Annual Letter 2008

So here I am, once again, in a rush to get this letter off (or on, or up too I guess).  It is always fun to write as it gives me the opportunity to recall the year, and try and make it seem more fun than it really was.

However this is easy this year, it WAS fun.  No ifs, buts, or maybes.  It was a really good year for many reasons.  All of them revolved around family and friends, as usual.  Where would we be without them?  

I must admit at this early stage that I am writing this under extreme difficulties.    You can see that I have a new web programme, the old one was so ancient they stopped supporting it.  I have also changed from PC to Mac at home, and am discovering the joys of throwing out 20 years of PC learning for 'logical' thought.  Which has led me to discover that my mind mustn't be logical as I struggle with the 'easy' Mac.  However I am sure I will have it tamed in another 20 years.  (BTW, the page looks different viewed on Mac and PC, better on Mac actually  but that is probably the Sandvox web programme.)

Winter is worst here in FL early in the year, much worse than in June.  Mind you not as bad as 3" snow that Las Vegas just had today, but it is cold, bleak and gray almost all of February.  So when Quique and Michelle suggested going to Quique's birthplace of (warm and sunny) Puerto Rico I was packed before he finished talking.  Sam Hall suffers from 'Industrial Blindness' during February (when he just can't see himself going to work) and he joined us for a great 10 days exploring the city and wonderful restaurants of San Juan, yoga on the island of Vieques, and paddling in a phosphorescent bay during a lunar eclipse.  What else does one do in February?  Drink rum, that's what!  Quique's favourite is said to be the one remaining rum that most correctly imitates the rums of centuries ago.  I mention it in the Puerto Rico webpage, but it deserves another mention here, Ron del Barrilito.  If I could say YUUUUMM in 10 languages I would.  

Actually after 10 rums you can say almost anything.

So I guess lots of things happened betweeen Puerto Rico and April, but that was when I had my first work trip back to Australia, via Greece.  The Olympic flame was lit in the amphitheatre while I was in Athens (right near the hotel) and thousands of police were on hand to keep those pesky Tibetan demonstrators away.  I was able to spend some time with English cousin Timothy whom I hadn't seen for years (he hadn't seen me either, so we were even), as he was working on some big shipping deals at the time.  

In May I went to Brasil and Argentina for work, it is very different to be travelling north/south for me rather than east/west as I normally do.  So apart from the obvious difference in countries, there was 'travel shock' as well.  I think I had the longest working day ever on my first day, I arrived at 23.00, was up at 05.00 to take a flight from Sao Paolo domestic airport (10 mns from hotel) to Belo Horizonte.  So the airline didn't want to fly me, and I scurried though several layers of security (guided by staff) eventually to make the flight by 2 seconds.  The the connection in BH was 3 hours late, and worse, the coffee was bad.    My agent and I chatted but there is only so much you can discuss in 3 hrs.  Caught the flight to Montes Claros and visited the customer.  Late naturally.  The flight back to BH was the same milk run we came up on, so we knew it would be 3hrs late going back.  Thus ensued a delightful, caiprahina fueled (Marcelo is that the correct spelling?) dinner, followed by the trip back to BH where of course our connecting flight to SP had departed.  The next flight arrived soon after, then it was delayed.  When we finally took off at 22.00 I think, they advised us that it would arrive after 23.00 curfew into the domestic SP airport, so we would have to land at the International airport (1 hr away) and they would then take us by bus to the domestic airport.

I took a taxi.

After Brasil (it really is great, despite the adventures above),  stayed a few days at Home.  This is a cool hotel in BsAs owned by Australian rock star royalty and is wonderful to stay at if you can't get into the RJF Hotel.  The breakfasts there are a small collection of squeezed juices, many of which are first timers.  Followed by various breads and condiments, which equally defy the imagination.  All in all, worth the stay  I managed to snap several lampposts while there, Gonzalo very kindly took me to the secret paces only portenos know, and I happily spent the weekend feeling like I was Annie Leibovitz.

I had the windows washed when I got back home. (See, you get everything, not just the glamorous stuff.

In late June, I took off for what started as a simple attempt to experience something I had dreamed of seeing.  The palio in Siena.  As I have on my separate website, there are two each year, the first is 03 July, which is the one I saw.  But not before spending a wonderful time catching up with Brissie friends, John and Wendy on their fabu new boat.  It had literally been years since we had spent any time together, and this was a wonderful occasion to do just that.  I won't repeat all about the delightful days we spent lolling around the Mediterranean, other than to say that life on the MV Norseman is something very special.  Funnily enough, skipper Hans and his wife Uli live in Southport (Queensland for the non Aussies) and Hans had worked in the mineral sands industry many years before.  We knew many of the same characters and quite enjoyed reminiscing about those times.  Only difference being here he was now piloting a ship in Europe and I was still selling dirt.  Hmmmm....  

After I left the Norseman, I joined my Italian friends, Loriano, Guido and families, who live outside Florence for some biking around Tuscany, and generally just enjoying being in Italy in summer.  The weather is lovely, the air wraps warmly around you, you go to the local village for festivals, dinners etc.  We drank wine from one of the oldest continually operated vineyards in the world, Villa di Capezzana.  It is from the village of Carmignano, near to where we were in Montelupo, and has been a vineyard since 805.  Not 1805, 805.  The wine is an 80/20 blend of Sangiovese and Cab Sauv.  The sort of wine that you can bring back and put in your cellar.  Which is all theory because after giving a few bottles away, drinking some with friends, you are left with only one.  Which will have to last until next year!

