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 ands et 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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Mother’s Day pizza lunch

Today was Mother’s Day here in Australia…

(Which just reminded me to call my mother! Lucky I got to this before it was too late!)

For lunch we went to my mother-in-law’s place. My sister-in-law bought pizzas for everyone, so nobody had to cook, and we made choc-chip cookies last night to take over for sweets. It was a fairly small gathering, just seven of us, plus Scully.

That took up the afternoon, then I had some ethics classes this evening, so there’s not much more to say about today. It was a nice sunny day, but chilly. We’ve been enjoying the dry weather, but it looks like it’s going to turn rainy for the next week or so again.

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Easter family lunch

Easter Sunday is all about getting together with my wife’s family for a fancy lunch. We went to my mother-in-law’s place, which she’s just had repainted and cleaned up, and it looks really good.

We had a roast chicken breast roll with apricot stuffing, roast vegetables, and a salad that I made with rocket, pear, walnuts, and blue cheese. After that was a selection of individual cakes which my sister-in-law had brought from a bakery: salted caramel tart, lemon meringue, berry cheesecake, and strawberry sponge. And of course a selection of chocolates and Easter eggs of various types, including chocolate bilbies. These are a common alternative to chocolate rabbits here in Australia, where rabbits have a bad reputation as an invasive species.

A key thing with this gathering was seeing my wife’s nephew for the first time since 2019, since he’s been in Europe for the entirety of the COVID pandemic and this is his first trip back home. So there was a lot of catching up.

After lunch we walked down to the nearby small harbour beach, and were surprised to see that almost all the sand had been washed away – likely by the recent storms and heavy rains, combined with heavy ocean swells. So it was mostly just a bunch of sandstone rocks, left a metre or so below the normal level of the sand.

Tonight back home… I think we’re just going to have a grilled cheese sandwich or something for dinner. Too full to eat much else.

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Are we in for more rain? Yes, we are

Yesterday was not only Scully’s birthday, but my sister-in-law’s, so today we went out for a Sunday brunch with my wife’s family to celebrate.

We had a bit of trepidation, because it was at a cafe by the beach, and looking at Google Streetview it looked like the outdoor tables were protected only by flimsy sun umbrellas, whereas the weather forecast was for storms. We assumed we must have had the outdoor area booked, because we’d be bringing Scully. Checking the weather radar before leaving, it looked like we might be lucky, with a storm line moving through but clear air behind it. Indeed, it poured on us while we drove over there, but stopped by the time we got there. But we needn’t have worried, because they gave us a table well under cover – they allowed dogs into a large area under the cover of a patio awning.

Looking at the menu, I decided on eggs benedict (my usual go-to when eating out for breakfast). But then I saw a woman at an adjacent table being served a delicious looking plate of something, with a visible poached egg and a pile of chopped tomato. I checked the menu and concluded it must be the “halloumi bruschetta”, so I ordered that instead. And then when my dish arrived it was nothing like what that woman had received! I’d obviously made a mistake in assuming what it was, and so I ended up with neither my first choice meal nor the dish that looked amazingly good. Fortunately what I had was also perfectly fine, so no real complaints, just an amusing story.

After the brunch the rain held off, so I went for a walk with my wife and Scully along the beach to the centre of the suburb. There was a Sunday market on to look at, and I tried some gelato from a new place that looks like a high class Italian gelateria. They had some very interesting flavours to choose from. I tried the Black Forest (I can never go past Black Forest), and the pavlova with berries. After carefully shaping each scoop into the paper cup, another staff member wiped the freezer display case clean of any stray drips or blobs of gelato, to keep the entire thing looking immaculate and pristine. I’ve never seen that at a gelateria before! It was very good. I’ll have to go back again and try more of the flavours.

Back home, I managed to get my run in before the rain settled in for the remainder of the afternoon and evening. We’re supposed to get another 100 mm or more of rain over the next week. And it’s worse news for the flood-hit regions further north, which are expected to get much more rain than that. The TV news tonight said the worst-hit regions were now expecting another 80–160 mm in the next 6 hours, to be followed by more in the next days. The Bureau of Meteorology says that another east coast low pressure system seems to be developing – the same type of system that caused the ridiculous amounts of rainfall and flooding a few weeks ago. And this is with the land already now saturated. I guess we’ll see how it develops.

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A busier Christmas Day

Getting things out of the way early, I did my 2.5k run first thing this morning. On the way out, I noticed one of my neighbours setting up a picnic in the park across the street. When I’d finished my run and returned home, he was all set up, and minding the site until his family arrived. I asked if I could take a photo to show people what an Aussie Christmas morning looks like:

8am Christmas morning

It was already warm, and best to stay in the shade. He said they were going to do brunch, and pack up by midday, to avoid the heat of the middle of the day.

