Sydney, Part: The Last

And now, for the pretty. Here are some of my favorite shots from Australia, where we each left a little piece of our hearts. Some day we’ll have to return to reclaim them.

Requisite shot of the Sydney Opera House and a fun fact: the guy who designed it had a falling out with the people who built it and never visited it once finished.

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A relatable picture:

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Watson’s Bay lighthouse:

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View from the lighthouse:

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The beach that was just one down from the nude beach:

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One of the million shots I took of the city:

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Okay two of the million shots:

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Tall ship (and not at all a thinly veiled attempt to sneak in a shot of the city):

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The two children who were not having a temper tantrum at the Botanic Gardens:

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Glamour shots of three boys and one koala:

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Me and mah boys:

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Mandatory journaling (There are certain drawbacks to having a former English teacher for a mom. And “You’ll thank me later” means nothing to them.):

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At the zoo:

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The finally, the boys’ favorite sight to see in Sydney:

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It’s hard to be home when that’s where we were. I’d easily jump on another 16 hour flight today if someone told me I could go back. As it is, I’m walking around a little teary-eyed and sometimes a lot teary-eyed, back home where I have so many expectations for myself. It’s back to writing; back to the impossible; back to falling short of my goals on a daily or hourly basis. I wish I could always be Vacation Me.

WHAT’S COOKING 2NITE:
Pancakes
Scrambled eggs
Bacon

Directionally Challenged

Still on the Australia thing…

So I went into the week knowing that it was going to be directionally challenging for me at the beginning but thinking that by the end of it, I’d be better at finding my way around. I mean, you can only go up when you start off at the bottom. At least, I think it was the bottom. Like I said, I’m not good with directions.

But as it turns out, I did not get any better. I’d enter a destination on my phone, study the little blue arrow, point myself in the right direction, and promptly head in the wrong direction. Vincenzo took to following alongside me with a map on his own phone, politely telling me each time I turned that it should have been the other way and on the next street. Leo tried to take my phone any time I opened up Google maps. I began asking Rocco how to get places, even though he had no map at all.

Here’s my theory on why I get lost so much. I think I’m actually living in a reality that looks almost exactly like Earth, only everything is off by one street. It’s close enough that I think I’m on everyone else’s planet, but I’m really not. It would also explain the whole Train Station Debacle of last Monday.  (Just to clear myself of that one, let me quote one some reviews of Town Hall station: “Very difficult station to navigate for non-locals.” “very mazelike,: and “Terrifying when crowded. Am surprised there aren’t fatalities here.”)

It’s not like I didn’t learn anything about finding my way around over the week, though, and I will share my lessons and advice here for those who also may be living in that alternate reality with me.

1. Book a room in the tallest hotel in town. Try to keep that hotel in sight wherever you go.
2. Make sure roads are not also freeways when you cross them.
3. Sometimes when you think you are going forward, you are actually going backward (which is good to know for life in general).
4. Even so, do not question the blue arrow. DO NOT QUESTION IT.
5. Bring a change of clothes, or at least a change of underwear.
6. Bring snacks. When you get lost a lot, you are going to need snacks.
7. And water.
8. Going straight is one of the hardest things you can be asked to do.
9. Crying is not necessary but is sometimes helpful.
10. If it involves a train, it’s best just to stay home.

Our vacation has come to an end, and I didn’t get one ounce better at finding my way.

But I did get much better at being lost.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Beef vegetable soup
Salami and cheese plate
Strawberries
Sugar cookies

Sydney Funnies

Leo kept referring to our hotel as our “cabin.” Here’s a picture of our “cabin.”

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I pointed out to the boys that if you switch the first “a” and “o” of this bank, you get RobABank.

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This would have been funny except that Rocco pointed it out to us five times a day every day after that.

Leo takes in the view:

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Leo has also taken up hair twirling again and walks around everywhere with one hand on his head. We joke that he can’t walk very far because his arm gets tired.

