Friday, July 31, 2009

Best things about our flat in Randwick

Top 5 Friday is back this week!

5) Close to downtown Randwick

4) One block to a half-hour bus ride downtown

3) The hot water is reeeally hot.

2) The roof doesn't leak.

1) The view.

NOTE: Schrenk Rap will be on holiday until Monday, at the earliest.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Eating and drinking in Sydney

One of the vendors at last Saturday's farmers market, after asking where I was from, said he considered NSW a "European California." The Europe is in the ubiquitous espresso spots; I couldn't begin to count the number of coffee shops I've seen so far, but I've only spotted two Starbucks. (Gloria Jeans is the only widespread coffee chain I've noticed.)

The California (at least Northern California, which is of course the most important part) is in the climate and the local produce, including my favorite vegetable, pumpkin. I don't know if pumpkin is widely served year-round, but I've had the pleasure of consuming a lot of it during our taste of Sydney winter so far; just today I had pumpkin soup while I was out and about in the CBD at lunch (see pic above) and a pumpkin-spinach salad with the boys' schnitzel take-away plate at dinner.

This weekend we're going to the Blue Mountains, which Linda compares to the coastal range in our backyard at home (and Adam scoffs at as being mere hills, since he's from Oregon and" it's only a mountain if it has snow on it or blows its top occasionally").

Unrelated to California is the price of beer and wine. The vino is cheaper, by and large, then in the states, but beer appears to be outrageously expensive. Tonight Nathan bought a six-pack of Stella Artois for $18 AUD! And he thinks I'm bad. At that price I'll drink wine for the rest of the trip.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cloth pilgrimage

I walked half way across town today to get to cloth, a fabric store in Surry Hills. I had read about the place in the Qantas in-flight magazine, and decided I had to go. It was roughly a 5k walk, but, happily, the vast majority of it was in Centennial Park. The boys chased birds, picked up big sticks and played at a play structure in the center of the park on the way to the shop. The last bit of the walk was through a pretty blah neighborhood (along Cleveland Street, fittingly).

They had a good selection of very cool home dec fabrics, and some stuff made out of them -- mostly pillow cases.

They had a big table of remnants, most of which were $5 AUD, for roughly 18x18" pieces. So I bought a bunch of them and plan to make some pillowcases in the patchwork-style of the ones on display.

My favorite is the one on the far left in this picture. I bought a half meter of it (that's pretty close to a half yard). I realized after I got home and was taking all these pics that it's probably my favorite because it's very evocative of mint-chocolate-chip ice cream (the photo doesn't do justice to the lovely shade of green).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The next few weeks

Some things I want to try before we go (aside from the usual touristy stuff):

A yoga studio that's a five minute walk from our flat.

Two fabric stores that are a 10-minute drive away.

Shop for at least one little souvenir at this uber-fabulous shop at The Spot in Randwick.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sydney winter produce

Yesterday (Saturday) we went to a fantastic farmers market in an old rail yard.

The neighborhood around it wasn't as nice as Randwick or Balmain, but we had wonderful crepes for breakfast and, of course, there were several coffee stands.

We bought squash, Pink Lady apples, "spinach" (see below), eggs, flowers, and some other stuff that isn't so good for us.

Lots of people brought their doggies!

We also bought something they called spinach, but I'm pretty sure is what we in U.S. call chard.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I heart Rozelle

Yeesterday was a chill day, with Nathan working and me driving (more on that later) to Linda's to hang out. Linda lives in Balmain, a lovely neighborhood on the other side of the CBD from our place in Randwick. From there we walked to Darling Street in Rozelle. Pics are coming, but the neighborhoods are very evocative of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Some of the architecture looks very Southern, and some homes remind Nathan of something you might see in Colonial Williamsburg.

Darling Street is filled with cute shops and cafes. Our first stop was the Coffee Bean Cafe, Linda's favorite coffee shop. It was very kid-friendly, and there was even a kid in there who was less-well-behaved than mine*, which is always good. He was about 3 and his mom had a five-week-old. At one point the kid ran out the door and down the block, with Arthur following. Arthur didn't go nearly as far, and went back inside to "Aunt Linda" when I told him to, but Saul took off down the street and I had to run at top speed to get him. His mom didn't seen too concerned about his escapist tendancies, but I figured she could use the help and she seemed grateful.

After lunch (tuna wraps for moms, pizza and fries for boys) we went to the patisserie Strudel Baron: teeny, awesome cupcakes (actually the frosting and the oreo bit in the frosting was awesome, the cake was enh), brownie, and rum balls.

