November 2009

OK, November is gearing up to be a very busy month for us, despite the financial gloom that surrounds us, which will now sort itself out in due course. I am taking Monday off, as Tuesday is a Public Holiday here to coincide with Melbourne Cup Day. Among my allocated jobs is cleaning the house thoroughly in preparation for our interview for next year’s exchange student from Finland. By the time Julie takes a “day off” to start cooking for our Thanksgiving Dinner on Saturday 7th, she will have worked 11 days straight, between her 2 jobs. On the day after the dinner, we need to prepare the bus with everything we will need for the following weekend, including a stock of tables and chairs, as I will be taking it down to Majors Creek (-35.56865,149.74257) on Wednesday 11th, to occupy our camping spot for the Music Festival from Friday 13th to Sunday 15th, at which LWB are running a soup stall as a fundraiser and our attendance and participation will be appreciated. As far as I know, the weekend of the 21st and 22nd is down time, punctuated only by an engagement party, prior to another mad scramble to get the house spick and span for the kids’ arrival on Monday 23rd.  They are here for 2 nights before we all pile into the bus, collect Julie from work on the way out and head for Melbourne for Brooke & Paul’s wedding on Friday 27th, followed by a tourist and party weekend, before throwing them back onto the plane and meandering back through the mountains. I’m exhausted already!

Then December SHOULD be punctuated by settlements of our property sales, hopefully all before the Christmas stand-down, which will clear the way for us to take minimal days off and enjoy sometime to meander through central NSW. Christmas Day is likely to be the traditional Australian cold meats lunch in a small town in the middle of nowhere, possibly followed by a game of cricket in the main street, or perhaps a short trip to another equally small town to see if the pub is open. It will be a trip to test the answers to questions such as: Can the generator drive the air conditioner? Is there now enough hot air venting to enable the generator to run quietly with the hatch closed? Is the 240V inverter working properly now? Can the solar panels keep up with the demand? Can we manage to overflow the poop tank again? Can we find enough water along the way to have showers? Can we actually survive living in such close quarters for a week or so? Will the dogs survive the trip? And so on.

We have just been sitting here discussing the load of heavy laundry that I put out on the line earlier in the day and we are now finishing them off in the dryer. As Julie was about to go and check on the load, I explained that I had just stuck my head in there and they weren’t dry yet. I then had to explain in some detail that my method of checking a dryer load is to go and stick my face in the open door. If my glasses fog up, they’re not done yet! Some days, male logic is worth its weight in gold.

Thanksgiving came early this year at our place, since we’ll be on the road later in the month. Fifteen people in all, neighbours and work colleagues.

Now the story about the thong (that’s a type of shoe for our American friends). Only an Aussie could have a bottle opener built into the sole.

Friday night and it’s been a busy week. The sale of the 2 Brisbane properties is proceeding, which will go a long way towards reducing our debt. And today we kicked off a contract for the sale of the one in Queanbeyan. And the offer on the Mount Isa one has fallen over again. Meanwhile, I took the day off on Wednesday and took all morning to get the bus air conditioner working again. It seems we hit something under the back end at some time since we collected it, which pushed the protection plate up onto the pulley for the compressor in the engine bay. The pulley stopped rather abruptly and the belt snapped. So the job involved getting most of the dent out of the belly pan first, then getting the correct size belt fitted, plus others replaced that were worn. At least I got to help the mechanic and learn a bit about how it all goes together. Then I took it down to Majors Creek to park it, in preparation for the Music Festival from Friday to Sunday. And drove the Suzuki home on the back road through Captains Flat.

This morning, we were very pleased to get an email from Eemeli in Finland, saying that he was excited about staying with us next year. Of course, we both replied immediately and I invited him as a friend on FaceBook.

