Monday, November 24, 2008

This Dump is a Place

At the beginning of August we were given the opportunity to move into a different house, on top of a hill overlooking Bagdad. This was a privilege that we thought might not come along again in a hurry, and wanting to get away from the microscope in the middle of town, soon accepted. It's a smaller house than where we had been previously living, and there's a lot of wildlife around which we really like. But the house has one feature that as I like to say, "you don't find everywhere": the backyard has an unobstructed view of one of the mine's waste dumps. When I first started telling people that we were moving to the top of the hill, several of them laughed because they knew how close the house is to the dump. But then someone said something to me that I thought was pretty smart: when they look out the window and see the waste dump, they don't see something ugly. They see a reminder that they are employed and can provide for their family, which I think is absolutely right!

California Dreaming - Part 1

In mid-June we hit the road with friends and made the journey south to California for the first time. We had a very busy, fun-filled week of theme parks, sightseeing and our first visit to the ocean in just over a year.
The thing that struck me immediately about California was the air. Almost as soon as we crossed the border, the smog seemed to hang in the air. Soon after entering California we drove past a huge wind farm of giant turbines. California has set many precedents for making progressive environmental laws aimed at reducing vehicle emissions and developing "green" energy projects, and it seems like they certainly have their work cut out for them to make it a success.

About 6.5 hours from home we arrived at Anaheim where we spent 3 amazing days at Disneyland. We stayed across the road from Disneyland so we just had a short walk to get to the park each day. June of course is mid-summer, the middle of the school holidays, so we couldn't have picked a busier time to visit the world's favourite playground, but it was definitely well-worth going. We had been warned to expect long lines of waiting for rides, and that was certainly true. Lucky for us, our friends had been to Disneyland before, so they could tell us things to avoid and things not to be missed. I went on my first and last rollercoaster: the Matterhorn. At first glance, it didn't look too bad. No loops, inversions or other crazy stuff, just riding round and round a track inside a fake mountain. My optimism soon disappeared as we turned the first corner on the ride: from then on I shut my eyes, hung on and hoped I wouldn't die. Of course N went willingly onto it too, not knowing what a rollercoaster was and just trusting Mum and Dad - he seemed to be fine at the time (he sat with P) but afterwards was suspicious of almost every ride. Our favourite rides were the Nemo Submarine (we managed to go on it every day, in spite of the wait of more than an hour), Pirates of the Caribbean, the haunted mansion, Soaring Over California, Grizzly River Rapids (I think that's what it's called; it's a raft ride at California Adventure) also the It's Hard to Be a Bug 4D show which had N screaming in terror - he screamed through every 4D show we went to (3 in all), even the Muppets in 3D was too terrifying for him. There is so much to see and do at Disneyland that it's easy to spend 3 days there and still not see everything. It was better than I had imagined and as much fun for adults as it was for the children.
After Disneyland we drove south to San Diego where we spent a long-awaited afternoon at the beach. We hadn't seen the beach since we left Queensland in April last year so it was quite a thrill to be able to kick our shoes off and walk on the sand. I would like to be able to say that the water was crystal clear and warm as bath water, but I'd be lying - even in the middle of summer the water was freezing. That didn't stop N from getting into it, although after getting dumped by a big wave soon after going into the water, he spent a long time wrapped up in his towel, just sitting on the sand. After 3 super-long days at The Happiest Place on Earth, it was very nice to be able to just relax and kick back for a little while.
What I liked the best about San Diego was the seafood. We made a point of eating seafood each night we were there, because in land-locked Bagdad, fresh seafood just isn't something that we can easily get. The nicest place we ate at was King's Fish House - easily the best seafood I've eaten in quite a long time. Happy days.
Our next objective in San Diego was Legoland. Legoland made the biggest impression on N, who is a die-hard Lego fanatic. Of the three parks Legoland is the most hands-on with lots of practical, "kid-powered" activities, which we all enjoyed. There are cars that kids can drive themselves, fire engine races, a huge water park, and of course, tons of Lego - blocks to build with, and some amazing models. Minitown USA is a fantastic park full of miniature Lego versions of lots of famous American landmarks: New York City, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Daytona, and so many more. As well as the models and activities there are lots of theme park-style rides, and even a rollercoaster or two. Of the three parks, N loved Legoland the best.

