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Talk Story Inn Paradise with Connie & Major Inch

Live Life to its fullest, savor ever moment, this is not a rehearsal.

Hau`oli Makahiki Hou, Happy New Year

This is our sixteenth year on Kaua`i and we have yet to discover all her hidden beauty, but were trying.

Last year started out with plenty of rain and our pasture was five feet deep in water. This is the 4th time we have had the pasture flood since we have lived here. It is suppose to be a 100 year flood zone, based on the number of times it has flooded we are approaching 400 years on Kaua`i by Major’s math. It took a month to clean all the debris that floated in during the storm.

In February we went to see the Ventriloquist by Mark Damon Tjarks, this was a play for everyone, comedy with a message that both grandparents and teenagers could enjoy. Kauai was selected to be the venue for the first ever performance of this original play about Hawaii.

In March, Major went back to school to get certified so he can substitute at Kapa`a Elementary. The reason he took the classes was that it was sometimes hard for Connie to get a substitute. Plus if Connie did get sick she would have to do these detailed lesson plans for another substitute so she might as well have just taught the class. Since Major comes in on a pretty regular basis and knows the kids and the daily routine, he can fill in with less detailed notes…Plus the kids will help him if he forgets something……  Working with the children certainly gives one a different prospective on life and a lot more colds….

Lydgate Park has become one of our favorite places to walk with its ever-changing beaches and shady groves of iron wood trees to hide under when it gets to hot. The area has really been improved with new camping sites, showers and lawn area for parties at the new pavilion at the camp grounds. Currently the County of Kaua`i is working on the path to Donkey Beach.

This was the year for another big adventure and the minute school was out for the summer we left for Australia. We were a little over 10 hours in the air but we love flying Hawaiian Airlines and the service was great. Time literally flew, as we passed the International Date Line and arrived a day later in Sydney. Once there we purchased a week’s transportation pass that was good on all buses, trains, and ferries. Loved the public transportation, we lived on the water ferries and used them to go everywhere they went.  Each day was a new adventure in Sydney, we spent the first seven days there exploring. They have great walking trails and we took full advantage of them at Manly Beach and Bondi Beach. We enjoyed being able to walk to everything and when we got tired we just hoped on the public buses/trains.  We ended up spending quite a few mornings at the fish market, since Connie especially enjoyed the fresh oysters that were quite inexpensive. Coming from a small island we soaked up the Zoo and museums,   especial the Hyde Barrack Museum and the Migration Museum since they gave a lot of history of the early days of Australia. 

Next stop was Melbourne, which we found to have the best public transportation in any town we have ever been in. We visited the gaol (jail) museum there and learned about their “Jessie James”, Ned Kelly, and all of his escapades.

We then drove the Great Ocean highway from Melbourne to Adelaide, very cold. The Twelve Apostles were quite impressive. These are large land masses that jet out from the water. As we headed inland we saw warning signs to watch for echidna (an egg-laying mammal), kangaroo, wombats, and koala. At first we only saw the kangaroo, but they were dead beside the road.  The kangaroos come for the water puddled up on the road due to the drought Australia has been in. Connie finally saw a live one out in the field hopping about. The roads at night are the quite dangerous for these animals and drivers who are use to being on the “right” side of the road, so we didn't drive past 5:00 PM. 

It was always a challenge to find accommodations since we always started to look for them after all the information centers were closed. At Murray's Bridge Connie checked with the small police station who directed us to O’Riley's Balcony B & B, built in the 1800's. It was cold but warmed up with the "reverse A/C." This didn't affect the bathroom temperature, however, which was about freezing!

When we returned for the night, we had some of "Brian's port" He is a Lion and used "seed port" from a Lions fundraiser to become a personal-use port maker. It was very good, about 15 years old, and when we left in the morning, he put some from his keg into a Berry Multi-V bottle for us to take along! Connie was worried the bottle might be related to Vegemite, a highly advertised spread that makes your children very smart thinkers. They put it out for breakfast toast, so Connie tried the fermented yeast stuff one morning and sure enough she got smart. She didn’t try it again. It must be Australia’s poi, for which one has to acquire a taste.

When we arrived in Adelaide Major had driven over 1400 K in the past three days without an accident or ticket, which they found amazing at the rental car return. I guess many drivers get tickets!

We checked into to Medina Grand Treasury Apartment. Wow! This place was absolutely fantastic. We found Adelaide to our instant liking. It was more relaxed and certainly easier to negotiate than previous cities. Parks are on all sides of city center and the streets all run north-south or east-west so it was virtually impossible for Major to get lost.

