Australians Are Fun for a Reason

But First:  Vashon Island

I’m drinking coffee on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound while writing this blog post which I find amusing considering I made fun of Seattle in one of my previous posts.  I take back anything I wrote on the state of Washington and instead make claim that I confused it with some other place.

On Vashon, they have these cute little shops and people feed you when you walk in.  Or, I am making this up to hide the fact that I keep buying food wherever I go.  I’m delirious from all of the eating in stores, in the farmer’s market, on tables inside restaurants.

The thing about traveling is that everything looks better.  I bought a pair of black

Yes, I actually paid ca$h for these.

Yes, I actually paid ca$h for these.

sunglasses with pointy lenses and rhinestones outlining the frames which are likely only appropriate for Halloween or if I were to choose prostitution as my next career.   I also bought a handmade, wooden tasting spoon for $18.  Eighteen dollars!  Maybe the spoon cooks the meal for you, too, and then you taste.   I didn’t think to ask.   On Vashon, stores have handwritten signs that read:  We Prefer Cash.  I wish I had thought to leave behind little notes that read:  Me, too!   We have so much in common.  How will I ever leave this place?

While I’ve been stuffing my face on Vashon, Hook and his buddy, Kelly the Canadian, drove down to Port Aransas to do whatever it is that men do on the coast when women aren’t around:  fish, fish, and fish.  The perfect Hook relaxer until we meet with the radiologist on 10/25, the oncologist on 10/26, and the surgeon some time later to find out if and when surgery will be.

Editor’s Note:  I failed to mention where I stayed on Vashon Island  — Sylvan Sanctuary — a little slice of heaven with a gracious host.  Five star experience, three star pricing.  Beat that.  Adding to my failures is my omission of the original Seattle’s Best coffee house  which roasted the most perfect bean ever discovered in the universe.  I bought 20 lbs, some of which I packed in my suitcase, the rest I shipped to my extended family in Michigan.

From Outcasts to Outback

This blog was supposed to be about the history of Australia and an answer to the question:   Why are Australians so fun?    Instead of giving some long drawn out history, I can sum up everything with one word:  convicts.

Australia began as a penal colony when the British shipped off convicts to get them away from England.  And yet, isn’t it interesting that when we think of or speak of Australians, it is with affection.   Maybe all of that law-breaking background laid a  foundation for the Aussie wait awhile attitude.   They either had to get along, wait awhile to get along, or walk into the Outback and get eaten.   There was no where else for them to go.   That might also explain why Americans seem to have an affinity for Aussies.  Both cultures are experienced with learning how to make do with what they have.  A group full of puritans stuck on an icy coast is really no different than a group of convicts stuck on the outskirts of the wild.

We rarely hear anyone say, “That Australian was a jerk.”  We just never hear this.  Usually, the reference is something fun or nice or fun or comical or fun.  But I haven’t gone bonkers on the land down under.   They have their share of strange, too.

Weird Things About Aussies

Readers of the last blog voted, almost unanimously, to have me citizen report on Weird Things About Aussies.

I scoured other blogs and online sites and devoured as much information as I could in a 24-hour period.  Of all the weird things about Aussies that non-Aussies claim, there were really only three that stuck out:

1.  Vegemite:  Aussies slather the condiment, Vegemite, on everything.  Apparently, every single one of them every single day.   Truth?    I don’t know.   I don’t want to know.   Please make it stop.

2.  Barefoot:  One blogger said that most Aussies walk around barefoot and drive barefoot “all the time.”  Surely businessmen are not walking around barefoot but maybe they are removing their shoes when they drive.   Who knows?  I drove barefoot immediately after reading that and thought:  Oh my gawd, this really is fantastic.  It’s almost perverted.  Aussies are convicts and perverts.  I can’t wait to get there!

3.  Estimate driving time in an interesting way.   Another blogger said Aussies estimate driving time by how many beers it takes to get somewhere:  “Was only two beers to get here,” or in Aussie-speak, “…only two beers to get ‘ere.”

