Random Thoughts from Easter 2017

I awoke to a glorious Easter Sunday in Boise! Always a blessing to get up and greet the sun.  We’ve had a winter that didn’t seem to want to end. There was snow just last Thursday.

Our minister told a packed house; “Anyone who likes to garden has faith. It is an act of faith to put a seed in the ground and look forward to it springing forth with new life.”  Let’s get out there planting little sprouts to bring hope to ourselves and others.

Five years ago I would never expected to see police in uniform on duty with a bomb sniffing dog at church.  Now we are getting to use to it.  We had one at the Cathedral of the Rockies at Christmas too.  This time the policeman was extremely kind to everyone and the gorgeous German Shepard was very photogenic.  Fortunately, their presence was not needed.

We always buy flowers at Easter from the church youth group to help support youth mission trips in the summer. The pink and blue hydrangeas have thrived in my back yard. The one we go this year practically shouts, “Look at me!”

I buy the Calla Lilies in honor of my daughter Kayla, both the lily and Kayla have roots to China but grow well in Idaho. This year I am blessed to have both flowers and daughter grace my house with beauty.

This is the twenty-second year I have hidden Easter baskets, a family tradition. I will miss it when Kayla goes away to college, one more year of baskets.  We learned this year with Scott home for a while that you are never too old to bite off the ears of a chocolate bunny.

My son is off to Seattle May first to expand his world and hopefully hunt down a good first job.  We are all very excited for him.  The purpose of parenthood is to raise children who can float by themselves.  I will miss his good humor, beautiful photographs  and noise around the house.

Our male tom cat, Satch, had a good Easter. He discovered a box in the house just his size, always a delight.  The weather was perfect for cats to lay outside and soak up sun.

Easter is a time of new beginnings. May this year bring out the very best in you and your family.  Thanks for reading.

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On the hunt for the perfect college I find myself questioning long held beliefs

My daughter is a high school junior. We have spent recent school breaks and long weekends  touring colleges. I started this project with the concept that we are fortunate to have resources.  We have saved enough in a 529 plan for Kayla to go to the University of Idaho and only be responsible for incidentals.  Kayla is Asian. The last couple of years she has begun feeling the pressure of being a rare exotic flower in a sea of all white. She will frequently mention to me that we are once again in a room of Caucasians.  Her father and I decided we needed to kick up our savings a notch to allow Kayla to attend an out-of-state school with a more diverse student population.  My husband is 70 and still working and I am 66 and retired.  Increasing the college fund actually means reducing our retirement savings.  I realize these are the same trade-offs most families make but they probably have fewer resources and are at least 10 to 20 years younger.

Idaho is part of the Western Undergraduate Education program (WUE) which means that at participating schools, you do not pay full out-of-state tuition rather you pay instate times .5 This assumes the student has adequate test scores and grade point average. Kayla meets all the achievement criteria.  Kayla has toured Montana schools twice.  They don’t offer better diversity than Idaho. Montana is, however, slightly more liberal. Montana schools’ tuition aligns with Idaho’s.  We have also toured Nevada-Reno, more diverse and a brand new campus purchased by large donors, demonstrating money makes such a difference. UNR is in a price range with Idaho slightly more diverse but not as academically well-rated.

Kayla has always wanted to go to Colorado State. We attended an immersion program over President’s weekend and she was delighted.  I was a little less delighted because the in-state tuition and room and board is topping out at $100,000. The  WUE tuition is $125,000, significantly above our slight bump-up in tuition.  As the financial aid officer was reviewing costs, one mom started crying in the back.  She asked, “What if my daughter can’t meet achievement scores?”  The financial aid officer suggested loans.  I  was satisfied we could probably make this work by increasing our savings the next 2 years and continuing to pay for Kayla’s college costs the next four years (mind you my husband will be 76 and I’ll be 72 when we get Kayla through school).  I said to the financial officer as I was walking out door, “If we come up with $125,000, this will fund 4 years at CSU for my daughter?”  He says, “Probably not, with inflation the cost is more likely to be $140,000.”   That sum of money is about the same amount as we sold  a 3 bedroom rental house  in Meridian last year.  It was a number that made my heart sink.  We are too well off to qualify for any type of financial assistance.  I don’t expect the public to be paying for my daughter to go to a state school.  But I do think that public colleges are  too expensive.  As my husband says, our tours have made the University of Idaho look like a great value.  CSU rates slightly better than U of I on academic criteria but not substantially better for almost twice the cost.

