The Great Ocean Road

Australia blogging – my first weekend in Victoria.

On the Sunday after our trip to Healesville, my coworker and I decided to head out to the Great Ocean Road, a scenic, winding coastal road that runs along the southern edge of Victoria. We drove southwest from Melbourne for about an hour an a half and then caught our first glimpse of the ocean in the city of Anglesea.

A scenic overlook - brush, brushes, a road and further off a small ocean inlet and beach.

Anglesea was only a brief stop, so after we took a few photos from this overlook, we continued our journey west and the coastal driving really began: very narrow two lane roads butting up against rocky walls with little to no shoulder to speak of. There were a ton of pull offs for scenic overlooks and many places had stairs down to the beach. My coworker and I went down at one of the stops and played in the surf. [Read more…]

Trip Update and a Few News Stories

We’re home – yay!

Even with a temperature swing of 30°C to -19°C…even having to go from sleeveless dresses and copious amounts of sunscreen to layered clothing and chapstick…even going back to work instead of hiking through the rainforest…

It’s good to be home. It’s good to be in my own kitchen and near grocery stores with which I am familiar (and stocked with brands that I recognize). I am ecstatic to be reunited with fast and reliable internet. It’s good to be remembered and greeted by the pets that I had to leave for a month and a half. I was gone long enough that I have to relearn which side of the car’s steering wheel the windshield wiper and the turn signal sticks are on, and driving on the right feels a bit odd. Also, the science and logic part of my brain is very reluctant to depart from the metric system of distance and temperature.

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Last Saturday’s Adventures

I spent last Wednesday through Friday in a little pair of cities called Albury-Wadonga. I was primarily there for work, but I managed to fit in a walk through Albury’s CBD on Thursday afternoon and snap a few photos of lorikeets and magpies. The highlight of the stay was the Hovell Tree Inn Best Western Plus. The dining room had good food and my room was humongous; I had a kitchenette, a dining room table, a couch and an office desk, the queen bed was in a separate room, and the bathtub was deep with whirlpool jets. Okay, the food and room size really didn’t matter. All that mattered was the tub. Maaaaarvelous tub.

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Melbourne – off to work!

Monday technically began my first day of working in Melbourne, even though I didn’t have to report in until 1pm. That means I had a nice long morning to fill.

I’d been up since 1am, so I was good and well awake when my friend asked if I wanted to Skype at 5:15am my time. That was nice. Skype makes international travel much friendlier. After that I went to a YMCA which is located across the street to see if they’d let me use my US membership to get in a workout. Funny thing, that one: it’s a private YMCA just for residents and workers in that building, which probably explains why I couldn’t find any signage and I had to ask the doorman where to go. But at 6:30am there was only one other gentleman using the facility (it was a tiny little gym), and the man running the desk was so kind and funny. He said “It’s not every day someone flies from the US to Melbourne just to use my gym. You go ahead.”

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The Leap Across the Lake

It’s 3am and I’m in Melbourne chatting with some drunk Irishmen.

So that’s happening.

Really though, this jet lag stuff has been the most fabulous thing in the world. I went to a busy noodle shop called Bar China at about 1:30am, and now I’ve landed at a Burger Jack’s… in downtown Melbourne… at bar close. So far I’ve spoken with different groups of people about the names of American cities, gun politics, environmental extremism, gay marriage and gaming. I should mention that I haven’t had to start any of these conversations. Partying Melburnians who visit this Hungry Jack’s seem to be a friendly, chatty lot, and all I have to do to generate a conversation is to respond to a “hello” in my American accent, aaaaaand we’re off! Also, PAX-Australia apparently just ended and this gentleman – visiting from Perth for the convention – was kind enough to let me take a photo of him in his awesome t-shirt for the blog:

Guy in a t-shirt and suit jacket strikes a pose. The t-shirt has a photo of a woman in a tight body suit with a weapon on her shoulder within the international no symbol. Underneath text reads Cosplay =/= Consent

But let’s back up.

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I’m coming to Oz!

The most amazing thing has happened: I’ve been asked to go to Australia for work! Work-covered plane tickets! A chance to meet new people in my company and customers who use our products in a different geography! A chance to work and temporarily live in a radically different location! It’s like winning the lottery – except still having to work.

I leave Minneapolis on October 31st (no Halloween parties for me *sniff* I’ll get over it BECAUSE AUSTRALIA), and I’ll be all over the place for two and a half weeks: Melbourne and then across to Western Australia to work in Perth and Kalgoorlie. I’m thrilled to be able to represent my company, and to see different parts of a country that I never imagined I would be able to visit any time in the near future.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Two weeks ago the Hubby and I flew down to Orlando, Florida to spend a week with my Mom at Universal Studios.

