boys baseball awardsLast Saturday, the boys' Rockingham Rams gave out their season-ending awards. The "imports", as Coach Thommo refers to our boys, walked away with some nice trophies.

Both of the teams had a players' award voted on by the team members that went to very deserving boys.  The club also awards a coach's trophy which is what Peter (for the Under-17 team) and Karl (for the Little League team) are holding in the photo at right.  It's quite an honour for them to receive these from their coaches and it says alot about both their effort and their achievements.  And, of course, Dane had a great year also (holding his participation trophy in the photo).

The awards ceremony came after Karl and Dane's team played a final game of the season against the other Rockingham Little League team.  Our guys won 7-6 with Dane scoring the winning run in the last innings.  (We're getting used to saying "innings" which is a borrowed term from cricket that's carried over to baseball here.)  The win preserved the perfect season for our team.  Last year these guys only lost a final game that was setup after the season to challenge the best team from up in the city of Perth.

Karl for PeelKarl still has one more weekend of games left.  He's playing on the Peel charter team, which consists of players from each of the teams in the charter (league).  This will be a tournament over Easter weekend in Perth that determines which team takes the next step towards the national tournament and onwards in the Little League system.  Considering how the Peel team did a couple of weeks ago in a round robin series with the other teams, Karl's team isn't likely to advance unfortunately.  But he's glad to have a few extra games in his season.

Karl and Dane's solid team will be split up next year as about half of them are moving up to the next level, including Karl.  So we might have boys on 3 different teams, but Peter isn't sure if he'll play or focus on school.

Dane rides wave at CottesloeSunday was a big day out for us in Perth.  It was Peter's birthday and there were a couple of things we wanted to get up to Perth to see.

In order to get on our way a little sooner than our Sunday routine normally allows, we attended St. John's Lutheran Church which is right in the downtown area of Perth.  It's an old congregation that is currently enjoying relatively good health as they are undertaking a $13 million building project to build a office building that will serve their own needs as well as provide significant rent income.  We've been wanting to attend a "traditional" worship service St. John's for some time as we haven't attended one since being in Australia.  We were glad we went, and found some friendly faces that we connected with.

From downtown Perth we headed directly west to Cottesloe Beach to take in the annual "Sculptures by the Sea" display.  It was a beautiful day with mostly blue skies and a top of about 35°C (95°F).  We had visited the Sculptures last year and enjoyed it so much that we made sure we saw this year's version.  It's copied from an annual event held at the famous Bondi Beach in Sydney.  As at Bondi, the Cottesloe organisers invite artists to create sculptures that are then planted in and around this very popular beach.  Significant money is awarded to the best and most of them get sold off.

Whilst there, Karl, Dane and I changed into our bathers and played in the surf.  Dane and Karl body surfed a few good waves - much bigger waves than we ever get at our reef-protected beach by our house in Warnbro.

Queen Mary 2 at FremantleBy mid-afternoon we were ready to move down the coast a few minutes to the port at Fremantle.  The world's largest ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2, was in port for the day.  She's in the midst of a 101-day cruise around the world.  We weren't the only curious onlookers as Fremantle was flooded with thousands of people who came to farewell the ship that was planning on leaving around 5pm.

The Queen Mary 2 is huge at 1,132 feet long (that's almost 4 football fields long) and 236 feet tall.  She's the largest ocean liner ever built (although there are now two "cruise ships" that are bigger).  Between passengers and crew, it carries over 5,000 people.  We heard that it would cost about $100,000 for a room on the Queen Mary 2 to travel from Australia to England.

As is protocol for big ships like this, there was a flotilla of small watercraft escorting the Queen Mary 2, all led by the port's fireboat with it's water guns spraying into the air.  The edges of the waterway into the port were lined with thousands of people waving Aussie flags.  It was quite a thrill to see it up close and sailing off into the Indian Ocean sunset.

