Edublog Awards

Posted by: valerina

November 28th, 2011 >> My Brain

Best Teacher Blog/ Best Individual Blog: Mrs. Scribe for

http://scholastic-scribe.blogspot.com/

 

Mrs. Scribe’s blog is an all encompassing account of her life, from school, to home, cooking, family and travels you get a snapshot into the seemingly ordinary life of this high school teacher which is spiced up with her extraordinarily hilarious witticisms and anecdotes. She details her trials and tribulations as a mother, educator, baker and oppressed creative soul under the regime of her evil nemesis- Principal Man. Occasionally she will cameo the critters in her home, or students of years past, always tying it in with something current or timely while keeping it fresh and funny.  She has a talent for creating perfectly descriptive and biting nicknames for the evil doers in her life, and you can be sure that a mention of #nachos will sneak its way in somehow. I nominate Mrs. Scribe for Best Teacher Blog and Best Individual Blog!

 

A place I wish I could be- Mrs. Scribe's classroom

Back Where I Started

Posted by: valerina

September 24th, 2011 >> My Brain

After five months in Australia, one week in Missourri, and another three weeks hanging out with Ryan I now find myself right back where I started, in my apartment in Fredericksburg. It was here that I first hatched the plan to go abroad over a year ago, and from the desk I am currently sitting at that I filled out and filed all the necessary paper work that enabled me to travel all those thousands of miles away.

Since being back at school almost everyone who I have run into me has asked me about my time in Australia. I have run into people who I wasn’t even that close with who have made comments to me about my blog and how much they enjoyed following it, and I have been surprised, bashful, and flattered every time I have encountered this.

The study abroad office here at Mary Washington encourages those of us who have already studied abroad to take an active role in promoting the studying abroad program. To this end they put out an email advertising two opportunities to do so early this semester. They held a study abroad photo contest asking for photo submissions from student’s time abroad. Each student was allowed to submit up to three high resolution photos, and ten winning photos were to be selected and then printed on canvas, framed, and given a permanent home hanging in the study abroad office. I submitted three photos, two from my trip to Thailand and one from Sydney. Much to my surprise two of my photographs were selected among the ten winning images! Ironically neither of them were taken in Australia.

Me and my kitty friend La La will forever hang in the Study Abroad office

Monks praying, forever in the study abroad office

Even with the promise of having my face forever hung in the study abroad office, they just couldn’t get enough of me, and after seeing a small sampling of my photos, I was asked to sit on a study abroad panel discussion for the first UMW discovery day in September. Since I was already going to be there giving a tour for the Washington Guides, I figured why not. The panel ended up being me, a male senior who had just returned from being in China, and a friend of mine Sara, who had done a faculty led summer program in Italy. Out of the three of us I was the only one who had kept a blog, so I put my blog up in the background on the projector and scrolled through all my images for an hour while we took turns talking about studying abroad and how to go about it. At the end of the presentation a high school senior from Fairfax County came up to me and told me that she was very interested in going to Australia to study government. I almost laughed in her face, because the ideal place to do that would be Canberra, but as that is also a location I wouldn’t wish upon my fiercest of enemies, I cautioned her against it. I ended up chatting with her for a good twenty minutes after the panel discussion was over and she asked me all sorts of questions about flights, transferring credits, places to go in Australia, and how to do it all on the administrative end. I ended up giving her my phone number, email address, and the name of Bill Bryson’s book on Australia so she could be sure and understand the horrors of Canberra before she committed to going there.

In addition to becoming the poster child for studying abroad at UMW, I have also been killing myself trying to graduate early by taking 18 credits this semester in addition to working a job part time at a restaurant downtown to repair some of the damage that Australia did to my bank account. I have been doing all of this with about five inches less of hair.

 

Right before coming back to school I decided I needed a change. So, the Friday morning before Hurricane Irene hit I went and got my hair cut by a woman named Irene, whose birthday was that day. Hows that for a coincidence?

 

So the plan for now is to survive this semester, get an internship for next semester, graduate in may, and get on with my adult life. (which will probably involve moving back home, such is the state of the economy these days) I’ve started looking into programs where I could go abroad again to a spanish speaking country and teach English for a year or so if I can’t find a decent job in the US. I might even end up chasing my boyfriend ( I will never get used to using that word) somewhere as his career moves him around. Who knows?

As this is my 89th blog entry I think I am going to say that this venture in blogging is officially finished. What started as a way to keep my mom informed of what I was up to while I was half a world away, ended up becoming a passion of mine and a scrapbook of my adventures abroad. I never intended for it to be widely read by my friends, or for anyone to discover that I am an atrocious speller, often hopeless at punctuating, and occasionally funny, but this happened anyway, and I was pleasantly surprised that it did. While I probably won’t post again on this blog space, I hope to have another blog in the future when something more interesting than working every weekend and reading english literature till my eyeballs roll out of my head is going on in my life.

I would like to thank everyone who ever took the time to skim one of my incredibly verbose ramblings for stopping by and allowing me to share my experience with them. I had a blast living this experience and writing about it, and despite the occasionally misspelled word I hope you have enjoyed reading.

Thanks and g’day.

Hot Child in the City

Posted by: valerina

September 18th, 2011 >> United States, Washington DC

After being abroad for five months I returned home with my wander lust quelled and my bank account severely diminished. I had known since I signed up to go to Australia that I wouldn’t return home until July, so I wasn’t even going to bother trying to find employment for the month and a half I was going to be home. The week I returned home I did nothing but eat and sleep at very odd hours while trying to get my life back in order. I scheduled some doctors appointments and made plans with friends to hang out, but generally I was quite lazy. I got home on the 20th of July and I did almost nothing that entire weekend following. Monday, July 25th was my best friend Jaime’s birthday. She loves cupcakes more than any other sugary treat, so I grabbed Julie and we headed in DC midday to procure some of the famous Georgetown cupcakes for Jaime’s 21st birthday celebration. Mom knew we were going into the city that day so she asked if we could pick her up on our way out, and of course we agreed.