I did manage to (sort of) see the palio, which was the plan, and stayed at the lovely little village (aren't they all though?) of San Quirico d'Orcia.  I will definitely be going back there.  The riding in that area is great, wine towns abound, and the rabbit (and cinghiale) papadelle fantastic. 


Now I have never been to a leather fetish party before, but that was then.  This is now.  Bryan Burlingame had his 40th birthday in August and friends came from miles around for the festivities.  All their neighbours seemed to be recently divorced women who had used some of the proceeds to enhance their anatomies.  Nothing wrong with that (I am still waiting for my butt implants to arrive) but these were eye popping.  Especially when supported by little leather nothings.

Which didn't help me get up the 6 Gaps this year.  I was not long back from Australia again, and my boss Victor and I had to visit customers the week prior, but came the Friday and we drove up to Dahlonega, GA again for some voluntary pain.  Now if you can add up the weeks of training that occurred prior to this (hint = zero) you will more easily understand when I say this was the silliest thing I did all year.  A marathon may take 4-5-6 hours, this took us 9 hours total time/8 hours saddle time.  As you know from past years, that also includes 11,000' climbing and 100 miles.   Victor had a major meltdown half way up Hogpen (the hardest of the climbs, it alone can take an hour) but thanks to the recuperative effects of salty pretzels, he took off like a rabbit afterwards.  We stayed kind courtesy of Clint and David Burbridge's aunt/uncle who had a cabin nearby.

I have to recount two signs that grabbed my attention as we were riding those painful country roads.  Deliverance was filmed in that area, and the first was a sign painted on the road, saying "Pedal faster, I can hear banjo music".

The other was a sign on a church notice board, "Listen and Obey, it's the only Way".  I'm not sure which was the more scary.

My sister Carol was inducted into the Queensland Water Polo Hall of Fame and had a party in Brisbane to celebrate the success, I was lucky to arrive that day from Perth (yes, again) in time to join everyone.  She was captain of the Australian Women's team for 5 years and they were the last team before it became an Olympic sport otherwise she would have had that honour as well.  Sister Judy was a dual swimming Olympian, so with Carol and she so high up athletically, the two other siblings, Susan  and I have had to rely on being witty and charming to get by.  Failing that, we drink.

Which reminds me of that lovely quote by Oscar Wilde, who, when asked the difference between a woman who was beautiful and one who was charming, said a that beautiful woman was one whom he admired.  A charming woman, was one who admired him.

I arrived back from Australia in time to vote (in what turned out to be such an historic election), and for the first time ever I was involved in the election process.  I felt strongly enough to volunteer as a Democratic observer at the polls on voting day, and afterwards calling electors to get out and vote.  It is a curious position to be in, sitting there with extensive information abut those coming in to vote that you feel a bit like the judge on The Price is Right or something.  You have the background information, but you don't know which box they are going to go for.  Anyway, it was tremendously satisfying and something I will continue to do.

So I spent 3 days in the revolving door I called home and turned around to head back to Singapore to a conference that I had somehow managed to duck the previous year.   Guess you can't be lucky twice in a row, but the trip was most eventful, although tiring.  There is a very funny story about a competitor of mine who was approached by a young girl outside the hotel.  Ask me when we next meet, it is a riot.  And they think that doesn't go on in sterile Singapore.....

Of course no year would be complete without mention of my two kits, Chaka and Genghis.  Chaka of course was the perfect lady all year, purring at modest warp factor when in my lap helping me type, or waiting for alpha male Genghis to finish eating/drinking/playing first, thus allowing her to follow.  Genghis suffers from an auto immune allergy (he is allergic to himself) and has consequent hot spots on occasion.  Whether this makes him cranky during full moons or not, I don't know but you can set your watch by it.  Full moon = cranky Frankie Genghis and fur flies everywhere.  Then he goes on kitty prozac, yes I have turned into one of those people you read about in crazy magazines.  But I wouldn't have it any other way, they are a continual delight.  Mostly.  Thank you to Patty Ann, Caron, Holly, Brock and TJ for having looked after them when I was away this year.

The windows got washed again in November.

As you see, the cumquat tree has hits its stride this year in a big way.  I am off to  BsAs with Misty and Clint, to visit Russell and Gonzalo before Christmas so when I get back, there will be Part 2 of the Hudson Citrus festival.  Normally I have a lemon peeling party to make limoncelo from the tree just out of the picture here, but this will be a cumquat jam and chutney making party.  I have Mum's recipie for jam and she says the fiddly cutting, de-pipping, dicing and slicing is really fun and you would all enjoy stirring the jam for hours too.  So do come and join in the fun!

In addition to Mum's cumquat jam recipie, I have also just received her balls.  In case you think this strange, she makes new ones every year in fact.  We agreed years ago that my Christmas present would be her wonderful Christmas fruit cake.  When she sends it over (on the occasions we forget for me to bring it back when visiting Brisbane and avoiding the A$85 postage fee - do you know how heavy her cake is??), she packs in around it rum balls and apricot balls.  Unfortunately by the time they get here, they more resemble Helen's rhomboids, than Helen's balls, but the taste is the same.  There are a lot of people here who look forward to the cake and her balls every year, and we all thank her big time!

After BsAs, we travel down to Bariloche to Russell's new house and do some trekking in Patagonia.  Really looking forward to it and being in a warm Christmas for many years.  I think I miss it!

Which then only leaves me to wish you all a very merry Christmas/holidays wherever this finds you, and a safe and healthy 2009.

And to my two dear friends who are battling so courageously with cancer, I am in awe of your ability to combat such a terrible disease.  Much love, strength and support.  

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