Car jacking in RockinghamOnce again, Rockingham makes world news headlines... If you were watching Fox News back in the States on Thursday, America's Newsroom showed a video from Australia of a wild car chase.  A very scary aboriginal man car-jacked 3 cars whilst on a chase between Perth, Fremantle and Rockingham.  Rockingham is about 45 km from Perth and Fremantle.  When you watch the video from the police helicopter linked below, and see the man run from one car and jump into another (clip from video at right), that happened at a major intersection near our main shopping centre in Rockingham. At that time, Lanette and Dane were at a school swimming carnival just a couple of kilometres away (not at the swimming pool next to our school).

To top the story, the police caught the man eventually after he crashed the third car.  They took him to hospital in Perth, and then he managed to escape causing a huge manhunt with several suburbs going into lockdown mode until they found him.

See the video here.

Read the news story here.

First ever pitch at Target FieldIt may be autumn Down Under here, but when it comes to sports, we're thinking spring and baseball and the Minnesota Twins.  The Twins opened their new stadium, Target Field, this week in Minneapolis with rave reviews both for the team's expectations and the stadium's features.

Peter and I woke early at 4:00am this past Tuesday to watch the first Twins game in their new outdoor stadium.  The game was shown live on ESPN International which we get via a satellite service similar to Dish Network in the States (much more expensive than Dish, and not nearly as good!).  We switched back and forth between watching the ESPN telecast and watching the Twins' own Fox Sports North telecast which we get online either live or archived via MLB.com.  Both commentating crews did well at telling us all about the new stadium and keeping up with the game itself.

Dane has long been saying that one of the first things he wants to do when we get back to the US is to go to Target Field to watch the Twins.  We're quite envious of those who live close enough to get there in the next two seasons before we return.

And, of course, it was great to see that the Twins opened Target Field with an exciting win over Boston.  Kubel hit the first home run in the park and Mauer did his usual contribution of 3 hits and solid catching.


Photo of the first pitch at Target Field 12 April 2010 by ajc3

Shed Men Surf CompetitionIt's taken nearly two years to get around to this, but we finally had our chance to have a go at surfing in the Indian Ocean on the weekend before Easter.

My Shed Men mates have a tradition of an annual surfing competition but the weather didn't cooperate last year.

I'd better pause and explain "Shed Men"... Every fortnight about 8-10 blokes from church get together in someone's backyard or shed for fellowship, BBQ and an occasional Bible study.  These guys have been great mates for me, and I truly look forward to our chats about the bush, growing up in Australia, old cars, etc and the occasional taste of kangaroo on the barbie.

Back to the surfing story... The weather wasn't terrific this year, but good enough.  We had waves that were from 1 to 1.5 metres (5 feet) which was just fine for us beginners.  We borrowed about a dozen boards from our stock at the college.  There were maybe 8 of us old guys and then some of the Shed Men kids also came out either to watch or to have a go themselves.  (Lanette was the only female on the beach - someone had to be there to take photos!).  One of the veterans gave us a quick 1-minute demonstration on the beach and then we headed out.

Surfing sequence - Tim & PeterI had no chance of getting up on the board.  Lanette was laughing from the start with my struggles to balance whilst just paddling out on the board.  It was still fun to get rolled in the waves and find out how long I can hold my breath, and as I was reaching exhaustion it was a thrill to ride the waves in without making an effort to get up.  I may have been sucking it in a bit to fit into my wetsuit, but at least I didn't have the gray hair of several others of us out there struggling to feel young again.

Peter was the natural.  It didn't take too long and he was getting up on his feet a few times.  No lengthy rides, but definitely some success.  Click on the photo at left to see the action sequence that starts with me and Peter and shows Peter getting up on the board.

Dane did what he could closer to the shore to show his abilities on the body board, but will need to get better at swimming before we let him out in the big surf.

Karen & TimIt's near the end of our April school holidays - two weeks plus 2 days off between Term 1 and Term 2. I'm trying to get caught up with news and photos on the website.

