Saturday, April 28, 2012

The long road home

I sincerely hope that by the time this is published on the blog we will be home at last. We left Austin on Thursday morning as planned, getting there early so that we could go with sister Gwen who left an hour before we did. The flight to Salt Lake City was smooth and uneventful, and the change to the flight to Los Angeles also went well. We even commented on how efficient Delta seemed to be. Famous last words.

We waited in the airline lounge for about five hours. It passed reasonably quickly, and then we went down to the gate. Lots of milling about. The time for boarding passed. The solitary gate agent made an announcement that there was only one of him and that he could only do so much, and please don't keep coming up to the desk asking the same questions. Uh oh. I got up and went to stand at the desk to see what was happening. I am so glad I did that. What was NOT happening was the flight. It had been cancelled. I stood my ground at the desk, and two or three others beside me were dealt with. On my right was a couple whose flight had been cancelled two nights before and there were no seats on the day before. They were pretty cranky. There was an announcement that we should use our smartphones with the Delta app to try and get alternative flights. The two sisters on my left were put on separate flights the following night, one to Brisbane with Virgin, one to Sydney. A very very long line had formed behind us, and it was obvious that it was going to be a very long night for most. Announcements were made that those with young children were to go to another gate, where as I learned later, they were ignored.

We were given what looked like boarding passes for the Qantas flight on the following night. Also hotel and meal vouchers. All the while I was using Viber on my Iphone to keep husband informed. What a great way we have come in communications. I am still gobsmacked by it all, and very grateful. We went to baggage claim, got our bags, and fortunately we're the last ones allowed on the courtesy bus for the hotel. The two sisters on my left told me later in the hotel that they had waited an hour and a half to get in that bus, and didn't get into their hotel room until 3 am.

We were very hungry by the time we arrived at 11.30 so we used some of our vouchers t eat a bowl of chicken noodle soup and some execrable Caesar salad in the hotel restaurant. Then we fell into bed and slept soundly until the next morning.

It was a lovely sunny day, and the meal before had been so bad that we took to the streets in search of better. The Hacienda hotel is on Sepulveda Boulevarde and there was a lot to choose from. We eschewed the IHOP in favour of a little cafe called the Petit Cafe, which served us an excellent breakfast. We then walked down the block and across the road to a Walgreen's where I got some cold and flu tablets for what feels like it is brewing, and some cosmetics. When in doubt, buy cosmetics. Back to the hotel for some exploration. I looked into the fitness room, which counts as fitness points, I looked at the pool, and was tempted, but instead went back to the room to have a little nap.

I looked at the Qantas vouchers and could see no class (Wes had been flying business class) and no seat assignment. I rang Delta and Qantas, and wasn't very happy with what either of them said. I emailed everyone to let them all know what had happened. Not trusting any of this, I suggested to Mum that we take th shuttle back to the airport and discuss it there, in person. First Qantas. I told the story to one, then two, then three staff who said that we weren't in their system at all, and that the flight in question was already overbooked. Then they all went away and someone else came out. "Can I help you?" she said. "Do I have to tell you the story all over again?" I asked. Yes, I did. She said there were seats, was getting us a new travel order, I asked about business class. This led to a long discussion which culminated in a phone call to Delta, whereupon she informed us. That we had been confirmed on the DELTA flight out tonight. We should go to the Delta terminal. We did, trotting from terminal 3 to 5. We spoke to a lovely young woman from delta who got us onto this evening's flight, and gave us seat allocation. I wasn't going to leave without confirmed at allocation. By this time Mum was getting very tired and I was getting aggrieved and teary. There is more to the story regarding what class we could fly in, but the upshot was that we had no choice but to fly steerage, aka coach, in seats which appeared to be separated by someone into middle. By this stage we we're taking what we could get.

We returned to the hotel with some more meal vouchers I which we used in the hotel, for a rather better lunch, and a bit of repacking and resting. The hotelmismfull of Australians, each with a story to tell. By five we decided to return to the airport, check in, confirm that we had seats, and sit in the lounge again eating carrots and resting. I also remembered to confirm with them that we had ordered a gluten free meal for Mum, which they did confirm.

