Monday, January 17, 2011

Matt Duffus

The man. The myth. The legend.

I said I was going to put you on my list of 100 people, and here is one better.

Matt is the reason I survived a month in Penrith. Without him, I would have flown home long ago. He's inspired me to learn a second language, he's added more fuel than I could have imagined to my Cotton On addiction, and I honestly think that we've laughed together so many times that my laugh is starting to sound more and more like his. He gave up his room for 3 weeks straight to let me trash with clothes and spend an unhealthy amount of time sleeping. He dragged me out of the house to meet new people and do new things, when all I wanted to do was stay home and watch some movies. He's the reason I've come to actually enjoy watching Glee, which is something I never thought I would say. He kisses girls like nobodys business, and I envy him for that. He makes the best out of any situation he's put in, and I completely understand why he's beloved all over Australia. I hope one day he can make it out to my neck of the woods and I can show him an equally amazing time. I owe him.

Love you, Matt  =)

Monday, December 6, 2010

The nitty gritty (dirt band).

So the last few posts have been more thoughtful, and I guess we like to pretend we're profound. But we haven't actually told you what we've been DOING. So in case you want to know, I'll fill you in on the nitty gritties of where we've been, and what we've been doing with our precious time.

Last time you heard from us, we had had an awful experience in Bundaberg, where we didn't get to go snorkeling. We're a long way from there now.

After that ordeal, we spend another week on the Sunshine Coast with the Inglis family. I absolutely love these people. They were wonderful. Mandy and Bruce, the parents, were so kind to let two strangers sleep in their living room and eat their food, when they had never even met us. They had three kids: Matt (21, just got home from a mission), Christian (19, just about to leave on a mission), and Madeline (12, and such a sweetheart). The two brothers were a riot. They're about as different as Robert and I, but I thought they were both great. They were both very attractive, too. That's always a plus. Staying in a house with nice people and cute boys...twist my arm...

We had a really good time at their house. We played games, went to the beach, watched movies, climbed a "mountain" (it literally took us 20 minutes to get to the top; that is not a mountain), and even had a Christmas sing along around the dinner table with the world champion ukelele player (a missionary serving in the area). One of my favorite activities was visiting the Eumundi markets, and seeing all the fun crafts, good food, and hippies. I don't have a single bad thing to say about this family. They were absolutely wonderful.

That Sunday, we headed to Brissy for a fireside. It was a little over an hour away. We took all our luggage along, planning to find somewhere to stay AT the event. It seemed risky, but we've done worse. The fireside was great, and we met some fun people. Every time we meet new people and we tell them our plans, they try to convince Robert to go to Convention over New Years. You'll have to hear about that from him, and stay tuned to see if he actually goes. We saw most of the people we met last time we were in town, and a lot of the people that went on the Byron road trip. It was enjoyable. These YSA gatherings are epic. People come from hours around, and there is always food. Afterwards, they stay and mingle for literally hours. I've never seen a social gathering like it. I guess when YSA are so spread out, things like this are a treat. Growing up in Utah spoiled me, big time.

So, we ended up staying with the Inglis's daughter, Shayla, and her husband Cameron. That was our back-up plan if we didn't find anyone at the fireside, and it turned out being our best option. They were lovely people, with the cutest baby. They were so nice to let us stay there on such short notice.

The next day, we actually had a plan. My cousin, Jesica, is married to a man named Tom Gilbert. His sister, Carolyn, lives in Brisbane. We had talked to her before we even came to Australia about staying with her, and it was finally coming to pass. They had room for us Monday and Tuesday nights, so it was time to head over that way. We were planning on just taking a bus or a train, but Shayla was willing to drive us all the way across town to our new accommodation. It was quite a drive, and she can't even know how much we appreciate it. When people do little things like that for us, it makes a world of difference. After all the traveling and moving around we've done, having something be that easy and convenient is just a breath of fresh air.

So we had 2 more days in Brissy. We got to the Adams (Carolyn and Brian) Monday afternoon, and we were flying out on Wednesday morning. Without our time, we went to the library, and the Botanic Gardens. I went to institute (luckily, their basement is rented out to YSA boys, so I even got a ride!) on Tuesday night. She is THE best cook. We've stayed with a lot of excellent women, but I have to say that she's been the best cook so far (but also in the running are Tracy Richards and Deeann Vowels). I looked forward to dinner each night. We had a lovely family home evening with their family, and helped decorate their little Christmas tree. It was a lot of fun. They have 3 small children, all well behaved and adorable. The eldest, Celia, wanted to be best friends with us. We watched some shows with her, read some books, and let her sit on our laps. She was a sweetheart.

So it was finally time to move on. We actually missed our flight to Sydney, and had to pay $50 to get on the next flight, which was just ironic because that was how much we had saved by booking that specific flight. Oh well. I'm not going to get into the antics of that day, because it was the worst. Ever. After missing our flight, it proceeded to rain all day. I lost my purse (eventually got it back), and we got lost trying to get to our next house. It should have only taken a few hours to fly, catch a train, and walk a little bit. It took us about 13 hours in the end. I was more than ready for that day to be over.

When we finally reached our destination, we were pleasantly surprised with a very warm, welcoming family. Let me explain how we got here.

Back in Newcastle, we spent a night with the Vowels. Dee told us that she had a sister in the Blue Mountains. Since we loved the Vowels so much, we were more than okay with the thought of spending time with people like them. So a few weeks later, we took them up on the offer, and it was a wonderful experience. All the grief we experience actually getting to their house was totally worth it. We loved it there.

Tracy and Craig Richards live in Penrith, over an hour outside of Sydney (but still technically a part of it), near the outskirts of the Blue Mountains. It was a great location. We didn't do much that night because we were so exhausted, but we had plans for the next day. We booked spots on a day tour into the Blue Mountains. I was so excited. I love the outdoors; I love the mountains.

The next morning, after we both slept like rocks, it was time for our tour. After Craig dropped the kids off at school, he took us to the train station where we were told to meet our tour. Long story short, there was a lack of communication, and we missed our tour. Or should I say that our tour missed us. Again, I won't go into all that grief, and how obnoxious they were to deal with. I was irate. But we ended up back at their house, and went and saw the shops in town. It wasn't the most exciting day, but we still had fun, and it was nice to relax.