Our excitement this holiday was from the week-long visit by my cousin Karen from Michigan. Karen was able to stop in Melbourne and Cairns (Great Barrier Reef) before arriving in Perth. Whilst here the boys and I were free to show her around the Perth region (Lanette had to work a couple of the days).

The first days (Easter weekend) were filled largely by Karl's baseball tournament in a northern suburb of Perth. But after that, we got into tour guide mode. On Monday we headed for the hills about 45 minutes east of us to see the friendly wild kangaroos at Serpentine Falls. We then headed north to Araluen Botanical Park which we'd never been to but have now vowed we need to get there in the spring. Even in autumn the flowers were incredible and the landscape simply beautiful. Then we rounded out the day in the hills with a drive to Mundaring Weir. "Weirs" are what they call "dams" here and this one was famous as it created a reservoir when it was built a century ago that allowed for the pumping of water 660 km inland to the goldfields and kicked off a gold digging boom.

Karen with koalaOn Lanette's Wednesday day off, we went to the nearby Marapana Wildlife Park because Karen wanted to hold a koala. Her wish came true and it was a real treat for all of us to watch. Besides the koalas, we enjoyed up close experiences with kangaroos, wombats, emus, ostriches, crocodiles, peacocks, all sorts of birds, dingoes, bandicoots, alpacas, camels, and I can't remember the rest. We actually fed the kangaroos, wombats, emus, ostriches, alpacas and birds. Everyone of us thought the wildlife park was terrific. We finished the day with a seafood dinner on the boardwalk in Mandurah.

Finally on Friday, we snuck in a quick trip down to the Margaret River region in the southwest corner of WA. It's 3-4 hours each way so it's a stretch to see and do everything in one day... but we did! We just couldn't deny Karen a chance to experience this region that travel guide publisher Lonely Planet recently listed in its top 10 regions of the world.

Karl & Dane sheep shearingWe hit most of our favourite spots including the sheep shearing demonstration where this time Karl and Dane were selected to help the shearer. We got our handfuls of free samples from the Margaret River Chocolate Factory. We were mesmerised again by the waves at Canal Rocks whilst the boys frolicked up and down the rock piles. We saw surfers and kit surfers at a couple of the famous surf beaches. And we showed Karen one of our favourite views of the karri trees in the Boranup Forest.

It was such a great week with Karen, re-connecting with a cousin and doing the tourist bits we don't always make time for.

After Karen's visit, we don't know of anyone else's plans to come on down and take advantage of our free room and board. Start making your plans if you haven't as we only have about 6 more school holidays left down here.

Red Bull Air RaceOn a beautiful autumn Saturday we took the train in to Perth to watch the Red Bull Air Race World Series stop here on the Swan River (http://www.redbullairrace.com).  If you're not familiar with this, Wikipedia describes it this way:

"[Red Bull Air Race Championship] is an international series of air races in which competitors have to navigate a challenging obstacle course in the fastest time. Pilots fly individually against the clock and have to complete tight turns through a slalom course consisting of pylons, known as 'Air Gates'."

This year the series includes races in 8 different cities around the world.  From what I can tell, this race in Perth won't be on TV in the US until later in the summer there.  We'll let you know if the cameras caught us watching. (We know they were on us but not sure if it made the cuts.)

It's quite a scene to watch.  People like us line the shores of the Swan River across from the Perth CBD.  A course consisting of 8 or so air gates is set up on barges in the river.  The pilots take there turns on the course flying up to 265 mph and pulling over 10 Gs on some of the maneuvers.  If they hit an air gate (like they did 3 times today), the inflated pylon just loses its air and drops.  Within minutes they fix the gate and inflate it, and the racing continues.

Today we saw the "Qualifying Rounds" where 14 pilots took 2 runs on the course trying to qualify for tomorrow's finals.

Earlier in the week during practice runs, a Brazilian pilot crashed into the water.  Amazingly he was rescued quickly and had only minor injuries.