As Julie and I were driving into the city Mom called us and told us that a woman in her office was in a panic because her nanny had just quit on her, and she had come to her asking if she knew anyone who could watch her 18 month old son for the remainder of the summer. She had mentioned that Julie and I both babysat and now she wanted to meet us. This worked out perfectly since we were already in DC, so after we had gotten the cupcakes we headed over to Mom’s office to meet this woman. What she was offering was a 9-5 job working at her home in NW DC watching her son through the last week of August. Julie wasn’t too keen on the idea, but I was in need of some cash flow, so we both left her our contact information.

She called me the next day offering me the job, which I accepted. I had told her up front that I already had plans to visit Justin during the first week of August, but she had managed to find temporary help for that week, so I was hired! When I got back from Missourri on the 7th of August I went over to her house to meet Ryan, who I would be taking care of, and get acquainted with her house. Monday I showed up for my first day of work.

I have to say that aside from the money making aspect of this job I wasn’t thrilled about this. I have always preferred to watch children that are of an age where I can hold a real conversation with them. I was at a loss as to how I was going to entertain this child from 9-5 every day for a month.

To more adaquetely summarize this, a passage from one of my favorite websites, cracked.com on children

“Based exclusively on what I’ve seen in public and my own spectacular imagination, I’ve gathered that having a child is the end of personal existence. Every selfish indulgence, every private ambition and every lazy afternoon of recreational sex is pinned down by biological imperative and strangled to death with an umbilical cord. Whatever part of the body Sense of Self used to inhabit is suddenly filled with only an intense urge to raise and protect an ill-designed hunk of flesh incapable of lifting its own spongy head. And even when it’s old enough to walk or speak, there is still an 18-year investment of ensuring its hair is combed, its closet isn’t filled with evil and that it learns to swim before falling in the family pool. Frankly, it sounds awful.”

To compound this, the family didn’t have a television. Great. So I was going to spend my days changing diapers and spoon feeding a toddler who couldn’t yet walk or talk. I wasn’t too elated at the idea of this, but I figured at the very least it would be a low stress well paying job, and hey, worst case scenario it was only for a month.

 

Meet Ryan!

 

My first day with Ryan was delightful. I couldn’t have been more wrong about hanging out with him. He was the happiest, most complacent and easy to please child I have ever worked with, and the hours we spent laughing and playing flew by. I would come over in the morning and eat breakfast with him and then we would take naps together in the afternoon. In between I read books to him, we took walks around the neighborhood and to local playgrounds. I learned that Ryan loves music, so I would bring my ipod or computer and have songs going in the background all day, and sometimes dance for him which made him giggle endlessly.

Me and Ryan

He wasn’t quite walking yet, but he was on the verge, so I would help him stroll around the house using his little baby walker and sometimes pick him up by his hands and twirl him around the room before plopping him down on the couch. The only danger in this behavior was that once I had done it once he wanted it again and again and again. His favorite food was bananas so we would often split a banana for a snack in the afternoon. Once the heat finally broke I would take him out back to play in an inflatable baby pool.

 

squinty eyes

 

 

 

 

 

Naptime, always a favorite of mine

Sometimes nap time starts without me

 

The latest in tabletop aviation: the airplane fork

The first few days I was there he put up a bit of a stink when his mom would leave in the morning, but by my second or third week he wouldn’t even notice because he was excited that I was there. Whenever we would go out on walks, women would tell me what a beautiful son I had, and even though it seemed odd to me that they thought I looked like I had birthed this 18 month old baby, I just went with it. Oddly enough, when men passed us by they always picked up on the fact that I was not his mother, instead saying things like “I bet hanging with him is a nice summer job.” I could never tell if the women were just trying not to be wrong in assuming that he was mine, or if the men were really more perceptive in these situations.

I have never become very attached to the kids I have babysat. Even when I was a summer camp counselor I never felt any special connection to the kids that I worked with, so it felt odd that I grew so attached to Ryan. I was genuinely sad to hand him over to his parents at the end of every day, and now as I write this, I think of his smile and his laugh and feel a twinge in my heart (wow that sounded less sappy in my head). He was such a happy and delightful little boy, and so close to walking and talking that it was exciting to watch him almost say words and stand up on his own every day.

 

*tickles*

 

o hai!

I can say without a doubt that watching Ryan changed my perspective on babies. Before watching him I thought babies were cute, sure, but I had always seen them as these eternally loud, smelly and needy little beings that operated on pure id, constantly wanting things but unable to express it so they would just cry. Watching parents make stupid faces and spouting all their “goo goo ga ga” baby talk dribble at their children made me feel embarrassed for them. But in playing with Ryan I got to really enjoy myself. I am still not a fan of baby talk but we had a blast together, and I became the peek-a-boo master. He seldom cried, instead he would just screech really loud to get my attention, but in getting to know him it became very easy to figure out what he wanted when he did that.

Whenever Justin would ask me about him I would say ” O me and my new boyfriend are very happy together, he is a far better cuddlier than you. He kissed me today too, be jealous.”

kisses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would come home every day and enthusiastically tell my mom how much fun I had with Ryan. One day she said to me, “I’m pretty sure you working with Ryan is the reason I am going to end up getting grandkids.” She might be right. If I could have two babies just like Ryan I would be so down for parenthood.

My new boyfriend

I am very jealous of the Au Pair Ryan will soon be working with him full time, but I did leave my phone number with his parents so hopefully one day I can babysit for an evening. I was very tempted to forgo my last semester of school and just work with Ryan instead. If only if only.