We are now taking a spring break to tour California schools. I call it our fantasy land tour.  I have three girls with me including my daughter.  One has a trust fund and can afford to go to any school she can get into. One is having trouble funding her meals on the trip though she has excellent grades.  I am paying for everything but food. We are staying in hotels where breakfast is provided so she only needs to cover lunch and dinner.  She asked to come on the trip because she has never been to California.   I am sure she will probably qualify for financial aid but not enough for the high cost of California schools.  Then there is my daughter.  We think she should be somewhere with high academic standards and where diverse populations are welcoming and abundant (sounds like California to me).  But when we looked with my son six years ago, there was a gap of $60,000 annually between the scholarship he received and the cost of the school where he wanted to go.  We said we wouldn’t pay it and he ended up at Idaho.  He has graduated now and we are hopeful a college education will help him land in the middle class as it did my husband and I. But I don’t know that for sure.  He has yet to land a job on the west coast where he wants to go for the same reason my daughter wants to go out of state, more diversity and more liberal thinking.

What I do know is if upper class, highly educated professionals find the cost of education daunting it must be terrifying for most families. I think we need a well-educated workforce. To achieve that, college needs to be accessible to most people.  That means public universities need to have a reasonable tuition for the middle class.  I don’t agree with Bernie Sanders that college should be free for everyone.  But I do understand why his message resonated with college students trying to make their way through school while studying, working, and carrying large loans.  I think public colleges need to be affordable.  If that means, my husband and I pay more taxes to make that happen so be it.  We need a workforce of the future that is well-trained, creative, and not dragged down by debt.

 

We are all immigrants through time and history

“Every day is a journey and the journey itself is Home”

(Matsuo Basho, Japanese Poet 1600’s)

There are approximately 11 million people living in the United States illegally. The question is not so much how did they get here but why did they get here and why historically have we offered these individuals a home.  We have invited many people to come to our country and serve in positions that we are unwilling to take.  I heard an Idaho Dairy farmer on public radio before the election say he was voting for Trump. The farmer employs illegal workers, Mexicans, who have been in Idaho working on his farm for many years.  When asked about Trump’s plans for deportation, the farmer explained that Trump wasn’t talking about removing his workers; Trump was talking about removing the criminals.

A Wall Street Journal  article, March 4th , 2017 entitled “Time Makes Migrants of Us All” argues that in a global economy rapid change means that at some point in time, even if we never travel afar we will feel foreign. This week, I was visiting with several older women who were discussing how difficult it is for them to keep their computers up to date and how stymied, frustrated and panicked they feel when their computer isn’t working.  My attorney recently had his office flooded by Idaho’s ongoing winter.  Removing the water and remodeling his office has totally disrupted his work flow.  My kids laugh at me when I refer to “The Google” or the snappychat (still a foreign entity to me but certainly a prime purchase on the stock market last week).

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Neanderthals exterminated by interaction with humans.
If we take a longer historical view  and accept that we are all on life’s journey together than we are all immigrants forging our way forward towards a new future. We all came to American from somewhere.   I read an article this fall about the drama in our DNA. If we really analyze our DNA and look at human development through the ages,  human evolution is a scientific soap opera. The drama of human history revolves around climate waves of decimating cold and surging heat.  History includes killer romances. Humans and Neanderthals apparently had love affairs in which the human DNA proved toxic to the Neanderthals. Interbreeding proved a disaster for the Neanderthals who never recovered decimating the race in the course of millennium.  Humans went on to become stone tool makers, who were also artists (40,000 years ago).

We moved from hunting and gathering to farming in the Fertile Crescent, planting crops and domesticating animals. We learned to digest milk and metabolic fats. We got taller, developed lighter skin and eyes in the colder climates.  Leprosy and TB emerged and threatened us as did the plague and flu.  We are all carriers of this genetic history.  The fact that we are here means that our ancestors were survivors.  Among us today 2% of us have DNA that goes all the way back to those Neanderthals who we wiped out 50,000 years ago.  Their genes are still with us.

