Christmas in Australia

After a ten hour flight from Shanghai, we finally arrived in Sidney, Australia. Now we just had to navigate trains and buses before we arrived in Raglan. The transportation system used swipe cards, and we had a little confusion figuring out where we wanted to go and where to swipe. On the train, we ran in to the only snag of the whole trip. We had set our suitcases in a place that looked like a luggage spot, and Lee checked on them from time to time. When we got to the place where we switched to the bus, his bag was gone!

He announced this emphatically, and someone came to the rescue saying they saw a bag in the next car. It had been opened and rifled through—his clothes were tossed around. He managed to lug everything off the train and sat on the ground to get the bag repacked. Luckily, only a couple of kilt pins seemed to be missing. It was frustrating, but could have been worse. Finally we were able to settle on the bus.

Now we could relax and enjoy the scenery. I thought it resembled Southern California with rolling hills covered with tan grass and the occasional green shrub. We kept our eyes out for kangaroos, but unfortunately we never saw one. They tend to come out at dawn and dusk to graze.

The bus stopped at Raglan at a turnoff next to a gas station. Sarah perched on a log waiting and I jumped up to give her a hug. After all the travel, it was wonderful to see a friend. She scurried to the gas station to get a soda for Lee whose blood sugar was low and we all chatted as if we it hadn’t been years since we had seen her.

“I hope you’re hungry, it’s pizza night,” Sarah informed us as we arrived at her house. Sarah and her mother-in-law Miriam started an assembly line, rolling the pizza and topping them with sauce, meats and cheese. They made four. Sarah had to feed a crowd—her own four kids, her in laws, herself and us. We made short work of the pizza.

After dinner, she drove us over to the bed and breakfast I had lined up through Airbnb. It was lovely, private and complete with everything we needed. Miriam had left some fruit, including the best mango I ever had. There is just something about eating fresh fruit where it is grown and ripened. I savored every bite.

The next day was Christmas Eve. While I was prepared for Christmas to be warm, I was not prepared for the long days. It was the height of summer after all. People did not decorate with lights like I am familiar with. The town decorated with banners instead of wreaths and Christmas trees. The service at church was all I could wish. They started off with confetti poppers instead of candles, and the readings were narrated with children in mind. All in all, it was very enjoyable.

We had a lot of fun on Christmas Day. It has been a long time since we had any small children around and we relaxed and enjoyed a house full of chaos. Sarah had a special meal planned, but it was in line with the summer weather. She baked a ham with a delicious glaze and set out an array of cold salads. She decorated the table with gold plastic ware and branches of gum trees. She reserved the candles for the adult’s table because the gum branches were dry and very flammable.

I have to say—that was the best ham I have ever had. Ever!

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The next day we left early to catch the bus. Sarah and Miriam had researched the bus times so we could make the boarding time for the cruise, and have our bags stowed safely in the luggage compartment. We were even able to get the train to the harbor without too much trouble.

Our first job after getting off the bus was to hunt down some breakfast. Lee discovered that Australian coffee can come with an ice cream topper!

One of the most memorable moments happened on the train to the harbor. Lee wore a Princess Bride themed shirt that day and a young lady on the train recognized the reference right away. For the rest of the ride they swapped quotes. Lee even jumped at the opportunity to quote the Mawwige speech at her request. The rest of us in earshot just sat and laughed and rolled our eyes.

Our first view of the harbor was exciting. We could see the boat off to one side and the wharf had lots of people strolling around. We stopped for some ice cream, Lee tried passion fruit. I gave some money to a busker. It was so much fun to hear the live music as we sat in the sun to eat our cones and then wander over to the entrance to the ship.

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We were able to board right away, so we went hunting for our stateroom to leave our hand luggage, and then we went in search of lunch. It was fun to explore the ship and figure out what the routine for the next 11 days would be. The first three days were spent crossing the Tasmin Sea. I loved waking up in the morning to see nothing but ocean. I could open the door and step onto the balcony in my jammies and breathe in the sea air. It was very relaxing and invigorating as well!