Finally, we went to a fabulous baby gear store called infancy. They were having a sale: half off winter clothes, including a rain jacket for Arthur, which I had unsuccessfully looked for at the Glebe mall last night. Pics of that to come, too...

Today we're off to the farmers market and maybe a museum.

*The boys are usually quiet well-behaved for their age, but they're still adjusting to this new environment and their behavior has been much worse than usual since we got here. Hopefully the adjustment period will end soon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Opera House Tour

Yesterday we toured the famous Sydney Opera House. It is of course gorgeous and amazing from the outside, but touring the inside and learning its story makes it even more stunning.

Our tour guide was so-so...

The movies we watched about the design competition, the engineering feat of building the place, and the massive budget and schedule overruns were very interesting. (The design by a Danish architect was rejected, then pulled from the trash at the last minute; original cost and time estimate was $7 mil and 3 years, and ended up being $100 million and 16 years.)

Seeing the inside and understanding the construction, with each "sail" being made of a series of huge concrete "ribs" was really amazing.

Just in from the harbor on the Opera House peninsula is the Royal Botanic Garden; the view from the Opera House of the city skyscrapers framed by the trees of the huge garden is inspiring.

Good news everyone!

I finally figured out how to order coffee, which is important: "Tall black with soy milk, please." I don't know what this means, but it seems pretty similar to the coffee I know, so I'm good on that angle.

The other day at a restaurant I ordered a "flat white," which was kinda blah, then yesterday I got the tall black and it was good. (It was so warm I almost got an iced coffee, but it was twice as expensive, for some reason.)

This morning the teenage son of some friends of Adam and Linda is coming over to watch the boys so Nathan and I can take the tour of the inside of the opera house!

Our new home

There are a lot of difference between living in a 3-bedroom house with a two-car garage and living in a third-floor walk-up. We will have quads and glutes of steel by the end of our month here. The views are great, and the windows face north and west, which helps keep things warm. But I still haven't figured out how people get by without a dishwasher. (At least I don't have to wash dishes in the bathtub.)

Our flat's location is definitely nice. It's an almost-10 minute walk to lots of shops; there's a mall just about 10 minutes and if we keep going another five minutes after that there are even more shops and restaurants. In that regard, our house swappers will surely appreciate our house's location, since there's a grocery store, drug store, hardware store, ice cream, coffee, pizza and more less than five minutes walk away. But I'm sure they're astounded by the size of our fridge.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Exploring beautiful Sydney!

What a day! It must be in the 70s (Fahrenheit; still haven't figured out Centigrade conversions yet) today, and sunny! Sydney is gorgeous. And really easy to get around in via bus! At around 8:45 we got on a bus less than two blocks from our flat in Randwick and we were downtown at the Circular Quay (pronounced "key") in about 35 minutes. The morning bus was crowded and quiet. No one seemed to be reading anything to pass the time, just spacing out or nodding off.

At Circular Quay we walked past the ferry terminal and some very pricey real estate on our way to our first glimpse of the famous Opera House. It was a pretty dramatic sight, with its "sails" glistening in the morning sun. We walked all the way around the building and started heading up into the Royal Botanic Garden, which featured some impressive views of the Opera House (with much better lighting for morning photography). The Garden is big, beautiful and free; the boys loved walking around in the morning sun, collecting sticks and running across expanses of grass.

We examined a few of the gardens on our way to the central section of the Botanic Garden, where we surprised to find thousands of large bats handing from the trees! We didn't get around to finding a worker or volunteer to ask what kind they were and why they lived there, but we'll definitely be back.

At some point in our sightseeing Arthur got fixated on going up in the Sydney Tower, which looks kind of like the TV Tower in Berlin and is the height of the Eiffel Tower (does that make Sydney the Berlin of the Southern Hemisphere, or the Paris? I've never been to Paris, so I can't say...). From the Botanic Garden it was easy to make our way to the Tower and they gladly took our $25 AUD (per adult) to go up to the top of the tower. Noah slept in the stroller throughout the experience, but Arthur totally dug it.

After the tower experience we had to walk a couple blocks to buy bus passes, then back the other direction to catch the bus home. Nathan and I both noted how crowded the sidewalks were, even in the middle of the afternoon.

Hangin' with Haberlachs

The park across the street from Linda and Adam's house.

Arthur's getting good at catching!

This girl gets cuter every time we see her!

"You're going the wrooong waaayyy!!"

This is my first experience with the "keep left" driving system (I think some parts of Europe do it that way, but we did zero driving when we were there). I haven't actually done any driving since we got here; it's all been Nathan. But it's still terrifying to sit on the left side of the car and constantly be going the wrong way! Nathan has been doing great, and I certainly trust his driving skills, but I'm constantly fighting the urge to shriek and cover my eyes. The only annoyance now for him is that the turn signal and wiper stalks are also reversed, so he's constantly turning on his wipers when he's trying to signal!

