A brief meeting with visiting relatives

This morning we all slept in. It rained a lot overnight, and we had almost 150 mm in 24 hours, but it had cleared by this morning and it was sunny but cold.

My wife’s nephew and his partner are visiting Sydney from their new home in Auckland, having recently moved there from Oslo. So they’re now a lot closer to home, but still in another country. It was the first chance we had to see them for over a year. There was a morning tea at a cafe with some of the rest of the family. Because it was so cold, they wanted to sit inside, rather than at an outdoor table, so after saying hello I had to look after Scully.

I drove with her to Collaroy where I got pies for an early lunch. We walked over to the beach and sat on the bench looking out over the murky ocean and grey sky. The swell was large and a lot of surfers were out there braving the freezing conditions. After that I drove back to pick up my wife.

We got home at lunch time. I spent the afternoon writing up a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! scripts, which I’ll photograph tomorrow.

And then some evening ethics classes to round out the day. For dinner I made a stir fry with 5 green vegetables: cabbage, broccolini, spring onions, celery, and fennel, flavoured with garlic, ginger, chilli, miso, mirin, and soy sauce, served over brown rice. It turned out pretty good.

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Mother’s Day lunch, more rain, no aurora

Today is Mother’s Day in Australia. I called my mother this morning, and she said she was on the phone with one hand in a mixing bowl, mixing together some hamburger meat and stuff.

I did a 5k run, again managing to get most of the run in before it started raining again, though it started sprinkling as I approached the finish, and was raining heavily within about 10 minutes.

The rain is just getting super annoying now. We were supposed to have a good chance to see some aurora australis from Sydney tonight because of the ongoing geomagnetic storm conditions. But again it’s a complete washout, with rain and thick cloud in the evening.

For lunch today we went to my mother-in-law’s place, where her family gathered for Mother’s Day. We took most of the cinnamon rolls which we’d made yesterday. It was a casual lunch with party pies and sausage rolls and quiche. We left in time for me to be home for my 4pm ethics class.

And it’s been classes until mid-evening now. I should probably go and think about something to eat for dinner…

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New shoes

I had a bit of a rough night, trying to sleep with my side muscle strain. It hurt every time I rolled over in bed, so kept me awake more than usual. Today it feels significantly better though, which is good. I didn’t go for a run because I didn’t want to strain myself further.

I worked on some comics in the morning, and then after lunch we went out to do a couple of things. I needed a new pair of casual sports shoes – do people still call them “sneakers”? Just to wear every day to walk around in, not to actually play sports or run in (I have running shoes). We stopped off at a shoe shop on the way to my mother-in-law’s place because we were gathering there for an afternoon tea for my wife’s nephew’s birthday.

I tried one pair of shoes and they fit so nicely that I didn’t bother with the other two pairs the assistant had brought out. They were a narrower fit, but I need a wider fit for my feet, so was happy to stick with the first wide-fit pair. I left the old shoes there to be recycled, though I’m not sure how or how much of a pair of old sneakers they can possibly recycle.

The afternoon tea was nice, with lots of fresh berries which are in season here at the moment: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. There were some sandwiches, spinach rolls and sausage rolls, and a chocolate mud cake. I ate enough that I haven’t bothered with a proper dinner tonight, and will get by with an evening snack.

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Christmas Eve lunch with family

It’s Christmas Eve! Scully was super excited when she woke up, because that means it’s only five more sleeps until Christmas!

(counting her various morning and afternoon naps)

Today we had plans for lunch with my mother, brother, and stepfather. We drove up to Gosford, a bit over an hour north of home. The weather forecast was for thunderstorms, and we got some intermittently while driving up on the freeway, and also later during lunch. We met at a pizza place that my mother likes, and sat outside at a table under shelter, so that was fine. The pizzas were pretty good, and we caught up on a lot of things. I don’t see my mother or brother that often, so we had plenty of stories to tell about our trip to Europe.

When we got home we walked up to the supermarket to get some corn chips to make a simple dinner of nachos after the big lunch.

Tomorrow is Christmas Day of course, and we’re heading to my wife’s family for lunch. I need to make the glazed ham in the morning. This year I’m trying an orange marmalade glaze.