After much hullabaloo, the next day we actually got to go on the tour. We'll post about this later, with pictures. It was a fun day.

That night, I took a train into Sydney for a date. My friend from school, Rhett Keaton, kindly connected me with some of his mission buddies, and this was another one of them. If you want to hear more about this, you'll have to talk to me. It was a really fun date, and I enjoyed myself much more than I was expecting to on a blind date with a boy 1 month off his mission. But it was great, and I'm really glad I went. I had to shower and get ready and get on a train in less than a half hour, but I totally did it, because I'm professional like that. That's why they pay me the big bucks.

Saturday, we went with the Richards to cut down their Christmas tree. Most people in Australia aren't very festive, so it was nice to be with a family that enjoys the holidays as much as we do. People here don't generally even decorate, yet alone get a real tree. It was fun, and the trees here are way different. The branches go up instead of just out, so I don't really know how they put ornaments on. Unfortunately, we didn't stay long enough to see them try. But because of all the rain they've had, the tree was so green that it looked fake. It was absolutely beautiful just sitting in the living room, without decorations.

That night, it was time to do some baking. Jade, their 11 year old daughter, enjoys baking. For the first time, it was actually someone else instigating the adventure in the kitchen. I had already made the family cookies and banana cake, so I wanted to try something new. I was feeling adventurous, so I wanted to make a pavlova.

Now before I came to Oz, I had never even heard of a pav. At this point, I still hadn't tried one, but I'd heard how difficult they are to make. I felt up to the challenge. A pavlova is like a meringue that you bake, and eat like cake with fruit and cream. We got one from the store, in case mine failed, which I was expecting it to. Jade didn't think I could do it either. None of us were expecting it to come out, but it was worth a shot. A few soft peaks, and an hour in the oven later, it came out nice and crispy on the outside, and soft and airy on the inside. My pav had expanded quite a bit in the oven, so it didn't look as nice at the store bought one, but it tasted perfect. The outside had a great crunch, and the inside melted in our mouth. I wasn't really sure what it was supposed to turn out like, but I was assured by several people that I had nailed it. Now I'm afraid to try again in case it falls... And I'm sure it won't work back home at such an altitude, but I'm sure going to try. If you're willing to be a taste tester, let me know. I need people who are honest, but mostly people who are hungry.

Church the next day was great. I love the saints in Australia. I was recruited to sing in the ward choir in sacrament meeting, as well as a small choir in relief society. I'm willing to serve in any capacity I'm needed, and I've been surprised how often I've been asked to do so. They can't give me a calling, but they can sure give me an assignment. I got invited to a YSA gathering that evening, and told them I'd bring my brother, assuming he'd be willing to spend time with some cute girls our age. But even if he didn't want to go, I still would. They seemed like a great group, with 2 cute boys. Again, twist my arm...

Luckily,  he was willing to go after we assured him that there would be cute girls. You can ask him about it, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't disappointed. We had a good time talking and playing some silly games. They had a lot of questions about our travels, and about the states. I felt cool, I won't lie. It was like we were a novelty to them, the mysterious foreigners. One boy, Matt Duffus, said that he now wanted to go backpack in the states. So just to warn my friends and family back home, I might be sending him your way if he comes out and needs places to stay. If you live somewhere cool, you'll probably hear from him in the next year or so. After all the help we've gotten out here, I'll be doing the same for anyone that comes my way. This was also the night that I learned to drive a stick on the other side of the car...

The next day, we were planning on leaving in the afternoon, but slept significantly later than expected. I didn't even wake up until 10, which is abnormally late for me. So we decided to hang out with one of the boys we'd met the night before, and catch the evening train. So we met up with Matt, and walked around town. He even bought us food. There's something about Australians that just makes them want to take care of visitors. It's great. We had fun, and I'm pretty sure Robert is going to stay at his house after I leave. Hopefully, we'll see him doing what we're doing someday. He seemed more than keen on the idea of traveling halfway around the world for awhile, and I'd encourage anyone to do it.

So our time in the Blue Mountains had come to a close. I donned my traveling shirt, and we caught another train. We got to Canberra pretty late that night, but the couple we're staying with didn't seem to upset about picking us up late.

So now we're in Canberra, the capital of Australia. The people we're staying with are the nicest. They're a very young couple from the States, and he's going to grad school here. I feel like we're going to have a lot of wonderful things to say about them, but we'll save that for another post.

Now you're all caught up. I come home in 3 days, and I can hardly believe it. Expect to hear from me a few more times before that, because I still have things to say.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

I'm a big girl now.

Marissa here.

I have less than one week left in Oz. Time sure flies. And it's strange how quickly things become normal. It feels like living out of a suitcase, and traveling city to city has been my life for a lot longer than 10 weeks.

Last night, we hung out with some YSA here in Penrith. It was a blast. These encounters generally result in the same conversation with questions about our travels, and about the differences between the States and Oz. But last night was definitely one of the better conversation. We converted someone to the idea of backpacking, and he's planning on heading to the States when he can to do what we're doing. Another girl thought it was funny that neither of us had tried driving here, so she offered to let us drive hers. But we had the same problem as usual: it's a manual. Robert hasn't driven one in years, and I never have. So combine that with driving on the other side of the car (and thus shifting with your left hand), driving on the other side of the road, in a city we don't know. You can see why we've declined any previous offers. I wouldn't trust myself behind that wheel. But she did. So we drove.

My first time in a stick could have been a lot worse. I only killed it a few times, and she said she was impressed for it being my first time. I was so stressed, though. Doing anything in the car with my left hand was just weird. The worst part was when we got to a light at the top of a hill, so I had to stop. When it turned green, I killed it, so I had to wait for the next cycle. In the meantime, a car pulls up behind me, and I was really worried about rolling backwards into it. A cop car also pulled up at the opposing light. I waved the car behind me on, and the cop passed without trouble. But it could have been disastrous, as I didn't even have my license on me. Robert hit a curb, but did very well. It was a crazy experience, but no one died.

