Georgeous, Darling

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Too much has happened, hence the silence?

Starting with the best kids park in the world probably.  I challenge you to beat this park at Darling Harbour.  Beautiful design, children love it, water, sand, climb, play, run, free…whattya got that’s better?  Been a few times now, but the photos only tell a small part of the tale.

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This one of Adele’s exuberant ‘balancing act’ kills me…

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Ok, maybe I overdid it with the Darling Harbour photos, but photos just don’t do it justice.  Considering the rest of DH is quite toursity, bordering on tacky, (think giant IMAX theatre, boom-bastic overpriced, underderlivering waterside cafes, Disney-like amusement aquarium, wildlife park and wax museum), they did a good job with this bit.  Not sure Lieutenant-General Ralph Darling, Governor of New South Wales, 1825-1831 could have seen this one coming.

Stella is walking, and this is old news…she’s been motoring since the day after her 10 month birthday.  One of these situations where the body is WAY ahead of the brain.  A 10 month old should not be walking with no understanding of the consequences.  Still, she is giddy and loving every minute of her new found skill.  Still planning on getting some videos out there.

Malcolm is attempting toilet training, but he is not very good at it yet, I must admit.  Perhaps it’s because we’re doing it in Australian – he keeps going wee and getting a wombat stamp on his hand and perhaps he’s just a bit confused.  There is progress however. 

Adele’s talking just keeps improving and she is quite assertive with her demands.  Apparently, this has helped her make friends at school and she is greeted daily with many hellos and requests to hold her hand, all day, even while trying to colour, eat, wash hands, etc. 

All three children are in training in house cleaning and management and we have them slaving away night and day.  Fred next door would be proud of our little helpers.

Here keeping the tree house clean of Possum Poo

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Vinegar and water spray only holds a small advantage over the appeal of the squeegee

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The sequence after this involved the same determination, but more wet people…

We’ve been doing a little traveling, but mostly welcoming visitors, which has been great fun.

We had our friend Dave visit and we continued with our  new beach every weekend habit with a trip to Narrabeen. 

This was followed by a trip to Brisbane for a urology conference and to see my brother Tony. Mostly though, Stella and I got to hang out which was excellent mother-daughter quality time, if not a bit of a one sided conversation.  Here, 11 months, going on 15 years.  I see some talk back in my future. 

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Adele and Malcolm stayed back with Doug and Hazel Ann who are visiting again.  Thanks grandma and grandpa!!!

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Then Glen, our neighbour in Canada popped in for a visit, and came bearing Frank’s Red Hot (which we enjoyed with some wasabi macadamia nuts and Aussie wine!?)

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and loop bracelets for the kids!!!

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Thanks Max, Ollie, Luke, and Sophie!  Your loop bracelets have conferred magic powers to the wearer including very high jumping, extra fast running, and super loud ‘crash bang’ proclamations.  In return, we provided Aussie bbq, full time child enjoyment and a trip to Manly beach with cafe lunch.

Australianisms:

1.  Barefoot.  Photo as promised.  In a 5 star hotel in downtown Sydney:

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But the best part is the story told to me by my colleague in amazement (to be clear, she was amazed, not me) that her brother tried to get on a plane barefoot and they wouldn’t let him get on the plane, quel horreur!  He had to go and buy a pair of thongs before they would let him on.  She was genuinely put out by the airlines actions…some Australianisms I will never understand.  The only people with an excuse for not noticing prior to, are security.

2. Restaurant service – apparently paying less than minimum wage and having to earn tips for good service actually works.  Aus minimum wage is over $15 dollars, and there is no tipping culture really.  As a result it seems, most things are too much trouble, if there is any trouble to come and provide service at all.  In many places, you have to go up to order and pay and getting much attention in between requires a song and dance, or extreme, good old fashioned Canadian patience…  Don’t know what it’s like at Michelin 5 star restaurants, but I’m not talking cafes here either. 

This turkey not eaten at Christmas

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This is just in time.  Just as you are all settling in to the new year and forgetting about the holidays, I am getting around to writing about them.  They were lovely, busy, family oriented, and most importantly, totally work free!

I had a full two weeks off work which hasn’t really happened in many years for Christmas, and we spent the whole bit with family.  First, my mom arrived in mid Dec and that allowed us to get the final preparations ready for Christmas while she buried herself in children, literally.  Because it isn’t cold and snowy, all the brain cues that ‘Christmas is coming’ were misfiring and I kept forgetting it was Christmas.  As a result, and maybe more out of sheer disorganisation and chaos, nothing was ready. 

