Thursday, October 28, 2010

Playing Hooky

We ditched school for a day! It was one of those lovely late autumn days when the air is warm, the leaves are turning and the light from the hazy sky makes everything look even more beautiful. We told the boys the night before that they weren’t going to school the next day and that we were renting a car and driving up to Bear Mountain to go hiking. They were ecstatic.

We rented a red Mustang and zoomed up the Palisades to Bear Mountain State Park. It’s only about 50 miles north of the city, in fact, on clear days you can see the skyline from the mountain top. This day was a little hazy but you could just make out the outline of the skyscrapers if you looked closely and with imagination.

We followed a trail marked with white rectangles that lead down to the Hudson River. We didn’t make it all the way down because we realized that we’d have to walk all the way back up! But along the way we had great fun making believe we were trail-blazing mountain men.
We left the park and drove over the river Westchester County to Hardscrabble Road and then to Outhouse Orchards. It was pretty late in the season to pick apples but there were still a few on the trees.

Maxie took his teacher an apple the next morning. Riley proudly told his class that he had been on a “family day”.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Aussie Rules Football in Central Park

Columbus Day weekend in New York was glorious, perfect for an outdoor sixth birthday party for Max.  He turned 6 on October 9th.  Last July, while we were in Melbourne, his cousin Will had turned 6 and his parents gave him a Footy party in a park close to their home.   We copied the Footy idea but displaced it to Central Park where few even know what Aussie Rules Football is (save those who watched ESPN in the early days when they showed it 24 hours a day!)

We planned goal kicking, hand-passing practice (complete with a practice board hand drawn by Riley and colored in by Max) and various other games including What’s the Time Mr. Wolf and Pass the Parcel as entertainment and we had time for everything.  The only thing we didn’t get to was an actual Footy game. Miranda was happy about that for she feared there might be tears involved in a “game”.

The super of our building had helped by making goal posts out of PVC piping.  Riley and I planted them in the ground before the action began and we did have some time kicking goals before the Parks Department came around in a little golf cart and said, “No stakes in the ground, you must use cones”.   Luckily we had some cones so the festivities continued without incident.

Miranda’s Football cake was fantastic, as usual, and the piñata bashing was filled with a manly display of testosterone.  We had lots of help from our wonderful neighbors lugging the food and equipment to and from the park. 

The most wonderful part of the day was watching Max himself.  He so enjoyed the attention and seemed to really be excited that it was “his” day.   

Monday, August 16, 2010

The MCG -- Melbourne

Football is big in Melbourne.  Australian Rules football, called “Footy”, is nothing like American football which Aussies refer to as “gridiron”.  (What?...oh, right.)  Its roots are in Melbourne where 10 of the 18 teams are based.  Originally the Victorian Football League (VFL), it only recently (1990) expanded beyond Melbourne and became the Australian Football League (AFL). 

 The Melbourne teams take their names from local neighborhoods, St. Kilda Saints, Carlton Blues, North Melbourne Kangaroos etc.  Sydney has only one team, the Sydney Swans (which is somewhat confusing as the Swan River flows through Perth).  Allegiance to teams is strong and attendance at the games is high.

We “barrack” for Carlton.  Max and Riley’s uncle Andrew is a “member” and got us 4 seats at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for a Carlton vs Richmond match on our last Saturday in Australia.  We four, Max, Riley, Will (age 6) and I sat in great seats in the huge stadium which seats over 100,000.  Andrew was there too, but had to attend to clients in his firm’s box.

Like soccer, play never stops and the players, 18 per team, wear no protective helmets or pads.  From the first bounce of the ball to the final horn there is continuous action, in fact, if one player holds the ball for more than a few seconds the fans jeer at him to kick it away.  The playing field is a huge oval about 150 meters long.  The ball is ovoid and slightly larger than an American football.

The ball is moved around the oval by kicking or hand-passing (hitting the ball off your hand) to a teammate.  If you have the ball you can be tackled which often causes a pile up and the referee then determines (mysteriously) who get possession of the ball.  Points are scored by kicking the ball through the 4 posts at either end of the oval. 

A game is four 30-minute quarters long and the stadium clock doesn’t stop during the quarter. However after a goal is scored the officials stop their clock briefly until play resumes.  This creates an interesting and sometimes very exciting tension at the end of the game. In a high scoring game, after the last quarter expires, there can be several more minutes of play until the horn blows announcing the end of the game.  Only the officials know exactly how much time that is.