A rudimentary look at my own family tree suggests many opportunities for diversity. My son is a fifth generation Wyomingite.  My great grandfather moved to Wyoming territory as a miner. His tiny one-room mining cabin in the Snowy Mountains still isn’t accessible by road even in the summer.  Hard to believe that a mountain man living high in the Rockies by himself didn’t do some womanizing at some point in time.  He later became a railroader when the Union Pacific came through Wyoming, served on the first territorial legislature, and eventually killed himself.  No one ever said why.  His wife took to traveling all over the nation by train. My grandmother and grandfather were both highly educated for the time. Grandmother was one of the first classes of women to graduate from the University of Wyoming.  My grandfather held an engineering degree from the University of Michigan and served as Wyoming’s first Highway Engineer.  On the surface, our Wyoming lineage looks extremely homogenous, Caucasian builders of a new state but just like Thomas Jefferson’s family, I can’t swear there aren’t other branches that are more colorful than we are.

My dad’s family is even more likely to have a dramatic history.  He grew up in South Carolina on a plantation that was downsized by the time I was young. The big house remained but the land had been sold off and other houses built around it.  My grandmother still had “colored” help (her terminology in the early 1950’s).  I don’t think my grandmother ever learned to cook.  The history of long-term southern families is thwart with secret interracial mixing.  I can’t image that ours is not the same.   I have an adopted daughter from China and my sister has an adopted daughter of Mexican/Native American descent.  So if the historical roots of our tree are not diverse,   the new leaves are bright indeed.

When we as a country talk about sending people home, maybe we should first think about where our home is. I don’t mean our literal home but where did we come from in history.   Where would we be now if our ancestors had been sent home or couldn’t develop the genetic structure to continue forward?  Even in our life time, are we not all immigrants in the new global high tech world?  Have we not had to learn a new languages to dwell among the ever evolving technology.In this life time, have we not journeyed far from the party-line rotary dial telephones and manual typewriters to the new frontier virtual reality?

Is my home Ashtree Way, Boise,  Idaho, the United States, the world, the 21st century, or all of the above?

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Depression, my experience with deep darkness

In 1988, “Gorillas in the Mist” was a big hit. I went with my boyfriend, now husband-Pete, and our friends, Teri and Jack. The movie is the true story of naturalist Dian Essey, protector of hunted gorillas. Blood is featured prominently throughout as gorillas are hunted for cash, gorgeous animals with huge hearts attacked for no reason, their hands sold as ash trays. Essey lived and died among these rare creatures.  The last scene is especially bloody. Essey’s throat is cut. Viewers see the knife slice and blood dripping from her neck. Her assailant is never identified.

As we stood up to leave the movie, I realized I could not speak. Unbeknownst to me, the movie had touched some hidden well-spring releasing a huge surge of darkness that engulfed my senses. The only two bright spots were: 1. I knew something was terribly wrong and 2. I was surrounded by supportive friends. By morning I was able to talk but dark shadows were still hovering like ghostly cobwebs in the corners of my mind. I would not wish that catatonic blackness on anyone. I understand some people can’t surface on their own towards the glimmering light of reality as I had. Trapped in that blackness for a significant period of time, I would find the experience unnerving, unbearable and ultimately unlivable.

While the initial depressive episode was almost 30 years ago, I was reminded of the experience this week while visiting Wyoming friends in Colorado and Arizona. While I was in Colorado, my friends Teri and Jack drove down from Cheyenne to see me. We laughed about our many shared good times, i.e. Like when their cat, Tiger, stole the pork roast, bigger than he off the table as we were sitting done to eat. We don’t talk about how I couldn’t get to their wedding in Jackson even though Pete was the best man because I was struggling to keep the darkness at bay and wouldn’t travel for an extended period of time. I had lunch in Phoenix with my dear friend, Holly. During my mental health struggles I would camp out on Holly’s couch for the night to make sure I wasn’t alone. Excellent counseling, medication, funds to pay for it, and  a strong support system of friends helped sweep my blackness away though I still watch for triggers, such as no depressing movies. I am always thankful for the light.

I have been planning a spring break trip to California for my daughter and her friends to tour universities the last couple of weeks. She wants to go because her brother and his friend made the trek with my sister and I six years ago. The  circumstances of that trip were very different than the one we are contemplating now. When I planned the trip in 2011, I didn’t know the challenges we would face. The week we were to leave I received a call from the friend’s father. He told me his wife had killed herself the night before while the family was in the house. I told him we would the cancel the trip but he insisted we go.