Cultural Immersion Experience

Cultural Immersion Experience

Wow–I haven’t posted a blog since Christmas. I have been working on a series of posts about our trip to Australia and New Zealand last winter. Here is the first one:

My husband and I took a major trip this winter. We traveled to Australia to take a cruise to New Zealand. We flew to Sidney by Eastern China Air. With a stopover of 15 hours in Shanghai, we decided to venture out of the airport into the city for a little taste of China. But the China experience began in JFK airport.

As passengers began to gather at the check in gate, I noticed a large number of Chinese people. Young—college-aged people. An attendant from Al Italia came by and asked if we were going to Rome.

“No,” I answered. Did we look like people who were in the wrong line? As I looked around, I realized that we did. Two older, white folks were a bit out of place in a crowd of young, Chinese people. We waited quietly in line. As we found out, Chinese people like to line up early. The quietness was probably due to the lateness of the hour.

We plodded through the security line—which crossed the whole terminal—and made our way to the gate, and then finally to the plane. By this time there were a few older Chinese people, but my husband and I were still in the minority. This was my first experience in a situation where the primary language was not English!

We found our seats and sorted out our entertainment supplies—tablets, knitting, and e-readers. Things had to be inserted into a very narrow space, but we soon settled in.

After about an hour of this fifteen hour flight, the flight attendants served a meal. The choice was fish-rice or beef-rice. The seafood came in a sweet sauce with a side of rice some fruit and a couple of other items. It was similar to an American Chinese restaurant selection.  The selections were all like that—fish, beef or pork with rice or noodles. The early morning selection also included an omelet. I hadn’t thought about the food on the Chinese airline being Chinese food. Some of it was tasty, some of it was awful, but I kept an open mind and tried everything. One thing we found out was that Chinese food is identified by its main ingredients, hence fish-rice or beef-noodle. Every time the dish came, its other ingredients and basic flavors were completely different. One nice part was a dish of fresh fruit came with every meal.

When we got to Shanghai, we had three goals: to see a little of the city, to have a Chinese meal in China and to buy some silk.

We started by taking the mag-lev into the city. It was fun. A sign posted the KPH and we watched the speed move up to 300 KPH. The scenery whisked by, the usual industry and low income residences you see outside a major city becoming more and more built up as we reached the center of the metropolis.

We strolled around and found a nice place for lunch. Any language barrier with the waiter was resolved by the pictures in the menu. We pointed to the dishes we wanted. When I asked for tea to drink, he asked me what kind. I shrugged and he opened the menu to the back page with the list of teas. None of the exotic names looked familiar, so I picked one randomly. It turned out to be delicious. After dinner we ran into the language problem: the bill was in Chinese. The waiter did not understand our question and said, “You pay.”Photo Dec 21, 11 54 21 PM

My delicious lunch–eggplant with flaked bonita.

Lee assured him that we wanted to pay but did not understand how much. He went to get the manager. After insisting that we pay, he finally grasped the problem. He sent the waiter who quickly returned with a register printout in English numbers. “Yes!” We smiled and laughed and paid the bill. We just wanted to know how much.

After lunch we boarded a tour bus and plugged into the English version of the narration. I thoroughly enjoyed the snippets of city history as we passed from the older sections to the newer. It was fun to notice that Christmas decorations seemed to be primarily on the Western stores—Tiffany had a giant signature blue tree outside their store.

After the tour we spotted a shop called Silk King. We asked the staff at the door if they sold silk by the yard, and they escorted us to the lower floor. Two sales women were happy to help me ooh and ahh over their goods. I spotted one piece I liked and held it up for my husband to see. Then I put it back as I spotted another piece. Now here is where the salesmanship of these two women came in. One supplied the price, and suggestions of how much I should buy, but the second made sure we did not lose track of the two pieces I had admired. She did not speak much English, but her enthusiasm made up for it. I left with two pieces of silk!

We strolled around some more and I bought some souvenirs for my son and daughter. It was fun to look for things that were small, flat, unbreakable, and useful. Any language problem was resolved with smiles and pointing.

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With our goals all accomplished, we decided to return to the airport. We had a few hours to spare, but we didn’t want to chance getting hung up in the airport bureaucracy. The Chinese take airport security very seriously! Fortunately, there was a row of stores across from our gate that provided some fun browsing and a Starbucks to take care of our caffeine needs.

It was time to embark on the next stage of our journey with a ten hour flight. Sigh. Australia is very far away. It is as far away as you can get without starting home again!