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We spent a day at Manly Beach, so named because when Captain Cook landed there, he thought the inhabitants looked very manly. I happened to stumble upon one of the original habitants while there.

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(It’s the guy kneeling down behind Kevin.)

Rocco and Vincenzo working together:

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Rocco and Leo working against each other:

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Rocco, reading the menu: Why are there so many kinds of sprite?

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Leo enjoys some Australian finger food:

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Leo: “Why would anyone name a store ‘Ugg?’”

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(There are as many Ugg stores in Australia as there are Starbucks stores in the U.S.)

We got home last night and after a good, long nap I went to the store to buy about every vegetable they had there. No joke—Leo asked, “What’s a vegetable?” As hard as it was to leave Sydney, maybe it’s a good thing we’re home.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Stir fry and rice (I never made it last night because we all felt rather bloated and hungover from our 21-hour journey fueled only by plane food)

Solo Flight in Sydney

Monday was the first day Kevin went to work and I went out in the city with just the boys, which caused great worry among the ranks. Imagine the most directionally-challenged person you know. Now put a bag on their head, put them halfway across the globe, stick a map in their hand, and assign them three children. That’s what Monday was going to be.

Knowing this about myself, I  prepared.  I studied maps, planned routes and back-up routes, had Kevin quiz me on what I’d do if something went wrong at each point, made pie graphs and Venn diagrams of the day’s plans. I prepared for the worst.

Things only ended up slightly worse than that.

The plan: to make it to the Sydney Opera house for the 9:00 tour then stroll through the Botanic Garden, find a charming place for lunch, take the train home, and be poolside by 2.

We left the room with 15 minutes built into the schedule, just in case. But once we got to the ground floor, we had to go back up to the room to get the bag we left up there, leaving us with just 12 minutes to spare. That’s okay. I can work with that.

We started toward the pier. I double checked timing on my phone and I realized the ferry we planned to take was going to get us to the Sydney Opera House 8 minutes late, which I somehow hadn’t realized before. My back-up plan training clicked in. No problem! We’ll take the trains!

The concierge pointed us to some stairs across the way and told us we just go straight until we get to the Town Hall Station.

Here’s how that played out.

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Our extra 12 minutes had whittled down to an extra 2 minutes by the time we reached the station, and huge drops of sweat started running down my neck. Unfortunately, none of my plans involved packing a change of clothes.

At the station we had to find platform 6, which may as well have been platform 9-3/4 because it DID NOT EXIST and everyone was on their Monday morning commutes and appeared to be in a different dimension than us. I tried asking a couple people for help but either they didn’t speak English or I wasn’t speaking English anymore, and I got no answers. I pulled the boys this way and that, forging through rivers of people and telling the kids NOT TO TALK TO ME RIGHT NOW!!!

But if you put enough monkeys in a room they’ll write Shakespeare, and so it was that we somehow found The Platform that Does Not Exist.

Unfortunately, on Platform 6 there were also Signs that Did Not Exist. Trains everywhere, but not a single freaking sign. No signs! No numbers! I blacked out for a minute and when I came to, I knew which train was ours. I don’t know how I knew. Maybe someone whispered it to me. Maybe it was somewhere in my ancestral DNA. But somehow, I figured out which train and marched the boys toward it. Here’s what happened inside my head as we got closer to its doors.

Wait—is this our train? Maybe. It might be. It probably is. Right? Yes, it definitely is..Or is it that other one?  “PLEASE STAND BACK, DOORS ARE CLOSING.”  Oh crap! Already? It’s okay. I’m sure this is our train. Yes. I’m sure of it.  But I’m never right about these things! So maybe we should choose the other one?! Oh Toto, what should we do?!  “PLEASE STAND BACK, DOORS ARE CLOSING!”

At which point I grabbed all three boys’ hands in one of mine and yanked them on the train, leaving most of my hair and one of Leo’s arms on platform 6.

