The importance of gatherings

Last weekend we held the third occurrence of “The Great Waffle Off.” Over 30 people showed up to our house for an afternoon of waffle goodness with baking, drinks, a backyard fire and plenty of post-waffle-coma conversations.

 

 

We also host regular “Bonfire Movie Night Potlucks,” featuring trilogies and classic cult movies like Star Wars, Back to the Future, and The 5th Element. These potlucks are held on Thursday evenings when not much else is going on, and they are over by 10:00pm. We generally have 15 – 25 people show up.

These gatherings are powerful for several reasons:

  1. They allow us to catch up with a large number of people in one go. It can be difficult to spend quality time with friends on an ongoing basis, and these events allow us to talk for a few minutes in person with many of our friends — long enough to have a meaningful connection.
  2. They allow the group at large to coalesce. Over time, the people who come to these gatherings have developed friendships that exist outside of and without Mandy and me. This is the best possible outcome as these groups then bring in new friends to our circle. Many of the people that come were originally friends of friends.
  3. They are FUN, participatory, and low pressure. Potlucks require only that you make/buy some food to share. The Waffle Off asks that you make a waffle to share, but if you can’t pull that together then there are more then enough waffles that need eating. Open time frames allow people to show up and leave when it suits them, and no one is offended. Babies and Dogs are allowed, which increased the number of people who can attend.
  4. We get to set the pace. Mandy and I put in a good amount of time setting up for the event and making sure everything goes smoothly, but once it is rolling, we can sit back and watch it unfold. If we want to spice it up we can bring out some fun drinks or an activity, and if we want it to wrap up we can let the fire burn out. This helps us stay sane as Mandy is much more social than I am, but at our home I can be as “on” or not as I want.

These events and others like them held at friend’s houses have helped our community grow, and have brought together many of the different social groups to which we belong.

 

 

The lure of adventure

It is like the National Park Service has a little fairy telling them

“You know what… Ben is a little disillusioned with the way things are right now. I bet you can get him if you send the following email:”

NPS

On to the Land

Stream

Blurry Cam! The stream flows through the lot.

Mandy and I recently purchased seven wooded acres with a stream in the Sierra Foothills. It is four minutes outside the town of Nevada City, in Nevada county, California.

I have spent a week up on it so far in our camper which now lives there. Since it has solar power, we have not needed to run power to the property yet, but we do have city water hooked up to a hose spigot. Using this I set up a propane hot water shower so we can have a little creature comforts.

Out plan is to get a septic system installed, then build a 30 foot yurt on a platform as our initial home there. Eventually we will design and build a house that overlooks the creek, but for now, this is a good option to get something up there quickly. Pacific Yurts are high quality, and offer a surprising amount of space and comfort.  A quick search of yurt living will show several examples of how comfortable they can be. We plan on keeping it up as a guest house once the final house is complete, but there is a chance we enjoy it so much we just keep it as our main place.

We want to clear two acres of the property to make a meadow / garden so that we have more light, and the ability to grow some of our own food. This is something I am becoming more interested in, although my patience for gardening in the past has been slim.

This is an exciting new time for us, and we will be spending much more of our time up there. If you want to join us ever, just let us know!

 

Australia – The Rest

I got so wrapped up in enjoying the trip that I couldn’t be bothered to keep writing while I was on it!

After the stargazing, we made our way west towards Broken Hill. Broken Hill is far out on the edge of the outback, and took us two days of driving to get close. We camped on the side of the road on the way there, and then got a hotel when we arrived.

The hotel we got is the Palace Hotel, as featured in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I have never seen it but Mandy immediately knew what I was talking about.

Broken Hill is such a strange place. The town backdrop is a giant slag pile, over a kilometer long that has built up over decades. The largest company out of Australia got its start by mining this town.

Photo Credit: Ulysses Canberra http://ulyssescanberrabranch.blogspot.com/2013/08/broken-hill-25-30-august-2013.html

We spent a the day exploring and headed even farther out to to Silverton, where Mad Max 2 was filmed and tourism from that movie pretty much supports the seven people who live there.

We headed south on our way back to Melbourne where Jason lives for the moment. Half way down, we camped out on a lake in a tiny town. It was incredibly windy, and was the coldest night of the trip.

The lake was right next the what had been a much larger lake. The dry lakebed was unreal and we spend a while walking through it and exploring. In the photo below, note the color demarcation in the middle. That is not the horizon, it is the old water line from the lake.

IMG 6086

Old water line visible in middle of photo

The next morning we made it through the countryside to the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road. They were beautiful, but swarmed by tourists that take coach busses everywhere and use selfie sticks… We debated on if we should camp out another night or get to Melbourne a day early, and Melbourne won. Three hours later we were at Jason’s apartment.