When we had finished work for the day today, we loaded up the Suzuki with food in the Esky and clothes in the grab bag and came back down the back road. Regardless of how much the little car bounces around on regular roads, it certainly does the job in 4WD mode on a dirt road and I was once again impressed by its performance. Needless to say, Majors Creek had filled up since I was here just 2 days ago, and the bus was surrounded by other campers.

The big disappointment came when I turned on the laptop and found NO Internet! Might have to go for a little drive tomorrow! Nearly midnight now and the music has finally stopped. Now just waiting for Julie to get back from the jam session at the camp where several of her colleagues are staying.

And now the 12V to 240V inverter has crapped itself yet again, so not only no Internet, but also no means of charging the laptop unless I run the generator for a while tomorrow. Sigh. I’ll get the bugs ironed out eventually! Saturday morning. Even worse, we’ve left home without the coffee plunger. I tried pouring the coffee from a saucepan through a grease strainer into the mugs, but I ended up with a huge mess and a mouthful of coffee grits. Reckon the cappuccino guy will be doing a roaring trade later on. And the bus isn’t quite level, so the fridge and freezer are struggling to keep up. Ok, enough complaining. At least the dunny is still flushing, so far anyway. And the fridge and freezer just needed to be locked shut properly with the catch. All this testing and learning still to go before we are ready to hit the road full time!

Sunday morning. Turns out Julie didn’t make it to the jam session, but more on that later. She slept until 9:45, which is a good indication that she really needed the sleep. It was a pretty slow day, selling cold water in the heat of the day and waiting for the expected peak period of selling hot soup after the sun went down, while listening to the music from the tent across the oval. In all, the festival has 4 entertainment areas, some which were hosting various workshops. The evening failed to turn out as freezing as Friday night, so business wasn’t as brisk.

However, after we closed up, we went back to Trish’s camp and were treated to the experience of seeing and hearing “some of the finest musicians in the country” gathered in a circle, jamming on traditional folk music tunes. Fiddles, wind instruments, guitars, drums, accordion ….. From the picture, I have spotted banjos and a mandolin. Very clearly, hundreds of man years of talent and experience. When one tune finished, one of the musicians would strike up another tune, and the others would listen for the melody and then start joining in. For us, the highlight of the weekend.

Notes from Julie. On Friday night, I got teased about this. A young boy and his mother came up and asked for some soup. I talked to him and teased him a little. Several hours later, they returned and his mother said that tomorrow night they would be back for more soup and that he could not stop talking about my “lovely soft accent”. On Saturday night, he and his Mum showed up again and everyone said, “Julie, there’s your boyfriend, better go serve him.” He blushed but was really happy to talk to me again. 

One of the characters we saw on the oval during the weekend was a lady in a long, bright red dress, complete with bustle and gold fringed umbrella. Very unusual, but probably the only place she can get away with wearing it. Actually, we saw her this morning at Trish’s camp. Another was “the swagman”. A brilliant poet, he could recite a story or poetry for hours at a time. Yes, literally. I was so impressed that I gave him a donation and we fed him a cup of soup at the end of the night.

Of course, since this has now been published and uploaded, we are now back home, to find the cactus flowering.

I can’t believe it has only been a week since I last updated this. Time seems to be racing away and standing still simultaneously. It turns out that the problems with the inverter are because of a low voltage spike from the batteries when the fridge cuts in. Finally, I checked the batteries and was horrified to find that all 3 of the cells in all 4 of the batteries were DRY! It was a miracle that they had been working at all. It took 8 litres of distilled water to top them up again. They are now being fully charged from mains power in the hope that they will recover in time for the upcoming Melbourne trip. The bilge pump to pull the hot air created by the generator out of its locker bin has been installed and my very grateful thanks to Frank for helping me to achieve this. It works really well. And the Ace Gas LPG conversion is scheduled for installation when we get back from Melbourne next week.