Now, are you ready for the surprise ending?

It was the right train!

I went through the same mental gymnastics when we got to the station I thought we should, maybe shouldn’t, definitely shouldn’t, probably should get off at and lo! The opera house rose before us like a vision!

It was a 9 minute walk and we had 8 minutes to get there but we were full of hope and confidence after successfully getting on the right train and off at the right station. We raced up those stairs like we were in the finale of a romcom movie, trying to catch the plane and profess our love to the girl who most certainly will forget us if we miss that plane. We ran up those stairs, ready to grasp our happy ending and shout HURRAH to the world below!

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Alas, there was no happy ending to be had. The doors were locked. The plane took off without us. And with no kindness or understanding, the clock chimed 9:01.

(It’s true, clocks don’t normally chime 9:01, but I swear, somewhere nearby a clock very loudly chimed 9:01.)

So we casually walked down the stairs, found the right entrance, and bought tickets to the 9:30 tour. I know, a total fizzle-out ending for such a heart-stopping saga, and one might wonder why I even panicked in the first place if there are tours every half hour throughout the day, but there you have it. We can’t always explain these things.

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The rest of the day went pretty well, except that the boys ate the day’s worth of snacks in our first 15 minutes and then were immediately hungry for lunch. At 9:15. So the Botanic Garden turned into The Whiny Walk of Wrong Turns until we found the first place we came to, which of course was McDonald’s. (I personally think all the M’s should be W’s down here, but it’s not up to me.) Not exactly a“charming place for lunch” but it was unusually small for the amount of people in it, so there was that.

We made it back to the hotel’s pool by 3:00, which isn’t bad, considering. Kevin checked in to make sure we all survived the day.

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Yep!  I texted. I still have both the kids!

Tomorrow, I decided, we are only going to visit places from which we can still see our hotel.


G’Day, Mates!

Hello from the future! Relatively speaking to my five readers, that is. We’re in Sydney, which is 18 hours ahead of the Seattle area. What’s different about the future, you ask? Not much, except that everyone rides hover boards and wears tin foil suits. Also, in the future everyone wishes you happy birthday a day late and acts like they’re on time.

But back to Sydney.

First and foremost, there are drop bears absolutely everywhere!

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And by “everywhere,” I mean the Taronga Zoo.

And also everywhere Leo goes.

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(He started wearing the eye mask around with no explanation.)

Sydney has excited children…*

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…and tired parents.

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There are unrefrigerated eggs for sale!

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And lots of birds! This one seems to be some kind of turkey-chicken combo and would have made Kevin’s turducken birthday a lot easier.

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This one parked itself below babies-in-highchairs and waited for cracker droppings while the babies-in-highchairs screamed in terror and dropped a lot of crackers.

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This next one seems to be a flightless bird. Rare but always spectacular in the wild.

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It followed us home on the ferry, so we kept it.

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(Sorry for the weird editing—I was trying out an I-phone editing app and things quickly got out of hand.)

I feel bad for the lack of Rocco pictures, but he’s been too busy figuring out how the support beams work on the Sydney Opera House or trying out all the seats on the ferry to see which one is best or doing the opposite of what we’re saying to pose for pictures. So even though he doesn’t thematically fit into this post, I’ll try to make it work.

There are also underrepresented middle children!

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That’s about all I have the energy to blog today.  While me and the boys are here for the fun of it, Kevin’s here for work and today was his first day on the job.  I took the boys for a solo trip in the city, so tempers, fuses, energy, patience, and brain power are all dangerously low.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Wood-fired pizzas at an open air restaurant
(The food in Sydney is so amazing, I’d take an 18-hour flight just to have lunch here!)

*Leo is not exclaiming gleefully at the drop bears in the above picture; he’s in the middle of a ten-minute saga about the last time he played Plants vs. Zombies.

