Backyard Adventures & Bigfoot? Another P365

When you tell people in Oregon that you are about the head to Australia for a few weeks, their first reaction is usually one of envy. Not just for the fact that you are heading across the other side of the world, but also because they immediately assume that you will be enjoying sunny skies during your stay. However, I am from Melbourne and, while our summers are generally sunny and hot, March/April can be a little hit or miss.

Thankfully, despite a recent breaking of the drought, the sun gods were smiling on us during most of our stay and we were able to enjoy a lot of time in the great Aussie outdoors. The kids fully embraced the 1/2 acre of grass and dirt (LOTS of dirt) at their disposal.

The colour coordination of their outfits is purely accidental. In fact I’m not even sure if I dressed them that morning.

This next one is my favourite, even though Thomas should really be in focus. Maybe that’s why I love it so much – you have to search a little for the fun part.

As soon as I saw this next photo, it reminded me of another famous picture.

It’s uncanny.

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Smiles

Today’s entry for the I ♥ Faces challenge is all about smiles, so of course I went back through my photos of Australia looking for the perfect smile. The sad thing is that my children are already beyond the age of smiling when I need them to. Oh, they smile on command but it involves the word “cheese”, although I swear I never taught them how to do that. I think it’s innate, like frowning when they’re unhappy or desperately needing to talk to me suddenly every time I pick up the phone for an important call.

Oh, back to the actual smile. I caught this one of my little (now 30 year old!) brother while holding our cousin’s baby. I think this photo is so sweet and I know he is probably going to groan and wonder why on earth I posted it for all to see. It’s because you’re just too cute, Jono, and this photo cancels out every single smirk you’ve flashed me when I’ve tried to take your photo in the past. 🙂

Aussie Colour: A Monday Mosaic

I usually like to include at least four photos in my mosaic posts, but my access to the computer has been limited this weekend while Kei finishes up a project for school. It’s true, though, that sometimes the best results are forced on us and I really love how this one turned out.

We were so lucky with the Autumn weather that we experienced in Australia during our visit with temperatures in the high 20s (about 80 degrees farenheit) every day and beautiful blue skies. Couple that with a broken drought that had turned the previously brown grass to a deep green, and we found ourselves enjoying Australia at its finest.

It wasn’t necessary for me to bump up the saturation on these photos – the sky and the grass truly were that colour.

Scenes from Across The Pond: Project 365

Now that my travel rant is over (read about it here, here and here), I am excited to be back to posting my P365 photos. The photos that I’ll be posting over the next few weeks have been painstakingly culled from the 1000 or so that I managed to take during our vacation in Australia. I’m sure I’ll be posting more than one for some days, so I’m think that maybe I should rename this little project “Project-the-sky’s-the-limit”. My end of year photo album is going to be the size of an encyclopedia.

First up is a photo you may have seen in one of my rant posts. Kei discovered early on in our trip that Samuel is fascinated with watching movies on the video camera. We’re lucky if he watches more than 15 minutes of Blues Clues at at a time but apparently video of himself doing… well… nothing, is absolutely fascinating. Thankfully we discovered this early in our trip and it saved our sanity more than once by the end.

Another one from our marathon trek to Aus. If you’re going to get stuck in an Airport then San Francisco is one of the better places to spend your time. Just the thought of possibly being stuck for 11 hours at LAX makes me break out in hives.

Of course we did finally make it to Australia on Saturday morning and, after shipping my kids off to spend a couple of days alone with their grandparents, Kei and I joined the Buck’s and Hen’s festivities – known as Bachelor and Bachelorette parties in my adopted home. After a five-minute emergency shoe purchase (mine were all in a bag that United airlines had sent to Brisbane), I was able to spend the evening with a wonderful group of ladies – moving from bar to restaurant to bar to 80’s dance club, until my feet and sleep-deprived body refused to cooperate and I was forced to head back to my brother’s place at around midnight.

I had such a great night with my new sister-in-law, Emma (the one in the middle), and her friends. The fact that I was without children and therefore able to sleep in the next morning was an added bonus.

On Sunday we did nothing. Oh, we tried to watch a movie on TV in the afternoon but we all fell asleep so that plan was abandoned. We did manage to drag ourselves out of bed to head out for dinner at a tasty Indian restaurant on Sydney road and I am glad we did. One of the things I miss since moving to Portland is really good Indian food.

I also miss trams. I am aware that we have similar contraptions here in Portland, and they’re great, but they’re just not the same as the original.

