Monday, July 30, 2007

Liasons in Melbourne

We are in Melbourne, Australia and Mike is just finishing up the last week of school for this term. It is just like the old days when I used to visit him in college 20-some odd years ago. He sneaks out of class to come and spend the night with his smokin' hot wife. Then in the morning he leaves all disheveled and sleepy, wearing the same clothes as the night before.

I get to laze in the toasty bed while he trudges off to class calling me a foul temptress. It suits me perfectly.

We are in a very "flash" part of Melbourne, Lygone street, which is lined with expensive Italian clothing stores, fabulous Italian food, and gorgeous - well-put-together, wealthy Italians.

Enter Jules, wearing black, faded cropped pants, bright red Keen sandals, and a black, fleece, Nike running pullover. I couldn't look more po-dunk.

So I rise early yesterday morning thinking I will get something nice to wear and have my hair done (seriously in need after 2 months of no contact with an actual hairdresser.)

I flounce into a shop called "Frank (Something)" and pray I won't be snottily turned away. The woman, a mass of tousseled red curls herself, sweeps me in immdeiatly to a chair. "This" she must be thinking "is a dire emergency".

Suddenly there are LOTS of stylists around me, arms crossed, scowling, looking a mixture of concern and possibly fear. Then Frank himself arrives and the crowd backs up a few steps, turns their attention toward him and listens intently, nodding in agreement.

"The shape is WRONG" he says. "And it's too much. Just too much. Give it a bit of a chop here, add some life here, some movement here." He says, picking up handfulls of my overgrown mane. "Chandy, this is for you" he decrees.

The stylists scatter and Shandy appears. (Is that a white aura I see surrounding her?)

And Shandy goes to work. Combing and snipping, twirling and chopping. She uses a series of cutting instuments the likes of which I have never seen before. Frank comes by every few minutes to declare that she is doing it well, or to grab another scissors from somewhere and go at it himself.

After an hour of this wrapt attention Frank starts to talk to me about where I come from. "Oh yes, Minne-no-place" he says. "You must know Horst then."

Thinking he means do I know "OF" Horst Rechelbacher, the founder of Aveda Institute, I reply "sure, yes, I do."

"And did he recommend me to you?" he asks.

"Um..yes, of course" is my unconvincing reply.

"We worked together years ago" Frank says. "Before he sold his company and then bought it back from the fellow who stuffed it up so badly. I used to teach at the Institute there in Minne-no-place."

And then it dawns on me. This haircut in a salon on Lygone street, next to the shops with $6000 handbags, $500 jeans, and jewerly of unfathomable size is going to cost me a fortune! I begin to sweat.

Now the primping and fussing and dancing around isn't so entertaining. Now it is positively terrifying.

And when they finish - I love the cut, the style is remarkable, it falls exactly as it should. I look like a movie-star (albeit bit washed up, aging movie-star). Problem is I don't have a moviestar handbag with moviestar money inside. I have sport sandals in 45 degree weather, fleece Nike pullover, faded cropped pants wallet, with my money inside.

I cringe as they hand me the bill. "Don't sweat" I think. "Casually count the zeros" I do.

$70. Seventy Australian bucks.

Think I'll go back for a color tomorrow.

More New Pics

More new pics of Guatemala and Fiji on

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Auckland Adventures in Fighting

We have spent the last five nights in Auckland, New Zealand visiting Jessica (our Rotary exchange student from seven or so years ago). New Zealand is an amazing, beautiful, exciting country and this is our third visit.

But the most amazing, beatiful, exciting part this visit was seeing Jess, her family, and my host-grand-baby Oliva. He is Jessica's two year old son and he is brilliant. (Probably gets it from host-granny-Jules).

As is my usual M.O. we showed up completely unannounced, and phoned Jess from an apartment we rented in the city. It was the day of her grandmother's funeral, and we made arrangements to see each other the next day.

The Reids couldn't have been more warm and welcoming (as is THEIR M.O.) despite this very sad time.

We had a lovely visit, and I do think Ollie looks just like me. When Jess sends me the photo, I will post it and you can see for yourself!