The match we saw was high scoring with Carlton winning 156 to 67.  After the game all of the players shook hands in a wonderful display of good-sportsmanship, especially since they had been beating up on each other for the last 2 hours!

The boys lasted the duration with proper administration of drinks, “chips” and trips to the gift store.  Andrew met us afterwards at our seats and walked us out to where he had parked his car.  There is no parking lot per se; cars are parked in a semi-coherent way on the uneven grassy grounds around the MCG.  It looks a little crazy but seems to work just fine.

The next day we made a trip to Rebel Sport on Chapel St. in Prahran to buy some Footy balls for Max and Riley.  Miranda said, “We’re not taking those home, are we?”  Since we’ve been back we’ve practiced our kicking and hand-passing several times in Central Park!

Thanks Uncle Andrew for giving us a great day and a new experience! 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sydney Harbor Sailing

Neither Miranda nor I had been to Sydney during the winter months of June, July or August. The ballet stints there are November/December and March/April, and once during the 2000 Olympics we were there for the month of September. It was in the low 60s for our visit which was fine though we didn’t get a chance to swim at Bondi Beach!

We met Dave Clarence, timpanist for the Opera Orchestra, at the Opera House stage door before their performance of La Somnambula that evening. He signed us in and we showed the boys the Green Room, our former dressing rooms (definitely the best view of any dressing room I’ve ever had!) and the stages of the various halls. It was also fun to see some of the orchestra members as they came in for work.

We didn’t stay for the Bellini but met Robert and Libby Albert, Sydney’s greatest art supporters, at a restaurant on the Quay and had a grand time catching up with them. In years past they would take us out Sundays sailing in Sydney Harbor on their lovely 38ft sloop, experiences I’ll never forget. They hadn’t changed a bit, Libby as lovely as ever and Robert still championing plain speak.

In the morning we hopped on the ferry for a trip to Manly. I was explaining to the boys how in 1788 Captain Cook had sailed into Botany Bay which is about 20 miles south of Sydney Harbor and staked claim to Australia. When he continued north he sailed right past this perfect harbor because it’s invisible from sea. The harbor opening between the two Heads is only about a mile wide and then the harbor turns immediately south, then back west finally opening out onto the glorious harbor. So from sea the harbor it looks like a small bay. About 10 years after Cook, the First Fleet did sail into the harbor and came ashore near Circular Quay.

The Manly ferry ride is about 30 minutes and you don’t even see the Heads until about the last 7 minutes of the trip. The wind was at our backs for the trip over and the boat was empty so we had a fun time sitting outside in the front row watching the harbor go by.

We spent about an hour walking along the Corso and sitting on the beach watching the surfers practice their art. After a windy trip back to Circular Quay we met Vicki and Jayne, two former ballerinas, for a quick coffee and headed back to the airport for our Tiger Air flight to Melbourne.

Flying Foxes -- Sydney Botanic Gardens

Sydney is known first and foremost for the magnificent Opera House, Jørn Utzon’s architectural masterpiece, which extends out into Sydney Harbor like a magical sailing ship. Miranda and I both worked there for years back in the 90s. The Australian Ballet has two seasons per year in Sydney for a total of about 4-5 months. Unfortunately, the Opera House is as unworkable inside as it is beautiful outside; but that’s old news.

Just south of Bennelong Point where the Opera House is located are the Botanic Gardens. What was once a string of dilapidated fisheries is now a spectacular garden filled with great and glorious indigenous flora and fauna. We quickly deviated from the main path up to a giant Morton Bay Fig tree. Having just come from Sequoia National Park seeing huge trees was not an uncommon sight for us. The external root structure of this tree extended outward from the trunk like giant concrete road dividers. The boys had a great time walking up the roots and climbing all over the tree.

Our main purpose for entering the gardens was to see the flying foxes. We had told the boys so often of these bats that they no longer believed us. We didn’t have much further to go to see these weird black and brown pod-like creatures hanging upside down in the tops of the trees. While we were gawking, several bats took flight showing us their huge wingspan. I used to see them flying around my Sydney apartment at dusk gobbling up insects. They are ugly and frightening close up but extremely graceful and beautiful in flight
Several times over the years the city has tried to rid the gardens of the bats. They did this by playing some ghastly loud “music” during the day waking the bats and causing them to circle overhead screeching. This served only to annoy the bats and those humans walking through the gardens at the time! Ultimately, they didn’t leave; after all, this area has been their home for centuries. That’s one point for the bats!