So in the spirit of things, I decided to compile a list of the things I tried for the first time in Australia, including foods, and excluding tourist-y things like attending a certain zoo for the first time or something.

Camel riding.
Running on the sand.
Riding on a train.
Sleeping on the beach.
Kiss an Aussie.
Throwing a boomerang.
Playing the didgeridoo.
Meat pies.
Tim-Tams (and Tim-Tam Slams).
Pumpkin pie.
Sausage rolls.
Prawn sandwiches.

I'm sure there are more, and I don't think I could ever compile an exhaustive list. This trip has been one of firsts nearly every day. I've never traveled so much. I've never lived out of a suitcase. I've never spent so much time with one person. I've never been on holiday like this. I've never had such irregular sleeping and eating habits. I've never eaten so many treats. I've never prayed so much. I've never been homesick before. I've never been so grateful and appreciative of the beauty and goodness that is in the world and people around me. It's has been a learning experience that I will never forget. I have met the most amazing people, and tried some crazy things. I've learned to really love Australia. The culture, the climate, the people, the mindset are all so different. But different is not bad. Different is just different, and I'm grateful for every experience I've had here. I still have a few days, so I'll see how many more firsts I can accomplish. Keep posted for my final adventures! We're heading to Canberra tonight, then I fly home on Friday.

Peace, love, and Jesus.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

So grateful (my list).

So these last fews days have been interesting, and highly stressful. Not only do I go home soon and still don't know where I'm living, but things have gone wrong right and left. We missed our flight from Brisbane to Sydney, and I lost my purse later that day. Ultimately, we reached our destination, in one piece, with all our belongings. And I've realized that no matter what, things will always go wrong. It doesn't matter how much I prepare. It's hard for me to admit that because I'm such a planner. I hate being late, I hate being unprepared.

So instead of complaining more, this post is about what I'm grateful for. I didn't get to celebrate Thanksgiving the way I traditionally do, so consider this my tribute to the food I missed out on.

     I'm grateful for the gospel. "I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ like I believe in the rising sun: not because I can see it, but because by it I can see everything else." Because of the gospel in my life, I know that even when things don't go according to my plan, they're still going accoding to His plan, and it will all be okay.
     I'm grateful for my family, especially my parents. Yeah, both of them. They've been the most supportive people in the world. They've supported me not only physically and financally, but mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. My family has never failed me, and I hope that in the end, they can say the same about me. They're all such strong, unique, wonderful individuals, and each brings something so necessary to our family. I love them so much.
     I'm grateful for my education. I love to learn. I love school. I love the smell of new textbooks in the morning. I love spending hours in the library, studying things I'm passionate about and learning things that I never knew I never knew. Because of where I live, I've been so blessed to have an education so easily accessible.
     I'm grateful for music. Being on the go for the last 2 months has made me yearn for my old life in this regard. I miss having a piano and my violin at my fingertips. I yearn for yet another music calling in the church. I'd give anything for someone to come and ask me to accompany them. And I miss driving through Logan Canyon with my windows rolled down, blasting Owl City or Mae as loud as my pathetic system would let us. I miss going to Why Sound, or driving to SLC for good shows with good friends. Music is such an integral part of who I am. Music is how I serve. Music is how I share my testimony. Music is how I relax. Music is how I get pumped up. I'm so grateful for the world I've grown up with, so full of beauty and music.
     I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had in my life. I've had opportunities to be involved in school and the community. I've been able to live various places, and meet so many wonderful people. I've been able to do a little bit of traveling, and see some of the world. I'm so blessed.

So now, thanks to Robert's promptings, I present to you my list. I've been very wary to put this online, fearing I've forgotten people. I would strongly recommend tryng this exercise. 100 people sounds like a lot, but I could make a list of 500 people that have influenced my life. This list includes many people from my past, so don't be offended if you are a new friend and didn't make the list. I promise that this is not all inclusive. These are the people that have played a large role in either getting me where I am physically in this life, or giving me wonderful examples for how I want to live my life in the future. These people give me new ways to look at my life and the world around me. These people inspired me to try something new, or be just a little bit better tomorrow. I cheated a little bit and combined married couples. One thing to notice is that I didn't include much extended family. This is because I could fill this whole list with just my family. So my family has done most of the work in forming who I am, but I need to recognize some other people right now. That doesn't mean I appreciate you any less. All my aunt, uncles, and cousins have been such blessings in my life, and I hope they know that. So here it is, my list of 100 people that have been the most influential in my life:
  1. Katherine and Richard Weeks
  2. Rachel and Robert Shupe
  3. Stephen and Chelle Weeks
  4. Laura and Wayne Clark
  5. Robert Weeks
  6. Emily Weeks
  7. Bob and Fay Pennock
  8. Helen and Clyde Weeks
  9. Karen and Chris Cleveland
  10. Dave and Gigi Pennock
  11. Michael and Laura Pennock
  12. Mrs. Patricia Thurber (Grade 3)
  13. Mr. Darren Webster (Grade 6)
  14. Mrs. Pease (Grade 5)
  15. Doc Jensen
  16. Mrs. Leah Tarrant
  17. Mr. George Curtis
  18. Diane Wright
  19. Robb Hoch
  20. Kevin Tindall
  21. Molly Critchfield
  22. Chelsea McArthur
  23. Maren Reeves
  24. Danny Oka
  25. Joseph K Sagers
  26. Alex Phillips
  27. Briahna Mounteer
  28. Jordan White
  29. Morgan Lail
  30. Thaddeus Schulte
  31. Malyssa Eardley
  32. Michael Fitzgerald
  33. Emily Stephens
  34. Doug May
  35. Dallin Martin
  36. Peter Barrett
  37. Monica Walker
  38. Wendy Vu
  39. Bethany Hess
  40. Katie Walkingshaw
  41. Sherril Fairbourn
  42. Cheryl Vaughn
  43. Sheila Zolman
  44. Lindsey Hayes
  45. Katie Howell Ford
  46. Bishop Ed Redd
  47. Brother Coleman
  48. Tania Knight
  49. Christopher J. Thatcher
  50. James Gardner
  51. Levi Gardner
  52. Kyle Klein
  53. Autumn Jones
  54. Wilenys Lastre
  55. Marissa Worsham
  56. Kortney Schlappi
  57. Kailee Jorgensen
  58. Alyssa Williams
  59. Matthew Prawitt
  60. DJ Zolman
  61. Todd Neimann
  62. Martin (Ma Ping)
  63. Ben Brown
  64. Hope Coon
  65. Stefanie Royall
  66. Cassie Banov
  67. Aaron Brown
  68. Penny and Grant Owen
  69. Paul and Deeann Vowels
  70. Rhett Keaton
  71. Ashley Moutsos
  72. Diana Calder
  73. Christian Inglis
  74. Darren Gardner
  75. Kaylee Sandstrom
  76. Clark Porter
  77. Kelsi Callister
  78. Christian Orr
  79. Nils Nelson
  80. Aubrey Loomis
  81. Elizabeth Atkinson
  82. Erik Mikkelson
  83. Jeremiah Ginn
  84. Zack Vandermyde
  85. Dan Rogers
  86. Richard Orcutt
  87. Sam Harkless
  88. Eric Davies
  89. Aleishia Dudley
  90. Krista Brown
  91. Mariah Poole
  92. Richard Perry
  93. Kasey Van Dyke
  94. Katie Steed
  95. Catherine Meidell
  96. Tyler Tolley
  97. Chris Bowen
  98. Thomas Gappmayer
  99. Mandy and Bruce Inglis
  100. Jesus Christ
And I leave the same invitation that Robert did. If you want to know why you did or did not make this list, please feel free to email you. If you didn't make it, odds are that you're on my rough draft of about 150 people. There are some people that none of my family or current friends even know, and it may not seem like their impact was worth of the list, but I promise that everyone on this list deserves to be there. I've learned something important from every one of these people, and I thank them for that. I've been so blessed in my life.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Final Countdown