We stayed at a hotel on the Universal park campus and were a short bus ride away from the gates. The hotel is called Cabana Bay Beach Resort and it was… an experience. It’s styled after Vegas resorts of the 1950s-60s: classic cars parked outside of the main entrance, posters bearing over-the-top Beaver Cleaveresque-like messages like “Have a SWELL day” plastered up throughout the hallways and elevators, 50s music and retro commercials playing in the main dining area, a Jack LaLanne exercise studio and a bowling alley.

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On my way to DC

Who has two thumbs and is blogging at 30,000 feet?

Laptop selfie of moi with a "thumbs at me" pose

I needed one hand free to click the “shutter” for the laptop selfie, so you’ll just have to trust me on the whole “two thumbs” claim.

Everyone at my workplace has Monday off for Labor Day. I was feeling wanderlusty (heh – that should be a real word) and had three days with not much planned that couldn’t be put off. I browsed airfare to see if I could get anywhere close to Red Rock country; I’ve been wanting to get back to Arches or one of the other big parks in the southwest. Moab, Utah would have been good, but flights were in the $700-$900 range, which was more than I wanted to spend for a spur of the moment get-away.

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OmegaCon Spring 2014

I’m sitting in a large hotel room in Siren, Wisconsin eating a luxoriously hoity-toighty picnic of rice-stuffed grape leaves, Molinari Finocchiona salame, and a variety of fancy cheeses – Gorgonzola, Huntsman, St. Angel and Brugge Rodenbach. This is all courtesy of the local wine and cheese shop that we stopped at on the way out of Minneapolis on Friday evening. The Hubby and I are sharing the hotel room with two friends – another couple who has made the two hour journey northeast to this teensy little town in the middle of not-much-of-anywhere. It’s the site of the biannual relax-a-con, OmegaCon.

A relax-a-con is a convention that doesn’t have much going on in the way of programming. It’s a gathering of friends who have come together to enjoy each other’s company, play board games, eat food and drink, sit around a bonfire, share a game at the minigolf course next door or do some arts and crafts.

So relaxing we are. Well – now that the packing is done:

Eight bags of luggage are stacked high in a hallway.

Bags for two people for a “relax”-a-con – food, boardgames, robe, slippers, swimsuits, spare clothes, laptops, books and magazines. I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Last night we arrived, registered and started right in. At OmegaCon you color your own con badge. There’s a huge table covered in all the marker colors.

A hand-colored badge. Text says "OmegaCon Spring 2014 #220 Brianne" A stylized Grumpy Cat outline has been colored in to have green eyes, gray-tipped tail and ears, and bloody claws.

We said some hellos and made our way to the ConSuite, where I availed myself of a unnecessarily strong glass of whiskey and coke. To conclude the drinking portion of the evening I was a guest on the podcast Xtreme Tasting League: ScotchI had won the guest spot at a silent auction, and even though I have not one scotch-knowledge credential, I decided to give it a go. Because scotch is yummy. Ever the considerate guest, I brought a bottle of scotch along as a gift to my hosts. They decided to use it as one of the tastings on the podcast, and to my chagrin it sucked beyond any other bottle of single malt scotch that I’ve ever had. Ever the considerate guest, I reminded my hosts that I had brought the bottle to them as a gift, and so I couldn’t possible dream of taking the rest of it home with me.

After that I was pretty much done with alcohol, and I headed downstairs to play a few board games: A round of 7 Wonders, and a hour-long card game called Zar that had me and four others shouting, laughing and eventually shutting down the game room. We all stumbled off to bed at about 4am.

This morning started with a reluctant, slightly hungover jog around the local neighborhoods. It was too beautiful and sunny to pass up the run. And I found out why the hotel is called the Lodge at Crooked Lake:

2014-04-26 10.27.121

I wasn’t the only one running this morning; three other badasses went out and ran 10 miles. They’re all prepping for a half-marathon. Geeky athletes FTW!

After that some breakfast, a little time in the hot tub and pool, and then back into the game room. Today I’ve played a party game called Anomia, Legendary – a deck builder set in the Marvel universe, a bidding game called For Sale, and King of Tokyo. My giant robot cyber bunny totally rocked it and beat out the other three monsters.

Game pieces for Kind of Tokyo are laid out - decks of cards, stand-up cardboard monsters, dice and small green cubes.

After gaming there was lunching, then napping, then more gaming. I’m set to do another round of Xtreme Tasting League: Scotch this evening around 10pm, and this time I’m planning on being 100% *glances at the glass of gin and tonic on the bedstand* 90% sober for the recording. I think I’ll actually try to taste the scotches that we’re tasting this time.

And then, if past OmegaCon experiences repeat, we’ll be up until the sun comes up playing more board games. Oh…and they keep the hot tub open 24 hours for us. So that’s going to happen.

It’s a good weekend.