I just called April’s work at flight time minus 3 hours – Mikey was there to collect her, she was just getting changed and they were off to the airport. Much better than trying to do that at FT minus 2 hours! Update: At FT minus 90 minutes, they were already waiting in the gate lounge. Text message from April to say that Duncan had got upset that his clothes had been checked in. He’s got to have his clothes! Now tracking the flight over Oregon. How amazing our technology has become. We saw the track the flight made into San Francisco. We were in touch with the kids via text messages at each stop and after they landed in Sydney. They had a dream run, with all of their airport activities being almost painless. For example, they were ready for the 9:15 bus to Canberra at 8:15. And arrived into Canberra right on time.

On Monday night (fortunately), I needed to run an errand to collect some spare fan belts and decided to take the bus (so that we would all fit). The clutch went almost all the way to the floor. Ugh! I spent over an hour on Tuesday morning calling around for anyone who could help us get on the road again. I ended up with Australian Brake Sleeving in Queanbeyan, also trading as BrakeWorx, who turned out to be an absolute “find”! They sent a mechanic out to check out the problem, he verified that the master cylinder was leaking badly, removed it and took it back to the workshop, where it was sleeved with a hardened stainless steel cylinder, brought it back and installed it. All this took only about 3 hours, cost less than $300 and is better than a new one. To say that I am impressed is an understatement. They certainly have my repeat business when it comes to getting the brakes on the Suzuki brought up to scratch.

Meanwhile, Tim took the kids shopping for a new dress for April & also for groceries. Thanks again, mate. And the “welcome to our place” barbecue was a huge success. It’s now Wednesday morning and we’re all waking up slowly. Melbourne, here we come. Great to see that April looks fantastic, as her right kidney function is now up to 60%, with several more stem cell treatments still to go. Of course, the kids had come from Seattle’s cold and were completely unprepared for Canberra turning on one of the hottest November days on record (hmm, so was everyone else). Turns out that Julie & April can interchange their clothes, which they did.

On the property front, the sale of the Chermside (Qld) property settled last week, the Everton Hills (Qld) one is due for settlement on or before 9 Dec, the Queanbeyan (NSW) one has a contract on it and is scheduled for settlement on 11 Dec (with enough room to slip to 18 Dec if necessary) and the Mount Isa (Qld) one now has a contract (signed last night) with settlement due on 22 Dec. If all of them go through as planned, it will take a huge amount of pressure off.

Wednesday, the girls took quite a while shopping and we didn’t get away until nearly 11am, which meant that we had a very full day of pushing the bus along with only limited opportunities to stop and look,  although we did manage to get Duncan a real Aussie hat when we stopped at the “Dog on the Tuckerbox”.  Dinner with Des & Helen was, as always, fabulous. And at least having come so far on Wednesday, we could afford to make a slower, albeit earlier, start on Thursday.

Thursday, we visited the site of Ned Kelly’s last stand in Glenrowan and asked the blacksmith where we might see some kangaroos, as Duncan had been asking to see some (constantly) and we knew that once we got to Melbourne, there would be no further opportunities to see them.

He directed us back to a paddock adjacent to the local caravan park, where we called in and asked. As Duncan, Mike & I headed off to the gully where they hide out during the day, we did notice a couple of roos further down on open ground. Finding none in the gully, we hopped the fence and headed towards them. Turns out, there were 3 of them and they took off towards where April was positioned with her camera. She just held her finger on the trigger and fired away. I have published only the best shots. Then I circled around, which directed them towards and around the other side of Duncan & Mike’s position, and Mike had a similar opportunity to capture them at closer range. Now THAT’s what I call a kangaroo experience. We have heard no more from Duncan about seeing roos!

Out on the road, we were driving along and Duncan was handing out gummy worms. After we had explained to him that I couldn’t have anything with red in it, which includes orange, he selected orange and yellow ones, tore them in half and handed me the yellow half. Very thoughtful.

