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This was a weekend of feasting!  Saturday I had a delicious brunch with Kelly, our latest recruit from the NY office, in an old converted Victorian just across from the Royal Botanic Gardens.  We spent the afternoon wandering around the CBD, getting her acquainted to all the necessary points of interest (office, Flinders Station and Fed Square, Victoria Market, and Target).  Then Sunday, it was high tea at the Hopetoun for Anita’s birthday!  This was a seriously decadent affair – there were some beautifully boiled teas, but also a three-tiered cake plate that was certainly the main event. Nestled away in one of the oldest and most well-known arcades in the city — the Block Arcade — it was a gorgeous little venue.

My life as a lawyer (both certified and in training) these past 6+ years has had an unfortunate side effect: it has trampled and extinguished all signs of life from my consumption of leisure reading. After 10 hours of reading printed and electronic documents a day, cracking another one open at bed hasn’t seemed all that appetizing.

 But this mentality was depriving me of something I used to enjoy, nay, love.  Reading.  As a kid, I thought the Pizza Hut Book It! Program was pretty much heaven on earth.  (Book reading = delicious personal-sized pepperoni pizza reward is a fond childhood memory).  Somewhere in college I developed a philosophy of only reading non-fiction—mostly historical accounts, biographies and sociological “why the world is the way it is” books.  And shunning all fiction, even going so far as to engage others in debates as to why fiction is, on the whole, a terrible genre and intellectually unsatisfying.  (I still find nonfiction more engaging, and playing the odds, more likely to be readable than 95% of the fiction crap out there.  But I’m giving fiction another go.)

During the law school hiatus, I kept lists, scribbled notes really, anytime a friend recommended a read, the NYT had an interesting review in its op-ed pages, or a Jon Stewart guest author tickled me the right way.  Over the years, this list never shrank, mostly because I never managed to do any actual reading (just a lot of planning to read) …

 Well, my time has come.  The 2011 New Year coincided with a $300 Amazon.com Christmas gift, and I was ready to tackle my list as resolution #3.  Through a corporate loophole which I intend to exploit fully during my tenure here, I can get “paper materials” shipped to our New York office and sent through for free, which is crucial since books (like everything else) are ridiculously expensive here.  Although I fully support what libraries do, I’m just not a library reader; I like to keep my books as evidence of my conquest (or to gift away later).

 So far, so good.  The first book I tackled was the Art of Travel (Alan de Botton), since we had just landed from one and were preparing for another Aussie adventure.  Me and this book = soul mates.  It would be impossible for me to do justice to the elegance and poignancy of this book, let’s just say that during his process of self-realization about the intricacies of travel, de Botton perfectly described the dimensions of and hunger for exploration and reminded me why it is I love travel so much.

 Next up, Elephants on Acid.  This collection of very short, witty summations of wacky “experiments” and other human and animal torture in the name of science was definitely a page turner.  And this week, I could barely keep my hands off of Nick Horby’s A Long Way Down, a novel about 4 unrelated characters whose lives collide when they each try to off themselves.  The character development is spectacular, and it’s an engaging and consuming read, so long as you don’t mind heavy use of the f-word and looking a bit insane as you laugh out loud on public transportation (reading a book about suicide no less….).  In the end, the satire gave way to an illumination of how easy is it to lose sight of what a gift life is, and how grateful we should be when we are reminded of that fact.

Ahhh reading, my old friend.  Welcome back.

I’m back in Perth again this week for the third time in 7 months living in Australia. Which I’m pretty sure is more times than 95% of the population.

I’m also pretty sure that, like previous trips, I’ll get to enjoy the sunny skies from the inside of a conference room for two days, then get back on an airplane to Melbourne. I wonder if they make a Perth airport magnet, which would perfectly symbolize my trips out here… Oh well, at least the five hour flight gives me lots of reading time.

Let’s just say there are three reasons I have an iphone in a country where I have an alternative smartphone (aka, the lawyer-leash that is the blackberry) and no one to call: (1) checking my gmail account for the 3 spam emails and 1 email from Gram I receive every day, (2) reading the NYT (even though I now also have pay for my NYT subscription), and (3) playing words with friends.  You might be tempted to ridicule me for spending $150 per month on such frivolity, especially since I essentially sit in front of a computer all day every day, but before you do, read previous posts on my insatiable need to fill every minute with activity and the fact that I’m a lawyer.  15 minutes on the tram in the morning and 7 minutes in the cab at night on the way home need to be filled somehow….

If you play words with friends, you know what a phenomena it is.  But did you know it can make you actual friends in your non-virtual life?  Like the other day, when a friend I was meeting for lunch was running late.  I felt bad about taking up the last two-top in the restaurant and then sitting there alone for 20 minutes, so I ordered and coffee and avoided eye contact by checking my words with friends game.  After a few minutes, the guy sitting next to me glanced at me and said, “oh geez, it’s got you too!”  This turned into a lovely 20-minute chat about how addicting and fun the game is.  