At some point I realize I'm going to have to drive that thing. But today we're taking the bus up to Circular Quay (pronounced "key") to walk around central Sydney and see, among other things, the Opera House!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Getting there is half the fun?

Our travel to Sydney went astonishing well. We were expecting lots of bad behavior and less sleeping then necessary, but it all worked out pretty well.

Qantas pre-boards families with young children, so that was a happy surprise. But that was nothing compared to when we got to our seats, which had an excessive amount of leg room, and even footrests -- footrests!!!! Turns out we were in the last row of "premium economy" -- there was a small divider between our seats and the row behind, and I looked back and noticed that the seats there were much less plush. I quickly sent Linda an email on my phone, then sent her a pic. She was jealous that we had somehow been upgraded to this special class!

We all managed a reasonable amount of sleep -- some with, some without sleep aids -- and the 14-hour flight went relatively quickly -- that was when trouble started. Another big plane full of people arrived from Hong Kong about the same time, so the queue for customs was huge. I don't even remember how long it took us to get through. Then we got our checked bags, which wasn't too bad. But then we had to wait in another insane queue for "quarantine," which is where they check to make sure you aren't bringing anything into the country that will infest the local flora or fauna. Finally we got outside, into the fresh morning air, where we got to wait in yet another bloody queue (check out all my local lingo!) for a taxi. Next time I see another line like that I'm going to have to be seriously medicated. "Don't lose it now," Nathan implored me. I managed to make it until we all piled ourselves and our stuff into a "maxi taxi" and headed over to Randwick. Whew!

Tuesday morning in Sydney

At least I'm pretty sure it's Tuesday, which would mean Monday afternoon in California. It was not a great night for jet-lagged toddlers here. They woke up periodically from 1:30 on, and Nathan finally got up with them for good at 5. I had a brutal headache, possibly from jet lag, possibly from lack of coffee. (There is no coffee machine in this apartment; I found this out a couple weeks ago, so Linda bought me a coffee maker, but she was sick with food poisoning yesterday so we haven't seen her yet.) Hopefully it won't be more than another day or two before they're adjusted. Nathan and I haven't been feeling too bad jet-lag-wise, just a little tired.

First unexpected cultural difference: eggs are unrefrigerated in the store.

Second one: most of the restaurants nearby seem to be BYOB.

Speaking of coffee, at some point I need to figure out how to order it; Adam says they don't have American coffee everywhere, just espresso and cappuccino, because of Turkish and Greek influences.

View of city lights from our flat

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Here we are!

The Southern Hemisphere! The flight went astoundingly well, and we're in our home for the next month: the flat of Steve and Trudy, who are living in our house! (When we were on the plane at some point it hit me that there were probably some strange people walking into our house right then, just movin' on in, like we have now at their home. It was the first time the whole plan seemed weird and crazy to me!

We're all kind of punchy from jet lag, and the boys are napping finally, so that's what I'm going to do...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Just a little patience

No, this is not another Guns N' Roses post, sorry... It's me that needs a little patience, mostly with my youngest son. He is intensely cute, very affectionate and usually pretty well-behaved for a two-year-old. But he is a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of guy, whereas I am interested in getting moving, going forward, getting the next thing done.

Yesterday we went over to the coast to go berry-picking, which involved some walking through fields. I was interested in moving on from the ollallieberries to the strawberries (yum!) whereas he was interested in checking out the puddle around the leaky irrigation system feature. Unlike his older brother, he does not respond to calls of "C'mon! We're all going this way!" and has no fear that he might get left behind. So there he stands, while the older brother and I are hundreds of feet away. I sigh impatiently and call again, then call to my friend to see if she can coax him along. For the millionth time, I think to myself "I can't wait until they're old enough to [insert one of any number of tasks -- keep up, hike with us, get their own beverages -- here]."

Maybe it was the fresh, cool air or the slower, coast-side, agricultural feel, but it hit me that I could be saying that forever, or at least until we're old enough that I'm trying to keep up with them, and instead maybe I should just look at things from a two-year-old's perspective and try to figure out what really is so interesting about that puddle.

It won't be easy for a caffeinated, often half-crazed, to-do-list-obsessed multi-tasker like me, but maybe the start of a month-long vacation is the perfect time for me to make such a resolution and try to stick to it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Those lousy community organizers

Oh, how I love this. During the campaign Palin was all about how Obama didn't really have any responsibility as a "community organizer," and now she's going on and on about how she doesn't need some silly title like "governor" to work for Alaska. If Republicans really think she is their great hope, they may as well go home.