Monday saw us heading up to my parents house which is about a 3 hour drive north of Melbourne. 3 hours by car but about 4.5 hours by train and bus. I was actually able to read 5 chapters of a book in one sitting! Of course I missed my children but I have learned to appreciate these rare moments of peace (and alone time) when I can get them and I heard that they had a fabulous time with their grandparents. This is Southern Cross station (although I still call it Spencer Street station through force of habit).

The Flight From Hell Part 3: Serenity Now!

This is the final installment of a three-part rant about our flight from hell. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Here’s how part two ended:

One of the jetways pulled away from the plane. I looked at Sher and said “This flight is not leaving without us.” and he said “we have to close the doors at 10:30”. It was 10:20.

And that’s when I lost it. I demanded that they get us on that plane because, after all, this was not our fault but THEIRS, beginning with our delayed UNITED flight out of Portland. I cried and, yes, may have used the “f” word a couple of times. I was angry. If you ask my husband he’ll tell you how much it takes for me to lose my temper with someone in customer service. I know that most things are out of their control and I am very understanding and calm in most cases, but this was too much.

Nina proceeded to then provide excuses – how really it was Air New Zealand’s fault because they didn’t release the ticket (remember that it was a United person who transferred them in Portland) and that there was nothing that they could do. At one point when I began explaining exactly what had happened, she started  to interrupt me. I put up my had in a stop gesture and said “No! Do not interrupt me. You need to listen to what I have to say first before you give anymore excuses. Then she told me that we would likely have to buy a new ticket for Samuel.

HUH? Why would WE need to buy a new ticket? Wouldn’t you comp us the ticket? I mean we BOUGHT a ticket, I had the receipt in my hand.

And Nina replied, “no one gets anything for free.”

Yes, she actually said that to me as I stood there at 10:30pm with my husband and our two small children who had been traveling now for 8 hours, one of whom was visibly upset because he was missing the chance to see his grandparents, and as we watched our plane pull away from the gate.

It was a low moment. It got even lower when Nina began to questions me about how I purchased the tickets. Did I buy them all at the same time? Did I confirm the flight? The answer to both questions was YES and I had the confirmation in my hand to prove it (tip: always take your printed ticket confirmation). Oh, and then she proceeded to deny us any hotel vouchers because it was an Air New Zealand problem.

Thankfully one of the men behind the counter (I think was ground control because he was wearing an orange vest) was kind and understanding. He listened to what I had to say and he empathized with our situation. When I expressed disgust at the fact that we might have to buy another ticket, he said that if they gave tickets to everyone who experienced a problem then they would be giving away tickets all the time. I understand that is reasonable for weather problems, acts of god etc., but not for tickets that we have actually purchased and then were sabotaged by the airline itself. Nevertheless, he listened, and at this point that was what I needed more than anything because this screw up was not our fault and yet here I stood at the mercy of these people who were blaming everyone but themselves.

The same man also said to us (in front of Nina) that of course we would receive a hotel voucher and some food vouchers – though we only received three. Samuel still didn’t count because, well, he didn’t exist despite the fact that he was running around the gate lounge with a bad case of exhaustion-induced loopiness. I think this man may have saved Nina’s life.

There was nothing we could do at that point except ensure that we had at least three seats on the following night’s flight (the next Air New Zealand flight wasn’t for two days). I insisted on a row with a spare seat in the middle – I figured we deserved at least that and apparently complementary upgrades are not their policy.

And so we headed back to the hotel with instructions to check in the next day at around 5pm to see if the situation was resolved or if we’d be on the hook for a new infant ticket. Worst case was that we had to buy another ticket but we’d still be flying out the next day. I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been good to have known that before the plane left. We may have been able to make it after all.

Our hotel was the Doubletree in beautiful Burlingame. We finally fell into bed at about midnight and had a restless sleep until 9am. Our late check out meant that we could make the best of the buffet breakfast, including saving a few pieces of fruit and other goodies for the day ahead. The waitress at the hotel restaurant took pity on us and looked the other way as we stashed a few bananas and peanut butter sandwiches into our bags.

At 1pm we checked out and headed back to the airport – a full 9.5 hours before our flight was due to leave. To look on the bright side, if you’re going to be stuck in an airport for that length of time then you want it to be an airport like SF. They have fishtanks, a MOMA store and even a museum to help pass the time. It could have been worse – we could have been stuck at LAX.