Did I say three weird things?  I meant five:

4.  Aussie television stations only show Australian sports on television or will only show international sports if an Australian team is part of the game.  Quite frankly, that just sounds genius.

5.  Australians ride their bikes on the freeway.  This made me wonder if it’s legal to ride a bike on the freeway in Oz and then it made me wonder if it’s legal in the U.S. and it is not (usually).  Legal in Oz?  That I do not know.

Somewhere between drinking and driving and riding on the freeway, it’s a wonder the Australian lifespan isn’t shorter.   Some other less interesting weird facts were that Aussies put BBQ sauce on everything.  In Texas, this is practically a law (BBQ sauce or salsa) so I’m not sure how that is weird.   Another post mentioned how Aussies will wear sunglasses on even the greyest of days. Something about the distance to the sun blahblahblah.  Sunglasses all the time sounds like Hollywood and Hollywood is definitely weird.   Perhaps that should have made the list except it’s not special to Oz so I left it off.

One final Aussie weird is the Friday beer celebration where Friday afternoons are welcomed in with beer even in the workplace.   Are they talking about Australia or Austin?   Beer Fridays ought to be a law everywhere.

The Real Reason Australians Are Fun

They have a sense humor.  I found this snarky advertisement gave more insight into an Aussie’s sense of weird than any list ever could:

This is not a real Queensland Rail ad and it was never meant to be, but in 2010, Queensland Rail offered to let the general public create some new advertisements for them.   Big mistake.  Australian smart alecks like to have fun, too.

If I weren’t feeling so lazy on Vashon, I’d link who said what to which Weird Things Aussies Do, but all of my energy is floating in the water and I won’t be able to pick it up until I take the ferry back to the mainland.   And if you haven’t figured out just how lazy, look at the date:  October 20th.   This blog was supposed to hit October 14th and absolutely no one sent me a note to say:   hey dufus, where’s the blog?

Slackers.

Apparently Australians aren’t the only ones who enjoyed Beer Friday.   We all have our reasons and ways of being fun.  Oh, and there’s nothing to the rumor that they’re feeding babies to dingos.  Where did that come from?

References I was too lazy to link inside the blog:

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Gaining Everything But Australia

Hook has gained two pounds.  I’ve gained five.   Who gains weight during chemo?   It’s good news of course because Hook had already lost 10 pounds which was one of the red flags that brought us to the Hooks here and now.    But I barely reach 5’4” in height so five pounds on me looks like 10 pounds on my body and 15 on my moon face.

I wished I had titled this blog WTF except we no longer feel that way now that we’ve ridden out the Australia-that-never-happened fiasco.  Good-bye to a chaotic June, a calm July, and hello to a coffee-filled August.

But just for a moment, can I share all the good that has come out of the chaos?

Three Best Responses to Our Candy Situation:
• Srsly, WTF?  (on a card)
• WTF?  (via email)
• That sucks!  (in person)

(Remember, we’re calling the cancer, “candy“.)

Then there was what Hook deemed my stage of “denial” not of the candy but of our move to Australia.  It feels wonderful to laugh about this stuff because it was not funny when I was living it.   In my mind, I was already in Australia, had been there for several months, and I wasn’t able to come to a screeching halt as needed.

How It All Went Down

After we’d received the initial medical diagnosis via phone, we went in for our first visit with the oncologist.   (Everything is “our” and “we” now like we’re pregnant.)

To the oncologist, I said, “We were supposed to be leaving for Australia in July, for a year.  Do you think this will delay us by more than a month?” It wasn’t a question really.  I was trying to influence the obvious by stating what I hoped was a fact (denial).

The oncologist glanced at Hook before he answered, “Probably a little longer.”

I persisted with, “What, like two months, three months?”  I didn’t get an immediate response but saw a knowing look exchange between Hook and the doctor.