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My mother, the kids, and Brian and I have been in heaven while she ‘kidnaps’ the children, as she likes to say.  Christmas also saw the arrival of my dad, Tony, and my cousin Niki via Brisbane.  The Christmas week, we rented a house in the Eastern Suburbs near Coogee Beach.  Brian managed to deliver on the turkey as is his usual, despite a malfunctioning oven and absence of cheese cloth and baster – Sacre Blew! 

Over the holidays, the kids perfected their skill of using people as jungle gyms, here, enjoying Uncle ‘jungle gym’ Tony

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Coogee beach house meals

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Besides eating and playing with Christmas presents, we of course made many trips to the park

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and discovered the ‘Flying Fox’!…a typical Aussie park installation that sends children as young as 2 and 3 rocketing down a wire on a pummel horse type seat.  I will post a video of Adele with dad on one of here first tries, but now she can do it all by herself!

Not many trips to the beach Christmas week as Christmas was a bit rainy and cool (well, relatively speaking).  Well, that’s ok because it allowed for lots of Grandma play and snuggle time indoors.Image

Christmas day was spent ‘Aussie Style’ despite 20 degrees and rain.  Brian, my dad and I did a beach swim at Clovelly beach which has an amazing little bay where many a swimmer, including ourselves, were doing laps.  We were a bit chilly, but refused to be outdone by the Aussies in the water!  Not exactly a polar bear swim though…

Boxing day we spent with my cousins Will and Jo and their three kiddos at their beautiful home with water views in Vaucluse where we watched the famous Sydney to Hobart yacht race on a secluded beach…yachts gone by already, Niki and I just enjoying the beach…

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The New Year’s week we went back to Pearl Beach and after a bit of a bumpy arrival – the house we had rented had not been cleaned in months, but cleaners were sent over very quickly – we were happily installed.  More beach trips,

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park excursions and scenic hikes

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and visits from some of my mother’s long lost friends (she seems to have a lot of them and always dredges them up on her travels!).  This New Year also marked Brian’s and my 10 year wedding anniversary so we got ourselves out of beach attire and into something more presentable for a romantic dinner, on the verandah at a local, delicious, famous gourmet resto

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The grand finale of the Christmas holidays was Niki’s birthday back in our crummy digs, and noone was more excited about cake than the kids..

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A week later, January also saw us FINALLY move into our ‘new for 6-months’ house.  We LOVE it!!!

Kids enjoy the couch

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and making pizza doughin the kitchen (beware if I ever offer you pizza.  Always ask who made it) almost as much as the garden, hot tub, and tree house.

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After a short trip, my dad is back in Canada, Tony is back in Brisbane, and Niki has joined our family in our house for a six month working holiday, but not before my parents experienced the tourist ‘to do’ list in Sydney

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and Great Barrier Reef in Cairns!

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Settling back into work and 2014, but trying to make the most of every weekend!

Australianisms:

1. Christmas feast ≠ turkey.  The Christmas ham or lamb take precedence.  Hard to find a good turkey.  Tempted to shoot the wild turkey at the rented beach house, but abstained…

2.  Promised you a photo of smash repairs, still makes me laugh

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3. Very tasty local Aussie food: potatoes (they are ridiculously good here, sorry PEI), lamb, eggs.  Surprisingly disappointing – fruit!  I was excited for local tropical/subtropical fruit but a bit tasteless at times, and pricey!!!!! – sorry Oz

Steady Assimilation

The big news this week is our move out of the depths of western Sydney to a north shore suburb. “Lane Cove” We finally secured a furnished house in a real community within striking distance of Jackie’s workplace. The house is great for warm weather living with huge dual bi-fold doors opening the entire rear of the house to an al fresco dining area. A generous yard with a BBQ and spa complete the picture. Needless to say after 4 months in a hospital apartment, it is a nice change.

We put the BBQ to immediate use.  I thought it was time we tried some Kangaroo.  It is marketed as some kind of miracle meat with only 2% fat.  Kangaroos outnumber people significantly here and all meat is wild.  The argument is the ethical and environmental footprint is dramatically less leading to my word of the week “Kangatarian”.  Yes, these are people who are vegetarian but eat kangaroo.  Apparently feral camel is on the approved list too.

