Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Trip to the States

By Jen.

Over the past year, Jonathan has been mentioning the total solar eclipse to me with longing. Despondent that we wouldn’t be able to see it. I figured it wasn’t a big deal, that it would happen again soon, but Jonathan informed me (mistakenly) that this about the only one that would have been in a location that we could easily get to in our lifetimes. Well, that had me hooked. So, about 2 months ago, I told him that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to go back to the States to see it. So we started looking into it, checking our budget, travels, and planning. We decided we could make it happen and planned on arriving about 3 weeks before the eclipse (Aug 1), so that we would have time to acclimate to the jet lag.

I was all for just making a few day visit, just to see the eclipse, but Jonathan thought we wouldn’t be able to do that and the jet lag would be too bad. So we made it 3 weeks and decided to get there early enough for a few birthdays. My sisters’ birthday was Aug 8, so I thought I might be able to convince my siblings to come to the lake during that time, so that I wouldn’t have to go traipsing around 2 states to see them. Thus, my family got early warning and coaxing and convincing that they all needed to be at Table Rock Lake, MO, when I was. However, in Jonathan’s family, the twins’ first birthday was on Aug 12, so we knew there would be a big shindig where everyone would be there already. So, they didn’t get forewarning.

Traveling day was a really long 3 days for us. We got up at 3:30 am on Aug 31  and caught our first flight at 6 am. We discovered that we really don’t like Sydney airport, as you have to travel either by bus or train from the domestic terminal to the international terminal (with all your luggage). Then caught the 10:15 am flight to the US. I luckily got business class, but Jonathan was in coach. So we switched for a few hours so that we could both get some ZZZs (only about 2-4 hours, though). Then, we arrived in LAX on the same day, 3 hours before, at 7 am, getting to repeat the day all over again. However, flights were booked all day and we didn’t get a flight until the 5:20pm flight, which we almost missed because we didn’t hear our names called. This flight put us in too late to catch the last SGF flight from DFW, so we booked a hotel. Unfortunately, it was out of the airport and the shuttle took forever, so we didn’t get to bed until midnight. Fortunately, the first flight for SGF didn’t leave until 9:55 am, so we didn’t have to get up super early, but it still wasn’t enough sleep. Finally, we arrived in Springfield, MO on the morning of Aug 2. However, we couldn’t find our bag… We suspected this, since I had temporarily gotten a seat assignment on an earlier flight to DFW (so our luggage probably got put on), but Jonathan hadn’t, so I had given up my seat. I checked the bag tracker, and it said it had arrived the day before, so we went to the checkin counter (the airport was too small to have a lost-baggage counter), and they found it in a locked back room. Yay! Our souvenirs made it safely!

Rather than buy gifts that people would just put in the closet and forget about, we decided to bring back lots of candy and cookies for souvenirs!

The toddlers got some exotic stuffed animals.

I got a few days of my parents and grandparents to ourselves, then my sister showed up with her children. Then a couple of days later, my brother showed up with her husband (they had a softball game in which they had to compete until then). On Monday, we all went Branson and tried out the Fritz Adventure, which is basically like a huge playground/obstacle course for all ages. Everyone had a blast, I think. Jonathan’s and my outdoor activities have been paying off, as we were both able to scale the “hard” section of the climbing wall. Then, on Tuesday, it was my sister’s birthday. On Wednesday, they even managed to surprise me with a “happy 30th birthday” wish and cake (which, just like old times, I made myself Winking smile, not knowing it would be used for that).

Jonathan has a new friend!

Reading a number book to Hallie.

Dinner with everyone. I think Grandma is going to need a larger table for big family gatherings!

Thursday, we decided to head to Arkansas to check see family there and exchange a few items in storage. We made contact with Jonathan’s grandmother and aunt and uncle and made them promise not to tell Jonathan’s family we were in the States (my family had been under strict instructions not to post anything on facebook). It was good to see them and a good thing we stopped by, as because of a last-minute issue, they were not able to come to the twins’ party.