 

 

Fort Lost In The Woods

Posted by: valerina

September 3rd, 2011 >> Missourri, United States

Justin and I rolled through the gates of Fort Leonard Wood in the early evening hours, and as soon as we did Justin was all business. We had stopped at a Wal Mart to do some grocery shopping,(where I learned that you can buy hard liquor at grocery stores and at Wal Marts in the state of Missouri, which says to me that they are well aware that their state is dull and are doing all they can to help) but after we got back to his apartment and ate dinner, Justin was very adamant on getting to bed since he had to be up at 4:45 am the next day. I begrudgingly agreed to an early bedtime, because when you are living in a one bedroom studio apartment supplied by the Army you don’t really have many other options for entertainment or other places to go if someone wants to sleep. He got up at the ungodly hour he needed to on Monday and I was left to my own devices, and they were limited. I did some laundry and spent some time on my computer, but that was about as exciting as my day got. Fort Leonard Wood is a training base, and a large one at that. This means that it is full of lots of vast empty spaces (much like the rest of Missouri) which surround just about every building. Since everything is so spread out Justin drives to work every morning.  Fort Leonard Wood, MO is affectionately refereed to by soldiers that have passed through it as “Fort Lost in the Woods of Misery,” and this is a fairly accurate description of the place. If I had really gone loopy I could have pulled a Maria Von Trapp and gone twirling and dancing in the open fields that I found myself stuck in the middle of, but as my friend Yaella pointed out, someone might have thought I was some loopy terrorist and shot me.

 

So with nowhere to go, no way to get there, and nothing to do I was left sitting in his one room apartment, by myself, without a car, and copious amounts of free time. I couldn’t even shop or go anywhere on base because I was without a Military ID. I had thought that coming there I would just fill my days with cooking and make complex dinners and deserts every day and be the perfect little desperate housewife and have dinner ready every day when Justin got home. I could have done that for a week. Well, not only could I not grocery shop by myself, but even if I had, Justin had no oven, well, I shouldn’t say that, he had an oven, but it had been disconnected by the Army and had a large sign placed over it that said “Inoperable oven, storage use only.” Some short-coming with the electrical system of the building made it so that the ovens could not be used, leaving each room a range with three lopsided electrical burners and a toaster for cooking. I knew from the first day I was there that it was going to be a long week.

Lost in the woods of Misery!

I ended up filling most of my time that week catching up on my blog entires from my family’s trip to Australia, watching DVDs that Justin owned, and talking to friends from home. The internet connection in his room terribly slow, but its not like I was in any rush. Each day Justin would leave early in the morning while I was still asleep to go to physical training for an hour, then come back, shower and go to work, usually without me even noticing he was up. I would wake up around 11 am and whittle away the hours in an off-hand way until he returned home around 4:30- 5pm and then we had a three-four hour window to eat, do any shopping we needed to do and just generally spend time with each other until it was bedtime once again. It was a thrilling life I led for that one week in Missouri.

From Monday to Wednesday I never left Justin’s apartment. I suppose I could have if I had developed a bad case of cabin fever, but the week I was there temperatures were sneaking over 100 degrees every day, and I saw no reason to sit outside in 100 degree weather just for the sake of going outside. Wednesday night Justin took me to the officers club to meet his friends and hang out, it was also karaoke night which is a weekly event. Justin had never participated in this, which I found to be odd since he sang in high school and in college. I pushed him to get up and sing, which I think he was a bit embarrassed to do in front of his friends, but he did anyway. He picked a song from Third Eye Blind that was really too low for his tenor voice, but I fairly certain he intentionally batched the song so they would never ask him to sing again. O well, can’t say I didn’t try.

On Friday Justin had plans to take me to a barbeque that his class was putting on for the incoming class of officers. All the guys had pooled their money to buy hot dogs and hamburgers, but I wanted to contribute a dessert.  I did some research on no-bake recipes and ended up putting making chocolate and peanut butter rice krispie treats which were a bit hit. Before going to Missouri I baked three dozen oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for Justin to hand out to his friends, and I brought them in a giant Tupperware container with a red lid. Of course these were enthusiastically received and he came back with only crumbs in the container. So, when I showed up to the picnic with the same container everyone was delighted and asked what baked goods I had brought this time. I think I might have developed a reputation for being the baked goods girl, which I’m totally fine with. I was happy to bring a little home cooked happiness to his friends.  Friday while Justin was at work I also made a big batch of guacamole and a mint infused simple syrup that we used later that evening to make mojitos. Housewifery at its finest. After the picnic we headed back to the officers club with his friends and stayed there until late in the evening. By the end of the week the heat had finally broken, so after everyone was a few drinks in they headed outside to the volleyball court behind the club and played for a little under an hour before calling it a night.

 

We woke up on Saturday and had a leisurely morning before headed back up north to St Louis where we would spend the night so I could catch my early flight back in the morning.We got into St Louis late afternoon, and after we made the mandatory stop at Chipotle so Justin could get his fix, we headed to the mall to kill the rest of the day. Since Justin had recently gotten into golfing with some of the guys on base, we set out to find some golf clothes that would breathe well in the oppressive heat. We had an awful time finding anything in a size smaller than a large, apparently people who wear L, XL, XXL, and XXXL sizes don’t do much golfing because all those sizes we found. We did find a few things though, and jokingly Justin picked out a hot pink shirt. We were speculating as to how flamboyant he would look in it, but it was on clearance for $10 so I insisted that he at least try it on. Turns out, pink doesn’t look half bad on him. Looks a little fabulous, but not too bad. He actually ended up buying it with very little provocation from me. The real test will be if he wears it, as this remains to be seen.

only a little fabulous

 

Later that evening we hung out with Chucks family and took Chuck out for ice cream before going to bed so we could be up in time for my 730 am flight back to Charlotte, NC where I would catch my connecting flight back to Dulles. We made it to the airport on time the next day, but when we got there we found out that my flight had been cancelled due to “crew availability,” whatever that means. What it ended up meaning was that I stood in a very long line of disgruntled and whiny customers while everyone waited to be re-ticketed. While that was somewhat frustrating I ended up getting a direct flight to Washington National instead of the layover in North Carolina, but this flight left at 11. I didn’t mind the extra wait as I got a little more time with Justin and I didn’t have to deal with a layover.