BBQ Kangasaurus + James Boag tasmanian lager

BBQ Kangasaurus + James Boag Tasmanian lager

It was overall pretty good when dressed as all authentic aussie burgers should be, with a large slice of beetroot in addition to the usual topping. As you can see the kids were excited. Interestingly the industry has tried to come up with a name other than Kangaroo and had a contest. “Australus” won but it is not used and “Kangasaurus” was my favourite of the finalists. Next week “Kanga bangas” which is kangaroo sausage.

Dad, hurry up with my kangaroo burger!

Dad, hurry up with my kangaroo burger!

Speaking of natural fauna, there are a few I have not been too keen to eat. This poster came with the house and it has been corroborated that these are indeed common and encountered. We have seen several Huntsmen and one Saint Andrew’s Cross and hoping to leave it at that!  Jackie’s colleague advised “don’t worry.. if the kids get bitten they will scream…. then you take them to the hospital”.  Good advice.

"Actual size"

“Actual size”

Lastly as we have continued to explore the NSW coast we found a new excuse to visit a new beach every weekend. Jackie and I entered an 800m open water ocean swim at Newport beach. We were joined by Jackie’s cousin Niki who in Sydney for 6 months. Here is a post swim vanity shot.
Team Swim

I had been doing quite a bit of swimming and love the unique challenges of ocean racing.  Navigation, dealing with currents, rips, the excitement of the beach running start and a little bit of fear of what might be out there with you.  Since then I entered two other events a 1.5km and a 1.75km.

Last week a helicopter was flying low and slow over my age group peloton as we rounded the 1st buoy.  It seemed strange and later on twitter word was that the final age group peloton was delayed 10 mins while they waited for a shark to clear away from the point near the first buoy.  As I said there is a fear factor but rationally the risk is comparable to being in the woods in Canada.  Yes, there are bears and they may be nearby but the liklihood of any personal injury is low.  The amount of time spent in bear country as youngsters was significant and no Canadian parent would not have their kid go on a canoe trip due to the risk.  Statistically, the most dangerous animal in Australia…. the horse.  Still it is nice to come out of the water with limbs intact as below.
Newport Pool to Peak 800m

These races are run by the Surf lifesaving clubs. Many beaches have one and every few km there is a stunner of a beach.  The culture of these are really enticing and make for great participation in an ocean lifestyle.  It has been fun to be a small part of it.

Until next time

Brian

Crazy kids

Aside

Ok ok, we’re back.

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It’s been hard to get back on the blog bandwagon, after dedicating ourselves many nights for many hours, I admit I ran out of speed.  And life got a bit crazy.

Brian’s parents left, we lost our nanny and the house we thought we had rented fell through and we found ourselves constantly treading water to keep afloat while scrambling for childcare and a new house.  Now we have come through that and are enjoying a little peace and quiet over the holidays with family, so on that note,

Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy 2014!!!  We are looking forward to more Aussie adventures and can’t wait to hear about yours.  Hoping you’ve had a happy and safe holidays.

Since last writing about our trip to Hamilton Island, we’ve stayed pretty close to home suffering through some pretty hot weather including one 41 degree day.  No a/c, no fans.

Adele has been busy graduating from school

Graduation Day!

learning to feed Stella who is a happy participant in anything involving eating, even if it IS pretend

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learning to scoot

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and getting buried in warm sand

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Malcolm refuses to have his photo taken, so his story is more difficult to tell, but he has enjoyed learning to scoot too, building bulldozers, bridges and tractors with lego, sticking a pea up his nose and preferentially eating ketchup over french fries.

Where's the Ketchup?

Malcolm also refused a hair cut until we finally distracted him with Dora videos and Brian executed his first haircut. Why didn’t we think of it earlier? The result was respectable, as long as you don’t look too closely.

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Malcolm can also now identify a kookaburra call from a budgie and a front wheel loader from a back hoe, as well as numerous other things that never cease to amaze us.  He has also recently added ‘awesome’ to his vocabulary, which is somewhat less satisfying.  Adele and Malcolm get along really well and have fabulous imaginary playtime together, here, making a train out of their toy boxes (after emptying all the toys onto the floor of course)

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Stella still thinks she can keep up and took her first step on Christmas day!…she took a couple other steps a few days later, but nothing more since. She is also busy growing crazy hair

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and experimenting with playground equipment

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Love from us all and we’ll send a holidays update next!
J

The Other Hamilton

Yes we have the fondly named southern Ontario city of “the Hammer” and Queensland Australia not to be out done has “Hammo”, or as it officially appears on nautical charts and maps, Hamilton Island.  Cook first sailed through here in 1770 before a close encounter with the great barrier reef slowed his return trip to England while he repaired his hull.  We had an easier journey consisting of a 2.5 hr flight from Sydney before we spotted our destination.

