Cirque du Soleil – a circus experience like no other!

Have you been to see Cirque du Soleil yet? If not, do yourself a favour and go!

CdS_tixI was a Cirque du Soleil virgin; I had heard a lot of hype about this performing troupe, and although I really knew very little about their shows (except that they were supposed to be spectacular), I had always wanted to see one. I really wanted to go when we visited Las Vegas the year before last, but my husband wasn’t too keen, so when I heard they were performing in Newcastle I resolved to go. I found a willing accomplice (and fellow Cirque du Soleil virgin) in my sister-in-law. So, I booked tickets and we went yesterday – Sunday.

After a rear-end accident on the way to the event, we eventually made it and sat down about 30 seconds after the start of the show. It was absolutely fabulous!

Now, I have to admit, I was a little concerned at the beginning – there are few words spoken and the singing that occurred was in French, I think, so I didn’t understand anything. I also felt a bit lost at the start because I couldn’t really follow the story line. I only knew what I had heard, that the show was essentially the world created as result of a young girls imagination.

The concerned feelings didn’t last too long, and I was quickly absorbed by the performances; there were amazing feats of strength, balance, coordination and endurance. There is plenty to look at, sometimes I didn’t know where to look on stage, there are often other skits happening in the background; even the transition between acts was well performed. Quite a few acts take place in the air with the performers suspended from the roof over the main stage on various types of apparatus that actually move across the stage.

Here is a brief (and incomplete) list of some of the acts on show:

  • an artist who performed in a large German Wheel, doing tricks, spinning and balancing throughout,
  • aerial acrobatics on ropes and red silk fabric
  • aerial hoops, suspended from the ceiling
  • a performance of Diabolo (Chinese yo-yo) where the artist manipulates a wooden spool balancing on a string that links two wooden sticks (handles)
  • a routine involving multiple skipping ropes operating simultaneously with about 20 performers interacting to produce an amazing skipping sequence (quite different to anything you would have done in the playground as a child, I can assure you)

Before I knew it an hour had passed and it was time for intermission. The second half of the show was just as good and passed just as quickly, but I think my favourite act was the “statue” couple – a man and woman who perform an absolutely amazing act of balance and strength as the two never lose contact, but create seemingly impossible feats of balance, strength and flexibility (I was in awe – I think everyone else may have been too).

The whole show was supplemented with some great music (which I found hard to pigeon hole – sounding at times middle Eastern, and at others like Irish folk music), but was perfect for the show and all performed by the live band on stage.

Taken at the end of the show - I was too engrossed to take pictures during the performances!

Taken at the end of the show – I was too engrossed to take pictures during the performances!

This was a great spectacle and definitely worth the ticket price. We had great seats, close enough to see the performers muscles rippling with strain and effort, but if I were to give one piece of advice it would be to sit on the right side of the stage (as you are looking at it) as there were one or two performances where you would probably get a slightly better view (and don’t get the premium seats on the floor in front of the stage – you can’t see the performers feet – which I, for one, like to see).

I would also recommend a little research first – so I have provided a very quick run down about “Quidam by Cirque du Soleil” and a link to a preview video if you would like to get a taste of it.

A few quick facts:

  • Quidam was the ninth stage show produced by Cirque du Soleil and premiered in in April 1996 as a big-top show in Montreal; it was converted into an arena format beginning in 2010.
  • Quidam refers to the feature character, a man without a head who carries an umbrella and a bowler hat
  • The word Quidam in Latin refers to “a person unknown”
  • The show is the result of the imagination of a girl named Zoe who is ignored by her parents.
  • There are also several other characters that make regular appearances throughout the show

If you want to book tickets to see the show in Australia, go to Ticketek, but you will have to hurry; the Newcastle season ends on January 24th and then the show heads across the Tasman to Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand. Prices vary from around $76 to $160 each for adults.