After Legoland we spent a day at SeaWorld, the last stop on our holiday. The highlight of SeaWorld was the orca show, which fortunately we saw AFTER the dolphin show. A word to the wise: while it might seem great to sit 2 rows from the front at the dolphin show, those seats are definitely NOT the best in the house. Those very naughty dolphins are trained to line up their tail flukes and DRENCH people with water, which they do very well! Not just once but several times, they stopped right in front of us, raised their tails and let us have it! N was lucky and could change into spare clothes afterwards but the rest of us had to just walk around in the sun until our clothes could dry out, but underwear and socks stayed wet the rest of the day - there was a plus-side to going there in summer after all! At the Shamu (orca) show were were smarter and made sure that we sat well outside the "splash zone" - we learned our lesson!
I guess that SeaWorld is competing for its share of the theme park market, because as well as the animal exhibits, there are plenty of amusement rides and activities for children. I had expected the focus to be more on the animals but it was definitely on tourist dollars, souvenirs, games and rides for children. Of course, SeaWorld also has a rollercoaster (Journey to Atlantis). Not for this little blue duck!

Friday, July 11, 2008


At the end of May the school year ended and N "graduated" from his preschool class. There was a special ceremony on the last day of school. A large number of friends and family were there and the graduates all wore special felt mortarboard hats and received "diplomas" from their teacher. The class recited the alphabet, numbers and colours and sang songs. N loved going to school but he was very glad to be "never going to preschool again". He is very proud to be becoming a Big Boy. He will have to wait until August next year before he can start Big School.
About a week after N's graduation we were invited to the high school graduation of my boss's son from Bagdad High School. We had never been to a high school graduation before and it was quite an "educational" experience. This year's graduating class had 22 students, apparently that is a big class (a year or two ago, only 11 students graduated) for Bagdad. The graduates wear a mortarboard and gown in the school colours (blue and white) so that is very different to Australia or New Zealand. It is traditional to give money as a gift to the graduates, so if you are invited to a graduation ceremony or post-ceremony celebration, it's customary to give a gift of money inside a congratulatory card. After the graduation ceremony at the high school, the graduates and a group of supervisory adults (parents) go into "lock-down", which this year was held at the Bagdad community campus. The students and their chaperones are locked inside the building and must stay there all night, only to be released early in the morning. If they manage to stay awake all night, they receive gifts and prizes (for example, vouchers towards college fees, I-Pods, lamps and other furniture items that they might need for their college dorm rooms, etc, all of which has been fundraised for during the year by the school booster club). College fees are very expensive (some things are the same the world over) so I guess that might be why the gift of money for high school graduates has become a tradition.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Welcome to Bagdad - Our First Visitors Arrive

In February, not long after the Gem Show was over, we had our first visitors since moving to the US. Our dear friends Craig and Rachel came to stay with us for a few days all the way from beautiful New Zealand. We hadn't seen them in about 5 years so we had a lot of catching up to do. We enjoyed comparing our experiences of the US (they had been here for a couple of weeks before coming to stay with us) and just spending some time together which was wonderful. One weekend we went on the Verde Canyon Railroad (see the link in What's Happening Around Here?), which is a scenic train journey that runs from Clarkdale (near Jerome) to Perkinsville and back again. Unlike the Grand Canyon Railroad, where all the dramatic scenery is at the end of the journey, the Verde Canyon Railroad has scenery all along the way to its destination. Mostly the scenery is red rock formations and rivers, but as the day goes on the colours change and there is always something interesting to look at. At one point you can see where bald eagles make their nests although at the time we were passing they must have just stepped out to get the milk and their weekend newspaper as their nest was empty. It was a nice, relaxing way to spend an afternoon, watching the natural world go by as you sit and nibble the complimentary snacks on the train. On the way to Clarkdale we had a brief visit to Prescott so that our visitors could check out "The Mile High City".