“We’ll have to wait and see how things progress, but I would say at least six months.”  The doctor replied to me but his eyes were locked on Hook’s.

These two science brains shared telepathic communique that no doubt relied on a ‘let’s wait and see.’   Hook is a wait-and see person.   Medical doctors are wait-and-see people.  I’m a hurry-the-hell up person.   But it’s not my fault, I swear.   It’s just that I was raised to believe a nap and a glass of water cured everything.

It was the appointment with the surgeon that set me straight. When I started in with my same line of questions, the surgeon replied,

“A month? No. Figure a year.” And just like that, Australia was gone.

Will we still go to Oz?  We hope so; we expect to.   Hook will reapply for a year sabbatical that kicks off in June 2013, a year later than our original plan.   He’s already earned the sabbatical so I’m sure his university will re-approve the dates.  And, we hope Curtin University in Perth is willing to go through the paperwork nightmare of re-submitting for a year visa for two.

Everything, though, depends on how this chemo + radiation + chemo sandwich treatment prepares Hook’s pancreas for removal (not all of the pancreas just part of it.)  Maybe we’ll be lucky and he won’t even need surgery.  That’s just me talking and not the surgeon.  Surgeons love to cut people open with their oncology cheerleaders on the side rooting them on.   Me, I’m not a fan of opening up the body illegally.  If blood is flowing unnaturally, somehow that seems illegal.

Your Advice Please

Q. What do I do with all the Australia paraphernalia I’d been collecting or had been given?

People gave me/us things. My former co-workers presented me with an Australia basket full of goodies when I resigned my position from the university. I cannot give this stuff back especially since half of it was edible – we ate and drank it already. It’s like we had a wedding and then annulled the marriage 30 days later. And all the Australia books I’d received, five in total. I stopped reading them because reading them made me want to ask the surgeon if he couldn’t just cut Hook open right now—today, how about 4 o’clock in our living room?—so we could get on that damn plane.

Q. What do I say to all those professionals I reached out to overseas in preparation for our journey to Oz-land, people that I was trying to build a business relationship with?

They don’t want to hear the personal, medical details of my life or Hook’s life and I don’t want to tell them. I mean, think about it, when someone says the word cancer what feelings do you have? What images do you see in your head?

The Hook Health Update:

– Treatments: It’s going great. Really. Hook’s response to his treatments is on schedule and what his oncologist has wanted. Hook will do one more week of chemo (three already finished) then take a week off before heading into five weeks of radiation and chemo combined. (I keep writing chemo instead of chemo-therapy because it’s a dumb word–therapy of poison.  Who creates this vocabulary anyway?)
– Supplements: What gets taken out of the body must be put back in. My by-the-book husband has embraced this lite version of alternative medicine by revving his immune system up with some heavy vitamin and nutrient supplements. And even though his western medicine oncologist poo-pooed the idea because God forbid we should include something that doesn’t HAVE A RESEARCH PAPER ATTACHED TO IT (I feel some hysteria coming on) Hook still takes the supplements.
– What next? After receiving five weeks of radiation and chemo combined, which will take us into early September, Hook will go back to a chemo only treatment for three to six weeks. All of this is to prepare his body for surgery in October or November – to remove the mass. Nothing is certain and anything is possible. That’s about as specific as I can be.

And I’d Like to Thank …

During our chaotic June, when we were temporarily living in Pflugerville, Hook stood in a friend’s kitchen with barbeque thongs in his hand, watching me sitting on the sofa drinking gin and tonics and giggling my way into oblivion with the host.

He said, “I’m the cancer patient here, and there are two able-bodied women in this house and I’m the one doing the cooking.”   Now that’s just plain funny.