Merry Christmas

Have you noticed that Christmas is upon us? Really, how could you miss it, there are reminders everywhere. As a result, I have been thinking a lot about Christmas lately and seeing all the hype and “joy” about, promoting happy families and good times it had me wondering how it affects people and how they celebrate (or not). The northern hemisphere celebrates a wintery Christmas, quite different to the summer Christmas the southern hemisphere experiences. I sort of envy the northern hemisphere where it’s chilly and white – a picture, postcard traditional Christmas. However, Christmas in the south can still be wonderful. You can sometimes even find Santa on the beach!
Xmas_noelLights

What does Christmas mean for you?
Is Christmas the season of cheer, merriment, fun, silliness with friends and family? Or is it a time of loneliness or sadness? It is easy to forget that for some, Christmas is a difficult time of year, whether they are alone, suffering illness, mourning the absence of a loved one or are missing family who are in another time zone; there are countless reasons really.

NYC_Christmas_NutcrackerI am one that finds Christmas a difficult time of year. I have not been fortunate enough to have my own children, so don’t have my own little family Christmas that most people enjoy. I have fantasized about having a full on Christmas, with a huge tree, presents all around, all the decorations, a big table beautifully set for a wonderful lunch with family. But that will never happen for me. At one point, I actually started trying to ignore Christmas; I didn’t decorate or put up a tree. However, I have come to realize, there really are no rules for Christmas; it can be whatever you want it to make it. So at Christmas, I swallow my sadness, put on a brave face and try to enjoy what I have; because even though it’s not what I would wish for, I am still grateful (honestly), for what I have. Last year we went to New York City to celebrate and the year before that we were in Cairns and spent the day snorkeling on The Great Barrier Reef. Pretty good really!

ChristmasWindowDisplay_Macy's_02

This year things are a little different.  When I was still in the US, I was looking forward to another northern hemisphere Christmas this year – I even bought decorations and was ready to decorate for the season. However, since our stay in the US was unexpectedly cut short and we returned to a hot Australian summer, Christmas seems to have lost a little of it’s sparkle this year and it just doesn’t feel like Christmas ought to. Maybe it has something to do with not being in our own home and still not having our goods with us, with them all still being in transit or in storage. Anyway, I am looking forward to a better Christmas next year, without the stresses that recent events have brought us this year. And I hope that your Christmas is everything you want it to be!

XmasBauble

I hope everyone has a wonderful, happy Christmas and that 2016 brings all that you desire! free-vintage-santa-clipart-jolly-with-holly

 

A time to give thanks!

Tomorrow, in the United States of America, it is Thanksgiving – so, “Happy Thanksgiving” to all my American friends!

Happy-Thanksgiving-2015-clipart-free-download-1

On the fourth Thursday in November Americans gather together to enjoy family, feasting, and football. It really is a big deal. Unless you have visited America during Thanksgiving, you may not appreciate it. It is an important time of year and very much family oriented. In fact it is estimated that 47 million people will travel to make a Thanksgiving dinner! There is also much turkey and pumpkin to be had!

Happy-Thanksgiving-2015-clipart-free-download-4

Australia has no equivalent holiday. But I think I like the Thanksgiving tradition. It is far less commercial most other American holidays, and it’s all about family – just being together and giving thanks for what you have. I really like that idea, not enough people take the time to do this; there should be more of it!

The first Thanksgiving is believed to have occurred in 1691 when the pilgrims in Plymouth (Massachusetts) invited the local native Indians to join the celebration of their first successful harvest. However, the tradition as we now know it wasn’t born until 1863, when President Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day be held each November. If you would like to read more about the history of thanksgiving, click here.

Thanksgiving-parade-images-8Thanksgiving celebrations are big and the biggest has to be the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, held in New York City. This event dates back to 1924 and has been televised since 1952. Millions watch this 3-hour parade and enjoy the spectacle of the elaborately decorated floats as they wind their way through the streets of Manhattan.

 

Thanksgiving generally marks the beginning of the “holiday season” in the USA. It also marks one of the biggest sale events of the year – the black Friday sales, occurring the day after Thanksgiving – and signals the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. This day is generally a holiday for many as well, so a long weekend for most and a good deal of shopping is to be had if you can stand the crowds.