All in all it worked out. I’m glad I went to see Justin, but I am not terribly eager to go back to Missouri anytime soon.

Meet Me In St. Louis

Posted by: valerina

August 28th, 2011 >> Missourri, United States

I made my official and triumphant return to the United States on July 20th, and a little over a week later I found myself packing and boarding yet another airplane. Why would I do this you might ask. I had just gotten home! My travel lust had been effectively quelled!  So what could possibly make me want to sit on yet another airplane when I had just endured the most hellish cross continental episode of airline travel? A boy. Of course.

Currently my boyfriend, (that still feels super weird to say) Justin is in the Army, stationed at Ft Leonard

Wood, Missouri where he is completing his branch detail training in the Chemical Corp. I hadn’t seen him since he visited me in Sydney in late May and I had promised him that since he flew all the way to Australia to see me I could probably handle flying to Missouri to see him. I found a relatively inexpensive flight that left from Dulles Airport at 5 am (ugh) and sent me to Charlotte NC(which I’m sure is why it was cheap) for a layover, before finally landing in St Louis at Lambert International Airport.

I didn’t even bother going to sleep the night before I left since I had to be at the airport around 3 am. Thankfully my friend Ian had volunteered to take me to the airport so my family didn’t have to. My flights were all on time and I arrived in St Louis tired, but in one piece around 8 am. Once on the ground I had all day to rest and explore since Justin wouldn’t get off work until around 5pm and then it would be another two hours for him to drive from Ft. Leonard Wood to St Louis. We planned on spending the weekend exploring the city, and hanging out with his college roommate whose family lived in Chesterfield, a suburb about 30 minutes from downtown St Louis. I waited around all day until Justin showed up and then we went out to dinner, but having gotten up at 5 am, worked all day, and then driven two hours he wasn’t good for much else, so we went to bed early so we could start early the next day and explore St. Louis.

In talking to my friend Becky who makes frequent trips to St Louis to visit her boyfriend, and Justin’s sister in law Laura, who had also spent some time there, we had compiled a list of locations we wanted to visit. Becky had suggested the museum under the arch, the historic downtown courthouse, the City Museum, and some restaurants around town. Laura had made some restaurant suggestions as well, but strongly encouraged us to visit the City Museum as well. Neither Becky nor Laura had gone into great detail about what we could expect at the City Museum, but they both strongly advocated for it, saying that while it was really for kids during the day, after hours they served alcoholic beverages and it became an adult playground. We were sold on this idea after the two vehement endorsements we received, but we first had to fill the daylight hours.

It was a gloomy rainy day when we set out into the city on Saturday morning, but we were determined not to let this dampen our spirits. We first headed to the most famous St. Louis landmark- the Arch.

under the arch

 

Gateway to the West

 

We had no real intention of spending any money to go up inside of it, but we did want to check out the free museum underneath it which was all about Lewis, Clark, and Westward Expansion.

Museum entrance under the arch

Justin and I are both history nerds and can easily spend hours in a single room of a museum, so walking into this one we were very excited, only to be incredibly disappointed. When you walked past the giant stuffed bear at the entrance, you found yourself in a circle, and as you moved away from it in any direction, numbers on the ceiling denoted a different year in history. We couldn’t figure out if you were supposed to walk around the room in half circles back and forth, or if you were supposed to go straight back. We tried a little of each method, but neither made much sense. We tried to stay open minded, but then we ran into this befuddling piece of history.

What does Albert Einstein and the atom bomb have to do with Westward expansion? Anyone?

It’s a giant picture of the first atomic bomb being dropped on Japan, and a quote about it from Albert Einstein. What does this have to do with Lewis and Clark? None of the dates on the ceiling went past the 1800s so we couldn’t conceive how they might have thought the atom bomb belonged in this museum.  Justin and I speculated endlessly on this, but couldn’t come to any logical conclusion. We were willing to forgive this one misplaced historical oddity, but we kept finding them.

FDR? ok.....Still not quite sure what this has to do with Lewis and Clark

We puttered around the museum for a bit longer before finally becoming more frustrated than interested. We took a quick trip to the gift shop where we found all sorts of odd items with the image of the arch printed on them. There were coffee mugs, water bottles, sweatshirts, 3D puzzles, back packs and even DOG CLOTHES. I know there isn’t a whole lot to be proud of in the midwest, but really? This seemed a bit overzealous. It’s an arch people. As far as architectural marvels go its not really that exciting. One of my Australian program friends Andy, who I teased endlessly about being from Iowa and I were talking one night, and when I told him that I might be going to visit Justin in Missouri he said, “UGH! Missouri is AWFUL! Why would you EVER want to go there?!” Coming from someone from IOWA that meant something, and I was beginning to understand what.

 

Across the street from the Arch is the across the street from the historic courthouse, so we headed there.

Historic courthouse where the Dred Scott case was heard

The architectural details of this building were incredible, and it was all decked out in red white and blue so I felt like I had stepped into a set for The Music Man. The court house was not only beautiful, but it featured many great exhibits on the Dred Scott case, Missouri’s history, and the civil rights movement.

America!

 

ceiling

By the time we finished up at the courthouse it was closing time, and time to eat. Chuck’s parents had invited us to join them at a St Louis landmark for dinner, Blueberry Hill, a historic location near the St Louis Walk of Fame where Chuck Berry makes monthly appearances to perform and eat. After dinner Mr and Mrs. Long left Chuck in our care as we headed to a bar first, and then to the city museum.

Bus atop the City Museum

We arrived at the city museum around 10 pm and with our purchase of an admission ticket we were given a miniature flashlight key chain. Chuck had been before, but Justin and I hadn’t and we were stoked that we would need a flashlight for this venture. The city museum bills itself as a “museum consisting largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, housed in the former International Shoe building. It is an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.” Visitors are encouraged to feel, touch, climb on, and play in the various exhibits both indoors and out.