Nowhere is the power of resentment to trump reason more flagrantly illustrated than in the incessant complaint by Palin and her troops that she is victimized by a double standard in the “mainstream media.” In truth, the commentators at ABC, NBC and CNN — often the same ones who judged Michelle Obama a drag on her husband — all tried to outdo each other in praise for Palin when she emerged at the Republican convention 10 months ago.


The Palinists’ bogus beefs about double standards reached farcical proportions at Fox News on the sleepy pre-Fourth Friday afternoon when word of her abdication hit the East. The fill-in anchor demanded that his token Democratic stooge name another female politician who had suffered such “disgraceful attacks” as Palin. When the obvious answer arrived — Hillary Clinton — the Fox host angrily protested that Clinton had never been attacked in “a sexual way” or “about her children.”

Americans have short memories, but it’s hardly ancient history that conservative magazines portrayed Hillary Clinton as both a dominatrix cracking a whip and a broomstick-riding witch. Or that Rush Limbaugh held up a picture of Chelsea Clinton on television to identify the “White House dog.” Or that Palin’s running mate, John McCain, told a sexual joke linking Hillary and Chelsea and Janet Reno. Yet the same conservative commentariat that vilified both Clintons 24/7 now whines that Palin is receiving “the kind of mauling” that the media “always reserve for conservative Republicans.” So said The Wall Street Journal editorial page last week. You’d never guess that The Journal had published six innuendo-laden books on real and imagined Clinton scandals, or that the Clintons had been a leading target of both Letterman and Leno monologues, not to mention many liberal editorial pages (including that of The Times), for much of a decade.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Almost time to go...

One week from now we'll be in Australia! We'll be fighting jet lag and recovering from a 14-hour flight with two toddlers, but we'll be in Australia! The guest room is pretty much complete. There are some relatively minor clean-up issues in the rest of the house. Last week I packed two suitcases with clothes for me and the boys. This week I need to get the van washed, renew prescriptions, clear out the fridge, obtain some Australia cash, and store away (in the outside office) stuff I don't want our home exchangers messing with (sewing machine, Roomba). And I need to pack carry-on bags.

I'm looking forward to hearing lots of cool Australian accents (are there any good movies with Australian accents in them, so I can start training my ears?); apparently the Australians are very British, and so they say stuff like "lift" and "que," which I get a kick out of. I hope this also includes "trousers" instead of "slacks," because I've always hated the word "slacks" when referring to pants (I think it brings to mind something cheap, plaid and uncomfortable and not suited to Midwestern humidity and heat). And maybe we'll even get to hear Athena's budding Australian-speak!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Pop Report

Almost a year ago I decided to try to get off the diet pop. Finally, it seems I'm close. The last few weeks I've only been drinking it about twice a week, and it seems that about half the time I drink it I immediately get a headache. So that's a good thing. And I figure pop won't be as pervasive in Australia as it is here, so that will help. I here they really know how to do coffee there, so I expect I'll be drinking a lot of that.

In other diet news, I'm trying out a dairy-free diet to see if it makes me feel any better, tummy-area-wise. Hopefully they have soy milk at the coffee joints in Sydney, or else I better get used to my coffee black.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Manic Monday!

Most common time for time-outs? Definitely the dinner-cooking period.

The Oakland Zoo seems a lot smaller, and it's hills flatter, when pushing only one kid (Arthur's a big boy!) and pushing him in the Chariot.

re: Washington Post: Why aren't newspapers seriously considering going to a non-profit format, like NPR?

Thursday, July 02, 2009


This weekend our house will be transformed: I started today with a sorting and purging of the toys -- out goes all the baby stuff. (This took longer than I expected, probably because it's the first a real toy purge has ever performed in das Schrenkhaus.)

Tomorrow we continue moving most of the office furniture out of the soon-to-be guest bedroom, which will accommodate one of the two couples staying in our house during the swap. Sewing and crafting supplies go to the new office-nook in the sun room, then the treadmill and its TV go to the guest room.

We're starting to get close to our deadline: our flight to Sydney leaves in two weeks and two days! It is truly amazing how much stuff we have: not just the usual stuff, like clothes, books and toys, but there seems to be an endless stream of items that don't fit neatly into any category, like the short cord in a plastic clamshell that I found when I cleaned out my car to get it bathed earlier this week. I think it's from the car charger I bought for my phone, which provided cords for a couple different kinds of phones. Or all these frames... why do I have so many freaking frames?!? I should have a frame sanding party, so people will come to my garage and help me sand the frames and then paint them to match the colors of my walls, which I read in all the magazines is the thing to do.