So, putting aside the parades and the sales and getting back to the essence of Thanksgiving, I would like to encourage you to see the blessings in your life and give thanks for what you have; I have much to be grateful for (even though I find many things lacking in my life – it’s still a blessing), I also give thanks for friends, especially those recently found (a benefit of my most recent adventures) and of course, for my family!

I would like to sign off with a prayer – whether you are religious or not (ignore the mention of God, or substitute your own deity if you prefer) – the sentiment is what is most important:

 Prayer of Thanksgiving by Vienna Cobb Anderson

God of all blessings,
source of all life,
giver of all grace:

We thank you for the gift of life:
for the breath
that sustains life,
for the food of this earth
that nurtures life,
for the love of family and friends
without which there would be no life.

We thank you for the mystery of creation:
for the beauty
that the eye can see,
for the joy
that the ear may hear,
for the unknown
that we cannot behold filling the universe with wonder,
for the expanse of space
that draws us beyond the definitions of our selves.

We thank you for setting us in communities:
for families
who nurture our becoming,
for friends
who love us by choice,
for companions at work,
who share our burdens and daily tasks,
for strangers
who welcome us into their midst,
for people from other lands
who call us to grow in understanding,
for children
who lighten our moments with delight,
for the unborn,
who offer us hope for the future.

We thank you for this day:
for life
and one more day to love,
for opportunity
and one more day to work for justice and peace,
for neighbors
and one more person to love
and by whom be loved,
for your grace
and one more experience of your presence,
for your promise:
to be with us,
to be our God,
and to give salvation.

For these, and all blessings,
we give you thanks, eternal, loving God,
through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Armistice Day – Remembrance Day – Veterans Day

November 11th, in countries all around the world, is recognised as Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I (the Great War). The armistice was signed November 11th 1918 at 5:10am between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France; the actual ceasefire commenced at the 11:00am (allowing information to travel to different areas of the Western Front).

So now, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month we remember, and recognise the sacrifices of those who did not return home after the Great War.

Many allied nations commemorate Armistice Day in some way.

In the United States, November 11th is recognised as Veterans Day; a day which celebrates not only those who served and died, but all American service men and women, living and deceased.

In Australia November 11th is recognised as Remembrance Day, and now recognises the loss of Australian lives in all wars and conflicts. At 11am, one minutes silence is generally observed.

In many countries the red poppy is a symbol of Armistice Day and is worn by many. The Flanders Poppy is recognised throughout the allied nations as the flower of remembrance and is often worn on Armistice Day. The red poppies were among the first plants that sprouted from the devastation of the battlefields of northern France and Belgium. According to ‘Soldiers’ folklore the poppies were vivid red from having been nurtured in ground drenched with the blood of their comrades’.

The poem below was written by John McCrae in 1915:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Thank you to all who have served and those currently serving.

This is a photo of my grandfather who served in the first World War – he was just 20 years old at the time:

grandfather

Lest We Forget!

Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, Samhain!

Tomorrow is Halloween! And how fortuitous that it falls on a Saturday this year.

Halloween can be traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Saah-win, or sow-in), celebrating the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. At this time, the veil between the world of the living and the realm of the dead (the Otherworld) is at it’s thinest and the departed souls ghost could cross into the land of the living. If you would like to know more about the history of Halloween in America  – check it out here.

Americans go crazy for this time of year – it’s not just the kids who dress up and trick-or-treat, the adults do it too. Decorating your house at Halloween is also very common (approximately 50% of Americans decorate their yards at this time of year) – some go to great lengths, with a full on light and show spectacle (similar to Christmas light decorations). Google Halloween House Decorations and see what images pop up – amazing!

As Halloween isn’t really celebrated in Australia, and we are here in the US where Halloween is evidently an all in event, I thought I might embrace the culture and get involved – just a little, and try my hand at carving a pumpkin.

I acquired myself a pumpkin (not the prettiest of the bunch, since I left it a bit late and all the good ones were gone), I bought a simple carving kit and went for it. Scooping out the middle is the worst bit, but all in all, it wasn’t too bad.

My hollowed out pumpkin

My hollowed out pumpkin

Meet Jack!

Halloween_Jack

Or maybe it’s Jackie?