At 4pm I went up to the United check in counter where they told me that they had been trying to rectify the problem with Air New Zealand for a couple of hours without any luck. It seemed we would have to buy a ticket after all. Of course  getting a price on a ticket would take another 20 minutes, in addition to the time they had spent trying to obtain a price the previous evening. If United staff can’t get what they need from their own customer service then what chance do actual customers have.

Grand total out of pocket: $150. Not as much as I had expected but still $150 more than we should have had to pay and something that could have been rectified the night before if they had been able to determine the problem more quickly.

We managed to board the plane that evening at 10:30pm without extra drama except for the screams of an overly- drunk Australian at a neighboring gate who freaked out when the dogs sniffed at his bag and was then handcuffed and taken away by police. Thankfully it had no impact on our flight.

After a very uncomfortable flight and a quick layover in Sydney, we arrived in Melbourne at 10:30am on Saturday morning – a full 24 hours after we were due to arrive.

We proceeded through immigration but there was to be one last burn. Somehow United had managed to misplace one of our bags and it happened to be the one that contained all of my and Kei’s clothes. So there I was in Melbourne, standing at a desk just on the other side of the doors to my family who had no way of knowing what was happening, with the prospect of continuing to wear the same clothes that I had now been wearing for 48 hours. Oh, and Kei and I had the Hen’s and Buck’s (Bachelor and Bachelorette) parties to attend that evening.

As it turned out, Kei had packed just one pair of my jeans in the kids’ bag and I had a shirt in the suit bag so all I needed was a pair of shoes which I bought in a quick 5 minute shopping trip on our way out for the evening. Kei borrowed some clothes from my younger brother – not really his style but he looked good nonetheless. I ended up bowing out of the festivities early due to exhaustion but was proud of myself for making it to 11pm.

On Sunday I made a number of phone calls and our bag was finally located in Brisbane and returned to Melbourne by 4pm. It seems that the person who checked our bags and transferred us to the United flight in Portland had failed to change the tickets on our bags correctly. If you’ll remember, she made a point of telling us how she would have to do it by hand. I guess she became distracted on the walk down and missed one.

Our flight home on Air New Zealand was fairly uneventful (and much more comfortable) except for the fact that the United flight leaving on the same day was cancelled and so our plane was completely booked thanks to the extra passengers they picked up. Seems United had to have the last laugh.

At the end of the day, though, we had a great, busy, fun visit. I will have some more photos to share of visits to wineries, easter egg hunts and of course a wedding in the coming days. I’m sure you’ll need some lighter entertainment after this rant, but thanks for letting me get it off my chest. I start the official letter-writing this week.

The Flight From Hell Part 2: So Close

This is the second part of a story sharing details of our flight from hell. Part 1 can be read here.

When  I left you, we were finally in the air and on our way to San Francisco to meet a connecting United Airlines flight to Australia. Although it was not the Air New Zealand flight that I had dreamed of (and paid for), at least we finally en route and breathing a cautious sigh of relief.

When we boarded the plane I anxiously asked the flight attendant if we were safe to make our flight. We had a couple of hours up our sleeve, but I was being extra cautious due to the fact that we had to transport two small children to the international terminal. “Yes”, she said, “plenty of time”.

And she was right. We touched down at around 9:00pm and made it to the gate for our international flight by around 9:15.

On arrival, I immediately went up to the desk to make sure we were all checked in and see if there was any chance that we had a spare seat for Samuel in our row. I handed over our ticket confirmation and passports and the lady behind the desk proceeded to look us up on the computer. After spending a few minutes typing on the keyboard she said that there was a small problem. For some reason the computer wouldn’t allow her to add the infant ticket to the check in. Not a problem – she would have someone who had more experience come over and help her.

Soon there were three people all trying to fix this baffling problem. Why is the computer not allowing them to check in the infant? One of the customer service people looked at me and said “we’ll work this out soon and give you your boarding passes. Sorry about the delay but I don’t think we’ve had this problem before.” In the meantime she started getting our gate check ticket ready for the stroller.

At this point I wasn’t concerned. Why should I be? I had a ticket confirmation in my hands and three of the four boarding passes that we needed to board the plane. But then after about 30 minutes during which they pounded on the computer seemingly doing the same thing over and over again, they determined the source of the problem. Apparently Samuel – and infant who is not able to travel on his own – had been checked into the Air New Zealand flight and his ticket was therefore not available to be checked into the United flight. Huh?