So here we are. We've been as far north on the coast as we (eventually) planned to go, and we've started our slow descent back down to Sydney and beyond. We are currently in Brisbane with the Adams family. Yes, the Adams family. Get it out of your system now...They have been more than hospitable; we really couldn't have asked for better hosts. A few days ago we bought plane tickets down to Sydney. We've been traveling by foot, car, train, and bus so far. Surprisingly this is the first time we've felt a plane ride to be near essential to our travels. We're scheduled to leave at 5 in the morning and to arrive at SYD around 7. The flight is going to be about an hour long but Queensland (current location) doesn't recognize daylight savings time so we are going to lose an hour of our day tomorrow. I'm usually sleeping that early anyway, so an hour lost is no big deal. We will get into Sydney that morning and we will go straight from there out to the Blue Mountains about two hours inland. The plan is to stay with our contact there for a couple of nights then we will head to Canberra, the nation's capital, until Marissa's departure.

Marissa is scheduled to leave this beautiful country in no less than 11 days. I am planning on staying quite a bit longer and hope that the hospitality that the people have shown us so far will continue and enable me to enjoy the rest of my visit.

One thing that we've made a habit of is visiting the library in every city we visit. Surprisingly even the smallest of towns has a library. We were happy to frequent them all: from the cubicle-sized Byron Bay library to the wonderfully diverse Queensland State library. We usually set aside one day to just go to the library and read, write in our journals, blog, or whatever else we deem appropriate to do in a library. With smaller collections like the one they had in Byron, it was quite difficult to find anything that really struck my fancy. Today we had the opportunity to browse the Queensland State library; it was amazing. Out of all the institutions we've visited, this was by far my favourite. I can usually find a book or two that interest me in the first aisle I walk down, and this instance was no different. One of the first books I looked at caught my eye. The title is Consequential Strangers: The Power of People Who Don't Seem to Matter. . . But Really Do. The authors, Blau and Fingerman, delve into detail concerning the importance of relationships that may, superficially, not seem important. One small section of this book mentioned a writer for the NY Times who wrote a personal version of the Top 100 Influential People of 2006. When he read the original version published in TIME, he realized that none of the people on that list seemingly had any direct influence on his life. His list was comprised of relatives, neighbors, close friends, and acquaintances. People from his barber to peers at his child's sporting events made the list. The concept of writing down a list of 100 people seemed a little daunting, but I really wanted to give it a try. I'm not too far into my life so I don't have any mention of the person who led me to a huge break in my career, the doctor who helped deliver my children, or the all-knowing neighbor who helped me fix my house up.

Being with Marissa 24/7 for these past two months really drove this point home. She has been an influence on me throughout my life, but now more than ever. Her views are drastically different than mine on a myriad of subjects, but they have subsequently shaped my views on things to encompass the full subject rather than just my narrow perspective. 

This list is a compilation of people who have influenced my life. They have changed my point of view, they have opened up my mind to a different train of thought, and they have shown me that every stereotype can be broken. They have shown me what I, myself, am capable of, and that with hard work and a good attitude truly anything can be achieved. I have been molded by these people in subjects ranging from career to relationships to education. I've been helped to realize more fully what I actually want out of these things and how to better my life in those aspects and, in that same vein, what I strive to avoid in them. I've learned what kind of friend I am, and what kind of friends I want to surround myself with. Everybody is good at something and has more to offer than you think. I've gone through experiences and learned things I never would have without these people leading me to and through those events. This is a list of relatives, classmates, flings, inspirations, best friends, role models, sources of wisdom, teachers, and those who truly make me want to model myself after them and be a better, more caring person. These are those who have shown that you can make the best of any circumstance you're in and really helped me learn about myself and, as a whole, have been imperative in shaping who I am today. Some of these people are on the list for reasons you can't imagine, and many I'm not in contact with on a regular basis, but trust me, they deserve to be there. Ages range from 16-80 and the span of time known anywhere from a few minutes to 20 years. I'll admit I haven't even met all of these people face-to-face.