I carried the bags I swear

The occasion for our 4 day jaunt was a work meeting for me (Brian) attending the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand NSW section meeting.  It was a great meeting with lots of networking for me, 3 presentations well received and vary gracious Aussie hosts.  It was a great to see the work of the registrars here.

The island was beautiful, but the highlight of the trip for Malcolm and Adele was riding around in the “buggy” which came with the accommodation and was the primary transport on the island.

buggy photo coming soon.

Adele was quite insistent on early mornings so she and I took nice 5 am buggy rides to see the sunrise

Adele was insistent on getting up for the sunrise.

Adele was insistent on getting up for the sunrise.

At this time of day we had the island to ourselves.  Almost…. there was still the odd Wallaby staring us down.

So early, it was just Adele, Daddy and the Wallaby

So early, it was just Adele, Daddy and the Wallaby

After that most days involved some requisite beach and pool time.  Fortunately, both were in abundance including famed 9 km long Whitehaven beach, a 45 minute boat ride away.  Apparently the sand is so pure with silica that it is optimal for high quality glass lenses and doesn’t retain heat well so it is cooler on the feet than one would expect.

Whitehaven Beach on the Great Barrier Reef.

Whitehaven Beach on the Great Barrier Reef.

On the architectural front the Oatley family has invested 350million dollars in the last decade and it shows.  Here is a pic of the Yacht Club house with the villas we stayed in in the distance and one of the aforementioned pools.  In honour of Movember, I termed this the Mustache pool.  It is shaped like that!!

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Not a bad view.  The full wall bifold doors are nice but might be a little cold in a Canadian winter

Not a bad view. The full wall bifold doors are nice but might be a little cold in a Canadian winter

Lastly, with sun like this you don’t mess around. I bought a new Sombrero that was quickly commandeered by Adele.

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Come here Grandma, this is enough shade for both of us

And just to prove that I actually was working here is one slide from my presentation on “Challenges in Implementation of Robotics Canada”.

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Along professional lines, Malcolm has announced his plans to become a farmer to pursue his love of tractors full time. Not sure if he knows about the hard work yet.

Until next time
The Blews

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Ok it’s been a heck of a long time, so this one’s a run down of a few weeks, marked really, by the weekends

Starting with Brian’s birthday, which after my flameless run, was successful in producing fire and lots of joyous singing.Image

Slightly more flameful are the bush fires, news of which has hit Canada I understand.  This was the view walking home from work the other day at dusk.

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Our weeks are starting to develop a routine, starting with yogurt faces in the morning

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The kids now know what days they have school, swimming lessons, babysitter, etc, and because they can predict it, they like it.  Malcolm in particular LOVES school, even though every day we take him, he gets tears that well up in his eyes, but he marches on in like a brave boy…and then doesn’t want to leave when you go get him (only 2 hours later).  Adele has always been happy at school and this is no exception.  When they are there at the same time, Malcolm sticks pretty close to the more mature, more experienced Adele and you gotta think it’s the cutest thing.

Last weekend we went to the large and famous Taronga zoo in Mosman.  Image

Besides having a better view of the harbour and city than I will ever have, the animals looked great on display.  Favourite kid animals:

giraffe, elephant, penguin, of which elephant took the prize.

Surprisingly disinterested: giant 6 foot lizards, chimpanzee (I thought for sure they would be a hit), seal (even the seal show didn’t seem to change their minds).

This weekend we did another beach excursion to Port Stephens, about 2 1/2 hours north of Sydney near Newcastle.  It’s a huge bay, bigger than Sydney harbour, and has lots of very fun beach activities including tons of restaurants, shops, fairs, and water activities (paddleboarding, kayaking, and running like a hamster in a giant plastic ball in the water).  Port Stephens has lots of sand dunes as well where you can go sandboarding, and sit on all assortments of motorized vehicles.  Of the above, we managed 1. restaurant, 2. craft fair, 3. grocery store, 4. beach (at least twice before 7 am).

These days, beach involves running races on the beach, writing our names in the sand (getting the right stick is the most important part, and you probably need an assortment if you’re serious at all) and jumping the lapping waves at the shore.  Apparently we’ve moved on from hole digging and sand sculpturing just a bit.