Next step was to call Air New Zealand and have them transfer the ticket. Easy, right? Not really. They called the customer service number and, without sharing the time sensitivity, sat on hold for 10 minutes.

That’s when they started boarding the plane and I started to become very concerned.

Then they paged me to the desk. Now, keep in mind that I had been standing there for a full 45 minutes at this point, but the person checking visas seemed to be unaware that I was standing right next to him. And then they paged me AGAIN. It seems there were three bags standing beside the plane that they were unable to load because the passengers were not checked in. Well, at least our bags were ready to board.

It was at this time, after most of the passengers had boarded the plane, that the customer service director came over and tried to help. From the moment she opened her mouth I could tell that she had very little respect for anyone. She got on the phone with the Air New Zealand person – who had since taken them off hold and was trying to fix the problem – and spoke to them in such a condescending way that I immediately put her in that  little box of people that I do not want to deal with. Let’s call her Nina (not her real name, although I wish I could remember it).

So the situation was this: Air New Zealand said they were not able to transfer the ticket because some error had been made when we were moved to the United flight (in Portland, by a United representative). They were not able to let us board the plane because Samuel would not be on the flight manifest without being checked in. They were not able to check us in because Air New Zealand could not transfer the ticket. And around it went.

By this time the gate lounge was empty and everyone had boarded the plane. My last hope was someone name Sher would would come down and make the call on what to do next. Well, Sher came down to the gate and stood around with the others, equally baffled and apparently unable to do anything.

And then one of the jetways pulled away from the plane. I looked at Sher and said “This flight is not leaving without us.” and he said “we have to close the doors at 10:30”. It was 10:20.

I’ll be back with part 3, the final chapter, tomorrow…

A Quick Interlude

Before I continue with my “Flight From Hell” rant, I present this small moment of peace from our trip (spoiler alert: we did finally make it there) and my entry for this week’s I ♥ Faces collage challenge. One of the key things I learned from this trip is that I should ALWAYS make time to stop at a store and buy chalk. This activity kept the boys  occupied for hours and my parents were able to enjoy a constantly changing piece of artwork on their concrete driveway for our entire stay, dominated by Star Wars scenes/characters and a full airport blueprint. It seems my children are now more familiar with airports than ever.

Part 2 of the “Flight From Hell” coming tomorrow.

The Flight From Hell Part 1: A Monday Mosaic

As I mentioned last week, we recently returned from a trip to Australia. Whenever we mention to people that we will be travelling to Aus, the very first question is usually “How LONG is that FLIGHT? How will you manage with two kids?”. My response is usually “REALLY long (about 24 hours including layovers)” and “oh, we’ve done this many times. We have it down to a science.

And, it’s true, we have spent the past 4-5 years perfecting our travel procedure to make it the most comfortable for our kids and, more importantly, for us. Surprise toys (bribes) to pull out at key moments; just the right amount of candy to motivate but not send them into a sugar spiral; strategic naps for parents to ensure at least one of us is on the ball at all times.

It’s true that we have done everything in OUR power to ensure the least stressful travel situation possible. However we found out on this trip that some things are not in our power and that at the end of the day we are really at the mercy of the airlines, and that if they choose to screw up your experience then there are really not enough toys to make it bearable.

This is part 1 of my 2 part ode to United Airlines – an airline that I DID NOT CHOOSE to fly with, but who still managed to make ours a flight from hell. If you are not interested in listening to my tale of woe then, by all means, please skip directly to the photos. If you want to hear more, then I will start at the very beginning.

In fairness, the first mixup was my fault. I found myself needing to drop something off at work the morning of the day of our flight so, with two kids in tow, I drove 30 minutes for a little adventure at Mummy’s work. While I was there I thought I would do the responsible thing and take photocopies of all six of our passports just in case…

Then we went home, packed everything up, had a friend drive us to the airport and went to check in our baggage. It was at that moment that I realised I had left two of the passports on the copier at work. It was 2pm, our connecting San Francisco flight was due to leave at 4:30pm and my work was a 1 hour round trip. I quickly went into recovery mode and called a friend at work asking her to have the passports urgently couriered over to the airport while we waited impatiently. In the meantime we were able to check in two of our bags under Thomas’ passport, but had to hold on to the third (this will be important later).