Karl captured some video today showing one pilot's run:

Here's a map that shows the loops and turns required on the Perth course.

Red Bull Air Race - Perth Track

This panoramic photo is compiled from several photos I took today.  On the left you might be able to see the plane entering the starting gate.  By the time I took consecutive photos from left to right, the pilot was doing his loop at the right end of the course. (click to enlarge)

Air Race Panorama - Perth

Perth, Western Australia, from Kings Park on Australia Day, 26 January 2010

Click on image to view full size

Perth at night

Australia Day Fireworks - Perth, Western Australia, from Kings Park, 26 January 2010

Click on image to view full size

Australia Day 2010 - Perth

Karri Trees in Boranup Forest near Margaret River, WA, 8 April 2010

This is one of our favourite spots in WA - a certain curve in the highway with a place to pull off - but it's really hard to capture the stunning view with a camera.

 

Click on image to view full size

Boranup Forest

Red Bull Air Race over Swan River - Perth, Western Australia, 17 April 2010

I took this series of photos as one plane entered the race course starting gate on the left.  You can see the same plane at the right edge looping up to turn back into the course.

 

Click on the image to view full size

Red Bull Air Race - Perth

I've been studying Japanese at school for two years, and in september I went to Osaka, Japan with my class. A total of 12 students and 2 teachers went for almost 2 weeks. We flew to Japan and back with stopovers in Hong Kong. When we arrived in Japan, it was very, very hot and humid. We brought our luggage to our hotel and then were allowed to wander through the city to go shopping. The shopping was really cool in Japan because it was not in a mall, it was on the streets. There were entire streets lines with shops. It was really fun just looking around. We even found a McDonald's and ordered cheeseburgers in Japanese. For dinner we returned to our hotel and ate a very traditional japanese meal. We all wore kimonos (traditional Japanese gowns) and sat on the floor in front of low tables. After dinner, A few of us tried the hot spring baths at the hotel. Our hotel rooms contained one main room and a bathroom. The floors were tatami mats and we slept on Japanese futons.

I also had a great time doing sightseeing and living with a host family. Each of us stayed with a different host family for 10 days, and I ended up with the family who spoke the least English. We struggled to communicate because we only knew little bits of each other's languages, but we did manage to communicate with help from dictionaries. I ended up learning many words and phrases in Japanese. In my family I had one brother named Tatsuya who was my age, a younger sister (13), and parents. They were all very friendly. They took me to see lots of really cool things. One day we went to Todaiji Temple, the largest wooden structure in the world. It is 160 feet tall! It was really cool to see such a huge thing made entirely of wood. Another place I went with my family is the old Imperial Palace Complex in Nara. It used to house the emporer of Japan! 

While I was in Japan, I was amazed how crowded everything was. The houses were tiny with no yards, and were built within a few feet from the one lane roads. My house was only 12 feet wide and was only 630 square feet! Every morning, I went rode to school with my brother on our bikes. The danger of riding in very narrow roads full of people, bikes, and cars was a thrilling experience. Almost everyone rides a bike in Japan and no one wears helmets because it is not a law. No one has to wear seat belts in the back seats of cars either. All of us from Australia came to the same school with our siblings every day. At school, we visited classes like art, music, cooking, PE, and chemistry. Chemistry was fun because we didn't know what the teacher was saying in Japanese, but we all had fun making explosions. Sometimes during the school day we would go see other things. We visited a tea house, a huge shopping street in the city, Osaka Castle, and Universal Studios in Japan.

In Japan, I experienced a lot of food that I normally don't have. The list includes, octopus, raw fish, raw eggs, pickled plums, asparagus, and tofu. I tried everything I was given, so many things I didn't like. I did enjoy the octopus, asparagus, and tofu. I also didn't mind the raw eggs.

The whole trip was very, very fun and I enjoyed seeing and learning, and experiencing new things. I loved taking photos of the things I saw in Japan. You can see some of them below.