Melbourne is an great city. It was planned on a grid, and feels very european. The best part are the laneways. Tiny alleys that are packed with cafes, vendors, restaurants, etc… Many are outside, open to the air, but some have become so established that roofs were build over them, enclosing them in.

We toured around, and Jason showed me all the sights, including the markets (and the cheese room!)

The next day he headed to work and I packed up and headed out. I made my way up the coast back towards Sydney. I camped out along the way next to a river in some cow fields with no one around. It was actually a little weird after having been in a city for two nights.

Sydney is like Melbourne’s grown up sister. It is very cosmopolitan, has a big city feel, and is full of life. I dropped off the camper then got a room at the Hilton next to the harbor for the night to end the trip well. That evening I sought out a good burger, and ended up at a restaurant called “The Rook” hidden on the top of an office building. the food was great, and the truffle fries were so good. In the morning, i checked out of the hotel, but since my flight wasn’t until 9:30o , I took my electric unicycle out and spent all day exploring. All around the harbor, to the opera house and then on a ferry over to Manning for lunch and to listen to the street buskers play.

IMG 6136

Sydney skyline and bridge at night

IMG 6146

Sydney Opera House from ferry

Getting back on the plane proved to be an issue, as security had no idea what this thing was, and made me surrender it. Once I told them it had a lithium battery, they brought it out of the cargo hold and I had to take it apart with keys to remove the battery. I thought I may never see it again, but it was waiting for me in Honolulu, where I simply did not recheck it at customs and was able to bring it right on with me again. TSA is much less strict.

IMG 6150

[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/Day_10.gpx”]
[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/Day_11.gpx”]
[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/Melbourne_to_Sydney.gpx”]

Australia – Day 08

We left Gibraltar National park and made good time heading south west. Our eventual goal was Broken Hill, a town on the edge of the outback and about as far out as you can go in New South Wales without needing to stock up on extra fuel. 

We have been playing it by ear each day so that we can take advantage of how the day presents itself. This day we decided to head towards Wurrambunga National Park, which put us about 1/3rd of the way to Broken Hill. On the way there, we realized how amazing the stars had been the night before, and started looking for an observatory. It turns out the astronomy capital of Australia was where we were already heading! We called up and booked a night with an astronomer named, no kidding, Peter Starr. 

As we arrived to town, we went up to the research telescope on the hill. It is massive. We arrived just after it closed, but the gift shop lady told us we could try. The door on the observatory wasn’t properly latched, so we went in, and took the elevator up. The visitors gallery was absolutely pitch black upon arrival, and more than a little creepy. Outside we got some photos, then headed down the hill for camp. This park had good facilities, so we made dinner, then took showers before going to Peter’s house in town. On the way there, a kangaroo jumped out of the bush and came about a foot away from committing suicide on our van. Adrenalin rush. 

Peter used to manage the large research observatory, and now runs his own at his home. He has a large computer controlled telescope observatory of his own, then leases out four remote operated observatories to people from all over the world. One of the owners, Terry, was in from the UK setting up a new camera on his and spent the the evening talking to us about his work. He observes galaxies that are colliding!

Peter’s research focuses on variable stars — stars that have variable light patterns, either from planets passing in front of them, or because they are getting hotter or brighter rapidly, or because they orbit other stars. 

We got a chance to look at Saturn, and several globular clusters, as well a dead star and some nebulas. It was incredible and we definitely geeked out for a while. 

[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/Day_8.gpx”]

Australia – Day 6, 7

Day 6

I left Mandie’s place around lunch time, and headed north to pick up Jason at the Gold Coast Airport. He was getting in late at 10:00pm and I really needed to hunker down and get some work done, so I got a hotel and spent the rest of the day finishing what I needed to before heading into the outback. Jason’s flight was on time, and I scooped him up from the tiny airport in the camper. We stayed up late catching up while walking the beach and around the little town.

 

Day 7

In the morning we planned our first day out over coffee and eggs. There are some great national parks along the coastal mountains, so we headed for the Gibraltar mountain range. The drive was only about 4 hours and we got in with plenty of light left. We parked the car, ate a snack and set off on a 2 hour hike to an area where three streams converge in a canyon. It was going to be used as a hydro electric plant back around 1920, but never got developed. We clambered around on boulders in the stream before heading back to make dinner and a fire. We took some time to sort out the sleeping situation, and discovered that there is plenty of room for both of us. We slept quite well.

IMG 2491IMG 2488

 

[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/Day_07.gpx”]

Australia – Day 04,05

It occurs to me that these posts are inaccurately named. I have actually been in Australia since August 9th. However, I was working the first week and have only started traveling around the country in a camper for these days. 

IMG 5985

Day 4

We spent the day catching up and doing some work. It was good to have a place to sit and focus in on some things that needed doing. Mandy (Hanna) and I are in the middle of purchasing some land up near Nevada City, and we are getting to the end of that process. We needed to settle up some final issues before moving forward, and we did successfully. 