Great Wolf Lodge

I don’t know if any of you have been to Great Wolf Lodge, but if you’re wondering what it’s like, imagine Las Vegas in all its blinking, garish glory, only instead of empty liquor cups everywhere there are empty froyo cups everywhere.

It also is probably the only place in the world where you check out at ham o’clock.

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Remember how Pinnochio grows a set of ears when he plays hooky to go to Toyland? Guess what they give the kids the minute you check in at GWL.

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Lucky guess.

At the check-in desk, they pipe in some kind of smell that makes parents weak and vulnerable and you end up buying the $50 passes that include a magic wand, mini golf, 20 arcade points, a walk through a mirror maze, a scoop of ice cream, a cup of bulk candy, and “free” entry to the high ropes course—which, after all the things that came before it, is really just a death threat.

The first thing you do is take the kids to the indoor water park, where if you are holding your son’s hand, you are too far away for him to hear you. The kid whose hand your are holding declares he doesn’t like water and wants to watch TV in the room. You pretend you can’t hear him, which you actually can’t. You spend two hours hours looking for the other kids until you finally give up and hope that whatever families they ended up with are nice ones.

Then, out of nowhere, your other children show up, wondering why you look so irritated. You are so exhausted you take everyone to the room to watch TV.

Then the boys want to go cash in all those things on their “paw passes,” so you start looking for those nice families they found earlier to maybe take care of that for you, but when you open the door, all you see are children. So many, many children. Where did all the adults go? Is it even safe for adults here?!

Fortunately, we were vacationing with our friends who have a super sweet, 6’2” fifteen-year-old, and he took the boys around while the adults sat in the room and asked each other repeatedly, “Can you hear anything anymore?”

The boys, of course, loved it. They loved their wolf ears, loved the magic quests, loved the two arcade games that 20 points bought them, loved all 90 seconds of the mirror maze, and especially especially loved the scoop of ice cream and the cup of cavities their passes got them.

On the way home, we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch, which was a healthy break from all that junk we had been eating. There, the boys asked me if I had a good time at Great Wolf Lodge. I said I did. I said it always makes me happy to see my boys having a good time. Vincenzo said, “Yeah, but what about you? Did you have a good time?”

And I thought of us all right there, eating cheeseburgers, my boys looking at me with big eyes, wanting to know if I had a good time at the water park, so I told him the truth.

I did. I really, really did.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
I actually don’t know. I don’t know what I’m cooking tonight! This is so weird!

Non-Form Glory

Ah! You’ll never believe it! Sit down if you’re not sitting down already! Put some pants on! Okay, ready for it now? Here it is:

I got a non-form rejection letter for one of my picture books manuscripts!!!!!!!!

Dear Rachel,

Thank you so much for sending NOBODY LIKES ME. It’s a great pitch and story idea, but unfortunately, I didn’t fall in love with this draft as much as I would need to take on the project. For that reason, I am going to step aside for now, but I truly appreciate the opportunity to consider your work.


I wish you the very best of luck with this and all of your projects!

Best,
Your new BFF*

Do you all know what this means? It means someone LIKES me!!! Someone likes me for writing a book called Nobody Likes Me!

Tr, it’s not like she’s inviting me over so we can play Barbies and braid each other’s hair, but we’re getting closer. Plus, she truly appreciates the opportunity to consider my work!

Now you might read this and want to pat my arm lightly and sit me down and explain that this isn’t all that nice of a letter and am I sure it’s not just a form? But I say to thee yes, yes I’m sure! And I should know because I’ve gotten so many, many form rejections for other manuscripts. She used my name! I am not “sir” or “ma’am” or “contributor.” Nay, I am Rachel! And I have a great pitch and story idea!

So what does this all mean? Where do I go from here? I don’t know. All I know is that I am going to sit here and bask in the glory of this non-form rejection letter for as long as its glory holds out.

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Today was a good day.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Beef stroganoff
Creamed eggs
Mashed potatoes
Edamame

*Names have been changed for privacy purposes.