Despite the wonderful time catching up, it has been difficult with my kids. You'd think that being back in the land of t.v., computer games, communication with friends, movies, and shopping would be a tremendous bonus and keep the kids happy.

You'd be wrong.

It's been pretty much constant fighting over the computer, whinging over having to walk blocks and blocks to the movie theater, too much soda, junk food, and tv.

I won't say who has been doing all this fighting.....but it rhymes with banana and barley......

I think my mistake was not having a plan for Auckland. I thought the kids could use some time off from constant activity, learning new things, going without modern convenience.

I was wrong.

We leave for Melbourne, Australia today. Maybe I'll cancel the 2-bedroom apartment that Mike has arranged for us and we'll camp in a tent by the river. Better yet, maybe I'll stay in the apt, and THEY'LL camp by the river. Wonder if that's overly illegal in Australia.....

Friday, July 20, 2007

New Pictures

Go to and search julenenolan for photo albums of our trip so far.

Or click either of these links


Me and Captain Cook - One of Us is Full of Crap

You learn a lot about yourself when you travel. Turns out I am completely full of crap…so I’ve got that going for me.

I often spout off about how I would never go on a commercial sailing adventure – they’re much too contrived, controlled, and inauthentic.

Turns out I did, and it was fun.

The kids and I took a three day “Captain Cook’s Sailing Safari” to the Yasawa Islands to the north of Viti Levu in Fiji. Now granted, this probably wasn’t the typical experience.

We sailed on a 108 foot schooner that could hold 30 or so people (plus crew) and we had only nine other travelers – all of whom were delightful. We had a couple of newlyweds from Finland and a couple from Norway who were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. (With whom I found I shared a common accent – “Oh yah fur shure”)

There was also a single woman from England who was pensively trying to make a life choice – continue her own “round the world” journey, or return to a love and life she had found back in Mexico. The stuff novels are written about.

There were also two couples from Massachusetts, well traveled, best friends – one just starting their own family.

We sailed during the day – though only one day was windy enough to really sail – and spent every night at Bare Foot Resort on Drawaqa Island. This was truly roughing it – one step up from camping in open air, thatched bures. No electricity, outdoor/shared toilet and shower facilities. But remember – With only 9 other people on the island that can hold 40 or so, it was positively charming.

The food was very good – locally grown fruits, freshly caught fish etc. Plus I didn’t have to cook, wash or plan meals. Lovely.

There were activities every day – snorkeling, hiking, traditional village visit, fishing, etc. Anna and Charlie were eager to participate in everything (even the basket weaving) while Jack and I opted for some less structured time and went on a hike by ourselves. (Stay tuned for “Jack and Jules Went Up the Hill, Got Lost, Ran From a Wild Pig, Broke All The Rules of Survival, Jack Fell Down and Jules Came Tumbling After”)

Maybe it was the stunning snorkeling right off the beach where we saw coral in all the colors of the rainbow, dozens of electric blue starfish, and great schools of exotic fish.
Or maybe it was the nightly kava ceremony where young native men in grass skirts served us kava and danced bare-chested around the bure (yum).

Maybe it was the charming staff of Fijians who sang to us through every meal, showed us how to tie sailor’s knots and took special interest in caring for my kids. Or maybe it was the stunning sunrises and sunsets for which I was actually AWAKE every day.

But probably it was sitting on the prow of that ship as we sailed, listening to great tunes on my ipod and watching the sun-dappled, azure water glide by - ten feet below my suntanned, free hanging, bare toes. That was when I realized I am completely full of crap.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rough Night for a Smooth Sail

Mike is in Melbourne studying now, left a week ago – poor him. I have been on my own with the 3 teens – poor me. You are not in Fiji – poor you.

I am sitting on the porch of my little bure at Daku Resort in Savu Savu on the second largest island in Fiji – Vanau Levu. A bure is a 2 room thatched roof hut with 2 beds/closet/fridge in one big room, bathroom in the next, and beyond that - the coolest outdoor shower. This shower is made of large, rough cut stones and grey mortar. It has a white ceramic tile floor and just the blue sky above. Sorta gets you in touch with your inner nudie.