Halloween_Jackie

Not too bad for a first effort. I didn’t use a stencil, but did this freehand. And since I just can’t embrace the horror aspect, he’s reasonably friendly looking.

Tomorrow, we are going to our first Halloween party and Jack’s coming with us! It should be a fun night!

Fun trivia facts about Halloween:

  • One quarter of all candy sold in the USA annually is for Halloween
  • Jack-o-lanterns originated in Ireland and were made from turnips or potatoes – they were used to scare away ghosts and spirits. It wasn’t until Irish immigrants in America discovered pumpkins that a new tradition was born
  • 120 million people in America dress up for Halloween
  • Orange and black represent the colors of Halloween – orange is associated with the Fall harvest and black is associated with darkness and death

 

Super Blood Moon!

In certain parts of the world last night there was a ‘Supermoon’ (where the moon is at its closest point to Earth in its orbit – so appears larger and brighter), which coincided with a lunar eclipse, making for an amazing super blood moon!

The event was visible in North America, South America, Greenland, West Africa and Western Europe. Apparently the next time this will happen will be in 2033 – at least in this part of the world (and the last time it happened was in 1982). I did a little bit of research on this and I found some decent information on the USA Today website and today I found the BBC website also provided a good explanation and some great photos.

Did anyone stay up and watch this rare event?

I watched the first half of this (from North Texas, USA) – watching as the Earth’s shadow began to fall across the bright full moon and progress until it was fully eclipsed and gave off an orange/red glow. I must admit, it was wonderful to watch.

As I keen photographer, I tried to capture some of this. I knew I wouldn’t be too successful as I took the photos from my balcony and there was a lot of incidental light about, and I don’t have a powerful enough zoom lens; however, I did try. Did anyone else capture a good photo? This is what I managed to capture:

The beginning

The beginning

Almost there!

Almost there!

Full eclipse

Full eclipse

The countdown is on!

It’s time for me to get excited! The countdown has begun in earnest for our trip to Ireland.

I am just about sorted, packed and ready to go. Packing has been difficult – I am expecting quite a bit of rain and it’s going to be much cooler than it is here in north Texas at the moment. We will be going from high 90’sF to 60 or maybe 70F temperatures (mid 30’s to teen temps in Celsius). Anyway, what I don’t pack I can buy there – that will be my excuse for doing some shopping. 

  
 As I love everything Celtic, Ireland is a dream trip for me. I am looking forward to all the historical sites, the pubs, the live music, the art, the culture, the scenery, the castles, oh, the list goes on! 

We leave from DFW airport tomorrow evening and fly to Dublin via London. I plan to hit the ground running with a visit to Trinity college (the book of Kells) and Dublin castle high on my list of must dos. I pretty much have an idea of what I want to see and do and have planned our trip accordingly. After a couple of days in Dublin, we are driving ourselves anti clockwise around the island with our first stop being Belfast. We will explore as much as I can fit in in the 3 weeks we will be there. Happy times for me!

Stay tuned – I will be posting our adventures as we go!

Yet another first – a visit to IKEA

Just following on from the shopping theme of my previous blog: another first for us today – it was the first time we have visited IKEA – ever (anywhere, USA or Australia). We went down to Frisco again today just to take a look at this store and see what all the fuss is about!

The kitchen sink!

The kitchen sink!

This store has EVERYTHING you could possibly need for your home. I didn’t realise that IKEA could provide pretty much anything for, not just decorating your home, but furnishing it (the bed – including sheets and pillows, the curtains, floor rugs, etc.), renovating it (from wardrobes to full kitchens, including the kitchen sink, oven, refrigerator and dishwasher) and to providing you with finishing touches such as indoor plants as well. This truly is a one-stop-shop for your home – there were plenty of people here – it was amazing!  We snaked our way around 2 floors of temptation, ideas and inspiration – you could spend hours here (and I’m sure many do)! And if you get hungry whilst working your way through the store there is a restaurant where you can refuel and rest before you continue on.