We walked on and sat on a bench for a “chokkie” break. We heard some cockatoos screeching and Riley and I walked over to see what they were up to. They were quite friendly and one even tried to land on Riley’s head!

The iron bars around the thought to be extinct Wollemi Pine had been removed and tree was growing well. We finished our afternoon in Sydney at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. We didn’t see too much art but had a great time in their gift shop.

From Riley:  After seeing the Sydney Opera House we went along the harbor through the Botanic Gardens.  Once we saw the flying foxes/bats me and dad saw some cockatoos.  We decided to walk over to them and we took some pictures. One of them walked sort of like a tank (toed-in) and he was very loud. We saw two cockatoos digging holes and then the cockatoo walking like a tank came waddling over to me, stared at me for a second, flapped its wings, and tried to land on my head!   But I ducked!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Healesville Sanctuary

Max, Riley and I took a trip up to the Healesville Sanctuary about 80 miles northeast of Melbourne.  The devastating bushfires in February 2009 had burned within a few miles of Healesville. Luckily the fire didn’t go down the hillside into the Sanctuary.

The day was overcast and a little too cool for our liking but it was a good opportunity for us to see the Australian wildlife as Miranda had flown up to the Gold Coast for a couple of days to visit her friend Michele. 
We had been to Healesville 3 years ago when Riley was 5 and Max was 2.  Riley said he remembered some of it, Max, nothing.  Despite the cool temperatures we had a fun time with the emus, kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, wombats, Tasmanian devils (they say “Tazzy” devils!), blue-tongued lizards, etc.  One of the koalas was awake and looking around.  Last visit they were all sound asleep.

They have a raptor show in a small outdoor arena which is fun.  Falconers with heavy gauntlets bring out eagles, owls, buzzards (a Black Breasted Buzzard named Beatrice to be exact) and hawks.  They fly right over the heads of the audience close enough that Max said, “His wing touched my cheek!”  None of my photos of the birds turned out as my shutter speed was set way too slow.  Every photo was a blur of feathers!
On the way out we stopped in the gift shop to see if there were stuffed animals that we DIDN’T have, and sure enough we came home with a kookaburra and platypus.

Miranda came in that evening and had insisted on taking the bus into the city from the airport, then catching a tram back home.  Several hours later she arrived a little frazzled.   Public transport is good in Melbourne but you need a little patience.  

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

We arrived in Melbourne (flew on a new A-380 -- nice!) on time (those flights don’t have much room for error!), cleared customs quickly and picked up our rental car.  I asked Miranda to keep an eye on me for a while as it had been 3 years since I’d driven in Australia.   I do have an Aussie Driver Licence (their spelling!) but every time I come back it still feels like I’m “driving on the wrong side of the road”!   The boys fell asleep in the car on the way in to Genna’s (Miranda’s sister) house.  We took our time because I wanted to stop at a store in the “CBD” to get some of my favorite coffee –“midnight oil” is its name.  Alas, the store was gone, NO COFFEE! 
We arrived home and the boys woke, they were now officially on the new time zone.  They are perfect travelers.  No one was home so we unpacked leisurely.  Ron called on his iPhone 4 from New York and we stood our  iPhone up on the desk and FaceTimed with him for 30 minutes as we were putting things away; excellent smooth picture, simultaneous audio, to someone 10,000 miles away – amazing technology, oh yeah, and free, too!

Melbourne is mild in the winter.  It usually goes just above 60 in the mid-afternoon and drops to 40 at night.   “Four seasons in every day” is one way weather is described in Melbourne, for instance, right now it’s hailing but I can see lots of blue sky!  Everything is still very green as there is daily rain (thought not much) and the Aussie trees keep their leaves but lose their bark!
We went to the store and stocked up on TimTams, Vegemite, Magnums, VitaWheats, and other Aussie fare that we can’t get in New York.  It’s always fun exploring a grocery store in a different country.
Miranda had a great reunion with her family when they all arrived home later that evening.