  • Katherine Weeks
  • Richard Weeks
  • Marissa Weeks
  • Stephen Weeks
  • Laura Weeks
  • Emily Weeks 
  • Clyde Weeks
  • Helen Weeks
  • Rachel Shupe
  • Robert Shupe
  • Robert Pennock
  • Fay Pennock
  • David Pennock
  • Gigi Pennock
  • John Pennock
  • Sean Barlow 
  • Aaron Lefler
  • Jace Mann
  • Jake Lloyd
  • Chelsea McArthur
  • A.J. Nielsen
  • Mathew Nielsen
  • Jeff Nielsen
  • Julie Nielsen
  • Christopher Nielsen
  • Chase Brauchie
  • Marcus Riches
  • Michael Fitzgerald
  • Darren Webster
  • Robert Duncan
  • Andrew McLeran
  • Leah Tarrant
  • Brady Cottam
  • Devyn Zbinden
  • Ariana Gonzalez
  • Casey Cripps
  • Xander Gonzalez
  • Hilary Hancock
  • Ashley Lewter
  • Steve Carroll
  • Emily Stephens
  • Briahna Mounteer
  • Jason Liu
  • Shaelyn West
  • Alex Phillips
  • Cameron Faux
  • Melanie Lance
  • Jon Trevett
  • Brett Burt
  • Bethany Hess
  • Amberly Hess
  • Dawn Hess
  • Sydney Lowe
  • Keely Kirby
  • Megan Metcalf
  • Chelsey Huntsman
  • Karin Ellis
  • Rachelle Webb
  • Alexis Gosdis
  • Ryan Rose
  • Matt Duffus
  • Christian Inglis
  • Alex Von Dust
  • Amanda Barlow
  • Monica Walker
  • Amy Hardesty
  • Jesica Wilson Piettress
  • Bailey Gray
  • Alex Daniels
  • Alyssa Shoemaker
  • Stephanie Lewis
  • Christopher Thatcher
  • Janina Liddellidd
  • Jess Rancie
  • Erik Huynh
  • Kellie Shaw
  • Ivan Govorovskiy
  • Kylie Jacobsen
  • Levi Gardner
  • James Gardner
  • Isaac Gardner
  • Zsuzsi Simon
  • Tereasa North
  • Jentry Nielsen
  • Mali Rahimian
  • Tyler Wiseman
  • Tyler Brown
  • Adrienne Davis
  • Spencer Porter
  • Erin Martin
  • Penny Owen
  • Michelle Mirci
  • Morgan Lail
  • Odette Da Silva
  • Paul Vowels
  • Deanne Vowels
  • Rich Littledyke
  • Samantha Berg
  • Narine Johnson
  • The handful of people who picked me up when hitchhiking.
So I finished typing this up about 45 minutes ago and have been delaying hitting the 'Publish Post' button at the bottom. I'm just a little wary that some may read this list and not find their name listed among the others and be disappointed. I realize that 100 seems like a lot, but once you get writing it is easy to fill up every one of those spaces. There are countless others who have helped me in the past and are destined to in the future, but this is the first group that came into my head. I ran this idea past Marissa and she has written down her list of 100 people, but is anything BUT ready to publish it to the online community. She needs to rework it until it's perfect; she's really afraid of leaving people out. If she actually does get a satisfactory list within the next 10 days I'll urge her to post it here. Everyone  likes being told they've made a difference in others' lives.

I do realize that this blog is supposed to be about our travels, but I've had a lot of time to think lately and I think it's good to write down some thoughts every once in awhile instead of just chronicling our journey. If you're curious as to why you did (or did not) make the list, feel free to email me. I'm not going to put every reason on here now, as I'm sure maybe only 10% of the people on the list will actually see it.

-Robert J. Weeks

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Not allowed.

    Marissa here. Last time you heard from us, we were getting ready to head north for another adventure. The plan was to spend a few days in a place called Bundaberg, and take a day trip to the Town of 1770 to do some snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef.

    We weren't allowed to do that thanks to the awful weather.

    To paint a picture of our last few days, here's a non-exhaustive list of things we were not allowed to do:

    Have fun
    Give the right answer
    Stay dry outside
    Feel welcome
    Eat freely
    Use the computer
    Touch anything
    Offer an opinion
    Make eye contact
    Carry on a good conversation
    Sleep without fear of assassination
    Listen to music/radio in the car
    Be alone in the house
    Use sarcasm
    Offer any suggestions
    Ask questions

    Let me explain. We stayed with this older couple. And I mean older. They were at least 80. And their house was stuck in 1983, at the latest. On paper, it sounds great: Older couple, nice house literally right on the beach. They showed us around and fed us dinner and we played some games. But in reality, it was awful. I couldn't wait to get out of there. Their tone of speaking, their body language, their lack of warmth and welcoming was anything but enjoyable. Not once did they tell us to make ourselves at home. Not once did they tell us we were free to look around the house, get something to eat, use their TV and/or computer. Now, I can't expect every family we stay with to let us loose in their house. But even the families that I felt didn't want us there up to this point were more welcoming. Now I really know what it feels like to not be wanted. They were not happy about us being in their house. Here's how it went down:

    We'd been staying with a family, the Atkinsons, for about a week down on the Sunshine Coast. It was pretty good, but it was time to move on. We had learned that the farthest south that we could snorkel on the Reef was from a place called Town of 1770. This was about 4 hours north. I found a day cruise that has a bus that can pick you up from Bundaberg, and then bring you back at the end of the day. Our plan was to find a ride north at Stake Conference that Sunday, and Bundaberg is the northern border of the stake, so we knew we wouldn't be able to get any farther than that. But because of the convenient bus, this would be okay. I'd rather stay for free than go farther north and pay for accomodation. So we were on the hunt for a ride.

    We had met a friend here on the Sunny Coast, and her grandparents happened to live in Bundy! How perfect! So we found them after conference, and from the first encounter, I was wary of the situation. I talked to the wife, and she semi-agreed, but said she needed to talk to her husband. I told their granddaughter to talk to them that evening, and make sure that they didn't feel pressure to say say because I had been standing there when we'd asked. We got a call later, and they still said yes, so we planned on leaving at 7 AM Monday morning. The original plan was to leave Sunday night, but we weren't going to complain; a ride is a ride. So now we wouldn't be able to snorkel until Tuesday, but we've learned that a day here or there really doesn't make a difference the way we're doing this holiday thing, so no big. We get to their house, and they were upset about how much luggage we had, even though we had explained to them exactly what we'd be bringing, and they said it would be perfectly fine. So we loaded it up anyway with a little bit of squishing, and we were on the road. The drive was about 3 hours, and it was so awkward. Not once did the radio go on, and not once did a good conversation evolve. The men stayed silent, while the women asked a few questions here and there. I asked about their lives and job, and their conversion to the gospel, all questions that could have led to interesting discussion. But I was met with cold answers, limited to one word if possible. She asked me a few questions, so which I couldn't ever answer correctly. We soon learned that no matter how we answered their questions, we would be wrong.