The weather is going to be interesting though. The forecast is for severe thunderstorms, with possible hail. I’m really hoping we don’t get hail, because our car will be parked out on the street all day there. I won’t take my traditional after-lunch swim in the harbour, because the water will be murky with the recent rain, which can be dangerous because of bacteria and also increases the risk of sharks.

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Some family revelations

Friday was a very busy day. I had a two-hour Zoom meeting with the Standards Australia committee for photography, which I chair. This was the follow-up for the ISO meeting I attended in Japan last month, for which I wrote the summary report recently. It was a well-attended meeting, and we had a new committee member to welcome, which was good. I went through all of the technical and administrative discussions from Japan, filling everyone in on developments. And then we had some Australian admin stuff to attend to, like updating adoption of international standards that have been revised, and organising preparations for hosting an ISO meeting here in Sydney in October 2024. I also said I was planning to travel to the next meeting in Finland in November this year, for which I can most likely get travel funding.

After that meeting I went out to pick up Scully from my wife’s work, and then return home in time for three ethics classes in a row.

And then after a quick dinner I went over to a friend’s place for board games night. We ended up with five people attending, and played games of Jump Drive, Gin Crafters, Fujiyama, and then four of them set up for Codenames while I went home a bit early, since I needed to be up a little early today.

Because this morning my wife started a new hobby! She left early to go to a local community garden and do some gardening work there. She came home with a bag of vegetables, mostly various leafy greens but also some potatoes, radishes, and Jerusalem artichokes. I had some of the salad greens on my lunch sandwiches.

After lunch we drove up to Gosford to visit my mother. We haven’t seen her for several months, because of various cancellations due to COVID and other illnesses. We took the souvenirs from Japan for her: a box of matcha chocolates, and a jar of spicy Japanese seasoning to use on her cooking.

While we were chatting, conversation turned to travel, about our recent trip to Japan, and then when we went to Germany last year and saw my aunt (my mother’s sister). And my mother said she was so thankful that we arranged a Zoom call with her sister before she died last year. And then she said, “You know we weren’t really sisters, right?”

I said, “What??”

My mother proceeded to explain that her and her older sister had different fathers, and both were different to the father of their three younger siblings (my other two aunts and uncle). Basically, the man who I’d thought was my grandfather for my whole life until today, wasn’t my mother’s biological father. (Nor the father of my mother’s older sister.) She said that her older sister’s father was an American soldier, based in Germany at the end of World War II. And her own father… she had no idea who he was. My “grandfather” had formally adopted my grandmother’s two children when they got married, and then gone on to have three more children together.

I had no idea about any of this before today. So, the gist of it from my point of view is that… I don’t have any idea who my grandfather is. The man who I thought was my grandfather wasn’t. And both he and my grandmother are now dead, so there’s nothing to be learnt there. My mother says that her mother told her this at some point (roughly when she was middle-aged), and her mother had urged her to go find her real father in Germany, but my mother had stated that the man who raised her was her father as far as she was concerned, and she had no desire to seek out anyone else. So I think the window has closed to learning any more.

It’s not a life-shattering revelation, but it does feel a bit odd to learn this so late in my own life. I don’t think it makes any practical difference, but now there’ll always be a bit of wondering about the truth.

On the drive home we stopped off at a suburb on the northern end of Sydney for dinner. We found a place called Burger Hounds and had burgers. I tried the “Honey Badger”, a fried chicken burger with spiced honey and coleslaw. It was a bit sweet, spicy, and really delicious. This was a really good burger place and was doing a cracking business in people eating in and also take-away orders.

A couple of hours later and I’m still full from that burger…

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Easter lunch and no email

This morning we took Scully for a walk, and then I made a salad to take to my wife’s family lunch for Easter Sunday. Her mother requested I make rocket and pear salad again, as she likes it so much.

I diced beurre bosc pears, drizzled them with a mix of orange and lemon juice to stop them browning and to give some flavour, put them onto rocket leaves, added crumbled blue cheese and walnuts and some extra virgin olive oil. We took it over to lunch and it was a it. We also had roast chicken and vegetables, a scalloped potato bake, and pane di casa bread. And then there was a chocolate raspberry cake for dessert, and of course Easter chocolates, which my brother-in-law gets from a chocolatier near his place. There were Easter bilbies and small eggs filled with various flavours.