After a tense hour or so, the courier finally arrived, in plenty of time to make our connecting flight, only when we went back to the counter and tried the self check-in we found that it had been delayed. Of course we were asked to go and stand in another line where we could see if another flight was available. There were only two people in line in front of us and the one woman behind the counter was moving at a snail’s pace (actually there were many people behind the counter but only one seemed to be helping anyone. The rest were too caught up in their own conversations to notice the tense looking family who were afraid of missing their connecting flight).

Finally we reached the front of the line and the customer service person proceeded to call another airline to see if there were any seats. Overhearing one side of the conversation it seemed as though we had just missed out (would a quicker line have helped?). We were then informed that our plane was, in fact, delayed but they had managed to transfer us to the United Airlines flight out of San Francisco to Australia. My heart sank. I had purposefully paid a little more to fly with Air New Zealand because a previous flight to Australia with United had been so uncomfortable so I was disappointed that we were no longer able to make our original flight. Well, at least we’ll get there, I told myself.

So, after telling us that she would have to re-tag our bags by hand and handing over three boarding passes, it seemed that we might soon be on our way. I asked why we didn’t receive a boarding pass for Samuel and was told that, as an infant, it was not their policy to provide a boarding pass for him. This, too, will be important later.

After going through security we found that our flight was delayed further until 9:30pm (a problem with the plane, not the weather), but, thankfully we were able to get on another flight and finally took to the air at 7:30pm – 5.5 hours after we arrived at Portland Airport.

As you are probably guessing due to the fact that this is only Part 1, things were about to get worse. Much worse. I’ll come back to share more of my tale of woe tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy a few photos from our time in the airport while I quietly give thanks for Star Wars toys, portable DVD players and plane spotting.

Home Again..

We returned home about 7:30 last night after a marathon flight from Australia. Thankfully the return trip was a lot less eventful that our trip over (more on that soon). We’ve now had a chance to catch up on some sleep but I think we’re all going to suffer jetlag for a few days. Thomas finally went to sleep at around 12:30am after declaring many times that “NOTHING was working” to get him to sleep last night. (Turns out that singing “Hey Jude” helps. Must be the repetition of na na naaa nanana.) He woke the rest of us up at 11:30am. I’m a little nervous about bedtime tonight but hoping that the long sleep was more catching up than time adjustment.

You can judge by the lack of blog posts that internet access during our visit was not ideal – in fact I was completely offline for the last four days (gasp! horror!). Actually it was a nice break, but I am now ready to catch up on the more than 1000 blogs in my reader, many facebook messages and, of course, start posting on here again.

Now I just need to find a little time to download pics of our trip, including the very important photos from my brother Ben’s wedding. Needless to say it was beautiful and I basically cried from the moment I saw my new sister-in-law walk out in her dress to the very late ride home in the taxi to the hotel. What can I say? Weddings make me emotional (as does Oprah. I blame the new hormones I grew when I gave birth to my children).

Side note: I caught up on Lost last night before going to bed at around 2am so comments on key plot points are now allowed.

I’ll be back with more photos soon but in the meantime I’ll share some P365 pics that I took before our trip.

A few days before our trip I went on a mummy-son date with Thomas to see an original production of “Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus” performed by the Northwest Children’s Theater. We caught a free early read-through of the play a couple of months ago so we were eager to see the fully-costumed version. It was a LOT of fun and I hope they are able to take the show on the road. Of course photos were not allowed in the theatre so I had to make do with a pic of the beautiful building. The theatre itself is over 120 years old and is just stunning.

Thomas wanted to take a little time for some drawing on the steps outside the theatre before we left. Part of the play required us to learn how to draw the pigeon and Thomas wanted to practice while it was still fresh in his mind.

We all went out for dinner on the Sunday night (starting our vacation early) and I broke out the wide angle lens. I rarely use this lens mainly because I am too lazy to change from the 50mm. Turns out that I miss the wonderfully distorted portraits that I can get with the wide angle. Must remind myself to switch lenses more often.

I’m also apparently to lazy to wipe Samuel’s mouth.

One of the last nights before our trip is well summed up with this photo – frantic and fast.  I’m not sure if there will ever be a time when I find myself prepared for an overseas trip days in advance of our departure. I was doing laundry to the last moment, dropping something off at the office (and leaving two of our passports there – LONG, traumatic story that was part of our eventful trip over) and shoving things into bags almost as we walked out the door. I’m dreaming of the day when the kids can do their own packing or, at the very least, keep themselves entertained while I do it for them.

So tomorrow we get back to reality – school, daycare and work. I’ll be back to post more after the jetlag lifts and I am able to emerge from a monsterous pile of laundry.