Mandie (Kilotat) had a call in the afternoon and I sat out on the porch reading a book and enjoying the view. 

We took a long walk on the beach before grabbing sushi near her house. She went to a dance class, and I had a long catch up with Casey Fenton on the current project he is working on. 

Day 5

Be a tourist in Byron Bay Day! Byron Bay is a tropical paradise on the coast — and it has the highest concentration of body workers, healers and coaches (professional, career, life) in Australia. Mandie is a coach, and knows a lot of people in the industry, so naturally I had to get a massage from one of them while I was here.

We woke up, and headed to the local farmers market for some veggies and cheese, then I unicycled to the next town over for a massage with one of Mandie’s friends that she had set up for me. Mandie went to get a massage as well at a different place. She picked me up after, and we went back for some food and to change before going for a hike.

We hiked up to the lighthouse and got to see some whales off in the distance while we were looking over the bluffs. The trail back down was through the jungle, and was very fun. Afterwords we headed to a tea tree lake to scope it out since she had never been. The lake is rimmed with Tea Trees, and the oil leaks out into the water making it a dark brown. It supposedly has medicinal qualities, but we didn’t go swimming.

IMG 5987

To round off the day, we went to the next shire over and took a soak in the hot tubs and plunge baths of Kiva spa. Quite an end to the day. We stopped of at the local fish market, then Mandie cooked us salmon and sweet potato chips and we called it an early night.

Australia – Day 03

Day 03

I woke up to my dad face timing me, forgetting about the time difference. It was 7:30am, so not too bad. The sun was coming up over the estuary, and I decided to stay awake and start breakfast. My go-to has been instant coffee, cereal and a banana. It keeps me going for long enough that I can make it to lunch. I packed up and left without seeing anyone else up and about yet.

Today was a power driving day, as I wanted to make it to Mandie’s before it got too late. The clouds rolled in, and it started raining heavily so not a great day for sightseeing anyway. I put a podcast on and drove north.

The pacific highway followed a river valley through hours of sugar cane fields. Mandie has told me that soon they will harvest it and burn the rest of the fields. That will be quite a sight to see.

I met up with her at about 1:30pm and we went into “Bruns” (New Brunswick Heads)for a late lunch of Mint, Pea & Halloumi Cheese fritters with bacon and chili jam. It was delicious. After a quick walk around town — it is one square block, we headed back for a lazy afternoon and evening of Orange is the new Black, catching up conversation and take out thai food. We ended up talking late, and then I parked the van right outside in her driveway to make a little guest house.

Her home overlooks a valley, and is full of parrots. Sounds embedded below.

[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/Day_03.gpx”]

Australia – Day 02

Day Two

I was in no rush to leave Mungo National Park, and ended up hanging out long enough for the rangers to come by and collect the park fee. $14 AUD wasn’t a bad price to pay, but if I had been 15 min quicker, I would have gotten it for free.

The main highway has clearly marked “Tourist Routes”, and I continue to take them. They have better views, go through small towns, and are generally more interesting. One of them led me to The Grandis, the tallest tree in New South Wales. A massive Eucalyptus tree deep in the woods down a dirt road. It is over 400 years old.

IMG_5965

I saw a sign for the “Billabong Koala Zoo – Pet a Koala” and could not resist. I was the only guy in there without kids, but it was amazing. They had Koalas, which I got to pet, and: Kangaroos, birds of all kinds, emus, crocs, snakes, lizards, red pandas and more. I learned a lot about Australian wildlife, including the name of the bird that stole my cheese. The Laughing Kookaburra.

After the park I hopped over to Port Macquarie for lunch on the beach, and rode the unicycle around the ocean walk. People are always very surprised to see it.

The afternoon found me making my way to Gumma Reserve State park. It is a campground on a tidal estuary system, and very tranquil. At $10 a night, people have set up long term camps here (you can stay for a month at a time) and are friendly with each other.

I ended up sitting around a fire with two retired couples both on long journeys. One couple was from Tasmania, the other Victoria. Tasmania has the same reputation as the deep south in the states. (Inbred, backwater, behind the times)

On of the guys had caught a sting ray that day, and he fried it up in a cast iron skillet over the fire. We enjoyed it with roasted veggies for dinner. It was tasty, but not the best thing I have ever had, and full of little bones.

Australians are not Politically Correct, and it was fun listening to a group of 65-70 years olds running their mouths, trash talking and being crass. One of the ladies was in the middle of reading “50 Shades of Grey” and obsessed would be putting it mildly. I think there should be an age restriction on that series.

I am now off north to meet up with Mandie Kilotat near Byron Bay and will stay there for a few nights. Jason will be flying in to an airport near there and I will pick him up.

IMG_5983

Bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, cheese, wine & a book next to a tidal estuary. Perfect.

 [sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/Australia_-_Day_02.gpx”]