Outdoor jungle gym

 

Slides that start inside and go outside

A description and a bit of history from the museums wikipedia page: The first floor is home of the museum is home to a life-size Bowhead Whale that guests can walk through and view a large fish tank from the mezzanine. Also on the first floor, are a number of tunnels that run across the ceiling, hiding above a sea of fiberglass insulation cut to give the impression of icicles. To get into these one can climb up a Slinky, aka old refrigerating coil(donated by Anhueser-Busch), or through a tree house which leads into a giant hollowed out tree that leads to a cabin on the other side of the floor. The floor itself is covered with the LARGEST continuous mosaic piece in the US, which then morph their way up columns, consuming every section of this floor. In one area you will find a tunnel known as the “Underground Whaleway” which runs beneath the floor and into the “Original Caves.”

 

The Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shafts run through the center of the Museum, and go all the way to the 10th floor. In the Enchanted Caves, guests will find an elaborate cave system that was hand-sculpted. Everywhere you turn you see a different creature staring back at you. The Shoe Shafts were left over from when the building was the International Shoe distribution building. To get the shoes from floor to floor, staff would place the shoes on the spiral shafts that would lead down to the loading dock. When the caves originally opened up in 2003, there was only one spiral shoe slide that was three stories tall, but in 2008 a second one was opened, becoming the daddy of them all. A ten story spiral slide, that starts at the roof and takes you down to caves’ entrance.

The roof houses the bar and a small old fashioned Ferris Wheel that you can ride on. It also has a slide that goes under a small pond. The pond has stepping stones that go from one side to the other. The roof also has a school bus that had actually worked once, extending past the edge of the building. You can walk in the school bus, and open the door from the driver’s seat. Also found on the roof are a giant rope swing contained in a free-standing aluminum dome underneath the roof’s centerpiece; a giant metal praying mantis. You can climb a series of enclosed metal ladders inside the dome to an exit at the top.

inside

 

So much to explore!

The three of us spent upwards of three hours running around the museum like little kids on sugar highs. We had a glorious time, staying till they closed their doors at one am.

 

The next day we had breakfast with Chuck and then headed back down to Ft. Leonard Wood, so I could begin my trial run as a military housewife for the week.

Home At Last

Posted by: valerina

August 23rd, 2011 >> United States, Virginia

What I experienced the first few days I was home from Fiji can only be described as the absolute worst case of jet lag I have ever endured in my twenty one years of living. Having been awake for two days straight I slept pretty hard once I finally landed back in my room in Springfield, but strangely enough I was only able to sleep for a few hours before waking up again. For the next week I felt perpetually weary but was strangely unable to sleep. It was a very frustrating experience to say the least, and I wasn’t the only one affected. Mom and Dad had to go back to work that week, so they were forced into at least trying to sleep, but that didn’t make them any more successful at it. The Friday morning after we got home I found myself tired and exhausted but lying awake in my bed at 4:30 am. Having been lying there since around 12:30 am I decided it might be time to get up and do something else, and just as I was getting out of bed I heard something from down stairs. Turns out Mom and Dad were both up, suffering from a similar problem because before I could even make it downstairs mom had heard me moving around and called up to me asking if I was up. Since everyone in the house was up, we decided to cut our losses and just make breakfast even though it was still dark outside. So Mom and Dad and I had blueberry pancakes in the dark at 4:30 in the morning. Well into the next week I was still feeling weary consistently without being able to sleep. Since I was spending so much time not sleeping this left me free to do other things and as I did I began to notice lot of things that I had missed about home while I had been gone and some things I had begun to miss about Australia.

Things I missed about being home: 

 

Mexican food: Yes I did eat some mexican food while I was in Australia, and what I had was amazing, but it wasn’t anywhere as easy to come by as it is in the states, and it tended to air on the expensive side. It was also difficult to produce Mexican dishes on my own since things like black beans were impossible to find in an Australian grocery store. I never thought I would miss Mexican food so much, but I really did.

muy sabrosa!

My car: While city living certainly does not require a car, and it was nice to not have to think about parking or gas prices for a few months, I have enjoyed having my car back. It’s nice to be able to take trips on a whim and most of all I missed my personal time with the music on and the stereo cranked. I also missed the radio in general. Although, I most certainly did NOT miss the rush hour traffic.

My baby

My room: Having roommates is a lot of fun, but its nice to be back in my own personal and very purple space. It’s also quite wonderful to be in a full sized bed again because on my twin in Australia my feet went off the edge.

My very purple room and my very purple bed.

Cheap Alcohol- I got so used to paying $10- $20 for a cocktail that it has been a treat to be home where I pay $5-$10. I still can’t go into an ABC store without feeling incredibly nervous like I’m not supposed to be there. Even though I went to several bars and bought alcohol a few times while abroad, something about being home has me giddy and nervous about being 21 all over again.

The Rest of My Wardrobe: After having lived with the same two suitcases of clothing for five months it was delightful to come home to a closet of clothing that I hadn’t seen since February. I had forgotten I owned half the stuff I came home to!

Bananas: Due to the flooding in Queensland the months before I landed in Australia much of the banana crops of Australia were damaged or washed away. This caused a massive banana shortage, meaning that the bananas that were available were scarce and became quite expensive. When I left bananas had gotten to $12 AUD a kilo, making them almost as expensive as a prime cut of steak. Bananas as a luxury food item? Weird. It’s nice to be back on a continent where they seldom cost more than $2 for a bunch.

American Grocery Stores:  In addition to black beans I was also unable to get regular cheerios, fruit pies, bryers ice cream and many other things I am used to in Australian grocery stores. The grocery sores I went to in Sydney were smaller and had much less variety than I was used to, not to mention groceries were far more expensive and the size of everything was much smaller. When I went to a grocery store for the first time in Virginia it was massive sensory overload, but it was wonderful. I have never been so excited to go to a grocery store as I was when I first came home.