“How many games to you have going right now?” (four)  “Do you play all the time, like at 1am in bed?”  (although I think this one was intended for his partner, who was clearly playing the game during their brunch, the answer is of  course, yes.  I’m a lawyer, for crying out loud, midnight in bed is my prime playing time!)

Or, a few weeks ago, when I was on a 9am tram (read: super crammed full of people elbow to elbow) and couldn’t help noticing this guy struggling with his game.  I think we would have made friends if I had had the guts to point out that he could play “azure” with a triple letter on the “Z”.  I was slightly afraid he would think I was a stalker though and, with nowhere to turn (literally), I kept my word play a secret.  This was quite hard, as any one who plays knows the satisfaction of a bang-up, 30+ point word…

And now, I’m even playing friends with Steve’s friends, for a new challenge.

I’ve got two regulars: Steve, whom I often play on the couch sitting next to him, and Mark, with whom I work the time zones and eagerly await his next move. My opponents offer different challenges.  I walk a fine line with Steve, who accuses me of cheating if I make a 20 point 2-letter word or do things like used the little colored tiles on the board game to score a double or triple word.  If I’m beating him by more than 30 points, he threatens to resign.  You would think this is frustrating, but it’s actually kind of fun to live within the limits of a 22 point lead using 3-4 letter words and only the occasional slam dunk (when I just can’t help it!)  

With Mark, it is all out war.  I HATE that he always beats me, but then again, I’m pretty sure while the rest of us were taking notes during those three years of law school lectures he was playing words with friends on Facebook.   He’s got all the tricks in the book – setting himself up with one word for a second jugular kill; playing words like “Qi” on a triple letter; using the “s” to piggyback off of an existing, high-scoring word while creating another word for a double whammy.  I’m learning much as a scrabble padawan from this master.

(case in point: Mark played “herein”, narrowly missing by one tile the TW to the north end of his word.  Or so I thought.  Fast-forward to his next play, “grit”, landing the “T” squarely on the trip-word and making like, a bajillion points.  Use of the double whammy and lawyerly-vocab; how can I compete with that?  Note for posterity, this is the one game I have won in like, 2 months.)

claireshamara.  That’s my username; look me up if you dare!

This weekend was the annual Melbourne International Flower Show.   I was interested to check it out for two reasons; one, we love flowers and photographing flowers, so it was sure to be a fun afternoon, and two, it was being held at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, which was rumored to have been bestowed with World Heritage listing status along with Australia’s natural beauties, like the great barrier reef, Uluru and Daintree.

The flowers did not disappoint–inside the Royal Exhibition Building were various floral exhibits and arrangements ranging from table settings to “dressed” mannequins to full room-sized artistic expressions using floral and other components. Outside, among the hundreds of home and garden vendors were award-winning landscape and terrace exhibits showcasing some seriously upscale outdoor living concepts!

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The Royal Exhibition Building, however, was a bit disappointing.  One of the world’s oldest remaining exhibition buildings, it was the first building in Australia to achieve World Heritage listing and is apparently “a symbol of the great 19th-century international exhibition movement”.  It is quite massive and has some interesting arches and paintings on the ceilings, but I’m not sure it quite lives up to the hype (or perhaps, I over-hyped it in my mind…)

Big news all – we’re packing our bags and coming home! (no, not really.  But I can be the first to say I gotcha on April Fool’s Day!) 

But, after reading the Australian Travellers Top 100 Things to do Before you Die, I’m tempted to declare “Mission Accomplished”.  After all, if Bush can declare mission accomplished after a few days (out of 8 years and counting…) in Iraq, one should be able to make such a declaration upon the completion of nearly 10% of all things Aussie to be done in a lifetime. 

Here’s the things on the list we’ve already done:

04 Walk Australia’s most beautiful beach at Wineglass Bay

18 Take the Manly Ferry

23 Explore Sydney’s Beaches

 

35 See the little penguins on Phillip Island

36 Dive the Great Barrier Reef

70 See something big at the MCG (2010 footy semi-finals seems to qualify)

71 Be the first in Australia to see the sunrise (from the eastern most point of Nortern Queensland, check!)

79 Trawl Melbourne’s laneways

93 Grab a seat at the Australian Open

95 See where the rainforest meets the sea in Daintree

And here’s the things on the list we plan to do:

11 Drive the Great Ocean Road

12 Hike the Overland Track to Cradle Mountain (at least in part…)

14 Sail the Whitsundays

26 Complete the Uluru base walk

37 See Tassie devils in the wild

45 Marvel at the wildlife on Kangaroo Island

49 Climb Mt. Kosciuzsko

55 Visit Europe without a passport in the Barossa  Valley

60 See in the New Year on Sydney Harbour

69 Go to the Melbourne Cup