Right after the mom’s funeral in a Boise Episcopal church filled with Juniors in high school, we started out to California. We wound our way down the California coast, touring Stanford, UCLA, Santa Clara and finishing in San Diego. We turned home driving through Yosemite.  After the park, we drove straight home, a week away in La La land resulted in my son’s friend beginning to come to terms with his mother’s death.  Understandably, he wanted to get home as quickly as possible. I was so pleased this December when my son’s friend, a first generation college graduate crossed the stage at University of Idaho. After such a tragic beginning to his college career, his success gave all of us in our family a spurt of joy.

Over the years, mental health issues have grabbed more of the spotlight. The Affordable Care Act(ACA/ObamaCare) now about to be repealed requires that insurers pay for behavioral health treatment at the same level as other medical services (the technical term is parity and insurance payment for mental health is a recent development). I am an example of the success of having access to resources. Unfortunately, treatment still carries a stigma unlike cancer and too many people can’t access appropriate care either because it isn’t available or they are unwilling to admit they need help. Idaho has one of the worst community mental health systems in the nation. Our suicide rate is too high. We can strive to do better as a state. As individuals, we can all be  supportive friends to those in need. My friends kept me going when I was surrounded by darkness and despair. Thirty years later whenever I’m with them I bask in their light.

 

 

Chinese New Year 2017—Kozisek Style

I have an adopted Chinese daughter, Kayla who is now 17. We have been celebrating Chinese New Year sometime during the traditional two week celebration since she was a very small child to honor her heritage. Unlike New Years in the United States the Chinese date moves around from year to year. This year Chinese New Year began on January 27th (the eve of the lunar New Year) and ended with the Lantern Festival Feb. 11, 2017. We chose to celebrate with friends and family on Sunday, February 5th.  We always go to a local Chinese restaurant, owned by a Chinese family to celebrate. This year we were greeted with a red menu with Chinese New Year specials in an almost empty dining room because of the Super Bowl.  But because of our trip to Australia and the great skiing in McCall, we had to double book activities to get in our annual Chinese dinner (we saw the first half of the Super Bowl and recorded the last half. The two halves were like two different games).

Our dinner this year was both smaller and larger than we planned. Smaller because two of Kayla’s friends who usually join us along with my sister were sick. We had invited our neighbors down the street who have a Chinese daughter and have joined us before. Sadly,their family was smaller this year because the husband/dad, a big man with a big personality to match had died two weeks before.  Our party was larger because our neighbors added in a third family with a Chinese daughter who we had not met before.  Our final group included three beautiful Chinese girls, all adopted from orphanages as infants, and their families for a total of nine.

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ShaSha and Jillian (9th graders) with Kayla (High School Junior).  All came from China as infants.

I brought along red envelopes with money for the girls. Red envelopes filled with fresh new bills are the traditional gift during the Chinese New Year celebrations. A red envelope bestows happiness, blessings and wishes for another safe and peaceful year. As we enter February, I have high hopes that we will have happiness and peace this year despite national divisions. I would be remiss not to give a “Shout out” to the 9th Circuit Justices for recognizing how important it is to allow people from far away to travel to this country when appropriately screened and carrying approved documents–a judicial blessing as we begin the New Year.

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Billions of red envelopes filled with crisp new bills are given out during Chinese New Year

 

One-fifth of the world’s populations celebrate Chinese New Year. More than 200 million Mainland Chinese travel long distances for these holidays. Billions of red envelopes are exchanged. While our daughter and the other two Chinese girls celebrating with us that night are a minority in Idaho, Chinese make up the largest ethnic group in the world. Having a Chinese daughter and having visited China, has helped me understand that there are simply not enough Americans, no matter how well armed to take on the majority of the world alone. Globalization requires a commitment to understanding other cultures and learning to value the traditions of countries along with our own.

This year, the two week Chinese News Years celebration welcomed in the year of the Rooster. The Chinese zodiac has 12 animals representing different years. The year in which you were born is your zodiac animal. Kayla is a rabbit.  Rabbits are frank, straightforward, ambitious, hard-working, but slightly reserved. Rabbits tend to be gentle, quiet, elegant, and alert; quick, skillful, kind, and patient; and particularly responsible. Female rabbits are pretty and pure of heart. These words definitely describe my girl.