No More Flushing Decisions: In Australia just about every toilet is two flush, meaning everytime you find yourself needing to flush you have to made a decision if you want a  full flush or a half flush. Not that it was that much of a bother, but its nice not to have to ponder on wether or not whatever you are flushing down requires a full flush of water or only half.

 

Things I miss about Australia

Walking Everywhere: While it was wonderful to be back in my car, it meant that I wasn’t walking nearly as much and therefore I got very lazy and out of shape in the first few weeks I was home.

Cheap, Delicious Thai Food on Every Corner: Between living in Sydney and actually visiting Thailand I don’t know that I will ever be able to eat what passes as Thai food in the US ever again.

Included Sales Tax: While things were generally more expensive in Australia, the sales tax was always included in the listed price of everything so you always knew how much you were paying up front which was nice.

Sprawling Starry Skies: The number of stars you can see in the Southern hemisphere is incredible. All the constellations are different from the Northern hemisphere and due to the much lower levels of light pollution the visibility is incredible. I dare say no northern hemisphere sky view will ever be able to top it.

Everywhere Sells Pastries: Almost every sandwich shop, bistro and eatery in Oz sells pastries and has a wonderful selection of desserts that are made in house. Much of Europe is like this too, its wonderful.

Respect for the Environment: Australia seems to be about twenty years ahead of the US with all its green practices. From fuel efficient cars, power switches on every electrical outlet, half flush toilets, bans on plastic bags and bottles, to an emphasis on locally grown produce, recycling programs, and bio degradable plastics, they have far more respect for their environment and their natural resources. It just goes to show you how little we would have to give up to make these changes, as everyone over there seems to live quite comfortably. In line with this, all the cities I visited in Australia were all spotlessly clean. They seem to take great pride in having cities free from trash and grime.

Living in the City: I have never really thought of myself as being a city girl, but I really enjoyed living on the outskirts of Sydney. There was always something to do, somewhere to go, and something to see, usually within walking distance. Springfield seems terribly dull after living in Sydney for a few months.

No Chain Restaurants: Australians do not like chain restaurants generally speaking. There are very few chains to be found there that are not American chains., and even those are not very prominent. (except McDonalds, but there is no escaping that.) Coming home I began to notice just how many chains there are in the US and how few independently owned restaurants are in my area. I miss the excitement of walking into an establishment and not knowing what kind of food you would be served or experience you would have.

Adventures: While I was abroad I had this attitude that since my time was limited and it was unlikely that I would ever be back in Australia I should make the absolute most of the time I had and explore as much as I could and have as many adventures as I could. This led to many a great adventures, and I miss that. Being home I don’t feel any guilt spending the day indoors watching tv or running errands, whereas in Australia I would have been twisted with guilt to go through an entire day without having done anything memorable. Suffice to say life has been considerably less exciting since I returned to Springfield.

Vegetarian Friendly Cuisine: Almost every restaurant I went to while abroad had extensive vegetarian offerings. Many even had a vegetarian menu, I had forgotten how limiting being a vegetarian could be in the US. Australia is also far more health conscious than the US and their restaurant menus reflect this.

Tim Tams: Obviously.

 

People keep asking me if I want to go back to Australia, and while I did love my time there, there are so many other places in the world I am eager to see I don’t see wanting to go back any time soon. Plus the thought of enduring that 15.5 hour trans pacific flight again is in no way enticing to me. I feel like I might go back one day, who knows?

 

Two Sunsets Over the Pacific

Posted by: valerina

August 22nd, 2011 >> Los Angelos, United States, Virginia

Getting into the United States via customs was quite the ordeal. The lines we had to wait in were tremendously long and moved at a snails pace. Julie was so busy texting for the first time in two and a half weeks that she hardly noticed, but Dad, a man of far too many words and no patience was very verbal about his distaste for the situation.Some jems from the hour we spent trying to get through customs:

Dad: “It shouldn’t take me this long to get into the country I am a citizen of! I’m not a terrorist just let me in already!”

 

Dad: “This is like being back at Safeway, they have 18 registers but only four people working. Isn’t it great to be back in the United States? This would never happen in Fiji, nobody cares about blowing that place up, they’re too busy smoking dope.”

 

Dad: “Allah allah ackbar! Osama Jihad!”

Mom: Michael! Shut Up!

Dad: ” I was trying to get us through the line faster”

Mom: “You’re going to get us detained! I want to get home! ”

Dad: ” We are home! This is America now, I was BORN IN THE USA!”

Julie: “Do you have any original thoughts that aren’t Bruce Springstein lyrics?

Me: “doubtful, highly doubtful”

 

After finally making it through border control we had to collect our bags only to then re deposit them on a conveyer belt no more than 100 feet away from the one we pulled them off of, so they would make it onto the next flight. Then we had to find our way through the labyrinth that is LAX to the American Airlines check-in desk so we could get our boarding passes for our last flight. It was around eleven in the morning as we were doing this, and our DC flight didn’t leave till 10 pm. Thankfully, Dads childhood friend Pete lives in LA and had agreed to pick us up at the airport so we wouldn’t be stuck sitting in LAX all day. After we had our flight all squared away we met up with him and he took us to a hotel where they he had very graciously gotten us a room so we could shower and change. Julie and I thought this to be the greatest miracle of mercy. Even though I was zonked not having slept hardly at all for a good 24 hours at this point, I was also quite hungry, so Pete and his family took us out to this little Japanese restaurant in LA for a real meal. Since this was the first time Julie or I had been to LA Mom suggested we do a little sightseeing after having eaten. Pete suggested that we take a stroll on the Santa Monica Pier. Even though it was an 85+ degree day, once the sun starting to go down the temperature dropped to be in the 60s and Julie and I started shivering in our shorts and t-shirts. Julie and I were perplexed. Having lived in the muggy swamp of northern Virginia where it consistently feels like you are inside someone’s mouth every time you walk outside from late May to mid September, we were confused at the notion that one could feel chilly after sundown. You mean to tell me that in other places of the world it actually gets cold when the sun is no longer shining? BIZARRE!