    We got to their house, and we each got our own rooms. We would have been happy to share since there were multiple beds in each room, but we weren't about to question their orders. As soon as we had our belongings put down, we were basically ordered to go to the beach, and come back in 30 minutes for lunch, no sooner. It was cold and windy outside, and we had no desire to be there, but we acquiesced. We sat on a bench, not wanting to incorporate sand into our already awful day. When adequate time had passed, we made our way back to their house. For lunch, we had prawn sandwiches. Prawns are shrimp, by the way. They made us feel like idiots when we explained that no, we had never peeled or cleaned prawns before. We weren't sure how to go about it. They showed us, but then did it for us because we were too slow. I was afraid to eat too much, or too little. It was very uncomfortable, with a few pathetic attempts at starting conversation.

    After lunch, we were more than happy to volunteer to leave the house again. We walked along the beach down to the center of town where we had passed shops on our drive in. When we got there, we realized that what we had seen from the car was literally all there was to the town. There was nothing to do, nothing to see. The beach was actually rocks, not sand. And it was still cold and windy outside. It wasn't the most pleasant outing. And during our evening, we found out that the snorkeling cruise would not be going on the next day, either. We now had a whole day to fill, with no options to fill it. Joy.

    After we felt enough time had passed, we meandered back to the house for dinner. She's a great cook, but each meal was still awkward, full of fear of doing something wrong. I offered the lesson at FHE, which was actually the first time I felt any respect. They seemed to sincerely enjoy my lesson on patience. We then played some games, where they did not appreciate losing to us. We had some apple pie, which was actually an historic event: Robert does "not like" pie. This means that he's never really tried it, and he thinks he doesn't like it. How someone can dislike such a broad category of something so delicious is beyond me. But something about our situation got him to eat what had been placed in front of him, and he actually enjoyed it. So if nothing else good came of this experience, Robert learned to like pie.

    Another factor to add to our day was that we were not allowed to be in the house alone. They did not trust us. Some errands needed to be run, so we obliged and sat in the back seat of their car in silence. They also decided to show us some other parts of town that were SO boring. They showed us the harbour where not a single thing was happening. And it was so cold. Then they took us to this information center about turtles which was actually pretty cool, except that I couldn't tell if they wanted us to take our time or to hurry. I honestly couldn't decipher their body language. This center runs nightly excursions to the beach to see turtles lay their eggs, but we wouldn't get to do that. We just had to read about turtles. And she kept telling us to go here, stand there, look at this. I usually enjoy educational experiences like that, but this one was the exception.

    Back at home, it was time for bed. They asked if we were going to shower, and we didn't know how to answer. Did they want us to shower? Or were they making sure we weren't going to without their permission? We told them that we usually shower in the mornings. They hesitantly accepted this response, and we got ready for bed.

    The next morning, we had decided to catch the 10 AM bus into Bundaberg, which is the main city in the area, and about 20 minutes from where we were staying. I woke up around 7:30 where I stayed in bed and did some reading. I let Robert sleep until 9:30, because there was no reason to get him up earlier. When we were both finally up, they were completely mortified that we could sleep as long as we did. They rise at 5 AM every day, and apparently you cannot get anything from your day unless you include the wee hours like they did. Disregarding this opinion, it was time to catch our bus. Luckily, the man was heading into the city, and offered to drop us off. Looking back, I think I'd rather take the bus that endure more silent time in the back seat of that car. We didn't really know where we were going, so we asked his opinion. We decided to have him drop us off at the giant barrel, the visitors center for Bundaberg Brewed Drinks, famous for their ginger beer. He assured us that it was right outside of downtown, and we might as well see that, then walk into town. After being dropped off, we realized that there was nothing worth seeing at this big barrel, so we started walking. It was a long walk, even longer in the rain. When we got to town, we got brekky (we were too afraid to get something to eat at their house). We walked around, and realized that there wasn't anything worth seeing here, either. But at least there was MORE that wasn't worth seeing, I guess. We ended up at the library for a few hours, which was the most enjoyable part of the day. We caught the bus back to their house as late as possible (which was around 4 in this small town). The worst part of the day: learning that our snorkeling adventure, again, would not happen.

    Back home, it was dinner time. We had another good dinner, although it was still awkward. After deliberation with Robert, we decided that it wasn't worth it to try and stay here, miserable, for a snorkeling trip that may or may not come to pass. We started looking for a way back down south. We had a few options, and decided to take the 5:15 train. We'd have to leave their house around 4 AM, but that was okay- we could sleep on the train. Because of our pending early morning, we went to sleep early. Around midnight, I got a text informing me that the family we'd be staying with would not be able to pick us up until 5 PM the next day. With this new information, I decided it was worth it to sleep a little longer, and catch a later train, but leaving far less time to sit around stranded at a train station. I rose at 4 the next morning to inform our patrons, and they were disgruntled. She told me that I should have told her sooner. How she expected me to do that is beyond me. They wanted us out of their house, and were not pleased that we would be inconveniencing any more of their time. But nonetheless, I went back to bed. We got up and packed and ready to go. She offered brekky, which I accepted. She then bluntly stated that we had 2 minutes.

    After some quick dry toast, 2 stolen bananas for the ride, and one near car accident later, we were free. We had to wait for our train for nearly 2 hours, but that was okay. We were glad to be going. We didn't get to snorkel, so I guess I'll have to come back someday and do that. But I'd rather be doing nothing with people I like that be doing something "fun" and staying with people I don't like. Robert explained it well: "I'd rather have a bad day golfing than a good day at work."