From the Draft Bin: Moving Mom

It’s amazing to me how much writing I do that gets thrown out, abandoned, forgotten or taken out back with a shovel and buried. I have written volumes will never, ever see the light of day or be stored anywhere on a computer. These are the cathartic writings, the nonsensical, the mopey drunk poetry, the overly passionate or sappy, the erotic, the angry screaming devoid of logic, the hurt, pathetic whining. The ugliness, the ecstasy, the doubts, the fragile dreams, the hate – these that are or have been part of my human experience have lived here. These are mine – creations that are rarely revisited, if they are saved at all.

I have a relationship with writing – it is there with me through the good times, the horrible times, and the bored, listless times. When I don’t know where to turn, I have writing. When I am in agony I can write, and almost blindly the pain flows from my fingers onto the page. Afterwards I still hurt, but the pain is now a thing that can be examined from an outside perspective. I have wielded my writing skillfully and clumsily; it has been my salvation, and once my damnation. I love writing – and just now I refuse to not be romantic about it!

But there are also the more generic false starts – or the true starts left incomplete. There are articles started with the best of intentions that grow obsolete in the fast-paced environment of instant communication. There are events that I have attempted to describe, but upon editing I felt that I failed to capture them adequately, truly or objectively. There are writings that I have doubted would be well-received in a public venue. There are articles that I wanted to write, started to write, but in the end was unsure of how to bring everything together.

What I’m saying is…I have a lot of shit in my draft folder.

And while I was digging around in there, I found this one about the first leg of last year’s adventure in moving mom out to Maryland. I like the photos of the planes. I think it stayed in draft because I had lofty dreams about capturing the entire move. But that’s okay.

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Last Wednesday began the great cross-country adventure of moving Mom to Hagerstown, Maryland. My contribution to the entire process was pretty minimal. Mom had nearly everything packed by the time I arrived on Wednesday, and she had hired movers to pack everything in a truck, get it to Maryland, and bring everything into the new house. I showed up on Wednesday, did some light cleaning at the old house, helped wrangle animals and drive the 13 hours east, ran some errands in Hagerstown, hung out with Mom and my sister, gave my brother-in-law a hug and then flew back home on Sunday.

That’s the TL;DR version. On a more leisurely note:

I flew down to southern Illinois on Wednesday morning. The waking up at 4:30am for the 7:05am flight kinda sucked, but I enjoy plane travel and being in airports so the suckiness was offset by travel excitement. There are no direct flights to Carbondale, IL. When I have flown down in the past, I have landed in St. Louis, Missouri and then either driven a rental car from the airport or been picked up by Mom. However, the drive from St. Louis to Carbondale is about two hours, and because time and resources were precious this time I did something different.

Cape Air runs a short distance plane service between St. Louis and smaller airports in Illinois. For $50 I was able to book a flight on a “puddle jumper” from St. Louis to Marion, Illinois, which is only a 20-minute drive from Carbondale.  It was a neat process. When I exited my plane from Minneapolis, I had to find a courtesy phone and let an agent know that I had a Cape Air connection. A driver was sent over to where I had made the call, and then I and one other person were escorted down to a shuttle on the tarmac and driven over to the Cape Air gate. We had a chance to see parts of the airport that I usually don’t see.

Cape Air Cesna planesThe planes parked outside of the Cape Air gate.

The plane that I would board, headed for Marion, IllinoisLook at this little Cessna! It’s cute ‘cuz it’s tiny!

Flying in the Cessna was a blast. Only I and one other passenger were on my flight. When it came time to board we were led across the tarmac and climbed on board the small plane. The captain said to sit wherever we wanted in the eight- (or was it ten?) seat cabin, so I sat in the row directly behind the copilot’s chair and was able to see the entire instrument panel. This was the first time I have seen someone actually fly a plane. It was awesome to watch the pilot steer with the yoke and rudder pedals, move the throttle levers during takeoff, and to see the controls and indicators adjust with the movements of the plane when we were in the sky.

When we landed in Marion I was met by my Aunt and Uncle, of whom I see far too little. They drove me directly to Carbondale and delivered me to the chaos that was churning at Mom’s soon-to-be-sold house. They left almost immediately, and I promised that we would stop by their house to say goodbye before we left town. The atmosphere at the house was explosive. Four moving people were hauling the last of boxes and heavy furniture to the moving truck. Mom was rushing to pack the last of the recently-used necessities, and all of the rooms contained bits and pieces that needed to be collected – the detritus that is unearthed when one moves furniture that hasn’t been moved in years: paper clips, lost storage bin lids, an old photo, loose change, dust bunny-covered pens, and so on.

I began collecting and sweeping and mopping. The owners did their final walk-through, but last minute packing and cleaning kept us much later than intended. We had to leave from the house and drive directly to the next town over for the closing, which meant we ran out of time for goodbyes to my aunt and uncle. *sniff* We left from the title company and immediately began the road trip east.