We took a walking city tour past all the historic buildings in Adelaide, ending up at a little Cafe on a side street. The wine was marvelous, we enjoyed a bottle of Taylor's Promised Land, Cab/Shiraz, winner of many gold medals 2004/05. The Central Market in Adelaide is unbelievable, over 270 permanent booths from fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt, to any kind of meat you could think of, and everything in-between. It is amazing what fresh cream cheese tastes like on fresh baked English muffins with home-made jam and coffee. Connie, on the other hand, had a dozen raw oysters, some yogurt and a chocolate éclair with a cup of cappuccino!

We toured the National Wine Center Museum and listened to several famous Australia vintners regarding the processing of wines by a number of different methods. Later that night at Victory Square, across from our hotel, everything was blocked off and the guard told us some 70 year old millionaire from England was having a birthday with fireworks. It was massive! Channel 9 was there to film it and we were on T.V. . . Great shot of us! Our one second of fame! Connie had to duck behind Major as one of the fireworks hit a car passing by. On the news, they reported something went terribly wrong! Yeah! 

While in Adelaide we went to the Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute which highlights the local indigenous people. They had a visiting Torres Islander who gave a talk about his people, their song and dance. Connie was quite excited about meeting him since she had a student that was from Torres Island.

Our next stop was Brisbane and we arrived to warmer if not a bit balmy weather. We ate outside that night without our coats, the balmy weather didn't last long, and winter was hot on our tails! (I should say cold!)

The following day we walked down to the Southbank and then discovered we were at the wrong waterway, so we hiked back over to Eagles Pier to catch the Kookaburra River Queen, a paddle boat, for a lunch cruise. What a lunch, of fresh prawns, raw oysters, sand crab, calamari, and two bugs. While enjoying our meal, our view was ever changing. The next day we walked the banks of the river passing through the protected mangrove mud banks and enjoying all the local wildlife.

 We got out early start the next day since we had to catch a train to Beerwa, to the Australian Zoo, home of the T.V. Animal Planet's Crocodile Hunter. It normally takes about 90 minutes, but our train lost power and we ended up going the last five towns by bus. We did arrive in time for feeding, passed up the elephants, looked at the Galapagos Land Tortoise and headed for the spectacular show of snakes, tigers, free-flying birds (just inches above our heads) and finally, the crock show. Crikey is a large salt-water croc that is the star of the show. We decided we would avoid salt-water experiences after seeing what he is capable of doing with those terrific jaws and tail. From now on we will avoid the mud flats as well!

Connie had a smile from ear-to-ear as we got to walk around in the kangaroo park. She was able to pet several roos and could feel the difference in their coats. Next, she got her picture taken with a koala, I'm sure she will show you when you visit.

We walked over to the west end to have lunch at Tukka, Australia's top native restaurant, winner of specialty cuisine 2004, Brisbane's Best Casual Restaurant, 2004-05, Formal Dining, 2004.  We had a very special bottle of wine. Mary Kathleen, Cabernet Merlot (2001). The grapes were hand-picked and only 2000 bottles made in honor of Mary Kathleen, co-founder of the Cociole vineyards. We ate and drank our wine and coffee for three hours at this place, trying everything from Tasmanian mussels with desert lime and chili cream sauce, to wild boar with lemon myrtle white polenta, sugar bag roasted sweet potatoes, quandon with port sauce, and local and native premium chesses with a variety of native berries and nuts. All and all, a wonderful experience.

Connie kept reading the open/closed signs and was puzzled by the signs that said "open 'till late" she had to ask what that meant. The waiter replied that it meant "We are open until there are no more customers, then we close." 

Connie found the perfect massage place for Major, it was Chinese and they spoke no English.  However Major was no where to be found when it was supposed to be his turn, so Connie took it. They used tiger oil and heated cups on her back to draw out the evil poisons. In the mean time, Major had found a place that did a nice traditional massage with oil and gentle rubbing, no pushing, punching, pinching or sucking cups. When we joined up after the massage, I felt great and Connie felt better with 9 big hickies on her back from the cups. They said it would be 3 days before they would disappear.

For not having any "major plans" for this city, we certainly had a great time filling our days. As the Australians say, "no worries."

We departed Brisbane for Cairns on the train with Connie glued to the window most of the time. The visions out the window began to change the second day. . hila hila, sugar cane, hau, acacia, pineapple, African Tulip trees, tall forests draped with vines and a humidity that struck a familiar note, Kauai!