When we got home this afternoon I discovered my email wasn’t working. Two different clients (Thunderbird on MacOS ad Apple Mail on iOS) both reported errors connecting to my imap server. I tried webmail on my web and mail host’s domain, but it also reported an error message (“Server Error: STATUS: Internal error occurred.”) and didn’t show me any of my email at all. I double checked the server settings, encryption, and port numbers, and they’re all correct.

But the status page for my webhost says that both imap and webmail are both operational. So I don’t know what’s going on. I’ve submitted a support ticket saying I can’t access either imap or webmail, over 2 hours ago, but no response yet. I’m just going to go to sleep tonight and hope that it’s all fixed in the morning. Otherwise I don’t know what else to do.

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Aussie Christmas Day

This morning I spent baking a maple-glazed ham for my wife’s family Christmas lunch. It cooled enough to take in the car to my mother-in-law’s place, where we had the traditional Christmas lunch with eight people.

My wife’s nephew was back from Norway for the first time since COVID began – he’s working over there now, and he brought his girlfriend with him on her first trip to Australia. So she was having fun experiencing a southern hemisphere Christmas. After the lunch we all went for a swim at the nearby beach. It got up to 27°C today, so warm, but not really hot.

For gifts I basically got some sweets, some mustards and sauces, and some bathroom niceties (fancy bath bombs and shower gel).

We relaxed into a long, lazy afternoon of snacking on chocolates, and then the evening viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on TV. We just got home for the night, at 10pm.

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Christmas Eve family stuff

It’s Christmas Eve, which means the big gathering of my extended family. We’ve always had it on Christmas Eve, which makes it easy for people with partners to attend the other family’s Christmas Day events.

It used to be a gathering at on the family member’s house, but with all of my mother’s generation having now downsized or moved out of the city after the kids have moved out, nobody has a suitably large home to host it any more. So for the past few years it’s been held at a park in Sydney’s west, by the Nepean River, but we’ve missed them because of COVID. This year is the first year we went to attend the event in the park.

It’s about a 45 minute drive there on motorways most of the way. We arrived a bit after 2pm (it had started at 2, though a few people had got there early to reserve a spot in the park. They needn’t have bothered – I thought the park would be packed with people out having picnics, but we actually had the whole park to ourselves! Scully got to run around free of the leash for the whole afternoon (and now she’s super tired tonight).

It was warm there: 35.5°C. Fortunately we were sitting in the shade and there was a bit of a breeze, so it didn’t feel bad at all. The generation below me (my cousins’ kids) are all roughly teenagers, and they were playing variously casual cricket, softball, and soccer. I joined in and had a bit of a hit with the softball bat. I prefer cricket, but by the time I joined in they’d retired that and moved on to softball. We also played some quoits.

There were just a few snacks and nibbles, and the wife of one of my cousins made her famous caramel slice. Everyone else was moving on to dinner at a nearby rowing club in the evening, but we left a bit before then to drive home (where I just made omelettes for dinner).

On the way back we stopped for petrol, and I went in to pay and said, “Pump 2”, and the guy behind the counter seemed confused and said, “No, you’re 1”.

I said, “No, I checked, I’m 2”.

He said, “You’re the black car there, right?”

I said, “No, I’m the blue car at the other pump.”

The guy had a look of horrified revelation and said, “That guy who just walked out paid for your pump!”

He must have realised there was something wrong because he came back in. The guy behind the counter said, “Sorry, you’ve paid for this man’s fuel.”

And the man turned to me and said, “Merry Christmas!”

We had a bit of a giggle and the guy behind the counter sorted it all out. Unfortunately… because then I had to pay for it!

After we got home I took advantage of the cooler evening to go for a 2.5k run. I really wanted to get this done before Christmas, because this run took my total running distance for the year 2022 to 500 km! I noticed a couple of months ago that this landmark was within reach, and have been diligent to try to reach it, so that felt pretty good. Although I ran a fairly slow time in the evening heat. (25.3°C, 66% humidity)

Tomorrow we have Christmas Day lunch with my wife’s family. I’m looking forward to meeting her nephew’s girlfriend, who is from Norway and has never been to Australia before. I hope she’s enjoying the heat which has finally hit us after that unusually cold start to December.

