” he said, “are a novelist. How can you possibly not know what a preposition is?”

“Hey,” I said a trifle sharply. “Six countries. Six schools. English grammar got lost somewhere along the way – possibly while I was busy learning Shona in Zimbabwe.”

“You can’t end a sentence with the word with,” Mike said. “It’s just wrong. Another way to say it would be, ‘I give you myself as a faithful companion with whom to celebrate life.’”

“That sounds lame,” I said, displaying a vocabulary every bit as impressive as my grasp of grammar.

“Well at least it’s correct.”

“But it sounds dumb,” I said. “Clumsy. Formal. It doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of our vows. Who cares if it’s correct if it sounds dumb?”

Mike eventually shifted on that issue, and I shifted on this one: when I first drafted this section I put an extra sentence in there, right before: This is our covenant. That sentence was: You will be home to me.

“I don’t like that,” Mike said, when he saw it. “It doesn’t work. I don’t want it in there.”

Although I was initially disappointed there was something in me that sensed he may just be right, so I took it out without making too much of a fuss. But I’ve thought about that a good deal in the last little while, and I do think he was right, after all. For one thing, that phrase is arguably less a promise than it is a statement, or even a demand.

I hadn’t intended that. I had intended for that sentence to evoke all that is most positive in the ideal of home – comfort, continuity, understanding, haven, refuge, rest, encouragement, wholeness – the sum total of all that is most precious and valuable in life. I had intended it as a promise along the lines of, “I will seek these things in you, for you, and with you.”

The problem here lies in the first part of that promise that I was trying to craft – the idea that it’s possible to find all of that in someone else. It’s too much to expect (or even hope for) from any one person. Even your lover. …”

So here are those vows that we worked on together. Two years down the track I would make them to Mike again today without hesitating.

I, Lisa McKay, choose you, Michael Wolfe, as my life partner, the one I commit to love. I pledge to cherish and honor you regardless of circumstances, in the pressures of the present and the uncertainties of the future, loving what I do know of you, trusting what I do not yet know.

I promise to grow in mind and spirit with you, and support you in fulfilling your hopes and dreams. I promise to remain with you, whatever afflictions may befall. I commit to sharing with you life’s joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains from this day forward until death do us part.

As I give you this ring, I give you my heart as a sanctuary. I give you myself as a faithful companion to celebrate life with. I give you my promise that as I choose you today, so I will choose you tomorrow. This is our covenant.



A mishmash of chocolate, cashew, and pineapple

I’ve quit cloudy Ballina for cloudy Melbourne for a little while. I know people all over the country are hating the almost constant grey and frequent rain here at the moment – it’s ruining many a crop and a holiday. But I must say I will take cloudy and rainy over bright and sunny most of the time now, my foot is just so much happier when the temperature stays under eighty degrees. I really don’t think the happiness of my right foot trumps entire wheat crops and thousands of beach vacations, but me being miserable about the rain alongside everyone else isn’t exactly going to help, either. So I am reveling in the unusual rainy coolness of this season in Australia even when it means (as it did yesterday) that I get absolutly soaked walking home from the shops when I go out without an umbrella.

Mike flies in tomorrow leaving our friend Chloe to take care of Zulu (who Mike described in his most recent email as a “manic, chew-monster, bounding, bat-of-out-hell, kea-shark, puppy.”). There is no such things as a kea shark, in case you’re wondering. A kea is a large alpine parrot found in New Zealand. They are very smart, very mischeivous, very curioous, and very determined – the sort of bird that rips all the rubber off the windscreen wipers of cars when they’re bored. They get bored a lot. Zulu can be a bit like a kea, one with very sharp teeth. We are anticipating not only that Chloe will feed and care for our little chewing machine, but will also have somehow transformed him into a perfectly obedient, relatively-docile, dog by the time we get back. One who never chews on us, or yips and moans when we put the hated leash on him and then runs under the ant pantry to sulk and refuses to come out unless bribed with meat. One who sits, stays, lies down, and drops things on command, every single time and without delay.  

Chloe’s cool. I have faith that she can work this miracle.      

So in lieu of a coherent update today I offer two things. One, I just ate a chocolate, cashew nut, and pineapple muffin. You wouldn’t think those three things would work together, but they do. And, two, for those of you who are writers, go on over to Dani Shapiro’s blog and read this week’s piece called On Practice.

“Discipline,” she says. “–if I were to think of a physical manifestation of it–would look like a very tense person.  Gritted teeth.  Furrowed brow.  Squinting eyes.  Focusing hard.  Practice, on the other hand, requires a kid of looseness.  Writing from a softer, more porous, interior place.  A forgiving place.”

It’s a neat, short, piece that shifted (for today, anyway) how I think about writing and has encouraged me to be a bit more gentle with myself. Not that I needed that sort of encouragement this week, perhaps, given that I’m spending more time eating chocolate muffins than writing at the moment. But January will undoubtedly come, and with it my time to focus on draft three of this next book.

Have a great weekend. I’ll be celebrating Tristan and Amber’s wedding (hooray) and then heading to Tamania for a mini getaway with Mike on Tuesday. So see you next week from Tasmania.

Australia

I intend to update my website weekly, I really do. But things just get in the way. Like Mike coming back from Indonesia and the joys of reunion (and the trials of vicarious jet lag when we’re relearning how to share a bed again and not sleeping at all well!). Then, Thanksgiving. Then moving offices at work the day before we left for Australia. Then packing. Then heading to the airport pretty much straight from work.

Then five days in Sydney that included a good friend’s wedding, an all day bruch, a lovely (hah) 4 hour interlude at the US consulate so I could get a new visa, and a hot and sweaty walk between Coogee and Bronte before dinner on the beach one night.

Then six days in Melbourne which was pretty much friends, friends, friends – one day we started with breakfast at nine with one group, and ended shooting moose in a video game in a pub at 1:30am three events later.

Then we flew up to Ballina four days ago. Happy. And holiday tired. And it’s taken until now to even want to LOOK at my website.

I love it up here. It’s green and lush. Cicadas humming in the background, the breeze tangling in the tops of the gum trees. On a walk up the gravel road the other day Mike and I saw two koalas, a wallaby and about eighty cows.

So that’s where I’m at right now. And where I’ll stay until the 31st of December when we head back to LA. On holiday, staring out across the river to sea. Enjoying wineoclocks. And doing a fair bit of watching my two and a half year old niece learn new words every day (one this week was “fragile” and learned at the expense of a Peter Pan eggcup she wanted to drink apple juice out of).

It’s fun.

Hope you’re having a wonderful lead up to Christmas. Thanks for stopping by,

Lisa