My husband and son are dogs. Dogs are loyal and honest, amiable and kind, cautious and prudent. Due to having a strong sense of loyalty and sincerity, dogs will do everything for the person who they think is most important. These adjectives describe both my husband and son well.

My husband is a Fire Dog making him particularly intelligent, hardworking, and sincere. Anyone who knows, my husband knows these adjectives describe him to a “t”.  At 70, he still gets up every morning at 6, heads out the door by 7 and returns home around 7 from the hospital where as a palliative care physician he has spent the day treating people who are dying or suffering from severe chronic pain. He doesn’t need to work but his work is his passion and defines who he is.

My son is a Wood Dog, sincere, reliable, considerate, understanding, and patient. My daughter would say these terms are a bunch of hooey when used to describe her brother. But one can always hope as he moves into the world of work he will demonstrate his “ good dog” qualities.

I am a tiger. People who know me would say the animal is a great characterization of me. I am known to be fierce, ambitious (before I retired) and sometimes off-putting with my strong opinions. Tigers are enthusiastic, brave, competitive, unpredictable, and self-confident. They are very charming and well-liked by others (some people who know me might not find me to be sooo charming). But tigers can also be impetuous, irritable, and stubborn. Believe me, my husband would say he has experienced the angry, impetuous tiger more than once in the 27 years we’ve been married.

At our house, we have four dogs, two cats, a rabbit and a tiger, quite an eclectic mix. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Koziseks found blessings and joy in 2016 and I hope those gifts will extend into 2017. As I age, I realize how fragile life is and how we must celebrate together when we can.

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Kozisek/Robinson Family enjoying Thanksgiving on the Big Island of Hawaii.  We had many blessings in 2016 and look forward to a safe and peaceful 2017.

A Taste for Australia

I spent three weeks in January, 2017, traversing Australia with my husband and son. We flew from Boise, Idaho, USA to Auckland, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia  for 4 nights to Cairns for 3 nights and to Melbourne for 3 nights.  My husband left us in Melbourne to return to work.  My son and I rented a car and spent three nights driving the Great Ocean Road and Australia’s outback.  We ended our trip with 3 nights in Adelaide, considered some of Australia’s best wine country.  All totaled we traveled about 3,780 miles in Australia and saw major cities in the East and South along the South Pacific, Tasmanian and Indian Oceans.  We moved from sea coasts and rain forests near the equator to beaches where wind from the arctic oceans cooled the air.  While we covered vast expanses of land, we saw less than half of the country, none of western or northern Australia and none of the interior.  Here are some of my observations:

1.Kangaroos are old hat, quite literally. You can buy men’s hats made from kangaroo. Kangaroo pelts are for sale everywhere. Weird tourists gifts like kangaroo balls made into flasks are on display in tourist shops. Kangaroo filet is on some menus. At the Sydney Zoo, I heard a mom shout to her child, “You don’t want to look at that—it’s just a kangaroo!” We saw only four kangaroos hopping in the wild. The one’s I saw were magical. One was as tall as my son, 6 feet 3″. He turned and glared at those of us who had jumped out of cars to watch. The animal troupe made short work of hopping across the pasture, across the road and into the bush. When we drove the outback, I expected to see lots of kangaroos and emu. We saw lots of warning signs to watch for kangaroos and we saw at least five dead ones by the side of the road. But I only spotted one kangaroo in the bush and no emus outside the zoos. As an animal advocate, I worry that all the tourist items will make the kangaroo, like so many other sought after animals of yore, into a an endangered species.

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Kangaroo staring down my son and standing over 6 feet (picture by S. Kozisek)

2. Koalas are as cute in person as in pictures. These fascinating creatures are said to be “punch drunk” because they sleep about 19 hours a day. We paid for pictures with them both at the Sydney Zoo which did not allow you to touch them and in the Kuranda Koala Gardens where we were allowed to hold the Koalas and feed wallabies and Kangaroos. Koala fur is not as soft as kangaroos’ hair. The only way we saw koalas in the wild was when other cars were stopped to view them. We would jump out, ask where the koalas were and people were kind enough to point them out nesting in the high tree branches. Their gray fur blends in with the bark. My old eyes weren’t good enough to spot them from the car as we drove along. The process reminded me of when bears or moose are spotted in Yellowstone National Park. Everyone pulls their cars over and jumps out to spot the animal and if possible capture them on film.