We had a bit of a bumpy time getting here – just the 4 of us now. As with many things in Fiji, you can’t be certain how events will pan out until they have in fact panned.

We were booked on the Sullevin Shipping boat (which is essentially a huge freight vessel with some passenger compartments) for the Thursday at 2 pm crossing from Taveuni to Savu Savu. This was to be a 4 hour trip, but with reporting time at 12:30 it would turn out to be more like 6 – had we been lucky.

As Nand our taxi driver was taking us to the launch we saw the boat traveling - in the wrong direction. Nand called the office and found out that plans had changed – long story short the boat wouldn’t be leaving until 6 pm – arriving in Savu Savu at 10:30pm.

Nand recommended that we spend the day at Garden Island Resort – have lunch, go for a swim, etc. Great lunch and big selection of board games kept my kids happy –for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. I killed the next 2.5 hours by roaming around the resort trying to avoid my kids – fully believing that if I couldn’t hear them fighting it wasn’t happening.

We were all tired and looking forward to sitting in a comfy chair on a boat – dozing for 4 or so hours.

We arrived at the boat launch – just a concrete slab that sloped into the ocean as the sun was setting. There were no lights, no shelter, and it was raining. We waited in the taxi as a dozen or so trucks loaded with pineapple and taro drove onto the vessel. We were the only tourists – the only Americans, and the only people, it seemed, with luggage.

People neatly lined up to enter the huge gaping hull of the ship and then at the last minute abandoned the line completely and just rushed onto the boat. And there we were, in the dark – mom and 3 kids, 4 backpacks, 4 suitcases, a dive bag and a guitar – trying to bumble our way through the mob in the freight cabin and up the stairs to the passenger compartments - 2 flights up. There might have been some cussing in that stairwell. I’ll never tell.

Several bruised shins later we made it to the economy compartment (repeat after me…ALWAYS TRAVEL FIRST CLASS ON FREIGHT VESSELS IN FIJI). The smell in this compartment was some otherworldly combo of vomit/parmesan cheese/roach spray. And it was 193 degrees Fahrenheit. We sat down at a table for four and quickly decided to take our chances topside.

The top deck was cool and breezy and smelled of ocean air. Unfortunately the roaches were holding a village meeting and I think I heard murmurs of a planned mutiny. I settled the kids into the most roach free table I could find and everyone went off into their happy place – lost in ipod land.

It was wet, it was rainy, it was a long crossing.

We arrived at Savu Savu around 11 pm to essentially the same scene – dark concrete slab with lots of giant trucks, a few people milling about and us - 4 Midwestern Yokels with too much luggage and a bleary expression.

I asked one young man where I could find a taxi and he was an angle. Found a taxi, loaded our luggage and gave us a giant smile and “Bula” welcome. The taxi took us out of town on this dark road – thank goodness just a mile or so – to our hotel. I got out of the taxi to find the hotel office had closed for the night. So I just turned to the taxi driver and said. “We either need to find someone who can open one of these rooms for us or we will all be using your pillow tonight.”

He quickly found the staff quarters and woke one of the staff, Kenny, from his sweet slumber. Bleary eyed, Kenny let us into the bure and wished us a goodnight. “Before you go,” I said, “Didn’t you know we were coming? I called the office to tell you that we would be on the late boat and wouldn’t be in until now. Weren’t you expecting that we’d come?”

“Yes, but in Fiji, it doesn’t happen ‘less it happens. I would miss a lot of sleep waiting.” He replied and flashed us that giant Fijian smile.

Jewel of Fiji

I met the Jewel of Fiji and she’s not me. She is much more beautiful, a native girl with long dark curls, eyes the color or chestnut and skin like a chocolate bar. She likes magic tricks, glow sticks, and her grandmother’s crepes with golden syrup. I first met her on the beach. She was wearing great yellow swim fins, ten sizes too large for her tiny feet, and a diving mask and snorkel bigger than her whole head. She is four.

And she is the name sake for her family’s business – Jewel Bubble Divers – our hosts for five days of incredible diving.