After completing my run and stretching exercises, my wife wanted to take Scully out for a walk before we packed up and headed to her mother’s place for Christmas lunch. We took Scully down to the waterside park near us, and back. Then because we’d gotten all hot and sweaty walking, we had showers, before packing the car and driving over to my mother-in-law’s place.

Christmas lunch was a traditional roast turkey and vegetables, sliced ham, and also the lentil nut loaf that I’d cooked yesterday, with my home made tomato relish. And for afters we had two desserts: a chocolate hazelnut pavlova (from La Pav), and a Christmas pudding, with choice of ice cream and/or cream. Most of us had a piece of both. And then we retired to the sofas and people had coffee, served with Christmas fruitcake and chocolates.

Yeah, I’m still pretty full, and won’t need to eat any dinner tonight! We also have a lot of leftovers. And of course gift goodies. Mostly we got food stuff – nice treats to eat and actually use, rather than gifts that nobody is sure if anyone else really wants.

Scully got a bag of goodies too, including some new dog toys, some yummy treats, and… an art set from Picasso Paws! This is a kit with a couple of small canvases, tubes of paint, and ziplock bags that you seal the canvas and paint inside. You smear peanut butter or whatever on the outside of the bag and your dog licks it smearing the paint all over the canvas, to create a cool artwork. We’ll try it some time over the next few days and I’ll show you the results.

After a few hours of lounging around, digesting in the afternoon heat, we headed home. Actually it wasn’t too hot today, only 29°C. I’ve had a lot of much hotter Christmas Days in the past. The weather is actually supposed to turn tonight and be cooler and rainy for the next few days.

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Low key anniversary

Today is our 25th wedding anniversary. We’d planned, a couple of years ago, to take a big trip to Europe, and spend our anniversary somewhere nice – maybe Venice or Vienna or something. And have a really fancy dinner at a good restaurant.

Well, thanks COVID. Of course we’re just sitting at home. And tonight I had the last tutorial session of the UTS image processing course that I’m helping teach, so we couldn’t even go out for dinner. My wife took the day off work, and I tried to book a fancy restaurant for lunch. I tried about a dozen top class restaurants in Sydney, but not a single one of them opens for business on Mondays. So in the end I chose a nice, but not really fancy, restaurant close to home, so we could just walk there. It’s actually the same restaurant that we ate in the night before we got married, and we’ve had a few anniversary dinners there, so it was kind of fitting to revisit it for this anniversary.

Apart from that, my day was rather hectic. I did the last online ethics class of the week on the topic of enhancing sports performance. I scrambled to make a new Irregular Webcomic! strip in time for tonight’s update. And I dealt with a lot of questions from students about the final project for the image processing course. They were asking stuff right up to the last minute of the scheduled tutorial time tonight.

At least tomorrow should be a bit less busy.

New content today:

Post-lockdown family lunch

This being the first weekend after COVID lockdown restrictions have eased in Sydney, it was the first time since June that we’ve been able to visit family. My mother-in-law put on a small lunch for us, plus my wife’s sister and brother, and a nephew (the sister’s son). We drove over there, and it seemed everybody in Sydney had pretty much the same idea, to finally get out of the house and visit family, or possibly to go to the beach since it was a nice sunny day. Either way, everyone was on the road, and the traffic was the worst I have experienced, not just since lockdown began, but for many a year. It was really horrible.

But we had a nice lunch, with my mother-in-law preparing some grilled chicken, roast vegetables, and salad ingredients, which we had with bread rolls for an informal sort of meal – assembling sandwiches on our bread rolls. My sister-in-law brought a range of delicious tarts from a local bakery, which we shared by cutting them into bite sized pieces. And we all caught up on what we were all doing – I told them about the recent work I’ve been doing with Outschool classes and also the university teaching work. Oh, and Scully was super excited to see the other family members too for the first time in months.

We had to leave early, because now I have classes to teach from 5pm (normally we hang out later after lunch and end up getting home around 6pm or so). I had 2 ethics classes tonight, plus week 4 of the Creative Thinking and board game design class. We’ve converged and assembled some ideas for how the game works in a bit of detail. Now I have to put together a file with some game pieces and a board that the students can print out, plus a first draft of the game rules. I’ll upload it so they can download and print it, and try playing some games with their friends and family before the next class, in which we’ll refine the design.

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Mother’s Day lunch

Being Mother’s Day here in Australia, we had a family day today. In the morning, my wife and I took Scully on a long walk to let her get some energy out. Then we drove over to my wife’s mother’s place, picking up a lemon meringue pie on the way from the really nice Italian bakery. We had pizzas for lunch, and then the pie. We hung out for some of the afternoon with her family, before heading home for the evening.

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Anzac Day Sunday

Today is Anzac Day, Australia’s (and New Zealand’s) day of remembrance for our war dead. Since it falls on a Sunday this year, we don’t get a public holiday, at least not in New South Wales – some states get a public holiday tomorrow.

We had a lunch with my wife’s family, at a Thai restaurant. They had massaman curry duck, which we ordered and it was really good.

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