New content today:

A Zoom and a tunnel

Friday night was virtual board games night with my friends, so I didn’t have time to write up a blog entry. I picked up groceries, taught some online classes, and started working on a new online class for Outschool. I’m planning to run some Dungeons & Dragons or other roleplaying games for kids. D&D classes are very popular on there. I think a lot of kids these days are getting exposure to D&D online when they don’t have local groups to play with—or maybe some are getting an extra fix—and Outschool is a perfect platform for them to find adult DMs with experience running games for kids.

During games night, we played Sushi Go Party!, which I won, amazingly. And 6 Nimmt, Splendor, and Jump Drive, all of which I lost badly, unsurprisingly. We also tried a new game: VektoRace, which is an analogue car racing board game in which you use distance templates to move car tokens around a race track. It seemed an odd thing to port to an online version, but seemed to work okay. I took an early lead and the other players struggled to catch me, and we decided to quit after a bit more than 1 lap of the 3 in the race as it wasn’t particularly interesting. It’d probably be more fun with actual miniatures and a table.

Today I went to visit my mother, who lives up north, an hour’s drive away. While on my recent trip to Europe, my wife and I visited my aunt, my mother’s sister, in her nursing home in Germany. In the past year or so, we’ve had Zoom calls with her and several members of our family (organised by one of my cousins), but my mother has never been in on the call, because she’s not computer savvy and panicked when I suggested she set up Zoom on her computer. So when we saw my aunt in person, I asked if she’d like me to set up a call with her sister (my mother), and she sounded very enthusiastic about that. So when we got home from Europe, I phoned my mother to see if we could visit and take a laptop and do all of the Zoom setup for her, so she could talk to her sister. She thought that sounded great, so I emailed the nursing home in Germany and set up a call.

Today was the day, so my wife and I drove up to have an afternoon tea with my mother and then set up the Zoom call. It was scheduled for 5pm here, which was 9am in Germany. I took a laptop, and connected it to her WiFi (after struggling to find the password, before finding it written on the bottom of the modem), and ran the Zoom from there. It worked well and my mother and aunt had a rather emotional chat for a while, not having spoken to one another for many years, since the last time my aunt had visited Australia. My aunt tires quickly, so we didn’t stay on too long.

I knew we’d be leaving my mother’s around 6pm, so we decided to have dinner somewhere on the way home. Before we left, I found a nice restaurant in northern Sydney, just off the freeway exit and before the long slog through the suburbs back home. As we approached the freeway exit, we were nicely 10 minutes before our reservation – perfect timing.

But I hadn’t counted on NorthConnex. This is a new tunnel extending from the freeway, under multiple suburbs, bypassing a notoriously slow surface road. This was the first time I’ve driven back into Sydney from the north since the tunnel opened. We were approaching our exit, so naturally I moved to the extreme left lane (remember, we drive on the left in Australia). But then suddenly I was in unfamiliar territory, and wondering what the “NCX” written on the roadway meant… and before I knew it we were in the tunnel.

This is a 9-kilometre tunnel, with no exits. There was no way back. So we missed our dinner reservation, because by the time we exited and drove back it would have been half an hour or more later. And we paid a toll for the privilege. And we ended up far from home and had to take another tolled motorway to get home. So that was a bit of a debacle. We ended up stopping near home and grabbing something at an Indian restaurant for dinner. A place we hadn’t tried before which… was a bit substandard, and not somewhere we’d go again.

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Heavy rain and heavy lunch

Aldi advertised a special item available today – a dog bed. We’ve got two of the dog beds from there and Scully loves them, but she’s also chewed them a bit so they have some holes, so we wanted to get another. I drove over to the nearest Aldi store to pick one up this morning, but they didn’t have any.

For lunch, I caught a train to Newtown, where I met my brother. We had lunch together at The Pie Tin. He’d never been there before, so I recommended some of the best pies for him to try – he chose the barbecue brisket and a sausage roll. I had a Nepali curry lamb and a Mexican chicken. We were both really full, but it’s worth it since the pies there are so good.

ON the way home, I stopped off at Town hall to check out the game shop and see if they had a copy of Azul: Queen’s Garden. They didn’t. I then stopped again at North Sydney to pop into the Aldi there and see if they had the dog bed. They didn’t.

Oh, and it’s been raining almost all day. Heavy rain. We had a lot of rain overnight. There was a break in the early afternoon, but it’s now raining heavily again this evening. Everyone in Sydney is so sick of this endless rain.

The rain on the train

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