William Chambers, Riley & Max’s cousin, had his 6th birthday party the following day.  It was an Aussie-rules footie party with lots of running, kicking, passing and goal scoring.  We all were barracking for Carlton – Go Blues! The weather was beautiful that afternoon.  Miranda and Gen had made a footie cake that was delicious, even more so because we forgot to bring a knife with us to cut the cake so it had to be scooped out with a plastic spoon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Three horses, a donkey, a dog and two cats were the animals at Lew and Genevieve’s place in Solvang.  Riley and Max had fun playing with all of them.  Genevieve took both boys for a ride on a horse. They walked, trotted and cantered around the ring.  Neither had ever been on a horse before so it was a great experience for them.
Lew and Genevieve were the most gracious hosts.  We spent lots of time catching up, chatting about old times, eating and, of course, drinking wine.  We got to show them the amazing features of our new phones and tried to convince them to get one or two.
They took us into the little town of Solvang, a Danish community with quaint Danish architecture throughout the town.   Kierkegaard came to mind as the style was 19th Century.

 Riding a horse was the most fun thing I did there but I also liked swimming in the pool! There we had such a good time, we all wanted to stay a bit longer though we knew that Australia would be fun too. Finally time to leave we all said our good-byes and then headed off to LAX to fly our way to Australia!    (Riley)

Sunday afternoon (25 Jul) we drove south again this time to LAX.  Both boys slept in the car for over an hour – exactly what they needed to do to prepare for an 11:20pm departure.  We were excited about flying on the new Airbus 380, the double-decker plane however, we never got a good look at the plane because it was pitch-black when they towed it up to the gate and our view was obscured by the terminal.  Hopefully, on the way home, we’ll get a good view.

The boys are such experienced travelers that the 15 ½ hour flight to Melbourne was a breeze.  The new plane was quieter than a 747 but there still wasn’t enough legroom or bathrooms!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Yosemite -- Last Day

On our final day in Yosemite we were determined to go rafting down the Merced.  The rental office didn’t open until 10am so we thought we’d walk over to the Ahwanhee just to see it.  Again we got lost on the trails and never made it!  But we were almost first in line for rafting.  Then we looked at the signs; everyone must be over 50 pounds (hummm, Max is about 30 pounds), the trip takes about 2+ hours, orientation is 30 minutes and bus ride back another 30 minutes when the bus comes (check out was at 11am and we were planning on leaving at noon).  Time was NOT working in our favor.  After another family discussion we decided to return again to Yosemite to raft, but today we should pack up our things and move on – after more ice cream, of course.

Within in 200 yards of the Curry Village parking lot I was pulled over by a Park Ranger for doing 37 in a 25mph zone.   He was very official asking for my license and registration, did I know why he stopped me, did I know the speed limit, etc., but then asked where we were going, I suppose expecting us to say something local and I said, “Uh, Australia.”  That took him aback and he promptly returned my papers without questioning the immigration status of my passengers and wished us bon voyage.

On the way south we knew the exact exit to take in Fresno to go through the Starbucks drive thru for 2 double tall non-fat lattes.   Diving southwest across the San Joaquin Valley was very interesting.   There was field after field of different fruit trees, vegetables and vineyards.  The variety of colors and topography was captivating.  We finally hit the  101 and drove south to Solvang, just north of Santa Barbara, to stay with our friends Lew and Genevieve.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Yosemite -- Curry Village

Mornings at Curry Village in Yosemite start early.  It reminded me of a NYC summer morning when the windows are open; a few cars passing, garbage trucks packing trash, a car alarm going off for 10 seconds along with the conversation of a passing couples.  The 80 degree heat the previous afternoon had fallen to about 50 degrees.   In the middle of the night I had gotten up to cover the boys and found Riley uncovered and curled up in the fetal position, knees and face down.  He wasn’t shivering but he was obviously cold.  Two blankets per bed were provided and we used them all.

As planned we rented bicycles about 9am and started out toward Mirror Lake.  The trails in the Valley are not well marked so we made several unnecessary detours, but no matter, it was all beautiful.  Mirror Lake is slowly disappearing, turning back into just part of the river – its natural evolution as the sign said.  We had fun wading in the shallow freezing water walking from sandbar to sandbar to keep our feet from turning blue.  With our cold water squealing we woke a coyote who was sleeping about 100 yards away underneath some brush.  He stood up and gazed over in our direction, he was not impressed.