Hook and I would like to say thank you to all of you who didn’t have to help but did, who have very busy lives but stopped for a moment and thought of us, prayed for us, gave us fruit, sent cards, gave us vegetables, got us a discount on something, passed on my name to a business contact, made a connection for us somehow.  I can’t possibly mention everyone before the music cues, but I must highlight:

  • AK & Chuck, aka Angelica and Charles Kelley: The Kelleys are forever destined to live with cats they do not own. The irony is they work hard to have this incredibly clean home free of hair, yet they keep inheriting animals from family or friends (like us).  It was always the plan that they would feline-sit Gatita for our year abroad, but in the midst of our double-move in June, we dumped off our cat with a “We’re not sure when we’ll be back to get her. Soon we hope. Oh, Hook has cancer.” Chuck loved on Gatita and allowed her to hiss and whine at his own cat, Ying, who is like the Kung Fu grasshopper of cats with his bushy white body and almond-shaped, blue eyes. Angelica and Charles had Gatita for a month and when I drove out to Cedar Park to pick her up, she wasn’t all that keen on leaving what she thought was her immaculate, new home. I found out later that Chuck had been sneaking canned food to the little heffer.

  • Kelly Scott: If you’re a single, hot babe who’s into smart guys who own a condo on the water in Port Aransas, you may be able to help us thank Dr. Scott. Kelly’s condo was ours for the asking and ask-away we did. In between chemo treatments, we rushed down to Port A so Hook could de-stress via hours of fishing, and I could pretend our lives were normal again. If I wasn’t going to be kidnapped from my own life, then water and beach were required. It’s not hard to stay positive when you have a view of the beach on a 24×7 basis. And who knows, with Kelly’s new hot bod (he’s training for something), maybe he’ll get down to Texas from his native Canada to enjoy his own condo instead of letting his friends-with-candy always use it.

  • Angela Loeb — career angel: Angela is an angel in disguise. She probably received my initial Good News/Bad News email like 9 o’clock at night and started emailing people at 9:01. (I’d sent out an SOS email before my initial blog.) From all of her e-introductions came a connection with someone that began with one conversation and turned into a long-term freelance recruiting gig as a Director of Executive Recruitment. It just doesn’t occur to Angela not to immediately help someone. In her next life, I’m quite certain she will come back as a cat in ancient Egypt, revered because of her wisdom and grace.

  • Friend of friend, Sandy Bannister, set up a lunch with her friend who was a former pancreatic cancer patient but was now seven years without pancreatic candy even though he’d been diagnosed stage 4 (which Hook is not) and he’d been given six months to “wrap up his affairs.” Sandy’s friend was a walking miracle because he took the management of his health seriously and how could he not since he was also a Ph.D of the sciences. Hook being the intellectual snob that he is would not have been as open to hearing about the use of supplements to combat candy if the advice hadn’t come from another science brain. John is a “survivor” (raise your hand if when you hear the word ‘survivor’ it conjures up freezing in an ocean overnight while holding hands with Leonardo DiCaprio with Celine Dion’s voice singing in the background) and he looks and feels fantastic at 72 years old with the face of a 52-year old. John, not Leonardo.

  • Honorable mentions: Scores of people emailed links to helpful information (please stop now) and I have gone to every single site sent, followed-up on all suggestions, and read every pancreatic candy survivor story. One business friend who’d survived an overnight freeze in the ocean with Leonardo, too, gave me the run down on candy websites and organizations that she’d used and how certain tools had served her needs. Insider candy info is the best. I’m a bit behind on follow-up calls to people who also spent time in the ocean with Leo, but I will call – I promise.

Home offers: Two of Hook’s colleagues offered to let us live in their homes while they were traveling during the summer when we weren’t sure whether to rent a house for a year or try to sponge off people’s good nature for a year. It’s kind of a big deal when someone tells you where a hidden house key can be found so you can enter their home while they’re away. It’s an even bigger deal when you don’t use that key to sneak into their home to see if they’d cleaned the toilets before they left.