I did not try the corn juice–but it was so unusual to me that I had to take a picture!

The Vampire’s Christmas

Christmas didn’t warm Benton’s heart any more, but then nothing could. His heart was frozen under the vampire’s curse.

He hurried along the crusty sidewalks, eager to get to work and away from the Christmas Eve crowds. Why did people wait until the last minute to shop? Did they actually like the frenzy? Some seemed to–calling out greetings to passing friends; others grimly fought the crowds as they struggled to fill their lists.

Despite his wide-brimmed hat, snow settled around his neck like a scarf. It didn’t bother him, but his cold skin would never thaw it, so he brushed it away to maintain convention. The gray, snow-filled sky matched his mood. Christmas hadn’t been merry for him for years. Over one-hundred and forty years.

His favorite memories came from his youth, from before the country was torn by the War Between the States . . .

Aunts, uncles, and cousins came to the plantation for the holidays, filling rooms with love and laughter. He thought with longing of racing horses with his older cousin. He seldom won–maybe he had never won–but he longed for the comradery that came with the competition.

There had been dancing in the evening with every room aglow with candles and oil lamps. Nothing in this modern world was as flattering and warm as those fiery lights. Blinking red and green did not appeal to Benton’s sensibilities. The music from those evenings was also more to his taste. There was always a young lady eager to impress with her musical skills on the piano, violin or flute.  They played Handel and Mozart, hymns and reels and dances from Scotland, old familiar tunes with words rewritten for a new world.

And far into the night, the songs and music of the Negroes rang out as they celebrated the birth of the Savior their own way . . .


One reason he always volunteered to work Christmas Eve at the radio station was the opportunity to choose the music for the evening program. He filled it with sacred music and songs he remembered from those long-past days. Christmas Day was filled with the most up-to-date popular music, but Christmas Eve he could indulge himself with his own favorites. It encouraged him that it got the most favorable responses of all his holiday programs.

On the other hand, the tastes and smells of the season never seemed to change. Bakeries still turned out pastries and cookies laden with spices and fruits, and he never failed to buy mince pies and shortbread. Mulled cider and eggnog appeared as seasonal offerings in his favorite cafe, and he savored sweet memories with the drinks. Even the radio station where he worked had hot cider pods for the coffee maker, which made a nice change from everlasting cups of coffee.

He tried to keep the spirit of the season. A long-ago memorized passage from Shakespeare often came to his mind:


Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is the time.


He never fed then—not even the little sips that left the victim groggy, but alive. He couldn’t profane the night. It was his gift to the vagrants who were free to stagger through the alleys undisturbed. He spent the day alone and sleeping.


This night promised to be different. He had plans to meet a new friend after his shift. Someone his age, at least the age he was when he was turned—the young man who would never age. Deidre asked him to join her for midnight mass. He had said he would think about it—he was repelled by sacred buildings, unable to force himself through some kind of protective field—but he was also touched by her offer of friendship, something he had resisted all these lonely years.

He dawdled after the show, tidying up more than necessary. He fiddled with his clothes, wondering how people dressed for midnight mass this century and if his turtleneck sweater were dressy enough. Finally he shrugged on his coat and headed for the door.


Bells rang out from churches all over town, whether they had services or not, but only a few people braved the dark and cold. As he approached the church, the doors opened and the congregation poured out. He spotted Deirdre easily with her red hair flying.

“You came!” she shouted as she ran up and grabbed his arm. “You should have been here for the service, it was beautiful.”

“I can’t explain, but I can’t enter the church.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s open to anyone.”

Benton shrugged.

“Well, you can come in now; the social hall is not the church.”

The hall glowed with silver lights and looked very inviting.

“What do I do?”

“You don’t have to do anything. Just have some cocoa and fellowship and bask in God’s love for a while.”

“That sounds nice.” He took her hand as she led him into the hall.

Maybe he could bask in God’s love for a time. With all the people crowding in, surely there was enough love for him. Still, Benton wondered if he could ever truly return to be one of God’s children, if the curse of the vampire could ever be lifted.



Would you like to read more about Benton and Deirdre? Do you think a vampire could have the curse lifted? For today only, Perfect Blood Innocent Blood by Cindy Emmet Smith is available free for kindle. Just clock on the button above. Merry Christmas!