Along the way, we saw koala, lots of kangaroos in every variety, a Ulysses butterfly, Cassowary birds (look prehistoric!), echidna, and many other birds and animals.  In the club car Major pulled out his pig game.  Which is a magnet for children, and was soon playing pigs with a group of aboriginal children while Connie visited a bit with the mom.
Arriving in Cairns was like Kaua`i, warm with everyone in shorts and short sleeve shirts. Our accommodations had a beautiful ocean view and you could watch flocks of parrots fly about. In the morning they were like our roosters on Kaua`i and if you weren’t up they would get you up. Smart parrots, they didn’t want us sleeping in, so much to see, so little time.  

Up early we headed for Kuranda using the old 1800's train to get us up to this small village. It is the most famous train ride in all of Australia. An amazing feat. . .The peaks are not as sharp as our Napali Coast, but very mountainous and dangerous to build around. While we were in Kuranda we visited the Butterfly/Moth Sanctuary and we both got butterfly kisses. We learned a lot about these beautiful insects that we didn't know before we went. Did you know that most moths don't have mouths or stomachs and they live off their body fat from being a caterpillar, or that they don't live as long as most butterflies.
 We departed the village using the sky rail -  a gondola hanging over the canopy of the rain forest. What a sight. We ended up at Tjapukai (T is silent) Aboriginal Cultural Center. This was great! We were treated to a musical demonstration of the yigi yigi (didgeridoo) and then learned how to practice on a PVC pipe at home, so we can teach anyone to do this. (Make appointments). We saw the Tjapukai perform their dances and songs and explain their body paint and totems, a medicine woman explained their medicinal herbs. . . they even use noni, ugh! they call it stinky cheese! We have it here and it is also popular as a natural medicine.

Once we returned from Tjapukai, we took a stroll out to the lagoon, it is a man-made swimming lagoon so no one is tempted to go to the beach. Just on the other side of the Esplanade are the crocodiles that occasionally frequent this area. They do keep it quite lit up at the lagoon so the lifeguard, who has a B1G rifle instead of a whistle, can protect the swimmers. It was getting quite late so we made a pact to come back in the morning with our swimming suits.

Being brave souls in the middle of winter, we donned our swimming gear and headed to the sun with the crocs. When we arrived I was a little nervous when I saw the life guard didn't have a big bore gun. . . it was a yigi yigi (didgeridoo). Connie assured Major that they were trained like snake charmers to lull the crocs with their instrument, then pull them out by their tails and get them back into the ocean.

At dinner that night we discussed a day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef and decided to seek out a local marine biologist. Connie wanted a passionate one and Major wanted a knowledgeable one. We were both happy when we found Paddy Colwell of Reef Teach. He was a passionate and knowledgeable about the reefs and gave us plenty to think about should we venture out on the reef! Do you know what animal breathes through its anus?  What sea creature uses vomit to prepare the reef for its dinner? We do now! We learned how the reef was formed, the types of coral, and the other living creatures there. Aboriginal dreamtime stories tell us of hunting kangaroos where the reef is today and also about the rise of the sea level which rose 6 to 12 thousand years ago. The reef is larger than Great Britain and Ireland together!

The night before we were to go out on the reef we ate at Classic China Cafe, one of Cairns' best. Our server was great, warning us against one of our choices of sauce and suggesting the mud crab which is delicious without any sauce at all. He kept coming over and visiting, we felt very welcomed. After we finished the manager came over and we talked with him about our trip to China in '85. He kept trying to get us to go back soon. He brought us a gift of that really strong drink they serve in China and we gambayed it. (bottoms up). When we finished, we realized they were closing the restaurant down and we were the only ones left. Their attentiveness was great, no wonder it is one of Cairn’s best.
  
Up at 6AM to catch the Reef Prince for our day on the Great Barrier Reef. Our ship was a high-speed catamaran so we got to Green Island FAST. This is a beautiful 6000 year old coral cay about 45 minutes from Cairns. It is small and has all the characteristics of Kauai. A rainforest and a dry side, all surrounded by beaches. After 2 hours of exploring Green Island we continued out to the outer reef. We docked at a multi-level platform where we boarded a semi-submersible sub that took us to explore two of the nearby reefs. With all our new-found knowledge from Paddy, we pointed out the particulars of the fish and coral structures. Our fellow passengers didn't seem too interested since they didn’t seem to speak that much English, we had gotten in with the Japanese tour by accident.
When we returned to the platform we put on snorkeling equipment and headed out for a closer look. We saw some of the most spectacular coral gardens and marine life! We were lucky enough to be able to follow a large Morey eel for several minutes as it made its way from one cavern to another.