So many people sent emails or texts with a caveat – no need to respond, just wanted to let you know I was thinking of you. Some people sent wildly inappropriate jokes that made me burst out laughing. One long-time friend, Beth, survived an overnight ocean date with Leonardo’s hands on her breasts —breast candy—and left a looooong voicemail of all the things she’d wished people wouldn’t have said to her while she was going through treatment. Only a candy survivor gets to say that.

But how is anyone to know what to say?

It feels awkward when I run into someone that I don’t know very well or who doesn’t already know our situation and they say, “Why aren’t you in Australia?” Or worse, when they do know and I know that they know, and they know that I know that they know and manners dictate they say something because it’s personal but not overly personal or I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

Suggestions of Things to Say:

  • “I’m sorry” is good. And I’m sorry, too, for everyone that feels awkward around a sometimes awkward topic. But I’m mostly sorry we didn’t get to hop on a plane to Australia. %$@#* Clearly I have a problem with letting go …

“I just heard” works because you leave it open for me to steer the conversation to what I’m willing to talk about in that moment. I mean, I used to have a life before I was the wife of a candy patient and before healthcare became my entertainment (thank you for that saying Kay Bell).

  • “We’re praying for you” I like this mainly because I believe in the power of prayer. But if you say it, then you really have to pray, and do the whole sign-of-the-cross thing because then you’ll feel like you really prayed. A priest friend once said to me, in response to my declaration that Hook’s religion was nature, “If his religion is nature then he’s closer to God than most of us.” So yes, please pray for my little wasp-man.

Hook is closer to God than he realizes and getting closer by the minute if he doesn’t quit that damn smoking. He is down to two cigarettes a day which means his nicotine addiction is officially gone. It’s the mental addiction we’re still working on.

If none of the above responses fit with your style, try one of these:
• That sucks.
• Damn.
• Man, that bites.
• Let’s go get that drink finally. I’m buying.

As I come out of hibernation and start to re-engage socially, I’d like people to know that it’s okay for us to never talk about Hook’s candy. It’s okay if you never ask about it. Mostly, that’s my preference. I’m even okay with pretending like it’s not happening. Srsly.

(If I sometimes go on and on about it, feel free to backward-walk away and save me from myself.)

I empathize with people who want to know, need to know, care enough to ask so I struggle with sharing what I sometimes don’t feel like talking about with not being able to shut up about it. Like right now, with this blog.

All the Ways We’ll be Even More Prepared for Australia

It’s been my experience that if you can visualize something, you can make it happen. I guess when I visualized Australia I should have also visualized reading a newspaper, dated July 2012, in the harbor in Perth.

  • We’ll have an even deeper knowledge of Perth before we get there. Two years’ worth of initiating contact, introducing oneself, and holding SKYPE calls is even better than only one year.

More time to get all of our stuff online. Remember how I said Hook was still living in the 20th century? You can imagine how interesting it was for us to plan a sabbatical in the first place.

  • Time to read all the books people gave us as going-away gifts. We won’t be able to take all the Australia books but at least they will not go to waste.

I’ll have more time to stalk literary agents before I leave. I attended an agents’ conference the third week in June because I’d paid a non-refundable fee back in December.  Worst timing ever, but a much-needed outlet.  Writing is my avocation and the dream of any writer at one of these conferences is that an agent will discover us and we’ll write a best-selling novel and all will be right with the world. What it’s really like is two half days and one full day of agents on panels telling writers how not to piss them off, how to mind their manners, and how to breathe while writing. I was unprepared for the conference because I was being chased by roaches in our rental home and I hadn’t been writing or reading, only taking notes on what chemo does to the body and hey, where is that box with all the stuff that was in my office? I went, I scored, and I am holding my breath and will continue to hold it for at least 12 weeks because that’s how long it takes for a one-page query to be read so who knows how long it takes for 50 pages of a manuscript to be read.

Dear Lord, since you took away Australia in 2012, could you have that agent call me with a “we’d like to represent you” in 2012. Amen.

So yes, the Hooks are gaining:  gaining weight, laughs, and strength.

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