Armed with cards from them for the twins, we left for the party on Saturday morning, planning on arriving intentionally late (didn’t want to steal the show from the kiddos). Ryan had been our inside man and kept us informed of the goings-on. We arrived at El Guapo’s Cantina about 11:30, but we had to use the restroom and figured it would be hard to get away after we went in. So, we decided to head to the restroom first. Unfortunately, on the way, James managed to spot Jonathan through the windows, while Jonathan looked back at him… :/ We just hoped he hadn’t recognized him. However, while we were hiding in the bathrooms, Jonathan received a text from him asking him if he was in the States (with a LOL added to it; I guess he couldn’t believe his eyes). So, we decided to go ahead and just make our appearance. Seems we still managed to surprise them enough. Josh was grinning ear to ear, Brit and Cyndi had tears, Dave was excited, and James was just thankful he wasn’t hallucinating. Ryan had prepared the photographer for our visit, but we came in unexpectedly from the wrong door, so we kinda messed up his plans a bit. The party itself was impressive and well planned out; I must give them kudos.

Since his family wasn’t expecting us, we didn’t have much planned with them, but we did get to a few restaurants that we missed (Red Robin and Sisserou’s) while we there. And, his family planned a surprise 30th birthday party Friday night for Jonathan (only about 1 week early at the time). However, as we were going to pick up the pizza with his parents, his mother received a call from a coworker and accidentally mentioned to her that it was a surprise party. It was still a surprise, just not the resounding surprise that it might have been.

Then, it was time to head towards the eclipse! See next post for details. When we returned from the eclipse, it was Grandma’s birthday, so we had dinner with them and packed up our baggage. When we arrived, we had 2 backpacks, 2 laptops, and 1 checked bag, which was all stuff that was staying in the States. While we were here, we decided to pick up a few things that were cheaper here, and now had 4 boxes/bags to replace the one we came with. The one we came with was still being used, despite the abuse it had received in the first journey to Australia.

Then, the next day, we left for Australia.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Grampians

As we drove east from Flinders Ranges towards Melbourne, we decided to take a more northerly route through the Grampians National Park.  A modest collection of mountains, this range (like most of southern Victoria) is quite wet in the winter. 


We had most of the park to ourselves, as the “cold” weather deterred all but the most intrepid visitors. 


Victoria is pretty sign and safety crazy.  


Lots of water-carved canyons/gorges to explore.  All of it nice and cool with daytime temps less than 60F. 


Notice anyone familiar in this photo?

At least with all the rain we got a few rainbows.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Whale Watching, Part 2 (Videos!)

By Jen.

For our earlier “Whale Watching” post, we hadn’t posted in a while. So figured we had probably put something out there, even it wasn’t perfect. Jonathan grabbed a few of the best pictures that we had and put them on the post. But, the whales were tremendously hard to photograph for my poor, abused camera with the scratch on the lens. There were many reasons for this:
  1. For one, the whales were not very predictable. When they would decide to start and stop their antics was not readily noticeable.
  2. The whales, while close to the shore, were still pretty far for a camera. So, zooming in was necessary, and I would often loose my place in that vast ocean.
  3. My camera’s autofocusing was really struggling between the lens scratch and the waves.
  4. The wind was crazy strong and kept buffeting us.

Eventually, I decided the best way to capture the moment was to video the scenes. However, I still wasn’t very good at this, but at least I caught a few of the interesting antics on camera.

I must say, I was like a kid in a toy store. I really enjoyed the outing. Right when we first saw them, the whales starting in on these beautiful antics that almost seemed choreographed, as they would often wave at each from distances of several hundreds of meters across murky, wave-tossed ocean. Not sure how they coordinated this. Really, I would recommend this event for everyone. It was really cool.

Breaching whale.

First half = mother and baby; 2nd half = 2 males arguing over a female.

Fin waving and a whale rolled completely upside down.