A Gem of a Show in Tucson

In mid-February we realised a long-held dream of mine and went to the annual Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson. This is a world-famous show (I guess it's especially world-famous if you are a geologist) that I have wanted to see since I first heard about it in the 1990's so I was really happy to finally have the chance to experience it for myself. The show runs for about 4 days and is one of the world's biggest gem shows, being held not only in one venue but spread out through hotels, carparks and convention centres all over Tucson. We only had one day in which to visit (the last day) so we didn't have time to visit more than one venue, so we chose the convention centre which is the main exhibition building for the Show. I have to tell you that it definitely did not disappoint. There were spectacular mineral specimens on display from all corners of the world, many of which were for sale if you happen to have a few spare tens of thousands of US dollars to buy them - a lot of them were from private collections and are seldom seen in public. The central theme of the exhibition was minerals of America, and there were lots of museum-quality specimens from all parts of America that really were truly stunning. Rhodocrosite from the Sweet Home mine in Utah and absolutely magnificent watermelon tourmaline about a foot long were just a couple of the many highlights. It's truly incredible to see the different minerals that are out there in nature, so many of which looking truly bizarre and coloured so brightly that they just couldn't possibly be real (but they are!). Anyway, enough gushing about minerals, I will definitely be heading back to Tucson next February for the Show, which has the theme "Mineral Oddities" (February 12-15 2009, for those of you playing at home). Even our junior geologist enjoyed choosing rocks for his very own collection from the children's activities section - he is definitely showing an interest in all things geological which I am happy to encourage. When he starts experimenting with how to get different minerals out of the rocks, then I'll get worried!
(see link in What's Happening Around Here? for more information on the Gem Show)

Amusing Questions We Have Been Asked - Part 5 in an Occasional Series

"Does New Zealand have a rugby (union) team?"
[There just isn't an answer to this one. Good grief.]

"Do they have pizza in New Zealand?"
(Hell, yes)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Not Exactly a White Christmas

It seems a bit odd to write about Christmas when it is now March but better late than never...
After a lifetime of summer Christmases with barbecues by the beach, swimming and enjoying the sun, we knew that a winter Christmas was going to come as a shock. Bagdad didn't get any settling snowfalls this winter and the temperatures generally stayed pretty mild so we didn't have to dig ourselves out of any snow drifts or anything like that. The climate is much like Orange (New South Wales) in lots of ways. We didn't get any snow on Christmas Day but Prescott got fairly regular snowfall all throughout winter. From early December on there was snow laying on the ground in Prescott so at last we could relate to all those well-intended but mis-placed Christmas cards in Australia that feature fir and pine trees covered in snow. One weekend in mid-December while the Grans were visiting us from Perth and New Zealand respectively, we were invited to a Christmas caroling party at the home (in Prescott) of one of the company's vice-presidents. It had been snowing all that day and the whole town was carpeted in white which reinforced the city's campaign to be "Arizona's Christmas City". Lots of people decorate their houses and businesses with lights, decorations and so on, really getting into the Christmas spirit. Singing Christmas carols while the snow fell outside was a really nice way to spend an evening. We stayed the night at a hotel in Prescott where there was a big display claiming to be "The World's Largest Gingerbread Village". It was definitely big, a display at least 20 metres long of all kinds of gingerbread houses and buildings, adobe houses, cathedrals, you name it, and of course a model train running through the middle of it all.