On our early morning walk to find a place where we haven't eaten yet, we noticed how messy the Australians were. Just inches from the beautiful stainless trash cans were wrappers, bags, cups, etc.
Later, we discovered why. A large white bird called an Ibis has adapted its eating to the city environment by using its long curved black bill to extract the McDonald's food bags from the eight inch opening in the top of the garbage can. Another example of adaptation is the local pigeons who have learned how to open the automatic glass doors at McDonald's to grab left-over or unattended food and then exit through the doors intended to keep them out. They exit by placing their body in front of the sensor which opens the door. McDonald's seems to be a good source of adaptive behaviors! Actually, bird-watchers come from all over the world to see the myriad of migratory birds that feed on the shore of the Esplanade and McDonald's must attract some bird watchers as well!

When we began our trip to Australia we found it hard to decide how we would explore it in five weeks. What was the best way to explore an area with such diversity, remarkable beauty, and variety of warm and cold weather? Plane? Taxi? Walking? Bus? Tram/trolley? Car? Train? Sky rail? Boat? Swimming? Snorkeling? In the end we used all of the above methods to create a truly marvelous time.

Once back home, we were greeted by Rusty & Yvonne, Connie’s brother and his wife, who would be visiting for awhile. Connie in the mean time had to be getting ready for school since it started July 18. After Rusty left, our hanai daughter arrived with her family in August with the three grand kids, Danielle Connie, Darren Major, and Dominic. Two of the kids went to school for a day to help Grandma Connie with her class. The rest of the time the kids, including Grandpa Major preferred playing at the beach or playing games on the lani.

August found us at the Hukilau for a dinner/theater performance of “Don’t be afraid of the Dark by Tim Kelly. It was a challenge to turn a stage play into a live “radio” play. It was a project that placed actors in both worlds of live theater and live radio. If you closed your eyes it placed you in a live NBC radio studio around the 40’s. It let your imagination run. They did a great job on the production and we enjoyed it tremendously.

In October we saw Black Grace at the Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center. This company is based out of Auckland New Zealand. They performed a variety of dances from a traditional form of Samoan dance know as “Sa Sa” to ballet. The spirit and individuality of the dancers and the music was awe inspiring. 

Last year in December we went to Las Vegas which was quite exciting since we had not be there in over 30 years. We were amazed with all the BIG hotel/casinos. We were there for 12 days and spent less than $100 for gambling, just too much to see and do. The shows were great, but most of all we enjoyed the memories we recalled while listing to The Temptations, The Coasters and The Drifters.   They took us back to our high school days. This December we still got in a dinner and theater show, not Las Vegas style, but just as fun. The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris, performed at the Hukilau Lanai was laugh out loud Bill Cosby type entertainment. If you haven’t read or heard Sedaris get one of his books or book-tapes, he does the perfect monologue; it is witty, current, totally outrageous, and subversive. 

Major attempted to go into the spiced lemon gift business this holiday season.  He purchased some new quart canning jars, ordered all the spices he would need over the internet and waited for them to arrive. After a week or so they showed up and he went down and picked over 100 lemons from our trees. There are many opinions about what spices and in what quantities result in authentic spiced lemons But Major being Major decided to use star anise, cinnamon, whole coriander seeds, bay leaves and cardamom pods.  The recipe Major followed was ideal for beginners because there's no worry about setting up as there is in jelly or jam, and processing time isn't so much a worry because we are, after all, talking about lemons and an awful lot of salt here. Major even asked Connie to check the recipe to make sure you didn’t boil it after putting it in the jars because he seemed to recall that his mom used to do that and he didn’t remember reading that in the instructions. Connie verified that he had read and followed the directions correctly (unusual for Major).

Major then stored them in the garage out of the way but close by so he could turn them weekly. The first time he went to turn them over he discovered they were leaking and hissing.  Major was depressed that his first attempt at canning failed. Major, not one to quit, proceeded to go on the internet where he found another recipe for spiced lemons, and sure enough the first recipe had left out the boiling part. Major was pleased, the next batch turned out perfect and would make nice gifts for friends that like to cook.

As the year came to an end, we were blessed with a visit from old friends from California to help us celebrate another Christmas here in paradise.  What a wonderful way to end a year with food, laughter and friends.

May you have good health, warm memories and plenty of time to enjoy loved ones in the coming year.   

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