I am so glad we confirmed those seats. There were many others waiting there who had those funky non-boarding passes waiting for confirmation which never came. There were some distressed people there. The appointed time came, and we boarded. Our seats are the last in the plane, and despite being A and C, there is nobody between us, just the seats. What a relief when the plane took off. We are on our way.

I settled in to watch a pretty bad Korean movie as I usually like them. Mum had a good sleep. Dinner came, and I told the stewardess about the gluten free meal. She said she would go look - uh oh, not on the list. At this stage I lost my temper, shouted, banged my tray table with my fist. Mum tried to calm me down, as did the stewardess, and it took some doing. It was the last straw and my patience had snapped. A compromise was reached and the stewardess was very nice, but enough is enough. Will I contact Delta and complain? I think I might.

Only another 11.15 hours to go, and I might try and snooze as it is now 1.44 am wherever my iPad thinks I am.

Whatever the pain getting home, it was worth the trip to see my dearest family. It was very hard leaving them, and we had a wonderful time.

Sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts, cousins.

Family. It is why we went. My sister, my mother's sister. Her two daughters, and her two daughters. We all met In Round Rock, Texas. There were four pairs of sisters spanning three generations.

My mother and her sister are in their nineties. My mum, June, is about to turn ninety, and her older sister Jane is ninety six. Seeing them together was such a great treat, laughing and reminiscing.

Jane senior has two daughters, Jane jr and Susan, my cousins. Susan came down from Reno to join the fun. We have always been close, despite the distance. When we were kids my sister and I wore the clothes they had grown out of, and we all shared our memories of favorite outfits.

Jane the Younger has two daughters, Sara and Kimberly. They drove over from Baton Rouge, along with Sara's husband Jeremy and their baby Michael. Those two brave boys managed to withstand the onslaught of eight women.

We had five days there, and that gave us time to go out a lot, and to stay in. We formed small groups, catching up with each other individually and as a series of subsets. Sister with sister, aunt with niece, cousin with cousin, mother with daughter. There was remarkably little friction - we all get along so well, and only wish we could get together more often. We went through family photos and I scanned some of the important pictures and documents. We thought about those who had gone before and those who could not be with us. I wish my daughter Julie could have come too.

When the time came to leave there were tears, of course, but we are left with such happy memories of an amazing reunion.


We have had many memorable meals in Florida. Perhaps my favorite was at the Fish Camp in Sarasota. We began with a jar of fish paste on Saltines. Then we moved on to the deep fried dill pickle spears with a cornmeal batter. Unexpectedly, these were utterly fabulous. We had a second round, they were so good. I might try them at home. I moved on to a fried oyster po boy sandwich, which was truly good. A spoonful of Gwen's blackeyed peas was heaven, as was a spoonful of Mona's succotash. There was no room for dessert which was just as well as they all looked as though they would lead to an instant increase in dress size.

Another memorable meal was at Maison Blanche where the appetizer of mushroom and truffle ravioli was silky, profound, delicious. Everything was delicious there, and the ambience and service were outstanding.

Collard greens grown and cooked by Gwen were terrific.

A meal with Carol and Stan at Truluck's featured stone crab claws, sweet potato fries, halibut with a mustard fruits and Moroccan spice sauce, and supremely decadent carrot cake. Key lime pie at the yacht club with Gray and Natalie was to die for. Gray cooked a great meal of grilled shrimp with his own special sauce, and corn on the cob.

We had many great meals in Texas, including a feat from Rudy's BBQ. Brisket, turkey, chicken, ribs, coleslaw, potatoes, beans. Yee haa! It made for great leftovers the next day.

The Salt Grass grill was sensational with its brochettes of steak on a bed of caramelised onions. Perhaps the comfiest was Laurie's in Georgetown, where Laurie was the star in her apron featuring a button down arrangement on the bib for storing straws. What a sweetheart she is. The food was home made, fresh and delicious. I had a spinach and artichoke quiche with a green mandarin salad, plus raspberry iced tea.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Blood gets thicker as you get older

There were four things on my agenda in Florida. First and foremost was to see my sister and her family in Sarasota.

Another was to see my good friend Carol, with whom I worked at SilverPlatter many years ago. Then there was a visit to Aunt Ruth, wife of my mother's twin brother, and who I have not seen since 1965.