We have also added a few native Australian animals to our list of “Australian animals we’ve seen in the wild”.  Before this weekend, the list stopped after birds and insects.  This weekend alone the list grew to:

1. Pelican

2. Echidna

3. Giant 6 foot lizard (no joke!!!!)

4. Koala

Cool huh?  We probably looked like the equivalent of a tourist at Parliament Hill taking photos of squirrels.  Of all of them, the giant lizard was the fastest and went barreling through the bush, right across our path, barely squeezing through the fencing that bordered the path, but it was amazing – too fast for a photo.  My echidna photos didn’t turn out, but here is one from the zoo, since I reckon most of you would have no idea what an echidna is (think hedgehog x anteater).Image

 

Port Stephens is truly beautiful with no shortage of beaches, both the busy kind with tanned babes and water sports and the completely abandoned, you can’t believe no one is here gorgeous beaches that seem to be a dime a dozen all the way along the New South Wales coastline.  Thanks to Doug and Hazel Ann, Brian and I got out on a hike up one of the hills with some amazing views – note the amazing abandoned beaches in the background.

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And not to be out done, Stella is on fire!  Her recent accomplishments include mastering opening her mouth for a spoon and swallowing most of it, as well as pulling herself to stand.  The only problem is she can’t get back down unless it involves either a face plant or bum splat.  But seriously, she is unstoppable, perseveres and it’s amazing to see her focus on a task until she gets it.  The most notable this weekend was persistently crawling to the bathroom and trying to figure out the drain in the floor until she finally managed to pull it out and stick her hand in the wet, slimy, stinky drain – success!!!

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More Australianisms:

1.  Coffee – I am not a coffee drinker so I can only go by what I am told.  They are apparently quite foody and proud of their coffee, but according to Brian, it is not the coffee they fuss over, it’s the milk.  More specifically, the quantity of it in your coffee. 

2. Bathroom drains – reference above.  All bathrooms have a giant drain in the floor.  This results in supersonic bathtub draining speed (counter clockwise of course), but also wafting sewage smells, moldiness, and insect avenue.

J

Happy Thanksgiving Canada!

GUEST POST: Brian (the lack of Jackie’s wit and eloquent private school composition should give it away)

Well we started our week leading up to thanksgiving with hottest day yet this Spring.  Forecast was for 39C but as far as I could tell it only reached this.  Note the 8% humidity.  We just don’t get that at home and it actually made it bearable. It still drops to 15C at night.  Apparently our bravado will be crushed with the coming summer heat and humidity

Hottest day in October

What better to do when faced with such heat?  Hit the pool.  In this case we thought we would try out the Sydney Olympic park pool.  It might seem like it is a drag being inside but with the relentless sun it is actually kind of nice to not need hat and sunscreen on any exposed part.

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Doggy paddle is not an Olympic event… yet

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Boulevard on the olympic grounds. Typical clear blue sky

Needless to say the facility is incredible.  The pics only depict the competition pool but there is also an amazing kids facility with lazy river, indoor water park and another 50 m training and leisure pool.   Mike, you will be in heaven.

IMG_1271 Here are Jackie, Malcolm and I getting ready for our swim.  I have been working out more lately.

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There was a lot of neat stuff from the Olympics bronzed foot and hand prints of the holders of all world records set in that pool.  Here is my hand compared to Aussie swimming legend Ian (the Thorpedo) Thorpe.  Somehow I come off looking like I have stumpy sausage digits but probably an advantage for minimally invasive surgery so take that Thorpedo.

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Interestingly, on Sunday, the day after we were there a bush fire incinerated 100 cars in the parking lot while people bobbed in the lazy river inside.
Here is the article http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-13/fires-burn-out-of-control-at-fingal-bay-and-salt-ash/5019246

Well the heat was making us nostalgic for a good old fall Thanksgiving weekend so we signed up for the Canadian Australian club thanksgiving feast.  An extra bonus was seeing Haligonian Charlie A’Court and Charlottetown’s Tim Chaisson who stopped by in the middle of their respective Australian tours accompanied by Tim’s cousin Andrew.

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Tim Chaisson

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Andrew Chaisson, Tim Chaisson

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Charlie A’Court and TIm Chaisson

Quote of the day:

Brian: “Do you know what a half of a half is Malcolm?”

Malcolm (quite confidently): “Yes.  A big one”

Brian