    So there you have it. We made it as far north as we're going to on this adventure, and now it's a matter of getting back down south. I have a little more than 2 weeks to go until I come back to Utah. We're now back on the Sunshine Coast with a very kind family, and we're happy to be here.

    Keep posted, and we'll keep posting.

    the twins. (Oh, and that woman asked if we're identical. She's 80 and doesn't know that identical twins have to be the same gender? Really?)

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Hey Old Friend, It's Been Awhile...

    I've been slacking. Badly. And by 'I' I really mean 'us.'

    We just haven't had much motivation to actually sit down and write anything. I just got a good playlist set up for this very purpose so I'm just going to hunker down and get it done =).

    I think we left off with us skydiving and then a little picture blog about our weekend trip to Byron Bay. So I'm going to have to backtrack just a little bit to just before we took our little trip.

    So we had been in Byron Bay for about 3 nights and it was time to move on. We had seen pretty much everything the town had to offer and it was time to head out. We woke up that last morning and packed up all of our things and got ready for skydiving. We did that, came back to our hostel, then quickly headed over to the only bus station in town and hopped on to the 'Brisbane to Byron Express.' This was a bit bigger than a van and a little smaller than a bus. Short-bus length, I guess. Once we got all of our belongings packed away into the trailer in tow behind us we got into our coach and got the VIP seats in the back. Luckily it wasn't too crowded, so we didn't have to share our seats with anybody so we had plenty of room for ourselves and our backpacks. The drive was just beautiful. When I thought of Australia before I actually came here I envisioned the outback. This couldn't be further from the truth. Every city/town we go to is more lush and breathtaking then the previous. Being from Utah I'm not really used to such overwhelming flora. The drive went without a hitch and we were dropped off at the central transit station in downtown Brisbane.

    We took a train about 25 minutes outside of town and called our contact, Mr. Morales, who picked us up promptly and took us to his car to store our things while he showed us around a bit. He walked us around a bit with his young daughter as we were headed to meet his wife and son about 5 minutes walk away. We met a few of their friends and got to talk to the Morales family for a few minutes before heading to their home for the night. Mrs. Morales took her children home and Andrew decided that he didn't want to head home quite yet. He drove us around the city for a good 45 minutes showing us everything there is to see, where to go, how to get everywhere, and just helping us orient ourselves in the new city. This really did help us a lot and we got to see an amazing view of the city that we never would have been able to see without a car. After our Brisbane orientation was finished we headed 30 minutes out of downtown, into the more country side of the city. Their house was everything a backpacker could ask for. A bed, food, and company. We had a pretty full day and slept great that night.

    After a restful night of sleep we woke up and had a quick breakfast before heading down to the train station and leaving the suburb of Mt. Cotton for the city for a day of exploring. Brisbane is a city, definitely, but it is nowhere near the size of Sydney. We walked through nearly the whole downtown area in the afternoon and saw pretty much everything there was to see within a few hours. We saw a few parks, the biggest art gallery we've been to so far, and the largest library we've been in so far. The art gallery and library were part of the Queensland University of Technology and were definitely the best part about the campus. The landscaping was nowhere near what we've seen surrounding other campuses in Oz. After reading for an hour or two in the library we jetted up towards the temple for institute.

     See, I've never been to an institute class and never thought I would attend one, but I figured I may as well go with Marissa because we were going to get a ride home from one of the members and I would be less of a bother to the people we were staying with. I usually don't like the atmosphere in churches, and this occasion was no different. I just don't really mesh with the people that go there. I can't really speak for Marissa, but I'm sure she was as comfortable as ever. I went to a class concerning leadership and Marissa, something else that I can't be bothered remembering right now. I sat in the very back corner and whipped out my journal and began writing. We were there a few minutes early so I was getting in a good rhythm before the class started. I kept on going straight through the opening prayer and song. Institute didn't have much of an effect on my concentration. Until the teacher started talking. I have no clue what this guy does for a living, his name, or really anything else about him. Except that he teaches a pretty good lesson. I was surprised how non-gospel oriented it was. There were a few scriptures read, but the whole lesson was pretty much based on good ways to lead people and how different strategies would be better for certain situations than other. The whole experience was much better than I anticipated and it was topped off with two tables covered in after-lesson treats.

    We met up with our new contact after our lessons, Ryan Fell, and we were introduced to person after person. He's a really sociable guy. He really is genuine and wanted us to have a great time while we were in his city. We were informed by nearly every person we met that they were going to take a trip down to Byron Bay that weekend and that we just had to accompany them. Of course we're not going to turn down a road trip, even if we were there the prior weekend. Experiences are always different when you're with those who know that they're doing. Our social gathering slowly migrated to the car park where it was decided that we were going to meet back up at South Bank, a nice area in downtown Brisbane that has restaurants, a man-made beach, and, well, nobody watching that beach. The night was great. Once we finally found a parking spot we promptly strolled over to the pseudo beach and stripped down to whatever was comfortable. All the guys ended up in just boxers, and the girls in either big shirts or shorts and tanks or whatever they could find. Sadly, no skivvies for the girls. We all played freeze tag, zoo animals, retarded lion, and had a cartwheel contest. Freeze tag is classic. Zoo animals is a game where as soon as you say 'Go' everyone starts acting like a zoo animal until you've had enough. It sounds really mature, I know. I, in my infinite wisdom, chose to be a shark. It was only after that I was told sharks aren't in zoos. I can remember we had a shark, a hippo, a gorilla, an ape, and an elephant. We looked great. Retarded lion is basically a game that I can't explain, because it will take the fun out of it. We'll play it sometime when I get home =). It ended up with all of us soaking wet with no towels and wet clothes. This group was amazing.

    We packed up our things at the Morales' household the next morning and transferred over to the Fell's house with the help of Ryan "Roo" Fell. Their house was about 10-15 minutes away from our current location, but still a ways away from the city. So I thought the last place we were at was nice, but this was just amazing. They had a 46' LCD TV and a PS3 along with a couple of external hard drives chock-full with great movies and shows. Pair this with an overflowing fridge, freezer, and pantry, and you're set. They also had a nice pool in their back yard. The only thing missing, really, was the people. The only one that we really saw those first few days was Roo. His parents and siblings were constantly on the move and were rarely seen in the household. To be honest I kind of enjoyed the temporary solitude. The next few days were constituted of excess media exposure, a few trips into the city with friends, and lots of sleep. It was great to recharge.