Diving the Somosomo Straits Fiji makes you feel as if you have been plopped down in some underwater Disney feature film. It is gloriously beautiful. The abundance of soft corals in shades of lemon, lime, mango, lavender, cherry and coconut will astound you. They are everywhere, gathered up like huge, underwater, tropical bouquets.

The giant clams swirled in bright purples, reds, and greens and nudibranch (little day-glow colored snails-like creatures) look almost cartoon like - as if they might burst into song any minute. (Under the sea, under the sea, darling it’s better down where it’s wetter…) It is diving for artists as it offers an unparalleled pallet of colors.

And it is diving for thrill seekers, with the ripping currents, spooky swim-through tunnels, walls that stretch hundreds of feet deep, big, toothy sharks, banded coral snakes, lion fish, and a number of other poisonous creatures that can wreck your day should you become too cheeky with them.

And the dive shop to go with is Jewel Bubble Divers. Small boats that carry only 6 divers, good quality equipment, and outstanding divemasters – with safety their number one priority. I was able to dive with the most feared creature of all (teenage sons at a depth of 60 ft) with confidence.

Jack and I even did the great white wall –a wall of coral that plunges hundreds of feet and is covered in white (actually pale lavender) soft corals. It looks like a million feather dusters unfurling as far as you can see. It is a deep dive – 100 ft with 3 swim through tunnels. Not for beginners. But the dive master – Jewel’s daddy- made us so comfortable. It was the best!

You can find them at And say hi to Jewel for me.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Me, My Kava, and Bobby McGee

It is a huge privilege for us to get to play with a local band. So far Mike and I have been blessed with kind musician friends who indulge us and let us belt out a number or two during their gigs. (Mike on harmonica or guitar and me on guitar and vocals).

In Mankato we have had the pleasure of sitting in with Ann Fee and Joe Tougas of Fish Fry. From time to time we have also done a number with City Mouse, and Mike has been on stage in Minneapolis with 30 Below. In Belize our friend Dennis Wolf and his band of The Usual Suspects have invited us up on stage every Sunday at the Sunday Sundown Jam Session.

It doesn’t matter weather it is a cowboy hat and Waylon Jennings songs at the Pheasant Bar in Hanska, or Buffet and beach tunes on the sand in front of B.C.’s Bar in Belize. I am a happy, happy girl when I’m singing with the band.

Chalk up another very cool “jammin’ with the band” experience. We were sitting at an outdoor restaurant called Maikaira with a group of other traveling families. The band boys are sitting crossed legged, on a palm mat, around a giant bowl of kava and singing their traditional Fijian music with lots of beautiful harmonies. Suddenly I notice that the band has stopped and Mike is missing from the table. The band boys are filing out to the back deck, bringing their instruments and the kava with them.

Wait 20 or so seconds and you hear the unmistakable sound of the twelve bar blues – complete with 4 guitars, 1 ukulele, and one very bluesy harmonica. That’s it! He’s infiltrated their ranks already.

Soon the band files back in and Mike is invited to perform with them for a few more songs. Later, as the crowd is thinning out Mike hands the guitar to me and asks the band “do you know this one?”. I do my best at a rockin’ version of Me and Bobby McGee (if I do say so myself) and am invited to join the circle and offered a half shell of kava. (I did it, I said it, I stole my momma’s credit, uh-hugh, it’s my birthday ((performing a very un-cool over-40 victory dance as I’m writing this. My kids are shaking their heads and walking away in shame)).

Fast forward to the night of the birthday party. Most of the same band boys are at our place and they (that’s right the BAND) ask me to do that song again. I do of course – but first a little “Drift Away” and “Me and Julio Down By the School Yard”.

So there I am, in the musicians circle, drinkin’ kava under the stars, playing guitar and singing with the local band. I can’t wipe this crazy smile off of my face. The Fijians must think I’m crazy.

Turning 12 Continued..


My apologies for no pics of Fiji yet. The internet connection here is somewhere on the “Gilligan on a human-sized hamster wheel” scale in terms of power and speed. So I am not able to upload pictures to the website right now. Rest assured that I have them. Lots. Even the spider. I will get them posted when we are in NZ – probably around mid July.

Turns out Fijians do the 12 year old birthday party thing much in the same way they do everything…that is generously and with incredible hospitality.