 

On the Santa Monica Pier in LA

We watched the sun set over the pacific ocean on 19th of July twice. Once in Fiji, and then we flew back in time and saw it set again in California. Having now been up for almost a day and a half by the time we got off the Santa Monica pier Julie and I wanted nothing more than to get some sleep. We asked to be taken back to the hotel so we could sleep and Mom and Dad went out with Pete and his wife for a drink. I was so sleep deprived at this point that as soon as I found myself on a horizontal surface I passed the hell out and I have no memory of anything that happened after that. At some point I was woken up and we somehow ended up on another plane, but my memory of this is foggy at best. I only got maybe two hours of sleep in the hotel which was not enough to make up the deficit of sleep I had incurred in the last two days. We boarded our DC bound flight at 10 pm and I think they showed a movie, but I was in such a state it felt like my body was producing LSD naturally, so maybe I just imagined that I watched animated brightly colored talking birds. I can’t say I remember either way.

Even though I was exhausted and my brain was desperate for some shut down time, I couldn’t get comfortable on the flight with the two screaming babies sitting in front of me and a seat that didn’t recline far enough. Luckily I had a window seat so I watched the lights of middle America pass underneath until the sun rose, which was magnificent to behold.

We landed around 7 am and I had never been so happy to be at Dulles Airport in my short young life as I was when we got off that plane. We picked up our bags and made our way outside to find that we had picked the perfect time to come home, we were in the middle of a heatwave! Good ole Virginia in July. Good to know some things never change. Our next door neighbor was there to pick us up when we got outside, so we loaded up our luggage and began the final leg of our trans global journey home. On our way home from the airport we had to take 66 to get to the parkway, so in a 24 hour period we saw both ends of route 66 without seeing any of the middle.

 

Once we finally made it home I was completely drained of all energy, but somehow managed to unpack all three suitcases I had, and shower before crashing hardcore into a deep and restful sleep, finally at home and in my purple room in my purple bed. Life was good and it was good to be home.

Departing Paradise

Posted by: valerina

August 17th, 2011 >> Fiji

Our last day in Fiji of course began with packing. Julie and I had thought we needed to be checked out of our rooms by 11, but Dad thought this sounded odd, so he had gone to the front desk the previous day and asked about this and they had told him 10. Once we had packed our suitcases for the last time we headed to the breakfast bar in the hotel lobby where we found Mom and Dad already having eaten but not sitting with any luggage. When we inquired about this we found out that Julie and I had been right, and Dad might be slipping into senility because check out time was indeed at 11. Why he thought the front desk had told him otherwise is anyone’s guess. Julie and I were a little peeved that we were cheated out of an extra hour of sleep, but we were already up and packed so there was no going back at this point. Our international flight to LAX didn’t depart till 10pm so we wouldn’t be leaving the hotel until around 7, meaning we had the whole day to fill before spending another two days either on an airplane or in an airport. While Julie and I were finishing up with breakfast Dad went to the front desk to pay the bill. This bill was going to be massive after all the meals we had charged to the room, room service, bar tabs, and of course the jet ski safari, and to make matters worse it was going to come in Fijian dollars so it was going to be 1.5x higher than it would be in american, numerically anyway. Julie and I did not want to be around to witness the massive coronary Dad was going to have when he got that, so we headed to the pool.

Poolside on the last day

 

 Being that it was fairly early Julie and I were able to snag two  lounge chairs in a premium position, and there we stayed until around two or three pm when we got hungry. By that time Mom had joined us and Dad of course had found a bar somewhere and probably some strangers to talk to, so Mom, Julie and I had lunch at the hotel restaurant that faces the beach.

Beachside restaurant

After lunch we got back in the pool for a bit before Julie decided she would take a nap on a lawn chair and Mom and I took a long walk down the beach. Around five Julie and I used the pool showers to wash our hair and then put our comfortable clothes on to prepare for the plane. From then on it was just a waiting game until 7 when we were getting picked up. So I took some pictures around the hotel to pass the time.

on the beach

 

 

 

Fiji water in Fiji.....go figure. We got these everyday for free.

 

The man who was driving our bus transport to the airport talked a lot about the island we were on as we drove. At one point he said “and to your left you will see the American embassy.” We all leaned to the left to get a peak, but all we saw was a McDonalds. He got a good laugh at this. He also told us that while there are 334 Fijian islands there are only three McDonalds locations, and they have to import the french fries since the potato does not grow naturally there.

We got to the airport and through security with about two hours to spare so we set off to try to entertain ourselves in the terminal. Mom walked around through all the tacky overpriced souvenir shops, Julie and I stood in line to get our Fijian money exchanged, and since there were no bars to be found Dad fished a magazine out of his giant 10 lb backpack of reading materials that he had lugged all over Australia. Knowing that the food on the Air Pacific flight wouldn’t be that good Julie and I invested in some snacks before we boarded, but the food options in the Fijian airport were shoddy at best.

airport ice cream fail

The whole time we were killing time in the terminal we had a live bula band playing, which did give the whole room a jovial atmosphere, which is impressive since we were all about to board a 10 hour trans pacific flight with two crying babies.

Bula band in the international terminal

 

Aiport security....in a skirt. If he really needed to chase someone down it might be tricky in this get up.

We boarded the flight on time and they served us a meal about an hour into it. I think I have been truly spoiled by Qantas airlines because I thought everything about Air Pacific was sub par. The food was awful, Julie’s headphone jack malfunctioned and they had significantly less entertainment options than Qantas has. Still, after you have done a 15.5 hour flight pretty much everything else seems paltry by comparison, so ten hours wasn’t awful, even though it was a red eye flight. Thankfully I was able to sleep a little bit and stretch out, as there was nobody in the seat to my left and Julie was in the seat to my right. I don’t know how long I was out for but I missed breakfast, which according to Dad was worth missing since it consisted of a very soggy hash brown and some questionable gray meat product. We landed in LA mid morning of the 19th we had left Fiji on the evening of the 19th. While the idea of time travel is cool, in actuality its quite bewildering. I don’t think I knew what day/time it was for at least three days after we got home. Still it was nice to be back in the correct hemisphere, season, and country.