This day, like every other before it, was spectacular, clear air, bright blue sky, warm temperature and a light refreshing breeze.  We left Mirror Lake in search of the Ahwahnee Lodge (again).   We diverted to Yosemite Village and decided to have an early lunch as there was no line at the outdoor café.  After getting 2 stuffed bears for the boys (big brother bear and little brother bear, aptly named Sequoia and Yosemite) we headed off to lower Yosemite falls.

        I bet your wondering why it’s called lower Yosemite Falls instead of anything else, well, because directly above it is another falls (upper Yosemite Falls) which is about the same size as lower Yosemite falls. Later I was not very happy dad will tell you why……..I YIE YIE! (Riley)

Again the boys had a ball climbing over the huge boulders leading up to the base of the falls.  Max took his place as trailblazer and Riley and I followed closely behind.  Before biking back we stopped at the end of another trail which gave us a spectacular view of both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.   Then it was on to rafting.

When we finally got to the raft rental desk the line was around the block and in the hot sun.  We joined the end of the line with some trepidation and after about 10 minutes of hardly moving forward we decided to come back in the morning and try again.  Riley was particularly upset as he had his heart set on rafting.  Ice cream from the Curry Village store didn’t abate his disappointment much (though Max was quite happy with the whole thing).  We headed back to our tent for a rest and after an hour spent reading (and sleeping) we rode over to the trail head for Vernal Falls and Half Dome.  Someday (before too long) I would like to return to Yosemite to hike the Half Dome trail.  It looks extremely difficult (10-12 hours with a mile of elevation) but the pay off at the top must be incredible.  Today we branched off to Vernal Falls which was plenty strenuous for us.  It was about 1.5 miles long and rising in altitude about 1,500 feet. 

Our trusty trailblazer Max led the way up with adventurous determination.  The views along the way were breathtaking.  There are several side canyons extending up and back about a mile, each with their own water flow cascading down to the central canyon river, the Merced.  The trail eventually became steps that the National Park Service (bless them) had cut into the granite many years ago. 

Near the top we heard and felt the thunderous power of the falling water.  In contrast, we saw a long delicate rainbow extending across the falls and were bathed in a fine cooling mist.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


It looked like a short drive into the Yosemite Valley from Fresno.  California 41 was a freeway when we set out but by the time we got up into the mountains it became a gravel road as there was 25 miles of road construction.  In the back of my mind I knew there would be a curve that ended with a breathtaking view and so it was.  We were still about 2,500 feet above the valley floor and driving eastward when the vista opened up before us.  I swerved off the highway onto a pull out and parked.  We jumped out and joined the several hundred people who were gawking at the same thing.

The snows had continued well into June so all of the many waterfalls were still very full and powerful.  Bridalveil Falls was directly in view and it didn’t take us too long to continue down the mountain to the canyon floor and reach the falls.  The boys had a great time climbing over the boulders to get a better view.  Miranda wasn’t too happy about Max jumping from boulder to boulder but he must have been a mountain goat in a past life for we instantly designated him the trailblazer for all our hikes.

Back in the car we continued to Curry Village where we were staying for the next two nights.  It was impossible to get reservations (last February!) for the various lodges – everything was sold out, so we settled on Curry Village, a group of about 250 closely spaced wood-framed canvas tents with 1 double and 2 single beds, 1 overhead lamp, and an external food storage locker to keep the bears out.  Bathroom facilities were shared and about 100 feet away.

Luck was with us as our tent was secluded and rather private.  This didn’t mean that it was quiet however.   Tents don’t seem to keep out much noise at all.  We settled in and went out for a walk.  As we were leaving we met our only neighbors and the husband was just returning from a hike to the top of Half Dome.  It’s a 12 hour hike with an elevation of about 5,000 feet, the last 2,000 of which is pulling yourself up the rock with a cable attached to stakes drilled into the granite.  Miranda and I had done something like that at Ayers Rock 10 years ago but it was not nearly as strenuous. 

We walked across a lovely wildflower filled meadow heading toward the Ahwanee Lodge but we never made it as Miranda’s constant thought of bears forced us back to the dining hall for dinner.  The camp was filled with all sorts of peculiar noises that evening, none of which turned out to be foraging animals, rather Chinese grandparents arguing or teenagers teasing, nevertheless, it was fun to imagine a large family of hungry bears loping around our tent in search of comestible lucre.  

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sequoia NP and Fresno

Several posts about Sequoia National Park and the lovely pool in Fresno are lost.  Hopefully I'll find them someday!