Why are they all here? Sister married a Florida native when we visited in our twenties. Aunt and Uncle retired to Naples thirty years ago. My mother being from the US, it isn't surprising that there is a family connection.

Finally, though, I was on the trail of a relative on my father's side. Dad was an Australian, yet he spent his teens and early twenties in the US. This is the back story, and why there is a Naples, Florida connection on his side.

Dad's father, Babington Owen, was one of four brothers from Pen-y-Clawdd, in Monmouth, Wales. Three of these brothers left Wales to travel the world, and eventually so did their mother, the redoubtable matriarch Ada Catherine. They were all very well educated and at least two graduated from Eton and Cambridge.

Eric Vivian Rees stayed in Wales and went into the church, like his father Canon William Rees. Nugent William Craufurd was in the Royal Hussars, and he came to Australia, where he joined the Light Horse and went to Egypt during WW I, before becoming a farmer in Murgon, Qld. Babington Owen followed, after an illness nearly killed him in the damp environs of Wales. Craufurd and Owen went to Queensland. They both married Queensland girls and had children. Owen and Jessie Rees had three children, including my Dad. Mackworth Gwynne Rees, the youngest (and very good looking) brother, went to the United States.

Owen's health was never good, and he died aged 42. My Dad became the man of the house at around age 15, and had to leave school to go to work. His Uncle Mackworth had done extremely well in the US. He was an inventor with many patents in the automotive industry. He was good friends with Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. He was an enthusiastic and talented electronics and radar expert. He was very wealthy, but had no children. He was also a very generous man. He offered to take my Dad to the US to finish his schooling, send him to University. This is how come I have an American mother.

On our grand tour to meet the rellies in 1965 we came to Naples to visit Mackworth and his wife Edith in their summer home. Mackworth had a big business in Detroit, where they lived in the Whittier Hotel, but Naples was where they retired to. As I was coming to Florida I thought it would be fun to revisit his home, take a driveby, see what traces are left and rekindle memories of that trip. Of course I googled him, and came across many mentions of the meeting room bearing his name in the county library. I also came across this reference in the Naples News

I was staying with Carol, Gwen and mum in a hotel nearby. We visited Aunt Ruth. The next morning, Carol and I went to the Library to see the meeting room. We asked at the desk if there was any further information, and the librarian said "We have just had someone else ask about that! I looked over and there were Gwen and Mum. We joined forces to find out the address of the house, and set off. It was an easy drive.

We parked, got out, and took some photos of the house. The owners, David and Judy Bishop, happened to be home and saw us. They offered to tell us what they knew about the house and were thrilled to find out we were relatives. We had a wonderful hour or so with them and they graciously took us through the whole house. They showed us their album which included family photos none of us had seen before! It was just fantastic, and we learned a lot. We also found that he had willed some money to the Library, hence the naming of the room in their honour. What a great day.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tearing ourselves away from the thrift stores

Today, instead of hitting the upscale thrift stores we went to the Selby Botanic gardens. They are fabulous, specializing in epiphytes. There was a magnificent orchid conservatory and I enjoyed taking pictures. Alas, I have discovered that I did not pack my Canon camera charger so am wondering what to do about that. It is quite low, and I will either have to save it for special family pictures, rely on the iPhone, or investigate camera shops for options. Sigh. I remembered all my other cables and chargers....

After our amble around Selby we went to lunch at a terrific restaurant in Sainte Armande. I had a quite delicious grilled portobello mushroom sandwich. We looked at some up market shops and decided against an emerald green pleated shrug/shawl/art piece for only $625. I would have bought a pair of black rubber thongs with Swarovski crystals, but alas they did not have my size.

We ate out last night at Maison Blanche, a truly world class French restaurant. Black seemed de rigeur so we three girls all opted for it. See the pictures below.

