Thursday, January 22, 2009

Get Ready Australia, We're Coming!

Yes, what you've heard is true: in April this year we will be making our first visit to Australia since coming to the US 2 years ago. We are all very excited to be visiting Australia again and I for one have a definite agenda: meat pies, seafood and eat it. We will be going to Perth for 3 glorious weeks and I can't wait to be back by the sea again and enjoying everything that we have missed in the past 2 years (and I never thought for a minute that I would EVER miss PIES). N wants to see a kangaroo and I want to stock up on grocery items and souvenirs - the shopping list is getting long already! As well as catching up with friends and family, we will have to apply for a new US visa while we are in Perth, as without one we won't be allowed back into the US. The visa we have now is fine for while we're here, but as soon as we leave the country it's game over and we have to apply for a new visa. Here's hoping that it all goes smoothly and we make it back to Bagdad again without any hassles.

Hail to the Chief: the US Gets a New President

On Tuesday January 20 the long wait ended and the 44th President of the United States was sworn in. I watched some of the inauguration ceremony on TV at home (I was off work that day). It was interesting to watch the inauguration ceremony and to see how much pomp and ceremony goes into it (a lot!). Some people have asked me what I think about the new President, me being from another country and looking at things "from the outside in". I usually like to avoid the topic of politics because I prefer to keep my political views to myself, so I won't publish my opinions here. Most Americans I have spoken to about the new presidency see it as a positive thing and they are optimistic that Obama will be a good leader and will do a lot of good for the country. He is entering the office in a very difficult time so we will see how it goes as he and America face the challenges ahead of them this year.

A Rollercoaster of a Different Kind: Adventures in Copper Economics for the Young Enthusiast

The last quarter of 2008 saw a devastating crash in the price of copper, coinciding with financial crises both in the US and in many other parts of the world. Starting in September the price of copper fell from above US$4 a pound to around $1.25 by the end of the year. In Novmber there were layoffs at our mine, followed by even more layoffs in the week before Christmas. For a small, close-knit community like ours it has been acutely felt. Conversations used to start with, "So, how are you doing?" but now it's, "So, are you still working?" The price of copper is on everyone's minds and we are hoping and praying that we will be lucky enough to get to stay on here for at least a while longer and continue our American adventure, at least until the end of our current visa (another 2 years). Fingers crossed and see how it goes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

California Dreaming Part 2

In early November we again made the pilgrimage west to California, this time with Mum on board, to revisit Disneyland and Legoland. For Mum it was very special to be able to share the magic and excitement of both those parks with her only grandchild. I wasn't sure if I would ever make it to Disneyland once in my lifetime, and now we've been twice in 6 months! In some ways it was much better to visit in November than in June (the height of summer); the crowds were much less and the wait for many of the rides was almost non-existent (except for the Nemo Submarine ride - N's favourite, of course - the wait for which was still extremely long, and no Fast Pass available) plus this November the weather was still warm and sunny so it really was very pleasant.

Disneyland was just as much fun to visit a second time and having been before we knew what we really wanted to see and do, and what to avoid, which helped to save a lot of time. Mum went on some rides that I hadn't really thought she would want to try - but once on the Pirates of the Caribbean was enough for her! Funnily enough, for someone who doesn't like heights or flying, the Soaring Over California ride was her favourite (if you don't know it, it's a simulator-style ride in which you sit in suspended seats in front of an IMAX-type movie screen, and it looks and feels like you really are flying over a whole bunch of California landmarks and scenic areas)!

Legoland was a hit again with our resident Lego fanatic. This time we went for 2 days, by the end of which we had seen absolutely everything at least a few times. The water park and some of the rides were closed for the winter but there was still a lot to keep everyone occupied and entertained. Legoland's new aquarium hadn't opened yet when we last visited so that added some variety and satisfied our junior marine biologist's thirst for all things sharky.
Given the expense and our plans for travel to Australia this year, I think it will be a while before we make it back to Disneyland again. But you should never say never...

Amusing Questions We Have Been Asked - Part 6 in an Occasional Series

"What is Santa Claus called in Australia?"

It's OK, it's a Corral - a weekend in Tombstone

At the end of September my mother came to visit us from New Zealand for 7 weeks. It was fantastic to have her here and for her to spend some time with N in particular (her only grandchild). One fun (long!) weekend trip we did while Mum was here was to visit Tombstone in southern Arizona. From Bagdad it was a 6-hour drive so it's almost as far away as California, and a very long way to go just for the weekend! Our visit coincided with the 117th anniversary of the gunfight at the OK Corral so that was as good an excuse as any to make the drive south and check it out.
We watched a re-enactment of the famous shootout (during which my cell phone, which almost NEVER rings, and which of course I had forgotten to turn off, rang - thanks Wendy!) and checked out some of the old saloons and historic buildings. It must have been a really wild place in the early 1880's. There are some fascinating stories and some very old buildings to explore.

Tombstone gave us our own funny story to take home. We were exploring the Bird Cage Theatre, a very famous Tombstone theatre that had closed exactly as it was in the late 1800's and wasn't opened again for decades. It is commonly held that the Bird Cage Theatre (and many other Tombstone buildings) is haunted by several ghosts. Walking around the ancient theatre and seeing the furnishings, curtains and furniture in its original condition, it's easy to believe that it could be true. Before we went to Tombstone we had told N that Tombstone is a cowboy town and to get the most out of the experience he insisted on wearing his checkered shirt, cowboy hat (from the 4th July parade) and jeans all weekend. So when he walked around he looked like a little cowboy, and fit in very well (especially since it was the anniversary of the shootout at OK Corral, there were lots of people in Tombstone dressed in period costume). So we were walking around in the Bird Cage Theatre, taking it all in. The theatre is split-level, and stairs lead to the lower level which is just behind the stage. While we were there, another group of visitors was walking around in the lower level. From the upper level N noticed a small window covered with mesh that allowed a view of the lower area, so he knelt down to have a look (the window was just above the floor). At the same moment that he put his face to the window, a boy on the lower level looked up, saw what he took to be the ghost of a small cowboy looking back at him from the window, and nearly jumped out of his skin. It was just so funny, N really had this boy scared and thinking that he'd seen a real ghost. Check out this link if you want to find out more about the real ghosts and some more historic information about Tombstone:

One thing that I really wanted to do when we visited Tombstone was to go to the Boothill Cemetary and pay my respects to Lester Moore. His must be one of the most well-known epitaphs in the world (see the photo above) and it really strikes a chord with my sense of humour. The first few years of the 1880's must have been a bumper year for the Tombstone undertaker as it seemed like almost the whole cemetary was filled in 1881 and 1882. Many of the headstones tell how the person buried there had died, and so many of them had been killed in one dispute or another, or had been shot by someone who had not long afterwards been shot by someone else, and there they all were in the cemetary together. That was how they settled arguments in those days: whoever was left standing was the winner.