The guests (about 20 people including half a dozen children) arrived at our house about 6pm - carrying food that they had spent the better part of 2 days preparing. Chicken and lamb cooked in a lovo (underground oven) so tender and juicy it was falling off of the bone, salads of cukes, tomatoes, carrots and lettuce, a ceviche-like salad of fresh fish and vegetables but with a spicy mayo sauce, and nouma which is a dish of spinach and onions cooked in coconut cream. Crazy delicious. The birthday cake was home made double layer chocolate.

After everyone had eaten, the ladies cleaned the kitchen. I almost wept with gratitude..

Then Anna was asked to sit in a chair which had been decorated with palm fronds and flowers. Five young ladies and one young man did a couple of “items” for her. Dressed in brightly colored clothing with bracelets and anklets made of leaves, they stood on the deck and performed. They danced to funky rock with hand gestures and kick turns. Then they sat on the floor and did a rhythm piece pounding on the ground and clapping in turns. It was fabulous.

And then the band boys played. This is a group of 6 men with guitars and ukuleles who sit in a circle, crossed legged on a palm frond mat. In the center is one giant bowl kava.* They played a selection of island tunes and for some reason an inordinate amount of 70’s ballads – but with an island twist. The harmonies were incredible.

At the time for the cake, the guests went into the kitchen and lit the birthday candles. Then we all proceeded out to the deck singing the traditional Fijian birthday song with the musicians bringing up the rear - playing their instruments in perfect harmony.

And many of the guests – people whom we had just met – brought Anna a birthday gifts. It was incredibly generous and we will never forget it.

*Kava is a mild narcotic drink that is traditional in Fiji. It is made by pounding the dried roots of a pepper plant and mixing this powder with water. It is the color of clay and taken by the half coconut shell full. It tastes slightly bitter, but mostly watery - and one half shell-full makes your lips and tongue numb. Drinking kava is a tradition, and has a certain ritual about it. When you are offered a shell you clap once in acceptance and take it down in one gulp. Then you clap three times in appreciation. When you can’t count to three anymore, you’ve had enough kava.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Turning 12 Fijian Style

I am sitting on my deck overlooking the palm tree lined beach and beyond it the lapis blue waters of the South Pacific. The kids are playing on the beach – I can hear them arguing over what kind of crab it is that they have cornered.

The Fijian ladies are busy in the kitchen, cleaning and preparing a lovo feast for Anna’s 12th birthday. Earlier today they spent hours decorating the pillars of our deck with multicolored leaves and flowers from the bushes out front. There is a basket (expertly woven from palm fronds and leaves) hanging from the ceiling of the deck. It holds pink tipped orchids and crimson-colored blossoms. Every table sports a sea shell vase of leaves and hibiscus blossoms. This is crazy stupid beautiful. And all for the birthday of a 12 year old girl.

At 6 pm the villagers will come through the gates of this property in a line – holding a birthday cake and dishes for the feast. They will be singing the traditional Fijian birthday song – so they tell me. Then there will be traditional dancing, musicians, a kava ceremony, and a feast.

How long did it take to plan this you ask? I don’t know. I didn’t do it. I simply mentioned that it was Anna’s birthday on Friday and I would like to have a little party for her. This is turning 12 Fiji-style. I can’t wait!!

Fijian Adventures

In general my journal entries tend to digress into menus. That is, I have a habit of keeping good track of the food I’ve eaten, tasted, or seen. This trip is a little different. The star attraction here is not the food but the adventure.

Yesterday we did something called the Levena Costal Walk and Waterfall. This was an incredible hike along the north-east coast of Taveuni. It proceeds along the beach, through the jungle and up to an incredible box canyon with dual waterfalls (‘cause one is simply NOT enough now is it?)

Beauty splendor, splendor beauty.

Our guide, Simone, a 40 year old father of 6 shamed us all with his incredible strength and fitness. He climbed cliffs and waterfalls I though impossible to scale - helping the kids up on the way. He carried the pack with our lunch, camera, dry clothes, towels, etc, and did it all in a pair of flip flops - one with a broken strap.