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Koala, outside Apollo Beach (taken by S. Kozisek)

3.Visiting Australia is like falling down Alice’s proverbial rabbit hole. When we left Boise, snow was falling and the plane had to be deiced to make it off the ground. When we arrived in Sydney it was summer and 80 degrees. Christmas decorations were up everywhere we went but it never got colder than about 60. Not only were we visiting in summer, the continent was headed into fall starting in about March. We heard on several tours how gorgeous the fall colors on the trees were in late fall (beginning in March). Australia broke away from Africa over 400 million years ago. The warm climate led to the evolution of an econ-system different than anywhere else in the world. Australia is home to fabulous creatures living on the Great Barrier reef, in rivers such as platypuses and crocodiles (both fresh and sea water) to billibies to emu to wallabies, to koalas, to kangaroos (just naming a few).  I had one lady on a bus who wanted to discuss deer with me because she had never seen one in the wild. I, on the other hand, wanted to discuss kangaroos.  Apparently, kangaroos are like deer in Idaho.  They are pretty to look at but can get in your yard and eat your flowers and trees. Australia was settled in 1788 by the British as a penal colony after the American War of Independence when the U.S. refused to take any more English convicts. As an English colony everything in Australia like England is focused on the left. You drive on the left and walk on the left. Signs are posted on the roads to remind you that you are to drive on the left. While everyone speaks English, we sometimes couldn’t understand what was being said. Australians can understand us because American movies are everywhere at the same time as they are released in the U.S. but Australians have their own unique accent which becomes more pronounced in rural areas.

4. Australia’s diverse  and unique ecosystem encompasses vast expanses of mountains, rain forests, beaches and scrub bushes.

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My son, Scott, at Blue Mountains outside Sydney, Australia

 

  • Blue Mountains: During our time in Australia, we visited the Blue Mountains outside Sydney. The mountains are named for the blue mist created by oil from the Eucalyptus trees mixing with the environment.  While touring the mountains, we saw a burst of white birds rise from the trees far below circle below us and disappear into the rocks.  The sight was breathtaking and mystical in its beauty and silence.
  • Great Barrier Reef: We took a tour boat to visit the Great Barrier Reef.  Snorkeling the reef was the first time, I personally realized the power of the ocean.  At our first snorkeling site, the crew started shouting “Current!” and throwing out ropes to the divers.  When  I got in the water, I could barely swim the current was pushing so strong against me.  The divers used the ropes to pull themselves down to the reef. Fortunately, the other two snorkeling spots were less strenuous.  The Barrier Reef is clearly suffering. There are large expanses of white or dead reef and the colors are not as gorgeous as we saw when snorkeling in November in Hawaii.  There may be no reef to see in 20 years from now.
  • Rainforests: The rainforests flourish throughout Australia’s costal areas.  There is beach at the sea and a few miles in major forests where ferns weighing as much as a thousand pounds hitch a ride on the top of a tree to sunlight.
  • Oceans, the defining boundary: Cairns was so humid my swim suit wouldn’t dry and when we reached the Great Ocean Road, the wind from the arctic was so cold one had to push into it head first to make it to the look-out stations.  Along this rugged coast, the twelve apostles, large rock formations carved from limestone stand guard against the crashing waves of the ocean. Beaches in the city are jammed but the beaches near the outback are long, beautiful stretches with almost no visitors.

5.Australian cities are home to amazing architecture. Most people are familiar with the iconic Sydney Opera house, a multi-venue performing arts center at the heart of the Sydney harbor, graced with a roof of sails rising towards the sky. The Sydney Opera house is just one of many architectural  symbols of Australia’s technical and creative achievements, we saw during out trip.  We were more amazed and delighted by how much creative architecture is found throughout Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide. The buildings are multi-shaped, decorated in bright colors. Some feature art, others host glass triangles or pyramids for windows. We visited open-air malls in Melbourne and Adelaide which were full of wonderful sights, sounds and smells and gorgeous to boot. We saw elaborate winding staircases of shiny aluminum and pure wood in the universities.  Seemingly  weightless bridges soared over harbors and rivers. The city skylines were traversed by  huge cranes building new towering edifices. Australia is a country that is growing in a vibrant, creative way we do not see in America.