Ideas and inspiration

Ideas and inspiration

Laundry ideas

Laundry ideas

It’s just as well I couldn’t really buy anything (all the electrical appliances just won’t work in Australia and I really have no where to put furniture items, etc.) or I would probably have spent some money today. But it is a great place for ideas – I took plenty of photos for future reference for when we renovate or if I ever get to build my dream house!

I am pleased to say that, although tempted, I did not part with any money at IKEA today!  🙂

Pickleball anyone?

Today I finally got back to the gym after little more than a week of not feeling too good. I must admit, I did miss it and could feel myself sort-of ‘withering’; (I did lose 1-2kg’s though), but I feel much better after making the effort – a Pilate’s class today. I must also admit, I have been missing Pickleball! Up until the week before last, I was playing 45minutes of Pickleball each weekday morning. However, my faithful Pickleball companion is off enjoying Hawaii at the moment for 3 weeks on holidays (the hide of her, right?) and I haven’t been able to get to the gym the past week anyway, so I have missed out.

I’m guessing most of you probably haven’t heard of Pickleball. And I know that in Australia it is rare, and it certainly wasn’t in Newcastle last time I was there.

So, let me catch you up on Pickleball.

A Pickleball paddle

A Pickleball paddle

Pickleball is a relatively new sport and was invented in 1965. It’s lots of fun and it’s not hard to play. Pickleball is pretty much a cross between tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong. It can be played with 2 to 4 players, indoors or out, but we play on an indoor court at the local gym. The court is roughly 1/3 the size of a basketball court (badminton sized) and is marked in a similar pattern to a tennis court, with a tennis-like net across the middle. You play with a large plastic ball with holes in it (a bit like an over-sized practice golf ball) and a paddle that is shaped a bit like a tennis racket (but smaller and without the long neck). There are rules, but when we play, we don’t play according to them; we just like to have a hit and are in it for the fun and exercise (as evidenced by the short video clip below). But we do work up a sweat when we play!

The above clip shows Carla and Becky ‘playing’ Pickleball. (The court is marked by the yellow tape – which is overlaid over the basketball court).

There are those who are very serious about the sport: there are many organisations, and tournaments are held throughout the country; just recently there was a competition held locally.

Next week I hope to get a few hits in before Becky gets back the week after next and we can resume regular playing again!

Who knows – I may have to introduce Newcastle to this fun sport when I return! 🙂

Public Transport? Not here!

So, I have been stuck at home for a couple of days without the car (we only have the one and Andrew needed it this week). This got me thinking about public transport and how different it is here to what I have seen in other parts of the country and to what I am used to in Australia.

The Texoma area is seriously lacking in any form of public transport! There are no Taxi’s in Sherman; nor is there a regular public bus service (aside from the school buses) and no passenger trains at all. This is very different to say, New York, where those iconic yellow taxis outnumber regular cars and where just about everyone rides the subway. But, let’s not forget that this is not a big city and it is not that close to one either. Dallas (an hour away) does have buses and a light rail service, but it services essentially the main metroplex area.

I was used to a bus service where the closest stop was perhaps 200m from home and ran to a regular timetable, with designated stops and destinations (and a train station located a stones throw away). I was also fortunate enough to live within walking distance to just about everything I needed. Not so here. When we first arrived I thought I would be able to catch a bus if I ever had a need to, but the local bus service operates more like a shuttle service. You need to book a ride 24hrs beforehand, so you need to be organised and plan ahead (this is probably great for the elderly who need to get to doctors appointments, etc.). However, this still strikes me as a little odd, I thought a regular route with specified destinations and designated pickup spots and times would work well, but it seems not.

You might think the alternative would be to walk or ride a bike – but this really would be taking your life into your own hands! The road we live on is a 2 lane 55mph (~90kph) speed limit road with no curb and guttering and in places, no shoulder, just a guard rail. So, I am not keen on taking on the traffic that at times seems to fly by.

It is very rarely that you see someone riding a bike or walking along roadways here. In fact, most people rely on their cars and drive here – even the shortest of distances; where I would normally walk, you would hop in the car and drive. So perhaps the demand is just not there for a regular bus service or a taxi service.

It is interesting how towns and cities develop and I guess that includes their transport needs and systems as well.