And there we were with our most righteous Keen sandals, anti-blister socks, and moisture wicking adventure wear t-shirts. It was sick - but unbelievably cool.

All the while he told us about the how the different plants are used in traditional village life. Then, as we were hiking out, he took us along the beach at low tide. There were tide pools everywhere and he spent the better part of an hour finding cool things to show us. Baby eels, bright red crabs, a cobalt blue starfish, sea cucumbers, shrimp, and tiny brightly colored jellyfish that looked like Christmas candies. “Don’t touch” he said. “They sting you bad”. Then he proceeded to pick one up with the toe of his flip-flop – expertly flinging it into the ocean.

We passed through traditional villages on the way. The people here live very simply in one room houses – doing most of their living out of doors – among the chickens and pigs that produce their food.

“Bula” is what you say in greeting, and we heard choruses of it wherever we went. Children especially would yell “Bula” over and over again until they could no longer hear our reply. Everyone had a smile on their face as they were doing hard physical labor – digging and piling plants to be used at a new resort being built on another island. Everyone stopped to say hello, to smile and nod and welcome us. It was incredible!

The day ended with a nice surprise - a lunch they had prepared for us. Fresh octopus curry mixed with lo-mein noodles, cabbage, onions and green beans. This was accompanied by a and spicy fish curry with sweet mango and onions, white rice, and taro (a potato-like root vegetable).

So I guess I got the adventure-meal combo this time. Lucky me!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Off The Grid in Fiji

Off the Grid in Fiji

We are staying on Taveuni, the third largest of the Fiji islands - the garden island. Taveuni is the place to be if you want adventure of the eco type. The attractions here are of the natural variety - snorkeling and diving, jungle hiking, waterfalls and breathtaking vistas.

And we are rectifying some of our carbo0n sins by living off of the grid. That is, the house we are renting is completely solar powered - with propane fridge and water heater. You have to really watch your energy consumption because when the power is gone - it's gone until the sun shines again. This is quite a challenge for a family of 5 addicted to computers, ipods, cameras - even electric beauty equipment.

So far we have run out of power every night around dinner time - which is still kind of charming. The kids dig having to light candles and go to bed after the sun sets. It's so very 1800's,''

But sometimes it's not so charming. Yesterday it was around 7 pm and the sun had set. We were monkeying around with candles and such. Mike went into the bathroom. "Jules" he said "Um,..C'mere a minute." I went into the bathroom and blanched.

There on the shower curtain was the largest spider I'd ever see. This thing was as big as a dinner plate - brown and hairy. I think he was wearing a dinner jacket and smoking a pipe. "Good evening" he seemed to say as he cocked a hairy eyebrow and peered at us over the rim of his reading glasses. "I've been waiting all night for you."

"Oh god" I said. "Don't show that to the kids."

"Don't show the kids what?" came the reply from the next room as the kids ran in to investigate.

"Holy crap that's HUGE" was the informed consensus of the group. "Hey dad - get rid of that thing hugh?"

"How am I supposed to do that?" asked my knight in shining armor.

"I don't know, trap it or something".

Mike tried to "scare" it into the shower using a kayak paddle. He later reported that he planned to trap it under a b0wl. Turns out we didn't have a bowl big enough for this Goliath.

But this spider had other plans. He was not afraid of us and our silly paddle in the least. In fact, it charged directly at Mike - FAST. I'm talking blur or movement fast - chasing all of us out of the bathroom and into my bedroom.

And in true Hitchcockian form, it was just at that moment that all of the lights went out. A cacophony of screaming, slamming, falling, and yelling ensued.

Mike located the flashlight and, praise to the gods of bug amelioration, found one gigantic spider corpse under the kayak paddle. Thank the heavens. If he hadn't landed that lucky blow I am sure this event would have ended the "round-the-world" journey.

The next day we retold the story to local new friends and they just laughed at us. "Oh yes, that is a house spider. They are friendly and very good for the house." was what we were told.

"Friendly hugh?" I thought. "No thanks - not interested in making friends with THAT. My friends don't' charge at me in the dark and threaten to crawl up my leg. Wait....on second thought.... I might be wrong about that. Actually, my favorite ones do exactly that. :)