Christmas Day was a very special one since we had both Grans and P home to make the day very focussed on family. P has been away at work the past 2 Christmases so it was his first Christmas at home since N was a baby. We had to teach P the Santa protocol: biscuits and juice for Santa with a note from us, plus carrots for the reindeer and stockings hung up where Santa can find them. No getting up in the night or the reindeer will get nervous and won't land. We did a drive around Bagdad to see all the houses decorated with lights for Christmas. Some people had gone to incredible lengths (and presumably, expense) to light up their homes for Christmas and for such a small town there were so many very elaborate displays. Christmas is a lot of fun when you have little children in the house and it was so great for us all to be able to share the time together.

Las Vegas Revisted and Another Look at the Grand Canyon

While the Grans were here P and I took a week off work at the end of November and we all headed out on a road trip for about 6 days. First it was a short visit to Hoover Dam, where we had lunch and walked around the visitor centre and took some photos. Later that day we hit Las Vegas, this time we stayed at Treasure Island (TI) which was very nice and very convenient to everything. The first night of our stay I took the Grans to see Phantom of the Opera while P played chief babysitter and took N for a walk to see the lights of Vegas. Phantom was an incredible production with superb singers and really spectacular effects (fireworks and flares among them), I loved it and was really glad that we took the opportunity to see it. The following night we all went to see the Cirque du Soleil show "Mystere", which is the only show in Vegas that you can take children under 5 years to see. It was playing at TI so it could not have been more convenient. N was really spellbound by it all and it was neat to see so much wonder on his face as he took it all in. It has long been a dream of mine to take Mum to see Phantom and Cirque du Soleil so to share that with her was very special for me. There are a fairly limited number of things you can do with a 3-year-old in the gambling and excess capital of the world but it was enough just to walk around during the day and take in the whole spectacle. We took a gondola ride at the Venetian with a gondolier who was more interested in hearing about copper mining than singing us some opera (which is what he expected us to tip him for doing). We made a very quick (just a few minutes) visit to Paris which was absolutely beautiful inside - I will definitely try to get back there again for a longer look around next time we visit. There were so many beautiful little shops and the whole interior of that part of the casino was just gorgeous - it was all done in such a way that it really did feel as though we were walking in Paris.

From Las Vegas we headed east to Williams, from whence we took a day trip by train to the Grand Canyon. The train trip included lunch and a bus tour at the Canyon which was an ideal way to see a lot of scenery while minimising the amount of walking that the most senior and junior members of our party had to do. The Canyon was no less impressive the second time around and I am still awestruck by the sheer immensity of it. It appeals to me as a place where I could just sit and contemplate, well, anything for hours...the massive scale and incomparable beauty of the Canyon; our place in the Universe and how small and insignificant we really are when we compare ourselves to the great things that Mother Nature has created; and I found that it just really put a lot of things into perspective for me. I would have loved to be able to just sit there for a long time and soak it all in but of course we didn't have time to do that and with a little boy to watch out for (no guard rails on a lot of the lookouts, yikes) it's pretty hard to relax. The Canyon is a truly awesome place and I can't wait to visit it again. Travelling by train was not a bad way to go, at least we didn't have to worry about driving and could just relax and watch the scenery go by. Before the train left Williams that morning there was a mock shootout that had N very worried (he thought the gunfighter had really been shot so we had to explain that it wasn't real) then during the journey the outlaws boarded the train and "demanded" that we hand over our valuables. The outlaws and Sherriff (who of course was there to bring them to justice) are all former police officers who I guess are doing a much more entertaining job this side of retirement.

After spending a wonderful day at the Grand Canyon in chilly but sunny weather we had planned to continue east from Williams to Flagstaff. Instead a big snow storm came in so rather than drive into the worsening weather we decided to head back to Bagdad. It was a shame to have cut our holiday short but rather that than end up stranded somewhere because of the terrible weather.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Amusing Questions We Have Been Asked - Part 4 in an Occasional Series

(There are a lot of hunters in this town and hunting is VERY popular with young and old alike. Almost every household has at least one gun.)

"Is it hard to shoot kangaroos when they keep jumping up and down?"