Later on, when Mike was driving, I was sufficiently comfortable with his driving that I dropped off to sleep in the co-pilot’s chair. We made it into Melbourne about 1 pm and killed a couple of hours shopping for things that we had forgotten to pack, like a dress shirt for me. And a life jacket for Duncan to wear while swimming.

I must say, I am impressed with the caravan park. The lady who checked us in actually came out and made some suggestions on the best way to get the bus onto the site. That night we treated ourselves to a genuine Thanksgiving dinner that Julie made, up to and including pumpkin pie.

It’s now Friday morning and we’re all showered and just chillin’ as we wait until it’s time to get dressed up and go.

We caught the feeder bus to the tram into the city for the wedding. After that, every time we saw a tram, Duncan would remark that we’d been on one of those. He’s quick. And the wedding was just perfect. The amount of planning that went into it was clearly obvious. The venue was small and intimate, with only about 40 guests, all close friends and family, lots of booze and laughter.

Duncan fell asleep on Julie’s lap during the speeches and she was just stoked that he could trust her that much. Then she complained that she couldn’t move – hey, that’s easy, just lift his head and the pillow, slide out and put him down on the couch. Years of practice!

Saturday, Mike & I walked over to Paul’s place and borrowed Brooke’s car and we headed in to the Queen Victoria Market. When Vince handed over the keys, he remarked that he’d left the stroller in the boot and it might be useful. April sang his and Brooke’s praises all day!

Thanks to Mike for an excellent BBQ dinner, (Mike, you’re welcome any time), prepared while Duncan made some friends in the playground. We marvelled at a huge double bogie bus that pulled in. It had to be at least 40 feet long, with seating in the front half and 3 rows of sleeping tubes on the back half. Turned out to be a party of Germans, who were singularly uncommunicative. April and Mike had been planning to go out to a movie, but the rain set in and that was the end of that idea.

Sunday, we woke to more rain, but headed out to do some sightseeing, not knowing that there was a marathon race going on, and we were unable to get to St Kilda Beach as planned. So we ended up back at QVM again. More shopping. Julie particularly wanted to get some cheeses from the deli area, which she did, and Mike ended up providing the staff with his “world famous” recipe for preparing smoked salmon. Then on to the open house at Brooke & Paul’s place, where we presented gifts from my family (one of my mother’s crystal cake dishes) and from Mike & April (photos that they had taken on Friday and had them printed and framed on Saturday). Brooke was ecstatic. “How many people do you know that have framed photos 2 days after the wedding?”

Mike assures me that the next time they travel with us in the bus, he will make up a frame that will support the “hanging out” half of the double bed, so that it doesn’t sag. By then we will have bought some eggshells foam for the top of it, plus a firm-fitting bottom sheet. Some time after we dropped them all off at the airport, we discovered Duncan’s toothbrush still suction cupped to the bathroom sink, as a reminder. Julie had a few hours of quiet contemplation as we escaped from Melbourne. We wasted a couple of hours on the north side of Melbourne trying to find a lawyer who could or would witness my signature on the title transfer for the Everton Hills property, only to track down a local JP in Wangaratta (thanks again, Des), who was quite happy to witness it. We replaced the silver salt and pepper grinders (they went back to the US with the kids) with the nice burgundy coloured ones we should have bought in the first place. And still in Wangaratta, Julie found some of those mesh “fly tents” that you can put over food to keep the flies off when serving outside. She said she hadn’t seen those since she lived at her Mom’s house as a kid!

We took Des’s advice and continued on up the Hume Freeway, to turn off at Albury and get onto the Riverina Highway up the Victorian side of the Murray River. We have stopped for the night in a small layoff overlooking the lake, or what’s left of it in the drought. Eerie as the sun goes down – the dead trees in the water look like something out of a movie “comin’ to get you!”. We would like to think it’s stealth camping, but there is nothing stealthy about a 30′ bus parked by the side of the road. Unfortunately there is no internet or phone access here – so will have to publish tomorrow.  Luv to all.