    The day had finally come. Destination: Byron Bay! Since there were so many people headed down there, people were leaving at different times and we all just figured it would work out in the end. Sure enough, it did. We were almost the last to arrive in the car park to the beach, and were greeted by a dozen or so friends. The night was still young so the crew split; some went out on the town, while others stayed behind and prepped the 'campsite.' Marissa and I were in the latter group; we aren't really ones for partying. Neither of us had ever spent the night on the beach before so we weren't exactly sure what we were supposed to be doing. Luckily, the other people we were with were seasoned vets. They had brought a tarp to lay down and extra sleeping bags for those that were without (us). Once the giant tarp was secured, the second order of business was to get a fire started. There were a few signs warning us that campfires on the beach are illegal, but those were the same signs that said camping was illegal. All or nothing, I guess. Gathering the sticks wasn't a problem, but the wind was. Marissa and I had to dig a little ditch and fill it with kindling in an attempt to get the fire started. It worked beautifully. Within 15 minutes we had a full-on blaze on the beach and the blustering gales couldn't best our flames. Smalltalk by the fire was a nice way to cap off the night before we fell asleep underneath the stars. I've had trouble sleeping this whole trip. It isn't often that I am able to sleep through the whole night without waking up once. This inability to sleep restfully ended up being alright on this occasion. Every time I opened my eyes I was rewarded with the endless expanse of space coupled with the not too distant crashing of the Pacific. Put it on your bucket lists, people. It doesn't have to be Byron, necessarily, just a beach far far away from a big city. The absence of light, and other, pollution made the cosmos infinitely more vivid.

    The thing about bucket lists is sometimes you can plan it so you can tick off more than one goal at a time. Waking up on the beach to a beautiful sunrise should also make it on there. Check and check. The fire was still going and everyone was awake and talking by around 5 in the morning. I can't remember the last time that's ever happened to me. I usually curse anyone who wakes my up that early, but cursing the sun seems a little childish, and honestly it was quite refreshing. A short stroll along the coastline was just the ticket to put me in a good mood the entire day. The day consisted of more than a handful of hours on the beach, and mobbing through the small town when the group got hungry. One thing that I LOVED while we were on the beach was that I played my first game of cricket and got a good introduction to the rules and game-play. I am actually horrible at cricket, but I still enjoyed messing around with the guys. By this point there were nearly 20 of us. Shopping, eating, tanning, talking until the sun went down.

    Once it got dark it was time to prepare for the night ahead. Everyone got as presentable as possible and headed back into town once more. The guys all wanted to watch 'The Game' at a bar and I was quite keen as well. I assumed Rugby, and I was right. The match was Australia v. New Zealand. I had yet to watch a full match and was excited to see it run its course with the supplemented comments from my knowledgeable new friends. The cheers echoed around the room any time points were scored for either team. I assumed the crowd would be overwhelmingly lopsided towards rooting for the home team, but apparently plenty of Kiwis call Australia home. It was a close game and NZ ended up winning. I didn't really care either way; I was happy to finally understand what was going on and to see the game played at its highest level. The girls had made themselves very scarce through the whole match, but they somehow materialized as soon as it was over, completely ready to go out to the clubs and party the night away.

    I've only been out a few times since I've been here and I figured that night was as good as any other to go out again. These people all knew how to have a good time and I wasn't about to stay at the beach two nights in a row. By this point Marissa had left our group and was hanging out with a friend she had made earlier in the week at institute, Blake. She can tell you about her adventures with him later, if she wishes. Our posse slowly made it down the main street and shortly I was introduced to the club they frequent when in town...I really can't remember how it's spelled but it was something similar to Coocamunga? Anyway, we got in after a short wait in line and from the second we walked down those stairs everyone was dancing. I usually feel like an idiot when I dance, and I'm sure I'm not alone, but it was chill. Everyone was just having some good clean fun for a few carefree hours. The group finally dragged themselves out of the music and into the world for one more trip to our sandy beds. We chose a different beach the second night but the crew split in half: those who were worried about rain and those who weren't. I wasn't. Those who were worried stayed and slept in cars. I just threw down a sleeping bag and passed out under the stars again.

    The beach we ended up at is oriented differently than the first one, so the sunrise didn't wake anybody up that morning. We all got to sleep in until around 9 and took our time getting ready prior to heading into town once more for a quick breakfast before the two-hour drive back to Brissy.

    The next few days we saw a lot more of the Fell family and were introduced to a fantastic TV show: Community. We watched about 24 episodes...nearly the whole first season. We also watched too many movies. We just had to burn a few days before we could head up to the Sunshine Coast, where our next house was. The people there had some scheduling conflicts, so we just had to wait. The short stint at the Fell house with Roo and his family came and went, and we were soon on a train headed north.

    A few hours later and we stepped off the car only to be immediately greeted by the friendly face of Liz & Hannah Atkinson, along with their friend, Laura. The drive to their house was pretty quick and, just like every other city in Australia so far, beautiful. Their quaint, country home is nestled about 100 meters from the road in the lush scenery of this coastal town. The family owns a good portion of land and they all live on it. There are six houses here I think...each just a short drive from one another. Since we've been here, we've visited the nearest beach, listened to a rain storm every night, and watched about 20 episodes of the office. We also watched Toy Story 3 last night at a friend's friend's house.

    We are planning on making one more trip north before we start our ascension back down to Sydney and beyond. Tomorrow morning we will catch a ride with some friendly LDS members up to Bundaberg and hopefully make it up to the itty bitty town of 'Town of 1770' for some snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. Hopefully we'll have enough motivation to keep writing on here and keep you all updated. Once again, sorry about the serious lapse.


    PS. I apologize that this post isn't as compelling, detailed, and as good of a read as previous posts. My brain has just been a little bit broken lately and I've been having a really hard time writing even in my journal. I don't know what the deal is...