Jet Ski Safari

Posted by: valerina

August 17th, 2011 >> Fiji

We were none to thrilled too have to return to getting up early the next day, and due to this we were a little late getting out to the beach for our jet ski adventure. Never the less we made it down to the Adrenaline Water Sports loading dock just in time to be the last ones to be given jet skis. We would be jet skiing out about 45 minutes to a small island where we would then be scuba diving on a reef for roughly an hour and then we would return. We were given life jackets, scuba gear, brief instructions and keys to start the jet skis. Julie and I would be driving but Dad would go with Julie and Mom would ride with me. While jet skis look relatively simple to operate, Julie and I learned that it is a bit harder than it looks. We both had trouble maintaining a constant speed especially when Mom was sitting behind me holding on for dear life and squealing anytime I picked up speed and Dad was sitting behind Julie yelling at her to go faster. Somehow we managed to arrive at the island with all four family members intact even if we were the last ones to arrive by a long shot.

 

Adrenaline Watersports!

Getting ready to head out

 

Once on the island we suited up in scuba gear and headed out onto the reef, or the remains of it anyway. After scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef just about everything else is going to pale in comparison, but the Fijian snorkeling experience was somewhat underwhelming. The “reef” was more like the fossilized remnants of a reef that once was there, and there weren’t that many fish around either. We did see lots of sea urchins and starfish though. And the starfish in Fiji are this incredible electric blue color. We must have seen hundreds of them, they were all over the place. In addition to the blue starfish there were also schools of very tiny electric blue fish that had a shimmer to them. They were very eye catching. Also on the ocean floor were some concrete blocks where certain environmental groups had been trying to rehabilitate the reef, and some PBC piping sticking out of the sand for reasons unknown. After getting out of the water all four of us agreed that the salinity of the water in Fiji was the most intense we had experienced anywhere. Something about Fiji, its just very salty. As we were packing up our scuba gear to get ready to head back Dad said “I have seen the remnants of a former civilization- they used PBC piping. They were ahead of their time.”

at rest

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue?!

 

Before getting back on the jet skis to head back we had a major discussion about who would be riding back with who. Julie had put her foot down that she would not be riding back with Dad since all he had done was tell her how crappy of a driver she was and push her to go faster. I wanted to go with Julie but that would put Mom riding back with the man she married, and she was not down for that. She hadn’t liked how fast I had gone being at the helm and she knew that Dad would want to go much faster than I had. Julie and I figured that while Dad could jerk her and I around, with Mom he had to behave. We quarreled over this on the beach for a while, but ultimately I ended up going back with Julie driving and Mom rode with Dad driving and that arrangement seemed to work out much better as Dad was scared into behaving and Julie and I were much less stressed and actually enjoyed the ride back. On the return journey Julie and I managed to stay with the rest of the group, but Mom and Dad fell behind. We arrived back at the hotel a good ten to fifteen minutes before we saw any signs of them so Julie and I got very concerned that they had gotten lost. Luckily they turned up a few minutes later with one of the guides trailing behind them.

 

After our adrenaline filled morning adventure we were pretty tired, so we spent the rest of the day being lazy in front of the TV and by the pool. While this was the last night we would sleep in Fiji, we had a long day ahead of us with a late evening flight the following day and then a red eye across the pacific ocean, so we went to bed early because it was the last time we would get to sleep on a horizontal surface for a while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day of Rest

Posted by: valerina

August 10th, 2011 >> Fiji

 

Julie and I didn’t even consider getting out of bed before noon. We were so tired from the constant hustle and bustle of our vacation that we were ready for a little R&R. We probably would have snoozed right through lunch had the maid service not come knocking on our door asking to clean the room. Julie and I sent her away and didn’t roll out of bed till around one, and after grabbing a quick breakfast from one of the take away places in the hotel we grabbed some sunscreen and headed for the pool.

 

Hanging out poolside

 

We lazed around poolside for a few hours, and when that got old took a walk down the beach to see some of the other hotels that were on our island. Around five or so we started to get hungry so we headed back to the room and to find mom and dad. As it turns our parents had started their day a good bit earlier, and of course dad had been seated at the bar at 11 when they started serving alcohol. His drink of choice? A long island ice tea. Mom came along, but she can’t hold her liquor quite like Dad can, so she had abandoned him to relax in the room which is where Julie and I found her on our way back from the pool. Since she had gotten up at a reasonable hour she didn’t have much interest in eating dinner as soon as we wanted to, so we went back to our own room and changed into some beachy evening attire and took a stroll around the resort before headed to dinner together.

hammock sitting

 

overlooking the resort

 

sisters

 

Making some tiki friends

We had a “lesbian date night” as Julie calls it, dinner and drinks together at the oceanside restaurant. Once we had eaten we headed back to the room to watch movies on TV and order dessert from room service. Mom came in a bit later and we chatted and hung out and then still ended up going to bed fairly early. It was so nice to have a lazy day

legal drinking in Fiji

 

fruity drinks

 

We thought that the next day would be more of the same, but as it turns out while Mom and Dad had been throwing back long islands at the bar the morning jet ski tours had been heading out. Every year we have gone to the beach as a family Dad has suggested that we rent jet skis for a day, but it has never happened. Every year we have a conversation where he suggests that we do something adventurous like that, and every year mom shoots him down and spends her vacation in a beach chair with a book and a cold drink instead. With our Australian vacation we were breaking all the conventions of the Lapointe family trips, so in their lightly buzzed morning drinking state when they saw the jet ski groups going out Mom and Dad had finally agreed that we would in fact do something adventurous. They had booked us a three hour jet ski safari for the following morning, so we went to sleep with that to look forward to!