6.Australia is a good place to call home.

  • The cities  have excellent infra-structure. We were able to get everywhere by mass transit which was either affordably priced or free in certain areas of the city. Some of the cities provided free wifi through the downtown but even when they didn’t, wifi was readily available whereever we went. Walking paths with lots of green spots and benches to take in the moment, clean public restrooms and facilities to fill water bottles were available everywhere tourists might be. Street concerts, modern art displays, and sporting events, including the Australia open meant something was happening all the time.
  • The food is  diverse and we found universally great. We ate everything from dumplings in China town in Sydney to hot curry Tia in Adelaide to pizza covered with greens in Robe, to salads packed with delicious nuts and berries in Cairns–all excellent and different. Our last night in Australia, my son and I treated ourselves at a high end restaurant recommended by our hotel (Blackwood) for a true Australia meal. My son is a vegetarian and had potato gnocchi and I had fish cheeks made into some type of fried cake delicacy over green beans. It was a great ending to our adventures.

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    Sydney had the first China Town in the West
  • The cities are safe. When we were getting off the plane in Sydney, one of the American tourists said he came every year to Australia and he loved everything about it, “except the gun laws. The Australian gun laws are terrible!” This led to extremely odd looks from the Australia citizens on the plane because the gun laws are one reason Australia is so safe. Australia first introduced its gun laws following a tragic mass shooting  in April 1996,  The government responded by banning all rapid-fire long guns, including those that were already privately owned, and introduced strict punishments for anyone caught in possession of the weapons – including jail time. In the past 20 years, since the passage of this law there have been no mass shootings.
  • Pay is good. My son visited a friend who he met during a semester abroad in Spain. She was working part-time as Christmas retail assistant making $55 Australian dollars an hour for retail services (holiday pay), a lofty sum in our minds. She told Scott she wouldn’t work for under $17 an hour.
  • Health care coverage is available for all. Australia provides national health insurance to its residents but encourages higher income families to purchase private insurance by penalizing high income earners using public insurance with additional taxes.
  • Australia is expensive to visit and to live but the high quality of public services makes up for much of this cost.

scan0011Final Reflections: This trip had been on my bucket list since 1984 when I saw an exhibit about Australia at the New Orleans World Fair. Thirty-three years later, I was able to take the trip I had been planning for  about half of my life. I could write on for hours about rain forests, riding on trains to the Blue Mountains, women striding through city streets in the shortest skirts and highest heals I’ve every seen, gliding through tree tops in gondolas and watching thousands of bats take flight at sun down in Cairns. But I know there is a limit to what a reader will read and I have far surpassed the usual 800 words. I had a wonderful time on a trip of a life time.  I think the best recommendation for those considering a trip to  Australia is I would do it again in a heartbeat even though the flight over and back is over 25 hours each way and it took me several years to save the funds to go.

Kayla

Kayla is my adopted 17 year-old daughter from China.  She came to America when she was 8 months old. She weighed 9 pounds, couldn’t sit up because she had been confined to a crib most of her short life and had no hair, head sheared to avoid lice.  The poem below was written about her.

A small sprout transplanted from China,

you toppled out of the crib, raced out the door, dashed into sports,

embracing soccer, track, cross-country, skiing, volleyball,

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Cross-country meet, fall 2016

 

running, jumping, digging, striking;

fierce, competitive, impatient, aggressive, bold.

 

Spanx and sports bra, the daily uniform,

going all out–all the time.

Building strong biceps, sinewy tendons,

Nature’s glitter ; translucent shimmering sweat

crowns your brow, glazes your arms.

 

A flourishing STEM bud, nurtured in curiosity,

math and science are puzzles to solve.

complicated chemistry formulas,

elaborate derivatives–no problem.

English and history–suet for the birds.

 

A stunning tiger-lily,

rooted in fairness and compassion

your heart, a vibrant piñata,

burgeoning with raw emotions, jumbled together;

happy, confident, sad, anxious, angry, loving.

 

You’re an authentic explorer,

propelled by your virtual pinioned,

zeitgeist cloak of inquisitiveness;

restless to break free,

soar, create, love, and chase your dreams.20161120_130321