We had another wonderful dinner out last night with Gray and his fiancé Natalie, at the Yacht Club where they will be married in November. Will I be thinner when I get home??? Not after last night's key lime pie, I won't.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Florida fun and frolics, and family

The red eye special got us from Los Angeles to Tampa, and because we are not fully time-adjusted we didn't suffer too badly from the ungodly hour. We arrived and were met by my sister Gwen, about 6 am. After hugs and kisses I said "take me to breakfast, NOW!" She knew just the place, and despite their opening not supposed to be for another half an hour, they were indeed open and happy to see us. I had two eggs sunny side up, bacon, toast and jam, and a bowl of heavenly GRITS. It was demolished in short order. Divine. I love grits and they are hard to find in Sydney.

My sister is an ace shopper so after the tour of the house we opted for a Goodwill store. Such quality, we got some great stuff. It sure beats the Newtown Vinnie's. One of my good buys was a square red cake tin. I have been wanting a square cake tin for a while and this was too good to pass up.

We have met the dogs, including the bulldog Emma who is nicknamed Uluru, and Audrey the Tibetan spaniel. It is a lovely house in a beautiful part of town and we have been for many walks. The flowers, live oaks, Spanish Moss, and moist air tell me we are in Florida.

We visited one of my sister's best friends, and I mentioned that a yarn shop was on the shopping list. "Come and look at my stack, take what you want" she said. She turned out to be a superb knitter with four large tubs of yarn. We aren't really in knitting or sweater-wearing country and she was delighted to give me some fabulous yarn, most of which she bought in Italy and Germany. I am thrilled. The cake tin will be filled with it for transport back home.

Here are some photos.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Arriving in Los Angeles

We are flying business elite with Delta, which means we have our own pods which convert to flat beds. We have a USB port, which I haven't needed, and plenty of entertainment. There has been aeroplane tatting, movies, music, and the seemingly constant eating one does on planes. My mother has already started making helpful comments about my weight. I should never have let her watch the movie Supersize Me. Aaargh!

We are at the LAX Marriott where I have stayed many times before, usually on my way to work somewhere. I love the pool and the spa, and was not here more than ten minutes before I got my togs on and was submerged.

Having a flat bed on the plane makes an ENORMOUS difference to the way one feels after a long flight. There isn't so much of that dizziness.

We slept very well, and yes, there was time for sightseeing. We took a cab to Venice Beach. It was not very sunny, nor warm,minor crowded. We strolled up and down the promenade and browsed in some of the shops. Lots of tacky souvenirs, and an alpaca cardigan which was tempting, but only because it was on the cool side! I am amused by the number of shops and touts offering medical marijuana - they seemed to be every other shop. Didn't see too many punters going in. We ambled and browsed, but did not buy anything at all, although i was tempted by some red polka-dot heart-shaped sunglasses. Very Lolita. We did not go to the beachfront gym, but we did sit outside it for a while. The cab ride there and back showed LA in a very good light. The streets are clean and lovely flowers and trees everywhere. On our little walk we went through some back lanes with pretty houses and gardens.

Maybe time for another spa before re-packing my suitcase, which looks like a bomb hit it.

Monday, April 09, 2012

On our way

Up before six am for a 10.00 am flight on Delta to Los Angeles. The pug was happy to be roused out of his cot to come to the airport to see us off, and he will get a romp in the park on his way home. We cleared all the hurdles with no trouble. Check-in went smoothly, we went to the lounge and are now happily ensconced with coffee. So far so good! Here we are leaving the house, wearing our travel rugs.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Posting from the iPad

This is a post from a new app for my iPad. I want to add a picture now. How? It seemed to work OK. of course Majic is the experimental subject. Let's publish and see.

Now I am tring an edit once published. I am using BloggerPlus from ThinkTek.

Countdown to the USA

My mother and I are going to the US tomorrow for a family-fest. Mum talked about celebrating her 90th birthday(June 1st) with her twin brother, but we didn't get our act together, and Uncle Jack died a few months ago. We thought we ought to make the effort to go one last time, and see Aunt Jane and family. Jane is Mum's older sister, and at 96 is still going strong. We are flying to LA and having a brief stopover there, then on to Florida to stay a week with my sister Gwen, and then to Texas to see Aunt Jane, Cousin Janey, Cousin Susan, and younger relatives Sarah and Kimberley. Count them - eight women of the family will be together. Men of the family - flee! Pictures will be posted along the way.

For those members of my family who are anxious, yes - I have packed ample supplies of Vegemite for distribution.